Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Pushing buttons

The Wall Street Journal featured an article "Must Consumer Electronics Be So Complicated?". The question can be posed for any human - machine interface. Most often is the interface overly complicated. I am sure you have your own list of favorite device interfaces or horror stories of complicated user interface. The iPod interface for sure rocks. Hooking up a home entertainment system is like throwing darts at a dart board. Or does any one know what all the buttons on your four or five remote controls are used for?

RTFM should never apply to the basic operation of a machine, computer program, or blender. I never got around to learn Emacs editor (even though it gave one geek street cred), as basic operation required you to read the manual. Allow me to explore the program intuitively, and consult the manual for power user features.

The best illustration of a simple and intuitive user interface is the following picture. I've been looking for this picture for a while. It was part of a Steve Jobs' presentation announcing Apple Front Row. In the middle is the Apple remote control: six buttons. To the sides are your standard home entertainment remote controls, include the one used by the Windows Media Center. (Sure a Windows Media Center has TV tuner card recording capability, but do you need all the extra buttons to make use of that feature.)

If there is one thing any engineer should aspire to is to design an incredibly intuitive user interface. Even if it comes at the cost of less feature support, so be it.

No comments: