The Design of Software (CLOSED)

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Real Estate, or lack thereof

This complaint pops up every now and then but is rarely placated. What happened to my screen? I remember when my 14" display running at 640x480 was huge. Today my dual 17" desktops running at 1280x1024 are barely adequate for design and my laptop can't handle web browsing at 1164x768 (or something close to that). Why do I need to drool over new laptops with resolution pushing 1920x1080? Or, more importantly, why do we waste our entire screens with garbage?

Try measuring the design space left on an Explorer 6 window on a 1024x768 display. Want to know what you get? Last I measured, it was something in the realm of 1011x487. By my count that's about 62% of your screen. Thank the lord Microsoft doesn't make such a great browsing product for my platform of choice or I might think this was acceptable. Screen waste is killing us everywhere. How much of your web mail is ad space? How about your news sites? Pop open your cell phone for further proof. My beautiful little Samsung model seems to think it's very important to replace the time with the word VERIZON about 66% of the time.

We can't all be greedy here people. Someone needs to start designing interfaces that give the user their screen back, pronto. Please. For the love of god, I don't want to have to jam another million pixels into my laptop so I can check my email aroud the four hundred buttons I'll never use on yet another worthless browsing search bar.
Friday, January 27, 2006
It used to be that a standard icon was 16x16. Then it was 32x32. Now it is 128x128. Icons now have 256 times as many pixels as they did a few years ago. But the giant megapixel screens of today are 256 times larger than a 72 by 72 pixel (5200 pixel) screen, which is much smaller than the 102,400 pixel monochrome green screens.

So, 'artsy interfaces' have grown at a much faster rate than the screen has. As a result, you now have LESS information displayed on your screen than you did when you had a monochrome text monitor.
Friday, January 27, 2006
Under Display Properties > Settings > Advanced there's a dialog where you can change the Windows DPI settings...
Kyralessa Send private email
Friday, January 27, 2006
Keep in mind that computers have become far easier to use, and a cost of that ease is some visual space.

Nobody's stopping you from filling your screen with a bunch of text console windows.  Consoles can be incredibly dense.  But it's hard to find the information you need quickly in a screen full of dense text.

We now accent interfaces with graphical hints, including icons, colored bars and shapes, and intentional whitespace.  These all require space, but provide many people with the ability to work more quickly and easily.
Marco Arment Send private email
Friday, January 27, 2006
I contest the more quickly part. As evidence, I point you to the large number of businesses that use DOS style entry forms for their work because it is more efficient.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
That's not why they use them...
Marco Arment Send private email
Saturday, January 28, 2006
I remember when the very first 640x480 video games started coming out. I was developing DOS arcade games in 320x200 VGA mode at the time. I remember telling someone that 640x480 was as high of a resolution as we would ever see in gaming. Anything more and you were just wasting memory.

Boy was I wrong...
Turtle Rustler
Saturday, January 28, 2006
"That's not why they use them."

That's why they say they use them. We are talking about places that have tried Windows apps and have tried web apps as replacements and their efficiency has taken a huge hit. DOS forms apps are still the most efficient applications around for data entry.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
"DOS forms apps are still the most efficient applications around for data entry."

Not compared to Windows apps that are "made" for data entry efficiency. But these aren't as commonplace as they should be. Why? Because software developers have their heads up their butts when it comes to designing usable interfaces.  ;) But there is no reason to say that DOS apps are better than Windows apps because I can design a completely text based Windows app if I really wanted to. So the actual distinction has to be elsewhere.

Can you tell that I'm cranky today? This is my third post tonight where I mention developers and asses or butts!
Turtle Rustler
Saturday, January 28, 2006
"But there is no reason to say that DOS apps are better than Windows apps because I can design a completely text based Windows app if I really wanted to."

Correct me if I'm twisting your words here...

A DOS (or green screen) app should be easier to design, implement, and train on.  Windows applications have exponentially more events and "features" the programmer, trainer, user, etc. will have to accommodate.  For example, mouse events...
Caffeinated Send private email
Saturday, January 28, 2006
One thing that constantly surprises me is the number of people who don't know that pressing the Tab key moves the input cursor from one field to the next (let alone Shift-Tab for going back). I can't be alone in having seen people who, when presented with a typical Web user registration page:

First name: [                  ]

Surname: [                ]

Address: [                  ]
        [                  ]

etc, type their first name in (because the browser puts the input cursor there for them), then *move their hand to the mouse, point to and click in the surname field, and move their hand back*, enter their surname, and so on.

Where DOS-style systems are found, people will typically have had 15 minutes of training which include the magic of the Tab key; but somehow people think GUIs mean 'no training needed'. I remember the Windows 3 help file used to include a non-insubstantial section on 'this is a mouse, this is a window, this is a maximize button' etc; I wonder if that still exists?
Larry Lard Send private email
Monday, January 30, 2006
Don’t assume that a green-screen character-cell UI is terrible just because it’s a green-screen character-cell UI. A character-cell UI form designed very well for the task will kick the butt of a mediocre GUI form every day. A GUI’s mouse, toolbars, tabs, resizable windows, proportional font, and color provide little or no performance benefits when a highly experienced user is typing away on a form. Make one or two design blunders in your GUI, like having a few fields with fussy format requirements, and you’ve blown whatever advantage you had out of the water.

Now I can believe a GUI form can be easier to *learn* than a character cell UI form, but even then you have to do you homework. Do you really think the meanings your cryptic toolbar icons are easier to memorize than the legacy app’s function keys? Did you notice that the legacy system’s workstation had function keys with custom text labels? Try beating that with icons. Frankly, the only thing that comes easy when migrating to a GUI is making the screens prettier. It’s a big mistake to assume that going GUI somehow automatically makes the UI better performing.
Michael Zuschlag Send private email
Monday, January 30, 2006
The point is in the parameters used to benchmark.
If data-entry is addressed, a skilled user and a black screen are terribly productive. I used to work with AS/400 and I had users who knew tenths of keys by memory. They were so fast that I could hardly follow them.
On the contrary, they had to learn those keystrokes, and it was painfull for them, and took quite a lot of time.
On the other side, nothing in more reassuring than a big "Click here to start Fooing" button in an unknown application.
More, a nice tree full of objects showing what's available within the application context shows the big picture in a glance. A very good example is the MS SQL Enterprise Manager. What is required to use it can be learnt in an afternoon, all the other features are there and nod at the user while more complex issues rise.
There is no thing like universal design; it depends heavily on the targeted use.

In addition, a windows app can be designed to be as dense as a DOS app, so there is no inherent preference. I imagine that a good windows app, designed correctly, and a skilled user are as productive as a black screen app.

Probably the best interface grows with the user. The best interface should allow to drop whistles and bells as long as they are not required.
Sevenoaks Send private email
Monday, January 30, 2006

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