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The Condescending UI 980

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-i-ask-is-some-text-and-a-blinking-cursor dept.
theodp writes "Paul Miller has some advice for user interface designers: Don't be condescending. 'The Ribbon in Microsoft Office products,' complains Miller, 'is constantly talking down to me, assuming I don't know how to use a menu, a key command, or an honest-to-goodness toolbar.' Miller's got some harsh words for Apple, too: 'And of course, there is the transgression of the century: Apple's downward spiral into overt 1:1 metaphors. The physical bookshelf, the leather desk calendar (complete with a torn page), the false-paginated address book...these new tricks are horrible and offensive [and likened to Microsoft Bob]. They're not only condescending and overwrought, they're actually counter-functional.' So, how does Miller cope while waiting for his UI knight in shining armor? 'I recently switched my Windows 7 install over to the Classic Theme', Miller explains, 'which is basically Windows 95 incarnate, just with all the under-the-hood improvements I've come to rely on. I really like it. It feels right, and if it isn't beautiful, at least it's honest. I wish there was a similar OS 9 mode for OS X.'"
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The Condescending UI

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  • Wait. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by knuthin (2255242) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:21AM (#38334210) Homepage

    No mention of Unity? It has been made to look worse than the ribbon these days (by techwriters).

    Also one could comment on UI on websites, webapps, phone apps. The author didn't seem to mind them at all, though they are the ones that successfully annoy the shit out of me.

  • by InsightIn140Bytes (2522112) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:38AM (#38334302)
    This is why it should be important to have something like Google Analytics for applications. There's already several such solutions for games, like Playtomic [playtomic.com], but there only seems to exist such for mobile applications. This could give app developers and UI designers great information on how exactly users use their application.

    But truth is, users need clear interfaces and sometimes they really need help doing even simplest things. This is why Ribbon is better for new users, and design goal Apple has too. I own several websites and we use heatmaps to determine how users navigate and where they click on site, collectively. Things like that provide good information on how optimize applications or services.
  • This again? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Gumbercules!! (1158841) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:44AM (#38334328)
    Surely we've had enough of this ribbon is bad garbage by now? It's actually not bad - it's the result of trying to cope with massive numbers of command potentials, instead of trying to arbitrary declare they belong under files, options, tools, edit, etc. It was Microsoft saying "there's been a proliferation of new commands in Office and we can't just keep putting menus and sub menus like this forever" - and good on them for realising it. It allows for more generic group and rapid navigation between them. Hot keys still work for common tasks (alt-f-s etc).

    Just because some developer / blogger is now past 40 and can no longer learn new things, doesn't mean new things are bad. This is the geek equivalent of visiting your grandmothers to hear all about how things were better in the old days. It basically boils down to "I learnt something and felt special because I was good at it and many other people are not. Now it's no longer relevant, so I'm upset". Well, go get good at the next thing!

    If you hate it that much, turn it off. Google "hide ribbon office 2010" and about 43,700,000 people are pretty happy to tell you exactly how to do it. I don't see much complaining about Firefox, Chrome etc removing the old style menu. Seems to be just another anti-MS/Office rant. Boring.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:47AM (#38334350)

    Exactly why GIMP is a total PAIN.....the UI is far beyond me and I worked helpdesk at a college and have used everything from Adobe CS to Auto CADD, to you name it. Yet GIMP still never ceases to anger and infuriate me.

    I have no doubt GIMP is great software, but i cant figure the thing out in enough time whenever i need it

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:57AM (#38334410) Homepage

    And that is the problem.

    Every single Iteration of Linux or Windows creates a ball of confusion for everyone. Microsoft starts hiding things, moving things, or WORSE, re-naming things.

    Honestly, if you put in consistency so that a person looking for system tools like. Updates, Software Manager, Hardware Manager, etc.. It's easy to find.

    But the latest iteration of Ubuntu and Mint, it's easier to drop to a shell and type sudo apt-get update than it is to find the farking Update manager.
    In windows, Add and remove programs is now renamed. And unless you change away from the "idiot at the wheel mode" of control panel you will have a bugger of a time finding it.

    Microsoft renames and reshuffled everything to force their certifications to be updated every release, but the Linux people have ZERO excuse for making thing confusing as hell by renaming and putting something important like Update Manager Under "Menu,Other" It fricking goes under Menu,System... Anyone in charge of layout in Mint that put it in "other" needs to be beaten with a sack of doorknobs until they lose consciousness.

    It seems we have entered into the era of change for the sake of change and not for the sake of better. I honestly am waiting for Windows to rename "control panel" to "shiny stuff" in windows 9.0

  • by zigfreed (1441541) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:18AM (#38334574)
    He's older than that. You have some powerfully tinted rose-colored goggles if you want OS X to look like OS 9.

    Back then, the Mac desktop was filled up with aliases, you didn't default copy things from disk (you just made 'links'), and the dock was more like a control panel with advertising for whatever you installed. Although his argument could apply to OS 10.7, a user can turn the extra features off.

    With Windows, the 'classic' Windows 7 theme is a lot less usable than a 'tuned' Aero Windows 7 theme. Aero has better notification, better window management, and buttons that cram more usefullness out of limited screen real estate.

    What is condescending in Windows, and most graphical interfaces, is the requirement of using a program like AutoHotkey to do custom keyboard shortcuts. When touch devices start to wear out (or when the mouse pointer goes mad), (i)OS X and Windows don't have an alternative, fast method for an experienced user to navigate the system, but Ubuntu Unity does.
  • by Kjella (173770) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:25AM (#38334632) Homepage

    Apple's downward spiral into overt 1:1 metaphors. The physical bookshelf, the leather desk calendar (complete with a torn page), the false-paginated address book

    Only part of the population can think abstractly. The exact percentage differs somewhat depending on what standard you use, but about 40 to 60% of the population is able to think using purely abstract models in well developed countries, without a good education far less. The rest may be very smart if they're dealing with physical objects or people, but the less it works like the "real world" the more lost they get. I've noticed this myself with simple cubes for reporting. Once you pass three dimensions that you can draw up physically, people start to zone out. Programming is dark magic, as is writing an SQL query - for me I'm just making an abstract skeleton where "The hip bone is connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone is connected to the leg bone" and so on.

    In theory, that sounds like a huge market but just because they can do it with some effort, doesn't mean it comes easily to people. The people that can easily, effortlessly think in the abstract and would like to do it in their daily computing is probably in the single digit range. And most of them are here on slashdot and swear by the CLI, which is the ultimate in abstraction. No graphical hints, no feedback, just type in a command and abstractly understand what it and any switches you apply will do, particularly if you daisy chain it though sed, awk and grep. You might argue that there should be a middle ground here where the UI is both powerful and easy to understand, but the people on either side aren't going to see it that way.

  • Re:Easy and Advanced (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stewbacca (1033764) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:26AM (#38334638)

    On a related note, Apple has always used silly analogies ("Desktop", "Trash", Eject by dropping to trash). I hope I offended everyone now.

    Yeah, I'm not sure why everyone is jumping on this one, other than maybe there's an entire generation of "power" users who don't realize the modern desktop's origins stem from the first Macintosh in 1984?

    Maybe it's a tired metaphor, but it can't be that bad since Microsoft copied it. It will be interesting to see where desktop UIs go from here. I bet Win8 is a huge flop, as it tries to be both touch and desktop UI. Instead, I bet both are just poor versions of touch and desktop UIs that exist now.

  • by Hentes (2461350) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:29AM (#38334656)

    Windowed UIs are a thing of the past, I would like an OS with a tabbed UI, which is as comfortable to use as a browser.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:59AM (#38334854)

    Yes, the Office ribbon is crap. That's not news. But, it's not crap because I feel it's condescending, It's crap because it is a moving target. They took a perfectly functional stationary menu/toolbar and replaced it with an "intelligent" and dynamic POS that is constantly being pulled out form under me. Where as I sue to know exactly where an option ALWAYS was, now it comes and goes and sometimes it moves here and there. It's crap.

    But, 1:1 metaphors work extraordinarily well from the perspective of recognition and ease of first or simple use. They may not be the most efficient use of an interface, but they are still very good.

    What does NOT work is the brief interface, such as that used in IE 9. The icons are moved or hidden, they are changed and no longer recognizable from what they use to be and offer no indication of what their function is. It is a terrible terrible design. But, they aren't the only ones. I'm seeing similar stuff in iApps and other places that I cannot recall at the moment.

  • by jedidiah (1196) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @11:14AM (#38334972) Homepage

    > This is why OS X ships with a fully functional UNIX environment

    If you need to use it, your GUI is broken.

    It's nice that it's there but it really shouldn't be the first excuse you make for bad and incomplete interfaces. Most users are simply not going to bother.

    It's funny how some ideas get eviscerated in one product and bragged about in another.

  • by Half-pint HAL (718102) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @11:30AM (#38335084)

    In the 20th century, one of the goals in the IT world was "context-less computing" -- ie you shouldn't have to switch "modes" to do different tasks. The ribbon has reintroduced modes in a very clumsy way: the ribbon's idea of "context" is the last section of the ribbon you were using. It doesn't matter what you've been doing since you last used the ribbon. You could have been typing constantly for two hours without touching the ribbons, but they're in the last place you left them. You might have forgotten the context, but the computer hasn't. This leaves you unable to work by instinct, because it's random from the user's perspective what you have to do and when.

  • Re:Easy and Advanced (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ihmhi (1206036) <i_have_mental_health_issues@yahoo.com> on Sunday December 11, 2011 @11:36AM (#38335116)

    On a related note, Apple has always used silly analogies ("Desktop", "Trash", Eject by dropping to trash). I hope I offended everyone now.

    Yeah, I'm not sure why everyone is jumping on this one, other than maybe there's an entire generation of "power" users who don't realize the modern desktop's origins stem from the first Macintosh in 1984?

    I'm personally very aware of it. I like to point it out all the time. "Man, check out the original Mac! You could mess with the software, change out hardware, it's awesome! Too bad you won't be able to do any of that pretty soon."

  • by joh (27088) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @11:39AM (#38335130)

    Apple's downward spiral into overt 1:1 metaphors. The physical bookshelf, the leather desk calendar (complete with a torn page), the false-paginated address book

    Only part of the population can think abstractly. The exact percentage differs somewhat depending on what standard you use, but about 40 to 60% of the population is able to think using purely abstract models in well developed countries, without a good education far less. The rest may be very smart if they're dealing with physical objects or people, but the less it works like the "real world" the more lost they get.

    And even those who *can* think using abstract models often just don't know that they can profit from things like an application having a unique design and style. Yes, things like fake pages and leather looks are just cosmetics, but they can make an app or a window look familiar and instantly recognizable among others.

    Try it: use Expose in OS X and have only apps with "clean" UIs open -- they all look the same when zoomed out. The false-paginated address book still looks like an address book even at thumbnail size and you can find it without even trying.

    Not everything that looks silly actually is silly.

  • by berashith (222128) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @11:43AM (#38335144)

    I was doing quite a bit of work in photoshop when widescreen monitors were first appearing. I was happy to be able to undock the menus and place them to the side on the new real estate that the widescreen gave me. My canvas was free for me to work. I havent found many other apps now that allow the interface to be removed, and everything on these damn monitors is compressed. The new ratio isnt new anymore, but no one has decided to actually make things usable within the available size.

  • by ATMAvatar (648864) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @12:42PM (#38335618) Journal

    Agreed. I have found that it is usually less effort to code up a TeX document nowadays than continue to use Word because I seem to have had a penchant for using obscure features. I used them often enough in older versions of Word to remember where they were in the old menu system, but not so often as to memorize keyboard shortcuts, so they are effectively unusable with the Ribbons.

  • by quixote9 (999874) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @12:47PM (#38335650) Homepage
    Exactly. And a commenter who shows so little understanding of what condescension is doesn't inspire me to believe that they'd have a clue about which UIs condescend.

    Just for the record, I'm a user who completely agrees with the post. Make it easy for me to customize the UI to suit my workflow = Not Condescending. Shove big shiny buttons at me that mean my work takes more clicks to accomplish = Condescending. (Why, yes, I do hate Unity. Why do you ask?)
  • by ninetyninebottles (2174630) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @12:54PM (#38335696)

    No-one running Office software in a production environment would pick LibreOffice over Microsoft Office for anything other than the most basic of mundane word processing.

    I worked at a place that switched to OpenOffice (before LibreOffice existed). We left three MSOffice boxes for translation and everything else moved over. It was a very successful and beneficial transition. One of the main problems it was solving was the needs of the documentation team. We needed dozens of engineers to have the ability to modify very large documents. The problem was, above a certain size Word regularly corrupted the files on save and the next time someone opened it we ended up having to roll back to the previous version of the document, losing all the work of the last person. Before switching to OpenOffice we had to institute a policy that everyone had to save a document, then (without closing it) send it elsewhere and test opening it before they could quit and save. It was ridiculous and I still see people complaining about this same issue in professional writing forums. After the switch this annoying and very costly failure was no longer wasting our time and money.

    My current client, my co-workers and I, and an outside consulting firm for regulatory compliance, often exchange MSOffice documents. Using Word and the native formats is horrible. Templates, TOC, comments, headers and footers, they all break all the time switching between various versions of Word for various platforms. The manpower waste is easily in the tens of thousands of dollars already and project is in the early stages. With LibreOffice (which we use on other projects) we have no such problems because clients can always upgrade to the same version and the same document format in short order given the free nature of the licensing.

    And finally, I'm a bit confused about what tasks you think users hould be employing Word for where it is more suitable than LibreOffice. I see Word misused a lot for tasks where a proper CMS and/or Framemaker or Indesign or Quark is the real type of tool that professionals use. If you're using Word for "advanced tasks" from a publishing or documentation standpoint, you've already failed. For the tasks Word is actually suited, LibreOffice seems a fine replacement.

  • by BasilBrush (643681) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @01:00PM (#38335754)

    With the 10.7 one, it decides to show me that it's like a real calendar by showing a page-flipping animation on every transition.

    The problem isn't the page turn transition, the problem is the implementation that means that the animation has to finish before the UI will accept another click. A real diary isn't like that. It'll let you bend up the corner of a few pages and then let you turn them together. So actually it's a failure to implement the metaphor well enough, rather than a problem in using the metaphor.

  • Re:Easy and Advanced (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wfstanle (1188751) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @01:51PM (#38336206)

    "Experienced users want it the way they got used to."

    Exactly! Instead of ramming a new GUI down our throats why don't the designers do something radical. When upgrading to a newer version offer the option to continue using the older ("classic") version of a GUI. Newbies will be happy because of all the new eye candy and experienced users can continue using a computer in the way they are used to. Later on, if the new way of doing things isn't just the latest fad and really is better the older users will surely migrate to a new GUI. It's the test of time.

  • by master_p (608214) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @01:52PM (#38336224)

    The people like me who complain on the Ribbon are not old geezers that cannot adjust themselves to the new way of doing things. There are legitimate reasons for complaining.

    The Ribbon is actually worse than menus and toolbars because it forces the user to do more clicks than menus and toolbars. For example, if you make a piece of text bold, then you add a table, you have to click the 'home' tab in order to be able to change the font again. With toolbars, everything was on the screen all the time, you didn't have to click tabs.

    Furthermore, the tabs of the Ribbon make it difficult to memorize where everything is. With toolbars, you could arrange them in such a way that you always had the same picture in front of you, which means you could memorize the interface much easier.

  • by cjb658 (1235986) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @04:22PM (#38337356) Journal

    As much as I like the eye candy newer GUIs provide, I miss the old days when you had to be smart to use a computer. Sigh...

    Unfortunately, computing is going to be like TV - if you want to maximize profit, you cater to the lowest common denominator. Hopefully Linux will continue to be Team Discovery Channel.

  • by fyngyrz (762201) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @04:45PM (#38337520) Homepage Journal

    Seriously, the menubar at the top is a key aspect of the Mac. You say "have to go all the way to the top", but the top is an infinite target. Just a flick gets you there, and you can't overshoot it.

    Oy. Wrong in so many ways. I have six monitors on my Mac Pro. The menu for any one app probably isn't even on the same monitor. It is a HUGE pain in the neck to navigate back to the display that (currently) contains the menu. The menus belong on the window(s) of the app that owns them. Period. Top-of-the-main-monitor is a complete foul-up. Not just because you have to move the mouse further in almost every case than you would if the menus were where they belong -- on the app windows -- but because they'd at least be on the right monitor, and because there'd be no guessing late in the game if you're quitting the right application.

    And then there's OS X's inability to send keystrokes to any application other than the one in front. What a huge UI fumble. Got the ability to remotely control an app by sending it keystrokes? Too bad. Won't work under OSX unless the app is already active, in which case, you're not remote controlling it, because the app attempting the control has lost the focus.

    And then there's the whole one button mouse thing, although there are so many ways around that today you don't really get screwed solidly by it unless you buy an Apple mouse / trackpad. Even then, there are options besides the brain-dead "control-click."

    And page animations... really? Seriously? You're going to exchange my TIME for eye candy? Unbelievable.

    Seriously... Apple's UI designers all needs to go take a long walk off a short pier.

    I love my mac pro for what it can do, but there are ui-specific reasons that constantly limit what it can do as well, and I sure as heck don't appreciate those. The stupid, stupid menus-at-the-top feature pretty much serving as the poster child for exactly how NOT to do something because it's BROKEN and gets in the user's way and requires more mouse travel and is less clear and breaks the multi-monitor paradigm.

  • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @06:12PM (#38338100)

    You know, I've been using computers 8+ hours a day for 25+ years now, and I don't give a damn what sub-sub-menu spock pinch hot key this week's latest incarnation of calendar uses to do the same damn thing I have expected a calendar program to do since 1991's Sidekick.

    I especially don't care that I can spend 3 hours learning how to and executing a reconfiguration of my latest desktop software to make its UI almost mimic the program I used to use last week. I move from machine to machine, OS to OS throughout the day, Windows 7, XP, Vista, OS-X 10.4, 10.3.9 and 10.7, iOS 4 and 5, and a couple of flavors of Ubuntu. I don't have the time, or inclination to set each and every one of these machines up so that they are familiar to me. When a new one comes around, I just want the damn thing to work, in a non-mysterious fashion. For every "improvement" that has come down the pike, there have been a half dozen changes for the sake of change - my favorite was the "Apollo" OS - very similar to Sun, it was Unix, with all the commands renamed and options rearranged for no particular reason.

    The path of least resistance is to grin, bear it, and get on with it. I still wish that programming editors would get back to the simplicity of Brief with its easy to use column text selection (yes, most editors have an Alt-mouse click version, which sucks by comparison), but even if I had that in one editor, it still wouldn't be present in the 3 others that I have open at the same time.

    So, if you're a "new" ui designer, really really think about taking a look back at what worked 20 years ago - ask yourself if what you're planning is truly any better, or just different, for your users. If it's different, deduct 10% usability points for the required learning curve, and, don't kid yourself, your app will be replaced soon enough.

  • by Alamais (4180) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:15PM (#38339120)

    Check it: http://blog.boastr.net/?page_id=79 [boastr.net]

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