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Posts Tagged ‘interface design’

Aside – My Number #1 Pet Peeve in Interface Design

Posted by Preston on 2009-12-20

At University, I had a fascinating lecturer. His typical mode of dress was a t-shirt, stubbies and to go barefoot around the campus. He had a great big bushy beard that barrelled along in front of him which at times looked like a mane. He had a reputation for reciting the entirety of The Ballad of Eskimo Nell (a rather ribald poem – I’m not providing a link) – though by the time I was at University, he could only ever be encouraged to let fly with a single verse.

None of this though made him fascinating.

What made him fascinating was his name. For your reference, his full name is:


That’s right, Simon. Just a first name, no last name. You see, at some point in the past Simon had decided to legally remove his surname. So he literally did not have a last name.

Simon was a fascinating case study in the implications of unexpected input in computer programmes. He was in fact a walking case study in the implications of unexpected input in computer programmes – almost exclusively due to his name. (This led me to having some joy in pointing out this XKCD cartoon to him a couple of years ago.) Every year, the people who made the phone book struggled to work out where to put him. He confounded registration systems everywhere, and turned compulsory fields on forms to rubbish. Simon was a walking lesson in the lessons of designing interfaces to handle unexpected inputs.

Not long after I finished University, I decided to change my name. Not anything so drastic as a removal of my surname; in fact, it was to add to my surname. You see, when my family emigrated to Australia several generations ago, they changed their surname from “de Guise” to just “Guise” so they could more easily assimilate. (So the story goes.)

Not being all that interested in blending in, and having an appreciation of the long term history of the name “de Guise”, I decided to reinstate it. (Some might question why I didn’t remove my middle name or at least change it from “Macdonald” – but that’s another story, to be told another time.)

It was at that point that I started to get an appreciation of the daily struggle Simon must have had in dealing with systems that were not adequately designed to work with non-conformist input.

I’ve learned therefore over the years that there’s far too many programmers with names like:

  • Mary Jones
  • Bob Smith
  • David Peterson
  • Jane Davidson

And far too few programmers with names like:

  • Simon
  • Preston de Guise
  • Carlos de la Cruz
  • Peter O’Toole

(I had already learned, by the way, that there were far too few companies that simultaneously employed a McDonald, Macdonald and MacDonald.)

So here’s my pet peeve in interface design, stated as examples:

  • I am not Preston De Guise
  • I am not Preston De guise
  • I am not Preston de
  • I am not Preston De
  • I am not Preston Deguise
  • I am not Preston DeGuise
  • I am not De, Preston Guise
  • I am not even, any longer, just Preston Guise (and I certainly don’t have a middle name of de).

There are too many lazy and/or inconsiderate programmers out there. (There’s also too many lazy and/or inconsiderate data entry operators as well.*)

If you’re a programmer, and want to get onto my good side in 2010, make sure your system gets my name right.

* In the past I have been guilty of name mutilation myself. In my last job I setup an account for someone, mistaking the first word of her surname as a middle name, and egregiously never got around to correcting it. It is actually something I genuinely regret.

Posted in Aside, General thoughts | Tagged: , | Comments Off on Aside – My Number #1 Pet Peeve in Interface Design

Maybe it’s just as well…

Posted by Preston on 2009-11-07

…that the folks over at OpenOffice have concentrated so much on mimicking interfaces rather than trying to come up with their own interface.

If this is the best that can be achieved, I’m not surprised that OpenOffice takes longer to launch and gets uglier with each iteration. This is not interface design. It reminds me of the Kill-o-Zap gun from Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, which was described thusly in the book:

The designer of the gun had clearly not been instructed to beat about the bush. ‘Make it evil,’ he’d been told. “Make it totally clear that this gun has a right end and a wrong end. Make it totally clear to anyone standing at the wrong end that things are going badly for them. If that means sticking all sort of spikes and prongs and blackened bits all over it then so be it. This is not a gun for hanging over the fireplace or sticking in the umbrella stand, it is a gun for going out and making people miserable with.’

I keep hoping this is a joke, but I can’t see anything that suggests it’s anything other than something serious. It’s not a mouse – it’s an obscenity of undesign.

Posted in Aside | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Why interfaces must be beautiful as well as functional

Posted by Preston on 2009-04-22

It’s been a long time since I’ve read such a thoughtful and simple argument for beautiful interface design, rather than simply aiming for functional interface design.

I thoroughly recommend that if you work with designing software or hardware interfaces, you need to read this article at A List Apart.

Posted in Aside | Tagged: , | Comments Off on Why interfaces must be beautiful as well as functional