Isys Information Architects

Interface Hall of Shame

- RealCD Reader Comments -

(Our response to Bryan Oakley's post)


Thanks for taking the time to reply to the review. The purpose of the page, and the entire site for that matter, is to stimulate critical thought on interface design issues, and your letter indicates that I have succeeded. You raise a number of issues that indicate that further clarification is necessary.

The criticism was not based on the fact that the RealCD interface does not follow Windows95 style guidelines. I am no fan of the Windows95 interface (as is amply illustrated by the frequency of Win95 entries in the Interface Hall of Shame). I am, however, a great fan of designs that facilitate transfer of existing knowledge. An application that runs on Windows95 should take advantage of the user's familiarity with Windows95 controls, just as an application that runs on the Mac should take advantage of the user's familiarity with Mac controls, etc. Users should not have to learn how the controls in *your* app work, when you could easily have used the standard controls the user is already familiary with. Operating system independence is intended to benefit the software company, not the user.

The criticism was based not on the fact that the RealCD interface is "new or different", but on that fact that it is poorly designed. As I indicated on the page, if RealCD had been simply offered as a "design study" as you suggest, I wouldn't have bothered with it. IBM, however, offered the app as an example of "outstanding interface design", "state of the art", etc., ad nauseum, when in fact, the interface violates nearly all basic principles of design, interface or otherwise.

While you maintain that "opening the case" to view the list of songs is preferable to selecting "View Songs" from a menu, I would submit that simply showing the list without requiring any user intervention would be better.

While you maintain that clicking a green light to exit the application is preferable to clicking on the Win95 'X' button, I would maintain that clicking a button clearly labeled "Exit" would be even more intuitive than either.

While you may disagree with my opinions of the RealCD interface, I need only point to the RealCD list of *Frequently* Asked Questions for confirmation of some of the problems I identified:

Your post included a number of statements that I found quite surprising:
The point is to break the shackles of existing interface design principles and try something new.
I would never have considered basic principles of design to be like shackles that need to be broken.
I would argue that the ease in which one intuits the features and functions of a design is _not_ necessarily indicitive of a good design.
Really? I would be very surprised if you could find much support among interface designers on this point. How would you define usability?
Now, you can talk affordances and accessibility, but they aren't universal maxims, and depend a lot on context.
Actually, I think most designers, including interface designers, product designers, and architects would disagree with you on this one. Affordance is a universal concept in design, except when that affordance is likely to contribute to the inadvertent activation of a costly or dangerous condition.
If I were to show this application to my mother who, while extremely intelligent, is a computer neophyte, she might very well intuit this control quite readily. Maybe not, but once you tell her "to make the application open, press the button that looks like an open case" she'll remember it.
If the button looked like a button, and if the image on it had even a remote appearance of an open case, I might agree with you. Let me know how your mother dealt with the RealCD interface, and how much intervention she required of you to use it.
I bet that after spending 5 minutes with a user's guide, no user, expert or novice, would ever need tooltips or a statusbar in this particular application.
People don't read manuals, nor should they be required to, especially for such a simple application. That's what interface design is all about. RealCD, unfortunately, requires the user to read the manual, and even worse, makes the manual difficult to access.
Is it a good user interface design in general? In my opinion, Yes.
Watch a few people interact with it on their own and see if your opinion doesn't change.

Brian Hayes
Isys Information Architects Inc.

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