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Re: GUI questions

From: Jason Stover
Subject: Re: GUI questions
Date: Tue, 2 Oct 2007 18:00:55 -0400
User-agent: Mutt/1.5.10i

On Mon, Oct 01, 2007 at 10:10:29PM -0700, Ben Pfaff wrote:
> I wonder what everyone thinks about designing a "good" GUI (at
> least, one that we think is good) versus designing one that works
> the same way.  Do you think that users will be confused by the
> changes, or do you think that they will appreciate any
> improvements that we make?  It is hard for me to guess.  It is a
> little like vs MS Office: OO.o can improve the
> interface all they like, but MS Office users won't appreciate it,
> because they're used to MS Office.

I'm not sure what the answer to this is. The problem is that none of
us are GUI users. Like Ben, the only GUI I normally use is my
browser's. In a message from a long time ago, John called the GUI the
"methadone" for getting a user used to the syntax.  The problem is
that only programmers think this way.

I've been thinking about this GUI both as someone who wants to code
part of it and someone who listens to frustrated, non-technical
users. (I'm on a university-wide "technology committee.") Is it
possible to have a somewhat loose philosophy about the GUI? When writing
GUI code, maybe we should:

1. Write it as if it may have to be changed in the future, if
necessary. Given our own lack of interest in using a GUI, we don't
know what users will love or hate, so we should expect to make
unexpected changes. The GUI should be written to facilitate such
changes. (This statement may be too broad, but it seems like a decent
goal if we aren't certain about how a GUI should look.)

2. Don't imitate a bad feature of another GUI inless it seems users
must have it that way, or if the feature is so common that changing it
would annoy a lot of users. In my experience, almost all uses of a
program like PSPP are accounted for by a few features. Users familiar
with another program expect those common features to behave a certain
way, but don't care if the less common features get moved around a
little. So there doesn't seem to be any reason to duplicate bad design
for seldom-used features. In my experience, most users use only


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