Careful with all that Flash, Flex and AIR

I read with interest James Governor’s write-up of his Adobe/SAP nanoconference  and enjoyed watching the video, showcasing all kinds of cool new UI stuff you can do with Adobe AIR

There was an example with screens swooshing around like they do on the iPhone. There was an example of a car insurance claim where rather than describing an incident on paper they can drag around images of cars to “draw” an example of who crashed into whom, when and how.

And then there are the likes of who use Adobe technologies to build cooler UIs for SAP – certainly cooler than the ones I remember from 1999.

This is all great.

But in amongst all this whizz-bang technology it’s worth remember that first and foremost users want interfaces that let them get on with their day jobs quickly. Google is always a good example for a simple, pretty ugly, user interface that seems to work well.  Here is a page I’ve linked to before on usability – it’s well worth a read before loading up your user interface with bells and whistles.

And here are a few gems from random pages of Gui Bloopers by Jeff Johnson (the Web 1.0 version from 2000) that are still worth bearing in mind:

On the research at PARC into what has now become established as the GUI:

Fairly quickly, PARC researchers relized that one that that did not work very well was for the computer – or more accurately, its software – to unilaterally move objects around the screen. Some researchers had initially assumed that it would be helpful to users and more efficient for software to sometimes move or “warp” the mouse pointer automatically to new positions. Similarly, some researchers tried having their software automatically reposition, stretch, and shrink windows “when appropriate”. Although well-meaning, these attempts to be helpful and efficient disoriented and frustrated users more than they helped them.

And on designing consistent screen layouts (the Ribbon in Office 2007 may be a lot better once you are used to it, but for most people the menu structure in Office 2003 was just fine and shouldn’t have been messed with):

The vast majority of computer users these days are interested in getting their work done. They are not interested in the computer and its software per se … They want the computer and its software to help them develop habits, and then they want to forget the computer and software and concentrate on their work. In fact, they are often so focused on their work that if they are looking for a Search function but the application window spells it “Find”, they may overlook it. For this reason, developers should design user interfaces as if the prospective users were autistic – people who abhor any difference or variation in their routine.

Get these basic considerations wrong and it doesn’t matter how much AIR gadgetry you throw at the UI. It’ll just be putting lipstick on a pig.


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