Interface design

Voice Interfaces: Assessing the Potential

Jakob Nielsen says, in Alertbox, that voice interfaces have the greatest potential in the immediate future when they can be applied to situations where the traditional keyboard-mouse-monitor combination are problematic, e.g. users with disabilities, phone systems, cars. He adds that "visual interfaces can communicate much more information than auditory interfaces whenever users have a monitor and are capable of looking at it. And that "voice interfaces hold their greatest promise as an additional component to a multi-modal dialogue, rather than as the only interface channel."

It's fun to note that Jakob uses a HipTop. He's got a good suggestion for how to make voice alerts usable, if you want to have your phone tell you, "Your mother is calling". Would you really want that, though?

Frames and global navigation patented

I didn't believe this when I read it on other blogs, but Prodigy is claiming that in 1996 they patented web site global or primary navigation. There's a story on this topic in the NY Times. Something really has to be done about how patents get awarded. Why on earth would anyone want to pursue royalties on an interface design element such as navigation menus? I'm sure someone can make the claim that the design of persistent menus can be traced back to non-web interfaces and argue that these types of menus are not a new thing. This would be a good time to use the Internet Archive's way back machine, in this case to find some pre-1996 example of global navigation.

More from the article:

    When British Telecom claimed in 2000 that it had patented the Web's ubiquitous hyperlink, the Internet erupted in a fit of protest that lasted until the company lost its test infringement case against Prodigy Communications last summer.

    But that has not stopped Prodigy's parent company, SBC Communications, from asserting a patent claim on a Web navigation technique nearly as widely used. According to letters SBC sent out last week, the company believes that any Web site that has a menu that remains on the screen while a user clicks through the site may owe it royalties.

Boxes and Arrows: Interaction and interface

What is a Web Application? by Bob Baxley

What distinguishes a web application from a traditional, content-based website and what are some of the unique design challenges associated with web applications? A reasonable launching point is the more fundamental question, ?What is an application?

Visible Narratives: Understanding Visual Organization by Luke Wroblewski

Visual designers working on the web need an understanding of the medium in which they work, so many have taken to code. Many have entered the usability lab. But what about the other side? Are developers and human factors professionals immersed in literature on gestalt and color theory?

Back and forth and back again

Nature is running a story on some computer scientists from NZ who have redesigned the back button. The new design records all the pages you visit in the chronological order not just the pages that you click through.

The way I understand it is; if you click through a bunch of pages then use the back button to jump back 5 and carry on, a conventional browser would lose the pages before you used the back button. The new design would keep a record of all the pages in order. This seems to be a smart move but how users would react to it has yet to be seen, I would like to see trials other than the ones conducted by Cockburn et al.

Year-end wrap-up

Must be that time of year, since two usability-related year-in-review pieces came out yesterday:

Both are actually fairly level-headed and practical. Most of these things should be common knowledge for most IAs, but it's nice to see them summarized (and, in Nielsen's case, illustrated). HFI also has footnotes to all the relevant research, which is very useful for those ubiquitous “I'm looking for research that supports my opinion that ...” questions.

Eat Me, Drink Me, Push Me

In Digital Web, Christina Wodtke excerpts chapter 8 of Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web. This is the chapter discussing how to take your content and tasks and define them in terms of the interface. Nice examples of how tasks might be translated into UIs.

P.S. That floor plan is the second floor of my house! I diagrammed it in OmniGraffle. :)

Is the Computer Desktop an Antique
    After 20 years of point and click, we're ready to handle multiple interfaces within a single operating system. Bring on the zoom!
Steven Berlin Johnson has written a great article in Slate (with some additional commentary on his blog) about the divergent approaches/directions Apple and Miscrosoft have been taking with regard to desktop and application UIs. With Apple's iApps, the company is implicitly making the argument that the "one interface fits all" model doesn't work for organizing some types of data -- each iApp provides a unique interface for dealing different file types. Microsoft's Longhorn is going in the direction of making one interface work for browsing all kinds of data that might exist on your computer.

Click here

Nathan Ashby-Kuhlman takes "click here" link text to task, showing examples used in popular media sites. Click here to read it. :)

    The words “click here for...” and “click here to...” serve no purpose within links. Unfortunately, many news sites still use them. According to Google, “click here” is on about 8,970 pages at alone.
Navigate on the right? The jury is still out.

Lucian pointed to the short Syntagm article by William Hudson on right-side navigation. Hudson, responding to Bob Bailey's HFI newsletter article on the topic believes that we need more data before we can know that moving navigation to the right will be a real improvement.

International Children's Digital Library: Facet browsing ZUI

Peter V. pointed to the IDCL browser, a Java application that offers an interface for browsing an ebook catalog. What's unique about the catalog is that it offers a type of zoomable interface for browing categories such as About (Subject), Genre, Setting, Characters, etc. Clicking one facet drills you deeper into that facet tree, that is to say, reveals the sub-facets/categories and/or reveals the items within that node in a tiny thumbnail results window at top that you can expand to review hits. Each term you pick -- terms are the end-points, the buttons that don't have further sub-division -- is added to your collection (on top of the worm graphic) to show that you've combined terms in your search. You can click on one of the terms in that area to remove it from your search. The results window shows how your search terms have narrowed your results.

You have to have the Java Virtual Machine plug in installed to use this application. To start browsing by facet, click "Find books in category".

BBC adaptive boxes

In Auntie's facelift, Matt points to the innovative re-working of the home page. When you click a link in one of the blue boxes on the home page and then return to the homepage, that blue box will be a shade darker. The idea is that over time the boxes will adapt to show you which areas you work with most, which seems like a form of personalization to me, adapting to user behavior. Nice.

Sites that Don't Click

37 Signals research brief (2MB PDF).

[W]e reviewed the home pages of 10 prominent retailers and found that all of them displayed product images that were either non-clickable or were clickable but did not lead to a page where the featured product could be bought.

The Infrastructures of Digital Design

The Infrastructures of Digital Design: Thinking/Building/Living
University of California, San Diego
Friday, January 31st – Sunday, February 2nd, 2003

A free mini icon set

I created a set of small utilitarian icons for an X-Windows CRM application I worked on. I'm not an icon designer, so these may not be the best icons, but perhaps someone will find them useful for mocking up pages or something. You can download them here. -Michael (aka jibbajabba)

Design: static pages are dead: how a modular approach is changin

ACM interactions article by Julie Pokorny discussing modular template-based design for sites with frequently updated content. Users of the Internet have become increasingly sophisticated in their expectations for the content and timeliness of informational Web sites. This is especially true for sites that deliver real-time information. For example, content portals such as Yahoo! provide late-breaking news through content management systems, and sites such as have realized that in addition to serving their core users, they can also syndicate their contents to a variety of other sites. ... It is not enough to design templates that structure navigation and visual identity. Truly dynamic presentation of information will take a modular approach, and templates will need to include a rule structure that specifies how content and interactions are combined. As content management and other systems enable and demand such modular approaches, the role of the information architect becomes more challenging.

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