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ABCs

UI tickler items are listed alphabetically, namely, as the ABCs of user interface software. Under each alphabetical category, one item is discussed briefly. Rules of Thumb notes are added for some items. As needed, a UI tickler list is adjustable to suit the needs of a specific project.

A Is for Appearance

There are many graphical or visual development tools that facilitate the creation of screen layouts. However, it is fair to say that these creations are for the default or initial presentation only. Appearance beyond initial layout requires code to achieve results. A simple example is the dynamic disabling of user interface and functional features, based upon user choices or dynamic growing and shrinking of windows.

NOTE

Rule of Thumb: Get right-brained programmers and graphic designers to assist in user interface work.

There are many other UI, usability, and UCD words that begin with the letter A. Some important examples include accessibility, application UI style, and audience.

NOTE

Rule of Thumb: Build your own list of ABCs as a glossary and checklist.

B Is for Behavior

Behavior includes such user interface features as selection, click, and double-click. User interface tools provide some of the basics of behavior—such as selection emphasis when a user clicks on a list item. However, reacting to toolkit-provided behavior is up to the application software. If there is any behavior beyond default behavior in an application, it is up to the application software to provide it. For example, a dynamic message is provided by application software.

Other important B words to remember include best practices, black and white (for initial design), and business rules.

C Is for the Code

Invariably, software must be written to support the appearance and behavior that go beyond defaults. An example of appearance and behavior beyond defaults is "graying," which is the enabling and disabling of menu choices. Software must also be written for functional and user interface features (for example, Clipboard and direct manipulation behavior). The code requirements are high for GUI-based applications. In general, tools provide quite a bit of support, but a lot is still done by low-level programming.

NOTE

Rule of Thumb: 30–50% of product software is user interface-related.

Three other important C words to remember include capabilities (human, computer, software), change management, and cognitive walkthrough.

D Is for Details

There is a tremendous amount of detail associated with GUI-based software: Details, Details, Details! It's good to have a checklist of deliverables, tasks, and activities. The checklist helps as an aid for UI, UCD, and usability tasks.

NOTE

Rule of Thumb: Begin building case studies for projects and tasks to form baselines for future projects.

Other important D words include design, desk checks, and domain knowledge.

E Is for Ergonomics

Fitting a person to a job and a job to a person is ergonomics. When applied to software, there are many human factors to consider—for example, learning, memory, perception, and attention. Of course, the ergonomics of the hardware platform must be considered as well. After that, the ergonomics of the UI must be evaluated.

NOTE

Rule of Thumb: Begin building a detailed list of ergonomic factors that will apply to software user interfaces for future projects.

Other E words include echoic memory, error handling, and evolutionary.

F Is for Feedback

There are many features associated with user interfaces that are implicit (that is, not explicit) and that product developers forget about until late in the product development cycle. Feedback includes progress indicators, response time indicators, and messages in status bars or message windows.

NOTE

Rule of Thumb: Provide plenty of informative but unobtrusive feedback to users.

Other important words starting with F include features (function and user interface), flow, and fun.

G Is for Guidelines

A guideline is a design rule that is good to do, objective, specific, and easy to measure for compliance. An example of a guideline is the following: "Display an hourglass icon for each command."

NOTE

Rule of Thumb: Write only guidelines that are really, really, really required to design, implement, and subsequently test.

Other G words include game style UI, graphics, and group dynamics.

H Is for Heuristics

Heuristics are "rules of thumb" that are used to design or evaluate a product's features and facets. Heuristics include factors from the user satisfaction equation; that is, features, user interface, performance, reliability, and information. An example of a heuristic is to "provide user feedback."

NOTE

Rule of Thumb: Build your own set of heuristics to guide design, self-evaluation, evaluations, or desk checking.

Other important words beginning with H include high fidelity, human factors, and human memory.

I Is for Iteration

The complexities of current user interface styles usually require iteration to achieve user and business requirements. No one individual or team has sufficient enough knowledge about users, domain tasks, UI technology, and business requirements to "get it right" in a single iteration.

NOTE

Rule of Thumb: Plan on at least one iteration during each development phase.

Other I words include iconic memory, incremental, and interaction style.

J Is for Jumps (now called Hyperlinks)

Hyperlinks provide an efficient method of navigation to more detailed or other information. While pointing at a hyperlink, a single click of a mouse or pointing device displays another page of information or opens another window.

Other important words starting with J are jargon (and its avoidance), Java, and Joint Application Design (JAD).

K Is for Keyboard Support

Even with the advent of new input devices, the keyboard is still a very fast input device for many users and tasks.

NOTE

Rule of Thumb: Provide standard and optimized keyboard interaction for applications that are data input- or update-intensive.

Other important K words are keyboard, keyboard-mouse transitions, and knowledge.

L Is for Layout

The organization and placement of information and controls on a screen is the layout task for user interfaces.

NOTE

Rule of Thumb: Layout probably receives more focus than other facets of a user interface, but it is only one of many things that must be done right.

Other important L words include language, learning, and low fidelity.

M Is for Multitasking

Although the focus of most software user interface design is on a single application, a UC product team must remember that an application will most likely reside on a desktop with other applications, and users will move around between applications to support task needs.

NOTE

Rule of Thumb: Design new applications to peacefully coexist with other desktop software and to support task interrupts.

Other important words beginning with M include memory of window state (size, position, data), memory (short-term, long-term, working), and mental models.

N Is for Navigation

The feature for moving from one place to another within an application or the Internet is navigation, which is either intra-object or inter-object. Hyperlinks, double-click, command buttons, and tabbing are all mechanisms that provide some form of navigation.

Another important word beginning with N is Non-UI (NUI) design and development.

O Is for Objects

Object oriented technology has been around for awhile, but it is still relatively new to many organizations and developers. As with other technologies, it takes a fair amount of time to understand, learn, internalize, apply, and exploit.

Other important words starting with O include organizational behavior, observation, and open-ended questions.

P Is for Principles

Design principles are good things to do, but are difficult to measure for compliance. An example of a principle is "Keep it simple."

NOTE

Rule of Thumb: Formulate a small number of design principles for a project, and establish supporting measurable guidelines in order to measure compliance. Be sure to understand the differences between principles, standards, and guidelines.

Other important words beginning with P include participatory methods, perception, prototypes (of all kinds), and psychology.

Q Is for Quitting

All good applications and objects must come to a graceful end. Quit was a common name for exit, close, and cancel. Close seems to be the most common term for termination of GUI-based software. Users are able to close windows and dialog boxes in various states.

Other important words starting with Q are qualitative, quantitative, and questionnaire.

R Is for Requirements

One of the most common causes of project failure is poor requirements, which includes those for functionality, user interface, and usability. The next most common problem is controlling change in requirements.

NOTE

Rule of Thumb: Spend plenty of time on requirements—gathering, documenting, visualizing, reviewing, and controlling.

Other important words beginning with R include recall, recognition, and response time.

S Is for Standards

As much as many people do not like them, common behaviors and accepted practices are important in order to avoid anarchy in UI software. There are rules common to an industry, to an organization, and to a software platform.

NOTE

Rule of Thumb: Follow the rules when they exist, and there is no compelling reason to deviate.

Other important S words include saving (user work), semantics, and social factors.

T Is for Tabbing

Invariably, a most common problem in GUI-based software is incorrect tabbing behavior. In many cases, the keyboard cursor moves in an incorrect order, disappears from the current screen, or requires a keyboard-mouse hand transition to set the cursor in an appropriate field. Correct tabbing behavior should be designed, implemented, and tested rigorously on each screen—starting with the initial correct placement of the cursor.

Other important words beginning with T include teamwork, task analysis, and template.

U Is for User-Centered Design and Development

UCD is a process that spans an entire software development lifecycle with a series of tasks, user involvement, evaluation, and iteration. There are key tasks and deliverables that must be performed (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 User-centered design process.

Other important words beginning with U include usability engineering, usability and UI requirements, and user participation.

V Is for Visuals (aesthetics)

The visual characteristics of a user interface are what make it "look right," or aesthetic. Team members with graphic design skills are essential to UC product teams.

W Is for Window

GUIs, WUIs, and HUIs all use rectangular areas of a display device for presentation of information, widgets, and user interaction. Some common features of a window include a title bar, sizing borders, icons for sizing, a menu for window commands, and operations for moving.

Other important W-words include walkthroughs, whitespace, and workload (mental).

X Is for XML

eXtensible Markup Language, abbreviated to XML, is a programming language and framework used to describe information. It is used quite heavily in Web development.

Y Is for Y-Coordinate

The y-coordinate is used in conjunction with the x-coordinate when placing a widget at a specific location on a display's coordinate system.

Unfortunately, Y is a sparse word category, as are X and Z.

Z Is for Zeal

A member of a user-centered product team needs lots of enthusiasm for tackling the various challenges associated with user interface design and development.

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