On About Face
by Alan Coooper

Alan Cooper is touted as the "Father of Visual Basic". He's a designer who has some strong opinions. By and large, I agree with his ideas, as he uses the view that UI decisions should be made for a reason rather than just because.

One of his points is that reusing old metaphors is a terrible way to design a computer program. For instance, why use a monthly calendar presentation when you can have a more advanced, easier to use sliding week method?

The first half of the book seems to restate things that I've seen before, such as that the mouse can most easily reach the screen edges so important stuff should be point there. In the second half Cooper gets into new stuff; in particular is chapter on new gizmos is interesting. It's freeing to catch Cooper's vision about breaking with the past and using all sorts of cute new widgets instead of the tired old ones built into Windows. One gets the feeling that using a subtlely different gizmo for each new purpose would result in a much more powerful interface.

Another interesting proposition is that error boxes should never be presented to the user. Cooper has some funny examples of what such boxes feel like to the end user: for instance, one dialog says "Erase hard disk?" and has two buttons, "Now" and "Later". To the user, being forced to say OK to an error message is annoying and humiliating.

Cooper instead suggests that the program deal with every error in an intelligent way. It can subtlely show inaccessibility of some component, or can fix the syntax on a user entry, or whatever. In effect, use the power of programming to remove the form-filling straightjacket most programs put the user into.

Of course, it would take a lot more effort on the part of the programmer to implement such error handling, but I agree with Cooper that such a system would be far more fun for the user.

Overall, this is the best UI design book I've seen.

Substantive changes:
    March 4, 1996: created.
Copyright © 1996, Steve Colwell, All Rights Reserved
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