Monthly Archives: August 2013

Don’t Fear the Button

I’m afraid to push a button.
 
User interface design is something I care about. I am a developer, which practically makes me a power user by default. And yet I still come across boneheaded design in commonly used applications. Design that would make computers less accessible to the general public. Worse, in places that didn’t previously have these issues.

Latest: Youtube on a desktop browser. Drag the playhead to sometime later in the timeline. If it’s not loaded yet – tough cookies! It will only work on the section that’s loaded. Worse – it changes the “scale” of the playhead to only show what’s loaded, but *only while you are holding the playhead.* Absolutely no semblance of user expectation.

Why is this suddenly too difficult for YouTube to manage? I know a year ago I could easily have just skipped right to where I wanted to be, and simply wait for the data to download starting at the new location. As a developer, I can imagine why this choice was made. Perhaps the data format is not well suited for seeking. Is a “please wait” indicator too much to ask? Then the playhead scale will stay consistent. The user will have an understanding of where things stand. Instead, somewhere inside Google, a bunch of extra code was written to support this “seek only within loaded area” code, with special cases for the display and input system. Someone had to deliberately break the user’s trust.

Okay, fine, I can’t move the playhead to the actual intended target. There is another button, with the tooltip “watch later.” Maybe that will download it in the background so I can close the page and return. Oops! Nope, that means… well, I’m not exactly sure. Some menu shows up on the left side of the browser and there is no indication of how it relates to the action I’ve requested – “watch later.”

That’s not what I wanted it to do. But I’m afraid that if I push the button again to “undo” whatever I just did, maybe the page will reload and I’ll have to wait for the whole thing to reload all over again. At this point there is no trust between me and the application that it will do anything that I expect it to.

We must always keep a watchful eye on our designs, whether they be games, websites, or applications. Every “feature” needs to be examined through the lens of the intended audience for clarity, not confusion. This is an ongoing battle that has been fought for many years, and will be for many years to come.
 
Let’s not forget it!

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Why I’m not worried about PC and Console decline

A good number of well respected (and better read) people than I have lately voiced concerns about the state of indie and art gaming in the near future. Consoles, once the easiest and cheapest way to get hyper realistic games, are now regularly passed on the turnpike by off the shelf PCs. And the PCs are slowly being replaced with simpler tablet touchscreen devices. Devices that can play games whenever you want, wherever you are. And, barring some boneheaded designs, are as easy to play on as their original Console counterparts.

 
Good.
 

I’ve been around long enough to know the phrase “zero wait states”. The idea was that the machines will get so powerful that there will be no time delay between when you ask a computer to do something and when it happens. Some current systems take that to heart, most notably Apple. Most current systems are so mired in their computer science that the feel of a machine is a distant fifth priority item to anything else. That is a serious disservice to the power our current computers command. I bring this up because it is no longer vitally important to know that this machine has 1.21 gigawatts of processing power. These easier to use devices *should* be where we are going.

And yet people are freaking out that there will no longer be a venue for “that” kind of application or game. Why not? Touchscreens? They can certainly use controllers just like consoles, if the game works better for it. Big displays? The internal resolution of most tables far exceeds our “high def” televisions, and the devices have been able to drive them for years.

So what is the problem? Visibility of indie and art games? There is this strange thing called an interweb thingy where you can see other peoples opinions about all kinds of things. So what if Steam suddenly closed its doors on PC? As a website alone, even if it were no longer directly selling a thing – it would still be a highly respected resource for new games on the Internet because of its partially crowd based decision system. This is all it takes.

So what is all this grousing about? Things are getting simpler. Apart from a few better cable combinations (free charging cable with hdmi out for iPad) and some extra software support (his controller support via Bluetooth), we are already there with a bright future. People who want to know should be able to learn what they want about machines. But for the bulk of the world, they should not *need* to know. And that is exactly where we are heading.

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