Vista UI Guidelines

Microsoft has posted their UI guidelines for Vista. I like what I see. The guidelines make sense, mostly. Hopefully developers will pay attention. Here are a few that I liked from the two sites.

  • Don't spend time rebuilding standard UI components; use that time instead to innovate in meaningful ways based on your core competencies and understanding of your customer needs. I hope this is aimed at the Media Player team. What is up with them moving the entire menu structure over to the right and having window frames that can pop up when you hover in the area. The whole thing makes my head hurt.

  • Use positive commit buttons that are specific responses to the main instruction instead of generic labels (such as "OK"). This seems new. I thought they always wanted us to use a standard "ok". I like the new recommendation.

  • Consider cleaning up your dialog by using a More Options "expando" button, so advanced or rarely used options remain hidden by default. I'm conflicted on this one. I like the hiding of options. Hiding complexity allows the owner to manage the expectations themselves. However, the self-slimming menus in XP bug me sometimes. Too often I find myself searching for items in the menus and I have to keep hammering that expand icon. It works great most of the time though. It will be interesting to see this in settings UI. It will be a lot like "More options" or "Advanced options", but quicker to access, and possibly less confusing because you won't leave the current options, you'll just be shown more.

  • Don't use Congratulations pages at the end of the wizard that serve no purpose to users. I'm all for this. Should I count the number of current Microsoft wizards that do use congratulations pages? I own a few wizards at work. They do have congratulations pages, but they have valuable info about the process you just completed as well, so I feel a little better about it.

  • Use Explorer-hosted, navigation-based user interfaces, provide a Back button This is interesting. Take a look at configuring account settings in Outlook. You can pop 3 windows by the time you get to a setting you want. This gets a little confusing. I think folks understand the back button now after years of use in web navigation. I agree that the back concept could work in application configuration. It's almost like a wizard, with previous and next, but more Web 2.0 (yes, that's a joke).

  • Support "Instant search" wherever possible to show instant results while the user is typing. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, please do this. Do you know how often I pray to the UI gods that Windows File Explorer magically sprout an instant search box in the top right so I can do live filters like I can in iTunes and iPhoto? I usually know something about the file I'm trying to find in a folder. Help me help myself and put in instant search!

  • Use the Windows Vista "tone" to inspire confidence by communicating to users on a personal level by being accurate, encouraging, insightful, objective, and user focused. Don't use a distracting, condescending (for example, "Just do this..."), or arrogant tone. This one is just funny. File not found, jerk.

  • Avoid repetition! Review each window and eliminate duplicate words and statements. No comment, just a link.

  • Perception is reality, and if your customers don't experience quality in your product throughout, they may conclude there is lack of quality everywhere. The geeks don't like to hear this one. They like to pretend the rest of the world is a bunch of geeks too. They think it shouldn't matter that you shower, or wear clean clothes. It's the quality of the work that counts. Well, it is the quality of the work, but if you look like crap, maybe they've already made some assumptions about quality. I'm not saying it's good to make assumptions. I'm saying that people do. Just like you don't have to wear designer clothes to look good, you don't have to hire a designer to make your app look good. Line up your text. Use some consistent spacing. Use clean graphics.

  • Don't restart progress. A progress bar loses its value if it restarts (perhaps because a step in the operation completes) because users have no way of knowing when the entire operation will complete. Here's hoping the Vista installer works different than past Windows installers. I seem to remember a non-stop restarting of menu bars during those file copies.

  • Present choices and settings in terms of user goals, not technology. I preach this one at work and get the "you're a moron" look more often than not. I believe in it strongly though and have converted a few folks. I wish more developers would consider their apps all the way to how the user will use it, not just to the point where they've exposed everything to the user to use if they can.

  • Wizards aren't "dumbed-down" UI. Many of them are, but they don't have to be.

  • Don't use "wizard" in wizard names. Good recommendation. I think I'm guilty of this.

While we're on the topic of UI, I'd like to offer up observations on a couple of brain dead ones.

Office now opens separate task bar entries for each open file. This allows for nice alt-tab switching. Too bad you can't have more than one up at once so I can look at things side by side with my dual-monitor setup. Too bad the apps won't remember screen position per document. Dual-monitors aren't all that new, but you can tell that most app designers don't keep them in mind during their design.

Another problem with dual-monitors is dialog boxes that are centered in the window, not popped near the action that popped them. In other words, when click File>New, apps will pop a "Are you sure" dialog half way across my screen, usually
in the middle of the bezel gap of the two monitors. Centering dialogs in the app window used to work when screens were small and we only used one. There needs to be an option to pop dialogs in the upper left portion of an app window. That's near the menu items that usually trigger dialogs.

Many of the Slashdot comments on this subject revolved around Apple already using these recommendations. I'd have to agree in many cases, but they don't come clean all the time. I only need to mention one example, Finder.

What UI atrocities have you seen?

1 comment:

Jason said...

The really ironic part, as you point out in several places, is this list pretty much describes how NOT to follow previous Microsoft coding guidelines.

I remember the Wizard 97 spec, I coded to it several times. At least 4 items on this list violate the previous specification.

Here's hoping this means we can look forward to an even more polished user experience in Vista.