Are the things you believe about user interfaces untrue? Maybe something seems logical but you've not really tested it out? Or you've just followed the crowd? Following up on our post about magic and user perception, we are now going to expose the five myths of user interface design.
Dr. Gordon Kurtenbach, Head of Autodesk Research, has been studying user interfaces in 3D computer graphics for more than two decades and gave a great talk on the myths of user interface design - things he once believed were true but didn't deliver as expected. The five myths of 3D user interface design according to Dr. Kurtenbach are:
The logic goes that we live in the physical world are always working in 3D. Everyday activities like washing the dishes, folding laundry and driving a car all happen in 3D. The challenge is that when dealing with a computer, there's a piece of glass between the data and the user, resulting in a number of problems:
There's been a lot of work in stereography and many have experienced it in the constrained environment of a movie theatre. Most stereo solutions are faking 3D depth to fool your system. This is what can lead to motion sickness. This is not to say stereo is not well done or worthy of more work - it's just that there are still hurdles to overcome.
Human depth perception is complex. People with one eye can still perceive depth as we rely on a number of cues including the height of the viewer, the height of the viewed objects and the distance from viewer to objects.
The challenges for 3D displays include:
Haptic devices reproduce the sense of touch. Try a quick do-it-yourself haptic device by putting a pen on your computer monitor or something else close by. Trace the contours. How does it feel? Now try the same thing with your finger, the palm of your hand and the back of your hand. How does that feel? It's a richer experience with your finger and hand, isn't it?
Haptic devices are currently only giving basic feedback where our sense of touch is rich. We can get feedback on texture, hardness, temperature, weight, volume, contours, and the shape of the object. Like the myths above, there is a lot of information that we need to replicate in the digital world to make it a meaningful user experience.
One place you can use haptic feedback today is with rapid prototyping. If you were designing a headset, you could 3D print it at scale and try it on.
3D users are visual people, right? And visual people prefer icons. Maybe. But you can get carried away with icons. It's very important not to confuse visual appeal with ease of use.
It's also important not to be lazy and copy the faults of others. Just because it's industry practice to use lots of icons does not mean that lots of icons are good design. Icons are a foreign language and we use pop up tool tips as the translator. To complicate things further, we still rely on antiquated technology to represent some operations. We still use a floppy disk to represent saving. We've got plenty of people in the world who have never seen a floppy disk, let alone used one.
User interface design innovators should seek to improve what exists by taking advantage of the latest technologies. How could one improve upon this situation by using the power of cloud computing? What if tool tips became more visual and played a learning video instead of a line of text? At Autodesk Research, we call it ToolClips!
Natural is a tricky word and can be misunderstood. Are we talking about grass and flowers in a meadow? Perhaps a health food store?
We can look at natural as a statement of skills - what do people already have? What experience from the physical world applies to operating a computer? What skills can be transferred from using a web browser to using a word processor? The pillars of direct manipulation provide additional insight:
Whatever we call it, we are really trying to accelerate the rate at which novices begin to perform like experts.
Is something natural the best way to turn novices into experts? A hammer and nail are relatively natural - we've been using tools to hit things for years - but nowadays many experts use a nail gun. It may not be natural but it can sure increase the rate at which someone works.
Marking menus, pictured below, are a great example of the novice (a) to expert (b) transition in software user interfaces. Looking at the expert workflow on the right, the pattern to buy fruit and vegetables looks more like Egyptian Hieroglyphics than a natural expression of grocery shopping in the real world but it is highly efficient.
Being able to separate perception from reality is one of the most important things one needs to be able to do when looking at and working with technology. This doesn't mean that a piece of technology only gets one chance. Over time, problems may be resolved and the technology may live up to it's promise. Dr. Kurtenbach expects that he will be proven wrong at some point on the above myths.
Dr. Kurtenbach encourages user interface designers and researchers to invent an exciting future while remembering:
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