Let’s have a moan about poor UI design that’s just a little bit confusing shall we?
Look quickly at the above image and tell me what you would type in the second textbox. Yes, it’s the password box, to go with the “Apple ID” above it. But if you look at the dialog, what’s going on with the confusing radio buttons and icons to the left? Am I supposed to click the radio button next to the Apple logo and then type in my Apple ID, leaving the bottom one empty because I’m not an AOL user. If I’m an AOL user, do I click the circle next to the AOL logo and type my details into the textbox next to it, leaving the Apple one empty? After all, in most dialogs the textboxes have labels to the left, rather than above.
Wouldn’t it look better if the AOL/Apple choice was above the textboxes, making it clear they have nothing to do with the boxes themselves? It’d also be good if the “Forgot password?” link was more obvious and didn’t look identical to the “Example: firstname.lastname@example.org” text which you can’t click on. Like this:
- Xerox Alto
And now I have your attention, I will explain why.
The computer you see in this image is a Xerox Alto, a prototype computer that contained a graphical user interface, pointing device called a “mouse”, full A4 screen with a virtual “desktop”, it was connected to other computers using “ethernet” and could display print quality documents on its screen.
And it did this in 1973.
Now look at the computer on your desk. It contains exactly the same things, and does exactly the same thing. You control it with a mouse, it can display print-quality documents on its screen, is networked using the same ethernet. The only difference is in the looks and speed of the device.
The mouse was invented in the 1960s, as was the concept of hypertext, as demonstrated by Douglas Engelbart.
Then let’s look at the software we use on our computers. Our main pieces of software are wordprocessors and spreadsheets. The first spreadsheet was Visicalc on the Apple II, created back in 1979 and looks like this:
If you compare this to Microsoft Excel (because all the other spreadsheets such as Lotus 1-2-3 have died off) it’s remarkably identical. OK so Excel contains half a million extra features, and Windows Vista/Mac OS X has the benefit of 30 years of research and development, but the initial concept and idea are identical to those first prototypes created in the 70s.
We’ve not advanced at all. We’re just making variations on a theme, polishing innovative ideas until the sharp edges are all blunt and “user friendly”. We’re using 30 year old ideas and every year re-releasing them while claiming the latest ideas to be the next thing in computing.