23 November 2007

GUI Elements I like, and one's I don't #

GUI (Graphical User Interface) is such an integral part of our computing lives, I really doubt we stop and analyze the separate elements that make it what it is –– easy and intuitive to use. It has evolved over years, suggestions and loads of empty coffee cups. It’s one problem designers try to solve always, but no matter what they do, there is a part of it which can always be improved. So here’s my little list of the things I like, and don’t like in user interfaces.

One's I like

  • Check/Radio box: The simplest element. I think it was a natural decider to use this for lists, which would let you select multiple options, or only oneNot many people know, but the difference between the two ‘is’ how they allow you to handle options marking.. I’d really like to see them make checking off more intuitive (shift+first+last to select all in between).

  • Tooltips: Help without asking for it. I feel very disoriented whenever I don’t know what a button does, and even moreso when the little help box doesn’t popup telling me what it does. This is partly the reason I love Office 2007, where every button on the Ribbon has a briefly detailed explanation of what it does.

  • Ribbon: This is one of the newest elements, present in Microsoft Office ‘07. It’s probably the perfect and complete alternative to the menu bar. Every option is categorized under one tab, and similar options are grouped into sections. Every button has explanatory tooltips, and they do a very nice glowy thing when you mouse over, highlighting the selected section as well as button. Looks like Microsoft got something right :P

  • Pie Menu: Last, but my most favourite. This one takes some getting used to, but once you do, it gets annoying when you don’t have it somewhere. The perfect example of this is mouse gestures in Firefox. All it takes it a click, and movement; but movement which is very intuitive (like left for back). I’d love to see this in operating systems, because it’ll be a huge navigation boost!

One's I don't!

  • Menu bar: I won’t complain about this too much. With the onset of ‘Ribbon’, we can now start to do without the menu bar. Although, this is a better option when conserving screen estate. A retractable Ribbon seems the way to go :)

  • Heads Up Display (HUD): This is more of a ‘focus on few things’ kinda thing. An HUD is supposed to be unobtrusive to the ‘bigger’ picture, but the moment all those extra stuff start popping up, you can’t not be distracted by them. That’s one of the reasons research is on to come up with a better way of relaying information to pilots through their visors.

  • Sidebar: This my most unliked element. Having something on the edge of your screen constantly is irritating. Dashboard is a ‘much’ better implementation, although it’d be nice if you could keep ‘some’ widgets always visible. Retractable drawers are also a type of Sidebar, but atleast they’re retractable :)

So, there you have it! These elements are a part of our OS, and now with the onset of Web 2.0, most of them are being adapted for use on the web to make things snappy and more OS like. I’d love to see an alternative to sidebars, especially on blogs. It’d just make things a little more interesting ;)

I haven’t touched on UI elements like modal dialogues, throbbers etc., but they are more of symbolic and rare use elements –– used to signify something or alert people of something. They’re important, no matter how irritating they might get. There’s a nice article from Alex Faaborg about his tussle with going modal or using normal dialogue boxes for Firefox, but it kinda answers the basic question (Would you Like to Redesign ...)

What elements do you like? And what do you don't?