User interface fatigue - where are the best practices?

User interface fatigue - where are the best practices?

Summary: There is big risk in the redesign of a popular web site because people are creatures of habit and nobody wants to have to learn a new user interface. Yahoo has come across this as it changes some of the features of Yahoo Finance, one of the largest and oldest web services on the Internet and users voice their displeasure.

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TOPICS: Browser
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There is big risk in the redesign of a popular web site because people are creatures of habit and nobody wants to have to learn a new user interface. Yahoo has come across this as it changes some of the features of Yahoo Finance, one of the largest and oldest web services on the Internet and users voice their displeasure.

There are already too many user interfaces to learn, too many new "web 2.0" apps to learn, too many new digital gadgets to learn how to use. Every time I change my cell phone I have a different user interface to learn, there seems to be very little continuity.

All remote controls for consumer electronics products seem designed to have unique user interfaces, even within the same company and the same product families. Even when it comes to positioning the power-on switch--there are many forms of expressing what must be the single most common user interface element...

I've noticed my kids always pick up user interfaces a lot more quickly than older generations. They can figure things out more intuitively. Clearly this is a skill that can be learned: quickly learning new user interfaces. But why should we need that skill?

What puzzles me is why isn't there a best practices user interface for nearly every type of electronic gadget? Surely there must be some agreement by designers on the most optimum placement of keys and controls? Our typewriters have a standard interface, and our cars, and our musical instruments, why so little else?

It used to be that companies would sue others for copying the "look and feel" of their product, such as a spreadsheet program, or trash can icon. But such lawsuits are rare these days; yet we have ever more user interfaces to learn rather than some basic standard formats-- onto which companies could add differentiating buttons and controls.

The lack of standard user interfaces must be the single largest obstacle in growing the markets for digital products of every kind. Nobody wants to have to learn yet another user interface when there are so many better things to do.

Topic: Browser

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  • Thank god for Windows

    Yup it used to be like that in the computer world, before Windows. Now at least 90% of the world use the same interface and Apple can stop wondering what would happen if it used a second mouse button.

    As to the rest of hardware. Well my phone/pda uses Windows Pocket PC, so again I'm not really lost.

    But for dvds, remotes, tv, pc hardware etc etc, I have to learn a new interface. Not really a problem for me, I've been doing it for years.

    The irony of the browser interface is that moving everything to the browser/Web was supported by most IT departments, often stating the need for a common interface. In reality, every wannabe web designer invents a new interface for every Web site. Mainly because they are graphic, not interface, designers - they just care that it looks cool, not that people can use it easily and the information is clear and easy to read.

    The benefits of a standard interface were brought home to me when last week my daughter sadly confessed she was no good with computers. Since she has been using Windows from the age of 3 and is competent in office, graphic design programs and audio/video editing - I found this a little strange. The mystery was explained when I found out that her school was using Apples. It also explained why she was trying to memorise Apple keys. Charitably, maybe 3% of the world use Apples, so presumably they are preparing her for entrance into the cult. On enquiry the same old lies were put forward:

    It's better for graphics
    No, I've done graphics design for years and have the best apps I need on Windows.

    It's easier to use. Well apparently not (and it's not anyway)

    It's faster - wrong again

    It's an expensive, life-style choice by yuppies - PARTIALLY RIGHT!

    Anyway, after diverging, part of the problem with interfaces is that they are often designed by techs or (god forbid) ENGINEERS (you listening George?) who's main priority is to make it easy for them or invent something that looks cool.

    I'm waiting until everything runs Windows ;-)
    TonyMcS
    • however there are spoil sports

      Agree with everything you have to say.


      Right at the begining Microsoft had come up with the standard UI guide which is a good thing because application developers followed it. Hence when a user was presented with a new application, the user is familiar with the Windows UI and hence can find his way through.

      However Java when running on Windows does not follow the Windows UI guide, causing Java applications to behave a little differently.
      code_Warrior
    • BS

      Windows (and major MS products like the Office suite) are filled with the same useless inconsistencies and mediorcrity of other GUIs. A common set of widgets doesn't make for a common UI.
      Erik Engbrecht
  • RE: User interface fatigue - where are the best practices?

    This article is very relevant. Consider Microsoft Office's horrible Ribbon interface. Its exhausting to work with intensively. At least there is one product ToolbarToggle (http://www.toolbartoggle.com) which brings back the Office 2003 standard toolbars and menus to Excel and Word and PowerPoint 2007.
    nospam20
  • RE: User interface fatigue - where are the best practices?

    This article is very relevant. Consider Microsoft Office's horrible Ribbon interface. Its exhausting to work with intensively. At least there is one product ToolbarToggle (http://www.toolbartoggle.com) which brings back the Office 2003 standard toolbars and menus to Excel and Word and PowerPoint 2007.
    nospam20