User interface woes

We’ve been at it for five months now, and we still haven’t got it. I’m talking about the user interface concept of our little photo management software called ZPhoto. We’ve been at it for five whole months, planning, drawing, implementing, revising, arguing (quite laudably I might add) and trying to decide. I don’t think that even a week has gone without a significant change in the way the functionality is presented to the user, and this last week saw another major change in that.

A lot of people fear the computer. It is a complicated machine that is very susceptible to human error which makes every click and every keystroke a disaster waiting to happen. The professionals among us know how to avoid those pitfalls without thinking and usually fell as if the computer was the extension of our own being, the keyboard a part of our hands. But it is not so for many, and those people are still unable to use most of the software. And even geeks like me like programs that do their thing well – like a CD burning software I’ve used that has this big green buttons that says “Create a CD” and not much else.

I have attended a lecture on user interface once. It was long and quite tedious, but I still remember two things :

  1. The purpose of user interface is to provide access to the program’s functionality.

  2. People can grasp at most 7 items at a time.

There are other rules of thumb and common wisdoms in UI design, and it has other purposes (like aesthetics) as well, but those two are enough to drive you crazy on their own. On one hand there’s all this cool functionality you have thought of that’s going to blow your competition away and make them beg for mercy, and on the other hand there’s that stupid limitation of 7 items. You just can’t put more than 7 things on the screen at a time.

I think I had a point I was trying to make there but I lost it. On Saturday I’m going abroad for 7 days of hard core mountain biking and I’m thinking more about that than about anything else.

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