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For GUIs, Just the Right Degree of Realism

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the insightful-line-drawing dept.

GUI 256

mr crypto writes "User interfaces make copious use of pictures and symbols, but how abstract should images be? Lukas Mathis has an interesting blog entry on where to draw the line."

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FIRST POST! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30858664)

FIRST POST!

Re:FIRST POST! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30858720)

And that's about all that needs to be said here. RTFA and it's complete and makes infinitely good sense, so nothing to discuss about it.

Re:FIRST POST! (1)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860018)

Well, in slashdot land, there's only bickering and arguing, so you are right. However, I liked the article and would like to discuss its merits further.

Confusing icon practices (4, Interesting)

suso (153703) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858678)

Just yesterday, I was commenting on twitter about how the new icon sets for youtube videos are rather confusing. It took a bit of staring to figure out what these icons [suso.org] do. Nobody was able to guess the right answer. C_64 had the funniest answer though by saying "You can only go 8 bits forward or 8 bits to the left ?"

Re:Confusing icon practices (3, Insightful)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858864)

But regardless of age there are good and bad icons. Newer icons aren't better, and often they seem to be even more confusing than many old icons.

It's time to realize that a clean strict interface for the users is often better than all those flashy colors, gradients and animations that wastes time and productivity. Look into what users really do, not what you think the users should do with your software.

Re:Confusing icon practices (2, Informative)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859042)

Well much like the TFA stated it is really a balancing act. Adding enough detail to get the point across but not to much to make it distracting or to detailed for the concept. Colors and gradients do help when used correctly. Eg. when you represent a button it will need to be colored in a way that it appears to be 3d, or a toggle control will need some gradients in it to make it look more then a box in a box. Heck even putting a shadow under the active window to help it stand out.

Re:Confusing icon practices (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859552)

I think it would make more sense to make the non-active windows darker. Especially given that the active window doesn't need to be the one on top. And even if you have the active window always on top (a setting I couldn't stand, but some people apparently like it that way), the distinction between a bright and a dark window is much larger than the distinction between a window with and without shadow.

Of course the windows shouldn't be darkened too much, so you have no problems e.g. to read from one window while typing in another.

Re:Confusing icon practices (4, Insightful)

Speare (84249) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858972)

There's no such thing as "intuitive" computer interfaces. Instead, you want your interfaces to be "discoverable" and to build on other trained discoveries in a consistent way.

From that example of the new YouTube buttons, I agree they're bizarre. Pretty much any button that JUST shows an arrow is useless for discoverability. Does the arrow mean 'move' or 'grow' or 'next' or some other action? By "discover," we don't mean to literally experiment with invoking the button to see what it does-- many people are too timid to press anything they don't already understand. Instead, discovery involves finding that there IS a button that PROBABLY does what you already intend to do. For example, follow the mental conversation: "this window is too small, I want to make it bigger, there's got to be a button around here somewhere for making it bigger, oh aha! that one looks like a dark box getting bigger, so let me try that, yep, that's better."

Re:Confusing icon practices (2, Informative)

Ukab the Great (87152) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859258)

oh aha! that one looks like a dark box getting bigger

In HCI the technical term for this is an affordance [wikipedia.org]

Re:Confusing icon practices (4, Funny)

Foolicious (895952) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859524)

many people are too timid to press anything they don't already understand

Given my experience in IT in corporate America, I would say that this is not only not the case, but REALLY not the case.

Re:Confusing icon practices (1, Flamebait)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860116)

There's no such thing as "intuitive" computer interfaces.

I disagree completely. As a matter of fact, your next sentences proves that there is such a thing as intuitive interfaces by the fact that an intuitive interface is also "discoverable".

However, that does NOT mean that intuitive interfaces are derived from previous knowledge. This is why people who jump to OSX from Windows have such a hard time with the "intuitive" interface of OSX. They grew used to a poor interface (Window Whatever) and then brought those bad habits with them.

A truly intuitive interface is one that a user with little experience (not enough to be persuaded to try something out of habit) can just figure out. It's also more than just icons--it's system hierarchy, interfaces, dialogs, visual/audio/animation cues etc. I think iPods/iPhones are good examples of this, since most users are enamored by those products, most likely because they are easy to figure out without having any reference to compare them too (no prior experience).

Re:Confusing icon practices (3, Insightful)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860236)

There's no such thing as "intuitive" computer interfaces.

No there are lots of intuitive interfaces, there just aren't many (if any) "universal" interfaces. You can give me flack for it, but I'm going to go ahead and say that the Slashdot comment interface is very intuitive. I know the reply button starts a reply. The Cancel button cancels it. The option button lets me see various options. Very intuitive, I have not needed to press any of these buttons to know their respective meaning. That by definition makes it intuitive.

However, if I was from Japan, I wouldn't have any clue what any of these buttons mean. I'd probably get so fed up with it I'd request a Japanese version of Slashdot.

So what it comes down to is trying to make something universally understood. Surprisingly enough, any country that has vehicular traffic uses Green for Go and Red for stop. Whether thats based on open standards or some psychological root, I don't know. So if you had an option that you could start or stop, putting the same image in green and the other in red would show which one starts it and which one stops it. Similarily, the symbols on every Media player for Play, Pause, Rewind, Fast Forward, Stop, and Record are also Universal across the planet. So it makes sense to put them on any application that plays media.

There are a handful of things like this out there. It's not impossible to create an intuitive computer interface. The tricky part is to make it universal across all demographics of people who will use it, especially if there is a language barrier. This is where icons with the help of tooltip popups can be great.

Re:Confusing icon practices (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30859080)

... so what was the right answer?

Why leave us hanging like that?

Re:Confusing icon practices (2, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859156)

My car's interior is the worst example of that. Thanks to the internationalization of the automobile industry (and having no set standards), every control in my car (and many others) is now identified by an icon instead of a label. And many of the icons make no sense whatsoever. So every time I get in a new rental car, I have to figure out whether I'm turning on the heater or the windshield wipers with this control, or what the mysterious smiley-face-looking button does. They build a $20000+ car and can't spring for a few lousy labels in the local language?!?

Re:Confusing icon practices (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859458)

Thanks to the internationalization of the automobile industry (and having no set standards), every control in my car (and many others) is now identified by an icon instead of a label.

I agree, that is often pretty annoying but it's worse with computers -

Why the hell do you need icons in the first place? You can change the interface for a given language with localization files. You can use simple declarative text in a button with less ambiguity. If you change the language, change the text. If your interface has too many controls on it to use text, maybe consider simplifying the interface. All to often programmers get all excited about a row of shiny buttons with bizarre squiggles and lines - they line up as many buttons as they feel will fit on the screen, slap a tool text line in the code and call it a day.

Strangely enough, Blender gets it right on this aspect, most other programs don't.

Re:Confusing icon practices (1)

HateBreeder (656491) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859774)

If they just used text instead of icons, the text would seem mashed together with adjacent text to the point where it would be difficult to distinguish where to stop and where to start reading.

Icons, while sometimes fail to convey the functionality properly, at least manage to display a clear separation between one function and the other.

Re:Confusing icon practices (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859984)

True to an extent, but as has been pointed out, modern screens often have lots of resolution - plenty for text. Perhaps in small screen cases like the iPhone you're point is more valid.

But, OK, everybody raise their hands who've seen a full screen application with plenty of screen space with eight strange icons consisting of squiggles, circles, arrows and something resembling a thunderbolt.

Thought so....

Re:Confusing icon practices (1)

DangerFace (1315417) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860024)

Why the hell do you need icons in the first place? You can change the interface for a given language with localization files. You can use simple declarative text in a button with less ambiguity.

Icons speed understanding and free up screen space. The first example I can see in front of me is that of a web browser. If the 'back' button was large enough to have 'back' written on it in readable text, it would be three or four times the size with reduced functionality, since a foreigner would have to find their way into the language options to be able to tell what it did. When we get on to buttons like 'refresh' or 'close tab', I think you can see how quickly screen space would be used up.

Additionally, I can glance up at the toolbar in pretty much any web browser on anyone's computer and tell what the buttons do almost instantly, without having to read what each one says. Reading actually takes quite a long time, in terms of brain functions - of course it is tremendously useful for fairly complex concepts and interactions such as this one, but there is a necessity for ideas like 'refresh page' to have simple representations so that when I'm at a friend's house I can use their browser much more intuitively. Also, if I'm visiting Germans or Italians I can jump on their computer and navigate to English language websites without knowing their language well enough to change their preferences.

Re:Confusing icon practices (1)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859194)

The biggest problem in UI design is using graphics for controls at all. USE WORDS! People not only know what clicking somewhere does, but they can search for the button they want with CTRL-F.

The only time you should use graphics for controls is when you're designing something your users will use frequently throughout the day every day. Then they will have a chance to learn your symbols and will appreciate the screenspace saving. The other 99% of apps should use no icon sets. Users can read. Take advantage of that.

Re:Confusing icon practices (1)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860246)

I tried an all-words interface recently for an interactive training module at work. I tried to model it after the Adobe Light Room interface. I liked it a lot, but it didn't get a good reception. Seems our business dev people are more concerned with teh shiny than they are functionality.

Re:Confusing icon practices (1)

otravi (1289804) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859426)

I still wonder what that icon does. It doesn't even have a tooltip and clicking it seems to do nothing :V.

Re:Confusing icon practices (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859484)

Maybe I'm just old (well, I am) but I absolutely HATE icons, on my computer screen and in my car and other devices. Icons are for illiterates (including those who are literate in other languages).

Most icons are abysmal. IE's icon is a lower case "e" on what appears to be paper; if you had never used IE you would have no clue that it was a web browser. I'm thankful that they put text underneath the icons so I can tell WTF the icon is for, but the text makes the icon redundant. Having an icon without the text is, in my opinion, stupid. It has nothing to do with whether or not an icon is photorealistic or stylized.

*Sigh* in six thousand years we've progressed from hieroglyphics (which can't be decoded without a rosetta stone) to alphabets and printed text, back to hieroglyphics (which can't be decoded without text).

Icons serve no purpose on a computer except to pretty it up. In my car I'd far rather have the word "headlights" than a stylized picture of a headlight.

Re:Confusing icon practices (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30859806)

Wow, your narrow view on what things should be is kind of retarded.

For one, as somebody who has great distance vision (well enough to drive) but terrible near vision, I wouldn't be able to read just about any words on a car dash because to fit all the labels, in a way that it is clear what the label is for, the text would be tiny.

If there were no icons on a computer desktop, it would be a pain in the ass to find anything. Can you imagine reading through a list of text every time you wanted to open IE? You only have to do it once, maybe twice, then you remember the icon and you can spot it way more easily. Text and icon work together, they aren't redundant at all. In fact, I often change the icons of some of my often used folders so I can just scroll down and see the picture.

I have to believe you haven't really thought through your "no icons" philosophy.

Handbrake is the worst offender (1)

jgtg32a (1173373) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859652)

All I have to say about Handbrake is fuck that icon. I don't use the program that often at all. A few months back I wanted to convert some media files, I'm on vista so I hit the Win key and try to type in the app name. Now what was that program called, OK I remember the Icon was a pineapple with a drink next to it; I tried blender and about six different drink names, trying to come up with the name. I ended up having to Google the name

Re:Confusing icon practices (1)

ewieling (90662) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859800)

Which is less confusing, a little icon that looks sort of like a toaster, or a button that says "PRINT"? Obviously the little icon that sort of looks like a toaster or they would not have removed words from the buttons.

Re:Confusing icon practices (1)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859924)

I'm guessing they rotate the video 90 degrees in either direction?

Re:Confusing icon practices (1)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860294)

In far more interfaces than not (media players, custom app buttons, etc) I have to resort to hovering over a given control to wait for the tooltip and learn what it does. The problem here is as we more into customized/unique-appearing apps, the learning we have done that says "this is what thing-X should look like" becomes less relevant. And since no two applications are standardizing on the same interfaces, there's essentially a learning curve for each one whereas in the past learning the first would also help you learn the second.

Thank you. (3, Insightful)

Cornwallis (1188489) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858764)

Really. That was a very nice article that made me think about some things I've never really considered.

Re:Thank you. (3, Informative)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860292)

Really. That was a very nice article that made me think about some things I've never really considered.

I work in the field of design (mostly designing computer-based training) and can tell you that your sentiment is more common than not. Most people never think of design or how it impacts their daily lives.

Because of this, I always suggest two books: The Design of Every Day Things and The Non-Designer's Design Book.

Once you read these two books, you'll never look at things the same way again. You'll start noticing poorly designed things EVERYWHERE and wonder why it wasn't made better. You'll even formulate your own ways of making it better, which in turn (generally speaking) makes your own work better.

It depends where you want to draw the line. (4, Interesting)

je ne sais quoi (987177) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858768)

If you're looking for a generic UI than I suppose easy to recognize generic symbols are the best. However, my dream is to make the UIs that actually mimic reality but the trick is keeping them fairly usuable still. I don't want it to be cartoonish, I want you to look at the UI and mistake it for a fantastic physical machine rather than a monitor. For example, if you look at the themes on the exchange [enlightenment.org] site for e17, a lot of these not what you'd call an every day sort of theme but appeal to a particular aesthetic. Examples include steampunk [enlightenment.org] , grunge [enlightenment.org] , and baroque [enlightenment.org] that incorporate photo realistic elements with varying efficacy (e.g. baroque is a cool concept but very hard on the eyes). The idea is to make the living-room computer more than just a tool, but a functional piece of art.

What I'd love to do is make a theme that looks like the 1960s version of futuristic computers and space ship aesthetic from the movie 2001, with light-bulb lit buttons of different colored plastic, lots of milled metal highlights and dark plastic everywhere.

Re:It depends where you want to draw the line. (2, Insightful)

halcyon1234 (834388) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859158)

For example, if you look at the themes on the exchange site for e17, a lot of these not what you'd call an every day sort of theme but appeal to a particular aesthetic

There's an important difference: layout familiarity.

Chances are anyone who uses a program enough to want to theme it is already familiar with all the control they will use. They've already associated "upper corner, second button from the left" with the "home" button. They can change the appearance of the button, because they don't rely on the visual representation for context anymore. (And if they did, there will be just a minor learning curve)

Plunking a new user in front of the themed version of the program (versus a "simplified UI" version) is different. They have to learn all the buttons from scratch, because they don't see the familiar, simple "home" button anymore. They'll just see the animated Steam-Blenching Blundurbuss-Widget.

I do wonder, though, if you took someone intimately familiar with (for example) steampunk, and dumped them in front of a steam-punk theme program, if they'd have an easier time learning than a simplified theme? After all, the underlying hypothesis here is that users will be less confused by easy-to-grok graphical representations. Cultural (or even sub-cultural) references might be easier to understand (at least for that culture)

Re:It depends where you want to draw the line. (2, Interesting)

imakemusic (1164993) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859274)

Sounds awesome! Don't think I'd want to use it for any length of time though...

I am surprised at the lack of interesting interfaces though. Windows, OSX and most Linux distros are all basically variations on a theme - you've got your program windows, your menu (at the bottom or at the top, or if you're really feeling wild at the side!) and that's about it. Everything is grouped either vertically or horizontally - obviously curves are harder to program, but surely not that difficult? How about a menu that radiated out from (for example) the start menu, with groups of icons on each 'spoke'? I'd like that - one spoke for internet apps, one for media, one for development tools. Windows key+1 for one spoke, windows+2 for another...

While I'm on the subject does anyone know of any interesting interfaces? I remember trying lightstep years ago...ran like a bag of shit and the interfaces mostly sucked but there were some good ideas.

Re:It depends where you want to draw the line. (2, Insightful)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859666)

It's called KISS. No, not the band, but KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID.

Re:It depends where you want to draw the line. (1)

imakemusic (1164993) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859872)

Yeah, I see what you're saying. There is definitely a benefit to having consistency between machines (especially if you're a sys admin) but it seems to me that there is a lot of room for improvement in areas that are neglected while things that work fine get a pointless overhaul. Maybe I'm just bored with it...

Re:It depends where you want to draw the line. (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859306)

Pretty, but ultimately not useful.

Opposite Feeling (1)

TheNinjaroach (878876) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859538)

I've used software with that photo-realistic, it's a fantastic machine UI that you are a fan of and I did not like it one bit. My problem with making fancy physical looking machines on a monitor is the fact I still can't interact with it very well. It's just a flat image that I can only manipulate with a handful of mouse gestures. "Can I click this? Do I drag that? I did not know that lever moved!" It basically hides a bunch of functionality in plain view and really confuses the heck out of me.

Re:It depends where you want to draw the line. (2, Interesting)

qazwart (261667) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859798)

I think this is actually one of the problems with Linux interfaces. They get so stuck on the THEME and not much on user usability.

When Mac OSX first came out, it was bright and colorful. Icons were eye popping. Over the various iterations, Apple toned down the interface. It went from candy striped to stainless steel to steel gray, icons became simpler, and color was more carefully used. The early Aqua theme did its job of making the Mac look eye popping fresh compared to Windows. XP even took the cartoony color schemes, to the heights of uglitude.

However, although Mac fanboys whined about the changes in Aqua (and toning down the colors), it actually improved the interface. The simplification of the icons improved readability. The reduction of color saturation improved the look and made the interface less distracting.

We must keep in mind the purpose of the GUI is not to create really cool looking desktops, but to help the user navigate. You notice that the Mac OSX interface has no concept of themes. You can't change the skins of the windows. You can't edit the look and feel of the menus. (I don't think you can even change the fonts). The taskbar can only be on the bottom or side. Yet, the Mac OSX interface is the standard that other GUIs try to meet.

The Mac's desktop's trick is not to be a personal expression of the user, but to help the user navigate. Retro style windows and desktops, Geek themes, and all the fancy 3D icons do none of that.

Re:It depends where you want to draw the line. (1, Insightful)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860156)

> The taskbar can only be on the bottom or side. Yet, the Mac OSX interface is the standard that other GUIs try to meet.

That has more to do with hype and ignorance than anything else.

It's somewhat exclusive. You need to buy special hardware for it. So all you ever hear about
it are mostly the fanboy accounts. The way Macs are marketed tends to keep the casual tinkerers
away. Someone without a pro-Apple agenda is unlikely to use a Mac to any meaningful degree.

So it becomes something more mythical than real...

For some things, a giant photo realistic icon is just the thing.

The end user should ultimately be able to make that judgement.

Re:It depends where you want to draw the line. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30860152)

You are insane... those E17 themes are infected with a contagious winamp mutation.

Why represent the virual, which everyone is familiar with, with detailed physical approximations that will _not_ be displayed spatially. Abstracted is the way to go.

Data source Visual Studio (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30858818)

Talk about confusing! When I first saw that sparkling gold bar on Visual Studio, I thought it was a payment option to Microsoft to buy more features for the IED.

Re:Data source Visual Studio (1)

Nabeel_co (1045054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858880)

Wait, which sparkling gold bar? It has been a while, but looking at some screen shots, I can't seem to find any gold bar. Don't make me breakout my CDs and reinstall it again.

Re:Data source Visual Studio (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30859740)

He must mean internet explorer and just can't remember what he is talking about. I use Visual Studio nearly every day at work and it doesn't have any gold bar that I can remember ever having seen.

many words (4, Insightful)

Odinlake (1057938) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858842)

My, that was many words to say one thing over and over and over again. Pretty pictures though.

Re:many words (0, Troll)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858892)

Are you allergic to words?

Seems to be a developing condition amongst the young and ignorant.

Re:many words (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30858940)

tl;dr

Re:many words (1)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859132)

In simpler terms you might understand:

FAIL.

Re:many words (3, Informative)

KingOfGod (884633) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858954)

Redundancy turns precious information to noise.

Re:many words (4, Insightful)

StripedCow (776465) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859146)

Redundancy turns precious information to noise.

Funny thing is, that was exactly what the article was all about!

Re:many words (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30859178)

Yes, I agree. Redundancy turns precious information to noise.

Re:many words (1)

Foolicious (895952) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859642)

Redundancy is also the key to overcoming noise, at least in theory (http://www.afirstlook.com/docs/information.pdf). It just depends upon the message that you need to get across and how much noise there is.

All that to say that UI design is different than, say, P2P networking or teaching your kid not to lick the TV.

Re:many words (1)

Korbeau (913903) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860022)

Redundancy turns precious information to noise.

Hmm?
You mean that you didn't get the info from a well-vulgarized, to-the-point article with many picture examples? It looked like noise to you?

While I don't have the exact same idea than the author on the subject I understood what he meant clearly in a few minutes, and he didn't try to give me any bullshit or go around extrapolating the meaning of the Universe from it. That's precious info "not" turned into noise.

Re:many words (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860148)

Redundancy is very useful in advertising and other propaganda. If one hears a thing often enough, (s)he will likely believe it. Hear it only once and (s)he will likely forget it.

Re:many words (1)

Myopic (18616) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859108)

/rolls eyes

Uh huh. And baseless meaningless generalizations is a developing condition amongst TheKidWho.

Also, trolling on Slashdot causes cancer.

Re:many words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30859180)

Looks like he's just allergic to pointless repetition of words.

Re:many words (1)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859378)

I know in your retirement home people tell the same stories over and over and over, but we've heard enough about the war, Grandpa.

Re:many words (1)

Odinlake (1057938) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859678)

Are you allergic to words?

Seems to be a developing condition amongst the young and ignorant.

Curious, why do you think that? Surely it is something of an attribut by definition among ignorant. And among the young it seems rather the opposite would be more accurate, what with more emailing, facebook, wikipedia, blogging etc. for every generation.

Unless of course, what you really mean is "allergic to pointless flamboyancy". Yes, that is probably what you mean if I translate your words into my own frame of reference. Well then, in a sence I agree (about youths, not the ignorant). When subjected to ever higher loads of information, people probably become less and less patient with words that don't really add anything (in case of the article in question, redundancy).

Or perhaps you are just exclaiming that the young are becoming ignorant, but I'll give you credit for more than that.

Re:many words (2, Insightful)

IBBoard (1128019) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859308)

And at the end of it I still don't know how abstract a picture should be - unless you count "just abstract enough" as an answer!

I was hoping for some insight and all I got was pretty pictures and hand-waving :(

Re:many words (1)

LKM (227954) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859596)

The answer is that you should do user testing.

Re:many words (1)

blau (759804) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859638)

And at the end of it I still don't know how abstract a picture should be - unless you count "just abstract enough" as an answer!

I guess if it was possible to say "This is the perfect icon! All icons have to be like this!" it would already have been done and there wouldn't be so many bad UIs around.

Who else remembers the horror? (3, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858856)

Of the period in the early to mid 90's when pretty much every second-string audio player program, and there were a fair few in those days, decided that the One True Interface for any audio program was an inscrutable bitmap reproduction of a knobs-n'-sliders 70's stereo system?

Re:Who else remembers the horror? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30859096)

Of the period in the early to mid 90's when pretty much every second-string audio player program, and there were a fair few in those days, decided that the One True Interface for any audio program was an inscrutable bitmap reproduction of a knobs-n'-sliders 70's stereo system?

But guess what -- nearly everyone who grew up with 70s stereos instantly knew how to use those programs. Without having sort of prior knowledge, would you know that the > icon meant 'play', or that >| meant 'next track'? No, you wouldn't. At least not instinctively. You need some sort of baseline experience to begin. For all those audio apps, a 'standard' stereo system was that baseline.

Re:Who else remembers the horror? (1)

Tacvek (948259) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859612)

Sure, but you don't need to show a cassette deck, with the same style of buttons as on a real tape deck for people to be able to recognize those symbols. Simple command buttons with those symbols works just as well. While it may help to have the same sort of markings on the equalizer panel as you would find on a real high-end stereo system, having photo-realistic sliders gives no real benefit.

Re:Who else remembers the horror? (3, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859154)

Early to the Mid 90's is when most computers were able to do at least 640x480x8bit this was a big deal, before we were stuck on 320x200 resolution for 8bits (if you were lucky, I was a 320x200 2bits CGA) But in short this is when computers now able to show photo realistic pictures. And many developers have long waited for the ability to make programs that look so much like the real thing, As the earlier systems required a lot of artistry to come up with a cartoonish icon at best. So it was really a large scale experiment on how realistic you can make your program... What happened over time was people realized that being to realistic wasn't helpful and overlaying a 3d Interface with 2d controls was counter productive

Redundancytition (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30858886)

He repeats himself a lot of times by saying the same things over and over. It's like he could have said all he said in one sentence. The article didn't contain a lot of information, it was mostly the same sentence in different words. I think the article was very repetitive, even though it was an original thought to me. The article makes good work of giving a lot of good examples of this concept.

Re:Redundancytition (2, Interesting)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859200)

In my experience, if you write something just once, you'll get a slew of responses which are basically strawmen. Readers will read only what they want to read, and unless you beat their heads with the main point, they'll miss it.

In case there's any confusion, I'll repeat myself. If you say it once, readers will miss it. Maybe not you, but enough to be annoying. So, you say it multiple times, so the slow people can catch up.

Re:Redundancytition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30859434)

Damn, you are tense.

Computer HUD (0)

supernatendo (1523947) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858906)

I have always wanted to make a UI based around the actual physical layout of the computer itself. For instance, say you are working on a Optiplex Dell of some sort, I would find it very useful to see a layout not unlike the physical damage indicators you see in Star Wars Podracers. You want to access a file? Click on the hard drive, want to see CPU usage reports? Click on the CPU! Not only would it be a cool UI but it would also be a useful educational tool.

If this could be done it would be awesome. The hardest part would be creating all of the different layouts for all of the differrent computer models.

Re:Computer HUD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30859112)

Let's just hope you don't make your dream come true.

Re:Computer HUD (1)

Myopic (18616) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859126)

Search the internet for Microsoft Bob.

Re:Computer HUD (1)

hyades1 (1149581) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859254)

If you want to see porn, you click on.....oh, never mind.

Re:Computer HUD (1)

lordandmaker (960504) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859356)

This sounds completely unworkable and even more pointless.

* Computers stack things. The CD drive's above the HDD, say. That's the only two interesting bits, in the same place.
* Optiplex motherboards have expanses of nothingness. Unless there's something to be gained from clicking on conductors?
* Power supplies, memory and CPUs are huge and mostly uninteresting.

I don't want to see the web browser.

Re:Computer HUD (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860330)

I made a scanner icon by taking a photo of my scanner and removing the "background". I cut out the scanner itself and left everything else transparent.

It makes a really cool scanner icon. I use it for my scanner "work area".

Got something similar for my video camera and still camera.

Being able to set any old image file as an icon is very handy.

All of that makes a nice contrast to "generic" folders. The "emblems" in Gnome are handy too.

Well hot damn! (0, Redundant)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858928)

That has to be she shortest stub I've ever seen on Slashdot. I wonder if it's possible to say that the stub is small, and the fact that I want to make this comment shorter than the stub, in less words than are in the stub?

1, 2, 3, 4... 25, 26, 27, 28 to beat!

1, 2, 3... 47, 48, 49.

Shit.

Human language is real enough? (3, Insightful)

mcmonkey (96054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858996)

While this guy talks about realism, he's missing the point. If we didn't have each software designer creating its own visual language, then we wouldn't have the issue of how well that language is designed.

When Microsoft has its own set of hieroglyphics, and Apple has theirs, and Adobe has theirs, and each OSS has its own language--which is similar to some existing commercial language to leverage user experience, but different enough to avoid getting sued--then the issue is not how well these languages are designed.

The issue is, why should the user need to learn a new language for each application?

You may say, well, if you put all your commands in English, then only English speakers can use your app. Fair enough. But if you put all your commands in some bespoke language spoken by no one, doesn't it follow then no one can use your app?

Designers, pick an existing language used by your target market. Is that real enough?

Re:Human language is real enough? (3, Interesting)

Eraesr (1629799) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859292)

When Microsoft has its own set of hieroglyphics, and Apple has theirs, and Adobe has theirs, and each OSS has its own language--which is similar to some existing commercial language to leverage user experience, but different enough to avoid getting sued--then the issue is not how well these languages are designed.

The issue is, why should the user need to learn a new language for each application?


I think the real underlying problem is that each software engineer has his own set of rules as well. Behavior of a specific function can be slightly different in one program than it could be in another program. If we use the same textual and visual representation for the function in both programs, the user would expect the exact same outcome, while that may not be true.

Re:Human language is real enough? (2, Funny)

El_Muerte_TDS (592157) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859532)

You may say, well, if you put all your commands in English, then only English speakers can use your app.

Actually, you don't have to be able to speak English. As long as you can read it you're fine.

Re:Human language is real enough? (1)

P-Nuts (592605) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859566)

There isn't enough room on the screen for all the icons in a complex program to be written out in English.

Re:Human language is real enough? (1)

Cro Magnon (467622) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859982)

There isn't enough room on the screen for all the icons in a complex program *snip*

And that's part of the problem.

Re:Human language is real enough? (1)

Foolicious (895952) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859760)

Part of intuitiveness is recognizability. You may disagree, but the fact that you almost certainly understood my last sentence even though "recognizability" is not actually part of the existing English language, lends at least a little bit of credence the other way. If you want to talk about building interfaces off of already recognizable "standards" that makes good sense, but if you want to compare UI elements to elements in a language, then part of the fun is that the dictionary is always growing. Your idea also doesn't take into account that parts of Apple's or Microsoft or whomever's UI suck.

SAP and other ridiculous steaming piles (1)

b4dc0d3r (1268512) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859002)

SAP is one of the worst offenders, but I have to say I've seen the largest collection of poorly thought out icons at work, where someone puts on a dog and pony show to convince our company to buy things, and our company bites without trying it out on a few users first.

I hate having to 'mouse-over' an icon to find out what it does, and even worse is when it doesn't have a tooltip. Corporate software seems to be where the worst designs live because anything else is quickly abandoned in favor of something intuitive.

Thus, corporations tend to increase their own training budgets by basing decisions on bullet-point comparisons instead of real-world usage. You put something obvious in front of people, they'll be able to figure it out. But when the "Overview" button is a mountain with random clouds behind it or something, and the "Give me the report based on what I selected" button is in an entirely different frame from the selection criteria, your software is crap. Yes SAP I'm calling you out, but there are others just like you, which is the only reason you're still in the business. That and company execs are too embarrassed to simply say "we paid too much, here's your out clause, delete all versions and we're moving to something else". That would leave you responsible for excess expenditures, while forcing your peons to work with crap software doesn't reveal cold, hard numbers in the form of productivity loss due to training and questions and people just not being able to figure it out and saying to hell with it.

Look at your training budget before you buy.

I am icon-impaired... (2, Interesting)

pongo000 (97357) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859078)

I wish there were more studies about how some people (such as myself) simply cannot deduce the meaning of icons without a lot of effort. Some of the "meaningful" icons presented in the article still don't mean anything to me. I'm constantly hovering over the same icons to get the "tooltip" to tell me what I'm looking for. CLI? No problem...the command I need is instantly in my grasp. GUI? I'm forever having to stop, pause, and process icons to figure out what the hell they actually mean. GUI menus with words instead of icons are the best for me in the GUI world: Instant recognition, no extra processing steps required.

Am I the only icon-impaired person out there?

You're not alone (3, Interesting)

lyinhart (1352173) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859248)

You're not alone. In The Humane Interface [wikipedia.org] , Jef Raskin rightfully pointed out that descriptive text beats icons on any day. I believe he even cited studies that supported his claims. But in documents pertaining to the original Macintosh (a project Raskin led before Steve Jobs made it his pet project), developers were encouraged to use icons instead of text whereever possible.

Icons are used for two purposes - they generally take up a fixed number of pixels that generally use less space than text and they look pretty. The first reason is moot since even the cheapest display devices can spit out high resolution images with lots of space for text. And even if there isn't enough space, text labels can always be hidden via collapsible menus. Text can also be scaled to larger and smaller sizes as needed. The second reason is probably one of the biggest selling points for operating systems with pretty GUIs, e.g. Mac OS X. But with text labels, there's far less ambiguity about what they mean.

Of course, there are situations where icons would be preferable. If you can't translate descriptive text for buttons in other languages, then an icon might be more convenient to use. And of course, they look good. I doubt the iPhone would sell so well if the pretty icons were replaced by text.

Re:You're not alone (1)

jgtg32a (1173373) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859786)

From the Wiki article, I haven't read the book, it doesn't seem to say that Text is better than Icons; it says that Icons w/o text are worse than Icon w/ text. I personally agree with that, I can locate something based on its Icon than I can find a string of text, even if they are the same size.

Re:I am icon-impaired... (1)

IBBoard (1128019) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859410)

The Tango project tried to stay multi-lingual and meaningful to as many people as possible by representing the action rather than playing word games. They did still have huge problems with ideas for some icons, though, as the concepts were just too vague. I tend to find the Tango icons quite sensible for meanings, but someone must have done some image processing and interpretation research on them.

I don't suppose you'll ever get perfect recognition, since most of the actions on a computer can be quite abstract anyway and so don't always have perfect mappings, but sometimes the image must be more understandable (especially in the space available) than what could be a few words or more.

A word is worth a thousand pictures (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30860072)

Such was the conclusion of the team that designed the original Mac (not OSX...the 1984 version.)

The icons do serve a purpose...once you've mastered the interface, you'll recognize the icons by sight without having to read the text. But for a naive user, text is a must.

paws (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859086)

I forget what the application (or was it a game?) was... probably on the Amiga. The 'pause' button was a pair of animal footprints... paws.

In the Clarion 5.x Development environment the 'compile and run' button is a little blue cloud with a bunch of lines off to the right, presumably to indicate movement. Most people i've spoken to know that icon as the 'blue fart'.

To be fair, there is only so much you can do in 8x8 or 16x16 pixels...

Re:paws (2, Informative)

Nyxeh (701219) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859128)

It was lemmings with the 'paws' button iirc.

Re:paws (2, Informative)

nkh (750837) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859140)

The game Lemmings had something like the footprints you describe to pause the game.

Re:paws (2, Informative)

MisterZimbu (302338) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859216)

The "paws" icon is from Lemmings. I could imagine it being in other games too, though.

Re:paws (2, Informative)

imakemusic (1164993) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859312)

Lemmings is the game you're think of.

Re:paws (2, Insightful)

BlackSash (1420967) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859324)

That would likely be the original Lemmings. Now there was a game that got some of its UI elements correct!
The hell with icons, let's just depict the actual thing the little dullards will do!

Want to kill them all? Hit the NUKE button.

Ahhh good times, good times...

Re:paws (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30859576)

I'm not sure but I have a feeling that was in Lemmings.
Someone else here may be able to confirm this.

Does anyone know for sure?

Thank you, Captain Obvious! (3, Interesting)

bickerdyke (670000) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859092)

That guy is 100% right, but there isn't anything new, let alone newsworthy in that post.
But it has a few nice examples.

On the other hand, that guy completly misses the intresting points: How did we end up with a "house" as an icon for your personal files* or a "cog" as a symbol for additional commands in the first place? A Leaf for a Web-Editor? A Trumpet for Network Connection? Lighthouse for a webbrowser?

* That one sounds easy for an IT-pro who knows that the concept of a "home directory" is older than icons - but that only makes this meaning of "home" an old one, and not an intuitive one.

Re:Thank you, Captain Obvious! (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859176)

Mmm, quite. I groaned as soon as I saw his bootlicking of Scott McCloud, the unmarried-marriage-guidance-councilor of comicdom. Here's a hint: if you learn anything from statements of the bloody obvious, then you're in the wrong field to begin with.

Re:Thank you, Captain Obvious! (2, Interesting)

darkvizier (703808) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859522)

I've never read a user interface design article or book that I found insightful. Bickerydyke is right, this article completely glosses over the actual evolution of our current icons and how they changed people's expectations to what they are today. Instead, he poses some contrived gradient scale of reality -> cartoon and posits this as the only relevant factor.

Who writes these things? All the "UI experts" I've seen seem to take their field in isolation of everything else, which completely defeats the purpose of UI planning. The overall concept is pretty simple, you have to figure out a way to connect the abstract model of your software with something tangible for the user. This requires deep understanding of what problem the software is trying to solve, and the user's prior experience and expectations. You can't get around that by applying some magic formula to arrive at the "perfect" UI. Take your one size fits all t-shirts and get the hell out.

Re:Thank you, Captain Obvious! (2, Informative)

LKM (227954) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859614)

The article doesn't say that realism is the only relevant factor.

Title should be (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30859430)

"For OS X, just the right degree of realism."

This smacks of yet another Macboy ogling the interface, finding points to preach about.

Captain obvious. (1)

MaWeiTao (908546) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859770)

What this guy says is true; it's also obvious. There are two reasons why we encounter unintuitive icons. The first is an overzealous designer who thinks he is going to be creative by not conforming to conventions; this is where I find Linux GUIs tend to fail miserably. It seems whoever designs their interfaces tend to be going for different as opposed to intuitive. The second is a more pervasive problem: trying to convey an abstract concept.

Every instance Lukas describes is straightforward and easy to represent. The last set of icons, the leaf, acorn and cone aren't so much icons as they are logos for those particular applications. People will associate those marks with the application because they've seen the application first. Sit in front of computer with these icons dumped onto the task bar, having never seen them before, and people will have no clue what those applications are all about.

Simplifying graphics used to be more of a necessity because of lower resolutions and and fewer colors. That is no longer a concern. While I prefer more minimalist designs there is something appealing and immediately obvious about a rich, nicely rendered icon. The example he uses to argue against richer icons is pretty weak. I could drop a different photo of a camera in that space and it would be just as informative as the simple icon. Obviously there's a balance between aesthetic appeal and conveying an appropriate level of information. And consideration has to be given towards where those graphics will reside.

Well, this blogger has done his job. Regardless of how simplistic and obvious his argument is here we are discussing it.

Uncanny! (3, Insightful)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860034)

In other words, it's the Uncanny Valley [slashdot.org] in action.

The Traffic Cone (2, Funny)

The Slowest Zombie (1591627) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860188)

Toward the end of the article, the author indirectly brings up a very good question: Why the heck is the VLC media player icon an orange traffic cone?? Is it because it's kind of the shape of a CRT? Is it cautioning us about the kind of videos we'd watch that came from the Internet? Maybe it's just constantly under construction (even though it's not in beta)? Perhaps it's something more technical and is a reference to the rods and cones that are the light receptors in our eyes. Or maybe I have it all wrong and it's a piece of candy corn sitting on an orange plate, to show how VLC serves up eye candy.
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