Do We Designers Make The GUI For The User Or To Create Art?
Why are things designed the way they are designed? The question presumes we are able to fully understand the thinking of the designer. Often, we are not. Often a designer does not fully understand the thinking of the user, either. This makes designs problematic and, often, difficult or irrelevant. Knowing users’ experiences matters greatly when designing a user interface that enhances the user experience, whether building a new operating system or a new website.
It was with some satisfaction, then, I was able to read a great article from UXmag.com about the development of new UI/UX. The article uses as an example the new iOS graphical user interface, now a part of iOS 7 on the iPhone and iPad. The new GUI is radically different from the old layout, complete with flat icons that are supposed to appear more modern than their predecessors. Of course, just because a design is new does not mean it improves the function of a device or makes it easier to use. Personally, I have yet to upgrade. I have heard too many sob stories, thus far.
The relative newness of personal computers, for most people on the planet, belies their ubiquity in our lives. While many among us have been using the Internet, in one form or another, since the 1990’s, most people had no real thought of keeping a personal computer in their home, unless it was required for business or a serious hobby. Obviously, computers have been around much longer than that. I was programming micro computers in the early 1980s and learning mainframe operations – this is completely obsolete today — in the mid 1980s. Cash registers in department stores, airline reservations systems, utility companies and government agencies were all using computers long before most of the population knew what they were. The banking industry approved the first standards of optical character recognition in the 1950’s. ENIAC, the Harvard-built “electronic brain” that calculated the trajectory of weapons, was a massive vacuum-tube laden device, with no core memory, that was completed in 1945. It is considered to be the first real computer. Imagine trying to add one and one with that monstrosity! 15-hundred square feet of toil awaited you.
As new computers evolved and more new, personal users of these computers were targeted, the idea of user-friendliness became paramount. If you never had to use an old S.A.B.R.E. terminal, count yourself lucky. S.A.B.R.E. was what airlines used for reservations. As a highly-evolved GUI, the first Xerox GUI was primitive by today’s standard. So it was no surprise that by the early and mid 1980’s computer makers were looking for a way to bridge the gap between professional and personal computer user. After all, why in the world would anyone buy an electronic device that is impossible to learn?
Of course, that last question does not answer the riddle of why so many people could use a VCR but never set its clock. Perhaps the reason is the buttons were fixed items, and chaning timer settings with a series of button pushes required learning the sequence, then having the requisite dexterity and patience to achieve the result. Children, always faster learners and always seeking approval a parental figure, had no problem setting the VCR clock.
Knowing users’ experiences matters greatly when designing a user interface that enhances the user experience.
The UXMag.com article brings up a number of esoteric design terms, but the point of the article is to get the UX/UI designers thinking about something other than art as function. The long and short point of the piece is that functions can be designed artistically, but the user should not have to spend too much time interpreting the art to understand its purpose.