Dispatches from the User Interface Edge
I’ve done some thinking over the last few days about user interfaces and how new users might interact with them. I was spurred on by two things. One, this article on the widespread misuse of the mouse and by my 80 year old gradmother’s recent acquisition of her first computer.
For example, people whoÂ are new to the computer want to memorize a proccess rather than digest the meaning of a “program”, a “shortcut”Â or a search.Â She knows, for example, that the blue “e” gets her to the internet and that you then click in the Google search field to look for something. Trying to explain web mail to her would be a disaster because she seperates “Internet” and “E-mail.”
I’m sure you can think of occasions where you have memorized proccesses rather than meaning. Think for a moment about how you drive a car. You know that pushing in the clutch and turning the ignition key will start it, but what if your starter is bad? Did you know that by pushing the car down the hill you can get the drive train spinning fast enough to engage and start the engine when you let go of the clutch? Do you even know what happens when you push down on or release the clutch?
I’m curious, then, how intuitive user interfaces actually are. Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) are the defacto model for ease of use but are they really easy to use? Obviously not for my grandmother, who had trouble with the relationship between mouse and keyboard (she would place the mouse in a text field to type, for example). A Command Line Interface (CLI) would allow her to memorize commands that do certain things. Seems much more intuitive to me.
Being responsible for training library staff and sometimes library patrons I see very similar behaviors. Attempting to explain abstract concepts like programs (which have execultables and lots of supporting files) is much more difficult than simply placing shortcuts to important programs right on the desktop or bookmarking important sites (job searches, games, etc). Heaven forbid we upgrade and accessing the resume templates becomes a different proccess.
Is this true of a more connected generation? Are teens and twenty somethings capable of grasping abstract concepts better than older people?