A good interface

Hey there, I'm here to tell you about a good user interface I have been experiencing for the last few months: my iPod touch.

I know the iPod touch/iPhone is famous for its excellent interface, but I want to tell you a little bit about it anyway.

With all the varied features (music, video, photos, wifi, applications, e-mail, etc.), the interface for such a complex device is easy to get wrong. There are several reasons why Apple seems to have got this one right. Here is my list of a few design elements that make the iPod touch easy to use.

1. Few buttons: The iPod touch has 2 physical buttons and a volume rocker. This limits the confusion that can come with many buttons. Furthermore, each button only does 2 things. The power button on top puts the iPod in standby mode when pressed and turns it off when held for a few seconds. The home button goes home (duh) and switches to music controls when double-clicked. Because of the many features of the iPod touch, it would not make sense to have a few physical buttons to control the wide array of features. This would give too many functions to one button, which would be confusing to use.

2. "Natural" navigation: The iPod touch contains several navigation features that add to the usability of the device. For example, when looking through lists, web pages, e-mails, documents, etc., you just "flick" the screen and the document scrolls. This gives the user more precise control over the scroll speed and feels pretty natural. The icons on the home screen scroll in a similar fasion if you have more icons than the screen can display. The screen on the iPod touch is a "multi-touch" screen. The screen can detect 3 different points of contact instead of the usual one, which eliminates even more buttons and zoom bars, among other things. The iPod also contains an accelerometer, so different modes can be accessed if the iPod touch is held sideways. All these things help eliminate clumsy, tiny buttons. These all add up to greater ease of use.

3. Automation: The iPod touch automates many tasks and remembers many settings so the user doesn't have to press as many buttons. For example, when you come in range of a wireless network you have accessed before, the iPod automatically connects to it, and remembers the password if there is one. It also automatically scans for updates for any "apps" you have downloaded and notifies you if any are found. When opening the e-mail app, it automatically checks for new mail and downloads it. If you remove the headphones, the music automatically pauses. This all helps the usability of the device.

These are just a few things I have noticed about my iPod. I really like this device, and it is just as useful as it is entertaining. It is easy to use all the features and get the most out of it.

The Design of Everyday Things

This is a pretty cool book. Basically, the author, Donald A. Norman, discusses various pitfalls in the designs of many everyday objects. Norman, a psychologist, discusses the ways that humans respond to new devices and how to design them so they are immediately usable. Many examples are given illustrating bad designs and common problems people have with them. He mentions many common, everyday errors all people make and how simple mistakes in the use of badly designed objects can lead to catastrophe. This book is a good introduction to understand the necessity of good design and user interfaces.

This book was very easy to read. Norman uses plain English in a conversational tone to explain his research and discoveries. No overly technical jargon is used in presenting the material. In addition to this, he gives many simple, real-world examples that perfectly illustrate the concepts he discusses.

A few topics in the book piqued my interest. First of all, Norman mentions many common household items, such as light switches and doors, that millions of people have problems with every day. This strikes me that such simple things should be so hard to use. What is even more striking to me, though, is that little or no effort seems to have been made to change standard items like these on a large scale. Light switches today are functionally the same as light switches fifty years ago.

Another topic that I found fascinating was the tendency of people to blame themselves when having trouble with what should be a simple object. In fact, the improper designs of these objects do not give some sort of natural mapping or clearly illustrate the proper use. The result of such poor designs is really to blame for the troubles people have with telephones, air conditioners, refrigerators, and many more seemingly simple items.

Finally, the last thing I enjoyed from this book was the presentation of many common slips and errors that people make on a daily basis. This may be partially because of the humor in the examples, but also due to the ability to personally relate to the topic. For example, people frequently start a sentence over, stutter, or pause many times during speech, implying that many small errors are being made. People are so used to such errors that many go unnoticed. Norman presented several common types of errors people make all the time. For example, many people start performing a frequently-done activity when trying to do something else, like driving to work when intending to drive to the store or throwing a dirty shirt into the toilet instead of the laundry bin. I found the somewhat formal description of several different, specific types of error fascinating, as I could relate to all the types he presented. Perhaps this chapter helps people feel less clumsy, since it shows that all humans have many slips.

This book was definitely a good read, and it is definitely one of the most interesting books I have read for any class. I think it was a good introduction to Human-Computer Interaction, even though it doesn't deal with computer interaction. It presents the fundamentals of good design for anything.
I just wanted to type something.