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Three-Phase Design

Okay, so what has this got to do with software development? Aside from daydreaming about skiing Tahoe again, I wanted to introduce the triphasic model of human interfaces (Constantine 1994a, 1994c). The triphasic model says that system users have different needs at different stages in their development as users, and that the user interface should be designed to accommodate these changing needs. To do this, software must present different faces to users of different levels of ability, each designed with its own distinct features and particular technical goals. Like the network of trails at a good ski resort, these interface components are not really separate but are intricately interconnected.

The three interfaces in the triphasic model are the acquisition interface, the transition interface, and the production interface. The acquisition interface is the system the naïve user sees on first encounter with the software. A good acquisition interface enables the beginner to do work right from the get-go. The production interface makes it possible for an experienced, fully trained user to produce sophisticated results with high efficiency. In between is the transition interface, for the improving intermediates among software users—those who are beyond the slow and sloppy point-and-click of the beginner, but are not and may never be real power users who can slalom their way with shortcut keys through multiple applications in cascaded windows. Just as the novice, intermediate, and expert trails at the ski resort are distinct but interconnected, so a well-designed system presents a threefold interface with smooth transitions among its parts.


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