The war on widgets

5 Mar 2009 - 6:45am
5 years ago
9 replies
335 reads
Mattias Konradsson
2008

Hi all,

One thing occured to me the other day, are we going towards a future where
we will have less visible widgets and controls in our applications? Seems
many of the controls we pretty much takes for given has little or no use for
atleast more advanced users A good example is google chrome which has much
less chrome than for instance firefox or internet explorer, and I can't say
that I miss my titlebar, or menu.

Let's examine:

In order from most useless to more debateable:

The statusbar: Almost completely superflous, indicating state and progress
might be needed but it can be handled more in context (like an icon for a
tab or similar)

Toolbars: Why clutter the screen with features might or might not be useful
for you, if the options are context-based they are better accessed through a
context-menu of the entity in question

Menubars: If we remove all context-based options from the menu all that's
left are things like preferences, exit command like options. They could
either be accessed through a "global" context-menu or a single menu-button
like in office 2007

Scrollbars: Don't we all use mousewheels nowadays? The scrollbar does have
a function in indicating position in current view but maybe that could be
shown more discretly in some other way.

The desktop: I never understood people why fuzz about their desktop, it's
never visible! :) Organizing files on a desktop is generally a bad idea and
launching stuff from the desktop also has better solutions.

The windows taskbar/The Dock: Quicklaunch/launch options are better
replaced by things like quicksilver/launchy. Taskswitching is better done
through expose or something similar rather than the dock/taskbar. The only
useful thing remaining is some state information like clock, network state
etc.

The caveat is of course that reducing clutter means hiding stuff, and that
makes interfaces less accessible for beginners. But couldnt one argue that
if it becomes more commonplace with interfaces like that and users make it
past the initial hurdle it should make things much easier for everyone. What
do you guys think?

best regards
--
Mattias Konradsson

Comments

5 Mar 2009 - 7:57am
Fredrik Matheson
2005

Yes, skilled users should be able to configure their tools to suit their
(expert) needs.
You might be interested in Vimperator for Firefox: http://is.gd/fRbU

Novice/less skilled users will require other solutions, of course, so we'll
have to live with a dash of chrome for some time to come.

5 Mar 2009 - 9:43am
Jack L. Moffett
2005

On Mar 5, 2009, at 6:45 AM, Mattias Konradsson wrote:
> Toolbars: Why clutter the screen with features might or might not
> be useful
> for you, if the options are context-based they are better accessed
> through a
> context-menu of the entity in question

I can't say I agree with this one. Toolbars not only serve as access
to the tools, but may provide status as well. For example, when I'm
working in Photoshop, I have my cursor set to the cross hair for
perfect accuracy. The only way for me to check which tool I have
selected, then, is to look at the toolbar or use it to see what
happens. Furthermore, even as an expert user, there are some tools and
tool features that I use less often. A toolbar provides
discoverability, reminding me of the presence of such tools. If you
rely on contextual menus for all functionality, it is completely
hidden. There is much to be said for the phrase "a place for
everything and everything in its place".

> Scrollbars: Don't we all use mousewheels nowadays? The scrollbar
> does have
> a function in indicating position in current view but maybe that
> could be
> shown more discretly in some other way.

Mousewheels can be horribly inefficient in long documents, zoomed-in
views, and large work areas.

> The desktop: I never understood people why fuzz about their
> desktop, it's
> never visible! :) Organizing files on a desktop is generally a bad
> idea and
> launching stuff from the desktop also has better solutions.

And why should you have any desktop space in your office? All you
really need is a support for your keyboard and a cup holder. The
desktop is convenient. I don't use it to organize files, but I do use
it as a place to throw something temporarily. And personally, I still
prefer to have all of my discs and drives mount there. Besides,
something has to be at the bottom of the stack. It may as well be
useful.

> The windows taskbar/The Dock: Quicklaunch/launch options are better
> replaced by things like quicksilver/launchy. Taskswitching is better
> done
> through expose or something similar rather than the dock/taskbar.
> The only
> useful thing remaining is some state information like clock, network
> state
> etc.

The dock shows me quickly what applications are currently running on
my system. It provides status information, such as the number of new
email messages waiting in my inbox. Along with spring-loaded folders,
It allows me to drag a file into a deeply nested area of my system, or
onto the application I want to open it with, or the droplet I want to
process it with. It provides quick access to certain functions in an
application without switching to that application. And, it is
sometimes quicker for me to switch to an application in a different
space by clicking on it in the dock.

Best,
Jack

Jack L. Moffett
Interaction Designer
inmedius
412.459.0310 x219
http://www.inmedius.com

Questions about whether design
is necessary or affordable
are quite beside the point:
design is inevitable.

The alternative to good design
is bad design, not no design at all.

- Douglas Martin

5 Mar 2009 - 10:02am
Mattias Konradsson
2008

>
> I can't say I agree with this one. Toolbars not only serve as access to the
> tools, but may provide status as well. For example, when I'm working in
> Photoshop, I have my cursor set to the cross hair for perfect accuracy. The
> only way for me to check which tool I have selected, then, is to look at the
> toolbar or use it to see what happens. Furthermore, even as an expert user,
> there are some tools and tool features that I use less often. A toolbar
> provides discoverability, reminding me of the presence of such tools. If you
> rely on contextual menus for all functionality, it is completely hidden.
> There is much to be said for the phrase "a place for everything and
> everything in its place".
>

I agree that toolbars that provide state are useful in some interfaces, but
even the photoshop scenarion could potential be solved without a toolbar or
palette. If you could just right click, chose tools from the context menu
(probably would have to be a submenu, but at the top of the menu) and pick
the tool. The more tools the less attractive that solution gets however. You
could show "tool-mode" either by changing the cursor, or if in your case you
really want a cross-hair a symbol could however in the vicinity of the
cursor.

As for discoverability I'm not so sure, if you only get context-relevant
options all the time, you will be reminded of other options in that context.
Maybe that might be even better since it wont be hidden in a cluttered
toolbar or deep within a menu.

Mousewheels can be horribly inefficient in long documents, zoomed-in views,
> and large work areas.
>

But what's the scenario? If you need to scroll with the mousewheel to the
end of the document it might be inefficient but you could combine it with a
"goto page" context-menu

All in all I agree that a "context-driven" interface might provide a more
difficult threshold for new users in that paradigm, but once you learn that
everything is available as context (except state and indicators which
should of course be shown) might it not be easier? I doubt that completely
new computer users found toolbars and menubars to be totally self-evident
:) The current interface paradigms are deeply ingrained in most of us but
I'm not so sure there arent better alternatives

best regards
--
Mattias Konradsson

5 Mar 2009 - 11:00am
Jack L. Moffett
2005

Mattias,

I'm all for breaking conventions to introduce better solutions. I
don't believe, however, that contextual menus are always the best
answer. Given all of your suggestions, you are going to end up with
one overloaded menu. It would become difficult to find the particular
tool/option/function you are looking for. A well designed UI groups
and presents different types of functionality in different ways,
making it relatively easy for a user to remember or find any
particular piece of functionality. If you throw everything into a
contextual menu, you lose that mental mapping.

On Mar 5, 2009, at 10:02 AM, Mattias Konradsson wrote:

You could show "tool-mode" either by changing the cursor, or if in
your case you really want a cross-hair a symbol could however in the
vicinity of the cursor.

No, an icon hovering near the cursor would still be covering up nearby
pixels.

> But what's the scenario? If you need to scroll with the mousewheel
> to the end of the document it might be inefficient but you could
> combine it with a "goto page" context-menu

But how do I pick "go to the area about two thirds of the way down
against the right edge" from a menu? A map view is even better than
scrollbars for this, of course, but that's more "chrome".

Best,
Jack

Jack L. Moffett
Interaction Designer
inmedius
412.459.0310 x219
http://www.inmedius.com

Questions about whether design
is necessary or affordable
are quite beside the point:
design is inevitable.

The alternative to good design
is bad design, not no design at all.

- Douglas Martin

5 Mar 2009 - 1:35pm
usabilitymedic
2008

Anyone have any idea why I can't fond this thread on the ixda web site?

My iPhone doesn't have the original post so I thought I'd read from
the beginning via the site but it's not there. Unless I'm blind.

Sent from my iPhone

On Mar 5, 2009, at 11:00 AM, Jack Moffett <jackmoffett at mac.com> wrote:

> Mattias,
>
> I'm all for breaking conventions to introduce better solutions. I
> don't believe, however, that contextual menus are always the best
> answer. Given all of your suggestions, you are going to end up with
> one overloaded menu. It would become difficult to find the
> particular tool/option/function you are looking for. A well designed
> UI groups and presents different types of functionality in different
> ways, making it relatively easy for a user to remember or find any
> particular piece of functionality. If you throw everything into a
> contextual menu, you lose that mental mapping.
>
>
> On Mar 5, 2009, at 10:02 AM, Mattias Konradsson wrote:
>
> You could show "tool-mode" either by changing the cursor, or if in
> your case you really want a cross-hair a symbol could however in the
> vicinity of the cursor.
>
> No, an icon hovering near the cursor would still be covering up
> nearby pixels.
>
>
>> But what's the scenario? If you need to scroll with the mousewheel
>> to the end of the document it might be inefficient but you could
>> combine it with a "goto page" context-menu
>
> But how do I pick "go to the area about two thirds of the way down
> against the right edge" from a menu? A map view is even better than
> scrollbars for this, of course, but that's more "chrome".
>
>
> Best,
> Jack
>
>
>
> Jack L. Moffett
> Interaction Designer
> inmedius
> 412.459.0310 x219
> http://www.inmedius.com
>
>
> Questions about whether design
> is necessary or affordable
> are quite beside the point:
> design is inevitable.
>
> The alternative to good design
> is bad design, not no design at all.
>
> - Douglas Martin
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
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5 Mar 2009 - 7:49pm
Mike Myles
2009

I think the move is to more 'just in time' UI.

Look at tabs, more popular than ever. All the cool browsers are using
them now. :) They only show what pages you have active at any given
time.

The entire Office 2007 UI is built around task based, just in time
UI; contextual Ribbon tabs, for example. They are a blending of right
click/context menus, toolbars, and modeless dialogs.

All widgets have their place, but the ideal situation for any tool is
to only make it available when it's useful. It's not always easy to
figure out when that is, but then that's why there are designers
around - to work on those sorts of problems.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39547

6 Mar 2009 - 10:02am
Pedro Marques
2009

I agree with the point of view. All kinds of systems tend to be less
dependable and more autonomous requiring less control devices.

In system interaction, tangible, sound and visual feedback will
always be important.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39547

7 Mar 2009 - 3:35am
Edo A. Elan
2004

About scroll bars - not sure that we all use mousewheels, and not sure
that we all should (joint health). In any case, I occasionally run
into users who tediously click the little arrow at the bottom of
scroll bars, not realizing it can be dragged or wheeled.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39547

9 Mar 2009 - 12:19pm
gfrances@iconta...
2008

Statusbar

Generally agree with you.

Toolbars

Generally agree with you, but let the user decide if they want the clutter or not. If they do, in fact, even agree that it is clutter.

Menubars

You're starting to worry me with how many context menus are going to exist and how long they will be...

Scrollbars
Not everyone uses a mouse-wheel, and not everyone would appreciate being forced to use a mouse-wheel. There are certainly many ways to depict the user's location on page, but I'm not ready to agree just yet that the scrollbar is old and busted.

The desktop
It's a known central location that users often rely on. While advanced users may have little recourse to it (although I would argue over this), users need a "known-state" location they can get to when they are feeling lost, confused, or angry that designers thought they knew what users needed.

The windows taskbar/The Dock
Crikey. Your suggestions are more backward looking than forward looking, Mattias. Windows has a huge array of keyboard shortcuts - hide the taskbar and dock if you like. (You're putting me in mind of Wordstar, circa 1983!)

"...users make it past the initial hurdle..."
Three words: stable sub-optimal performance.

In short, Mattias, I think your ideas are generally great pieces of creative thought, but we need to keep our users in mind, and I just don't feel you're doing that at the moment.

- Gary Franceschini

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