User Experience Design – Thinking out of the box

GreenWhite recently posted a Google talk, Don’t make me click (sound familiar?) by Aza Raskin. Although his Wikipedia page has all the details, but this amazing guy (apparently a year younger than me) gave his first talk on user interface at the age of 10. I guess it helps if your dad is the visionary behind the Macintosh.

Anyway, the talk was pretty interesting. He spoke about how engineers and designers succumb to the ‘seduction of interaction’ in trying to making their UI’s ‘look cool’. The point that he was making was that UI’s should strive for the least bit of interaction possible. No interaction is the best interaction.

This is not something that is really surprising, since this concept was present way back in classics such as Don Norman’s Design of Everyday Things (if you haven’t read this, and you’re a software engineer, read it now before you write another line of code). A good tool is almost invisible. The user doesn’t need to think about the tool when using it.

He showed off some pretty cool interaction concepts, some of which have already been implemented in existing features. I really liked the automatic loading of content in an RSS reader as the user scrolls down (its called ‘river of news’, go ahead and Google it for a demo). I thought it was a pretty good example of doing what the user wants without having them interact with the application, i.e. reducing interaction.

He also showed off Social Helix’s calendar (check it out, it’s pretty cool!), which has a pretty smart interaction design. Effective use of a simple zoom-in/zoom-out allows the user to access all events in the entire 21st century with a few simple mouse movements. He contrasts this with regular implementations of calendars (Google Calendar in specific) in which the number of clicks that you need to make to go to a certain date is directly proportional to how far away that date is from the current date on your calendar (which is sometimes a lot).

During the QA session he mentioned something that I’ve been studying/reading/working on a lot these days, which is to design an effective UI, you need to start really early in the project lifecycle. Usability needs to be addressed right from the requirements phase. I had meant on writing a few posts on this in time for World Usability Day (I’m exactly a week behind :p) for GreenWhite, but yet again I proved to myself how incredibly lazy I can be.

Anyway, check out Aza Raskin’s blog, its got some pretty interesting stuff. I’ve actually read some of his stuff up on ALA without knowing who he was. And I’m pretty sure he’s got a hand behind the cool stuff going on at Mozilla labs.

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