Remember the flare up when Microsoft released Windows 8? The users rebelled. The familiar start menu was gone. So users had to learn all over again how to find and run programs. Microsoft Skype took up the whole screen and you could not split the screen making the whole concept of a “Window” somewhat moot. One clever company, StarDock.com, wrote and now sells for $9 Start8 which puts back the Start menu. Take that Microsoft.
Microsoft backpedalled and added back the Windows start menu, sort of, you still have to exit the full screen display and click through their clutter or very handsome graphics. Steve Ballmar, who was Microsoft’s first attorney and current CEO, has decided to retire. Perhaps the flare up perhaps made him want to go play golf.
UsabilityThere are two ways to make software usable. One is use a design guide. The other is ask the users what they want.
The BBC publishes a style guide. It gives standards for web pages appearance designed to ensure consistency and best-practices across all their web sites. The point is that one page should not be radically different from another, so that the user can navigate its basic function without getting lost. (The BBC guide does not address fields and icon placement. It is geared for a news site. There are other guides written specifically for the software user interface.)
Talk to the users. The users have to be trained on the new system and have varying levels of sophistication. If the system is, say, a point of sale system for a retail store the credit-card-returned-purchase-item process is already difficult to grasp. If the hormone-enraged teenage cashier is swooning over the girls coming in the store, he is not paying attention to what he is doing. The system should be so simple that anybody should be able to navigate the screen.
There are general rules to making the user interface easy-to-use. Adopt a style guide. Ask the users about the flow of events. They flow should be logical and self-evident. A bad design could have the user poking around looking for functions perhaps voiding transactions or issuing documents out of order.
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