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Lab 4.2 Exercises

4.2.1. Judge the Effectiveness of User Interface Guidelines

a) Why aren't the detailed experimental results of interface experiments used more widely in user interface design?

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A1:

Answer: At a low level and for discrete user interface components the detailed usability results are useful. However, these results are not so useful for the top-level user interface design. In addition, the design needs to apply to the specific environment in which it will be applied. Without doing so, you tend to miss contextual issues that may affect how the user reacts and interacts with the interface.

b) The Apple guidelines in Table 4.1 form the heart of accepted wisdom in GUI design and can be used as a checklist against new user interface designs as they are produced. Once again, take a look at the applications you did in Exercise 4.1.2 and evaluate the applications according to the checklist.

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A2:

Answer: The results of your analysis will depend on the applications you select.

As we discussed previously, most modern applications use at least some metaphors from the real-word (trash can icons, buttons with printers, and so forth). In many cases, you will find that there is not always a fitting metaphor, so the designer will have to think up one.

Can you drag and drop into the application (direct manipulation)? Does it work the way you expect? For example, if you drop a document into the application, is the document opened in that application or are you simply given a link?

Is the application intuitive? Can you figure out what each function does? In general, users rely on recognition, not recall; they should not have to remember anything the computer already knows. That is, do you need to call up special dialogs before performing the necessary functions? Do you have to hunt through many levels of unclear menus? Note that this is more than “ease of use,” but also includes behaving in a way you expect from the information the application provides.

However, if you have multiple applications from a single vendor, look to see if the same vendor uses the same pictures on the buttons and that menus with the same function are in the same place with the same submenus. Also check if the application is consistent within itself. For example, if you select a menu entry, does it behave the exact same way as the corresponding keyboard shortcut?

WYSIWYG is also an important issue, although there are limits. If you are dealing with a word processor, graphics program, or something similar, you can generally expect that the appearance on the screen is what will end up on the page.

However, this does not apply to HTML applications. First, HTML does not specify how the text will appear. Instead, it leaves that up to the browser. Therefore, a designer could spend a great deal of time making the page look good in his or her browser only to find that in another browser it doesn't look right. Even with the exact same version of the browser, different settings will make the page appear differently. In addition, what you get on the printed page is not always the same as on the screen.

The issue of “user control” is a sensitive spot. I want as much control over the application as possible. Being forced to do something can often be more than just annoying. However, automatically performing some task may be useful, like automatically saving your document at regular intervals.

If you perform an action, do you get status information? Are there messages when something goes wrong? These are important aspects. Without any kind of feedback, it is not always clear if the action was completed. For example, when saving a file, some applications will write specific information in the status line at the bottom of the window.

How forgiving the application is can be difficult to quantify, but this is no less important than any other characteristic. For example, Microsoft produces an HTML editor called FrontPage that is not very forgiving. If you forget a closing angle-bracket (<) or quote(“), the program changes the meaning of everything else after that point. That is, things that are part of the text are now considered parts of an HTML tag and the HTML tags are now considered text. It even goes so far as to change the brackets and quotes into their corresponding name character references. For example, “ becomes &quote and < becomes &lt. To make things worse, this only happens when saving the file, which means the copy you just saved to the disk has the problem. This is not a very forgiving application, plus it takes too much control away from the user.

Perceived stability is obviously arbitrary, since we are dealing with people's perceptions. How often has Microsoft Word crashed and you have blamed it, rather than the inherent instability of Windows 95/98? Since you were working in Word and it crashed, there is the perception that Word is unstable. Another example would be an application on the Web where you do some kind of search (e.g., www.amazon.com, www.yahoo.com). If the application returns errors due to network problems, you may assume your application has problems.

An additional aspect of this is the errors that are generated. You obviously cannot do anything about problems in the connection between the user and your site. However, you can produce informative messages when the problem is your fault. The General Protect Fault that was so common in Windows 3.x has done a lot to give it the impression it was stable. Windows 95/98 is more specific about where the error came from, which helps the user see which application is at fault.

Finally, there is “aesthetic integrity.” If, for whatever reason, the application is not aesthetically appealing, the user will have problems with it. The most effective solution is to allow the user to configure as much of the appearance as possible. If that is not possible, you need to consider what is appealing to the most users. Windows 3.x had a Desktop Theme that looked like something out of Blade Runner or downtown Toyko at night. I have seen applications that had similar color schemes and there was no way to change it. It was painful to work with them.

When developing your own interfaces, it is well worth doing these checks before going to the expense of testing usability with real users in a controlled laboratory environment.

4.2.2. Apply User Guidelines to Examples

a) An example of one of Smith and Mosier's (SAM) guidelines is shown in Figure 4.2. Discuss the overall structure and how easy (or not) it is to get the necessary information from it.

Figure 4.2. An Example of a Smith and Mosier Guideline


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A1:

Answer: It is highly structured with sections showing guideline section and subsection, a description of the guideline with examples, exceptions, and comments. Very importantly, a list of literature references is shown (“see BB 2.2.1”). Last but not least are the very important links to related guidelines, which help the designer be confident that all associated guidelines have been considered.

While the SAM guidelines broke new ground, their use has been limited. Probably there were too many individual guidelines to be useful for designers. Finding a SAM guideline leads you on to several others. Doing an exhaustive search for all guidelines that apply to a particular user interface leads to a lengthy list. Knowing how to apply dozens of these guidelines is difficult. Rather, the list is often used as a checklist when the final user interface design has been completed.
b) What is a major shortcoming of the SAM guidelines? Discuss what effect this has on interface design.

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A2:

Answer: There are effectively too many small guidelines. Once a long list of SAM guidelines has been picked for a particular user interface design, it is difficult to formulate a design from them. That is, in many cases, the guidelines go into too much detail. Although possibly appropriate for design and development of individual actions or even tasks, these may be too low level for an interface design.


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