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Patronizing User Interfaces

Over the weekend I am playing around with a machine learning tool called Weka ( Aside from the user interface being far from elegant, the documentation has the following explanation for one of the features implemented in the main screen:

"To the right of the status box is the WEKA status icon. When no processes are running, the bird sits down and takes a nap. The number beside the × symbol gives the number of concurrent processes running. When the system is idle it is zero, but it increases as the number of processes increases. When any process is started, the bird gets up and starts moving around. If it’s standing but stops moving for a long time, it’s sick: something has gone wrong! In that case you should restart the WEKA explorer."

Are you serious!?

Who could possibly be the target for such nonsense?

It's really unlikely that you are a naive computer user who needs an explanation of things like this in such a patronizing manner...yet at the same time you're experienced enough to be able to realize the *need* for such a tool in your life, be able to go find it, download it, run it with java from the command line and know what you are using it for.

As a faily typical target user of such a tool I find the explanation and even the use of this animated icon a little insulting.
Andrey Butov Send private email
Saturday, November 12, 2005
It's what programmers do for fun.  Get over it.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
I might object to the use of the icon itself, but the documentation is ok. It's very nicely explained. And it's free.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Good grief - they're academics in Godzone country (NZ portion). At least they didn't build in the weka birdcall:
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Hmm.  "Patronizing User Interface" -- I thought you'd be talking about a user interface that calls you an idiot for making a syntax error.  Those used to be real popular in the 1970's.

Instead you're complaining that a write up of a graphical element (the bird) is too condescending?  Sheesh, at least they mentioned how its behavior reflected what was going on.  Write-ups have to address a wide range of audiences.  I'm sorry you're so educated you can't appreciate a third-grade level explanation, but not so educated that you cut the author some slack.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Who is the tool for?

It is patronizing in that I know very well what processes are and I don't really need a sick bird to tell me when something's wrong.

On the other hand, it's very difficult to explain the concept of processes and threads to someone with no computer science or programming background and I think a visual metaphor does work better - Microsoft's spinning hourglass for example.

Since a motionless bird doesn't really imply something's wrong, yes, the "dumbed down" text description is also necessary.  I would have recommended a picture of the bird in a hospital bed, and perhaps a little red cross (or red crescent) button that aborts or restarts the underlying processes.
Anonymous Coward
Sunday, November 13, 2005
My mother would love it
Marcus from Melbourne
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Your mother cares about threads and processes?
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Wow, I love it. We should have more gizmos like this.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
A nurse at a hospital I worked in a couple years ago started using Word for the first time.  She told me delightedly about the cute little paperclip that popped up and tapped on the screen while she was working.

That lasted for a couple weeks, and then she came and asked me how to turn the darn thing off.
Kyralessa Send private email
Sunday, November 13, 2005
I like the bird. I don't like the paperclip.
Monday, November 14, 2005
If there is a way to turn off that visual cue, then please cut the developer some slack. If it is constantly there, and you have no control over it, then I can see how it could get annoying quickly. All in all, I think you're taking this too seriously, and you don't have to get that miffed about it - especially not if it is free...
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
HA, funny story. I added a new button on the Help->About window of an app I wrote a LOOOOOOOOONG time ago. It was labeled "More On..." for more information. I used to love to tell people to click on that button.

John Send private email
Sunday, November 20, 2005
It's a late add, but ...

I can't count the number of times I've seen glyphs attached to things in programs with no explanation at all, and the function of said glyphs are not at all obvious. 

The glyphs must be important or the developer would not have put them in the program.  However, a search through Help gives no explanation whatsoever for the purpose of each glyph.  I'm left to wonder about the presence of an element taking up room on my screen and in my head about which I know nothing and I don't know if it's important for me to know about it, and I have no way of determining if it IS important.

I was reading another thread here a few minutes ago, a frustration by a supposed developer about why users are so stupid.  Well, this is the opposite: stupid programming and documentation.

User interfaces should be self-obvious.  However, if it's not possible to be self-obvious, there must be easy-to-access tools available that explain the non-obvious behavior.  That's not patronizing, it's informative - and to me, it's welcome.
Karl Perry Send private email
Thursday, November 24, 2005

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