June 1, 2008
Although I rather like Windows Vista -- I think the amount of Vista nerd rage out there is completely unwarranted -- there are areas of Vista I find hugely disappointing. And for my money, nothing is more disapponting than the overall fit and finish of Vista, which is truly abysmal. It's arguably the worst of any operating system Microsoft has ever released.
What do I mean by fit and finish? Well, take a look at Long Zheng's Windows UI Taskforce examples. Vista is absolutely filled with bits of user interface that are inconsistent with the new Vista design.
You're never more than two clicks away from some discontinuity or visual gaffe that zaps you right back into the seven year old Windows XP "experience". Or worse. Consider Chris Pirillo's observations on his Windows Vista beta 2 install:
Windows Calendar font and icon alignment are all wonky.
The Windows Media toolbar pop-up preview window is using Arial.
Safely Remove Hardware dialog is in Microsoft Sans Serif.
This goes on for about, oh, eleven pages. Granted, these comments refer to the beta, but the shipping version of Vista is every bit as schizophrenic in design. There's very little consistency.
It also seems every individual team at Microsoft has a profoundly different idea of what the user interface should look like, as Paul Thurrott notes:
And what's up with the glaringly inconsistent UI across Windows Vista and all of its applications? Some windows have menus, some don't, and some have hidden menus. Some have these new black toolbars, some don't. And so on. Why isn't there a team of people just working on consistency issues?
Aren't these trivial, nitpicky complaints? Yes. They are. And that's entirely the point. This little stuff matters.
If all those individual teams at Microsoft can't be bothered to follow the design conventions of their own operating system -- how can they possibly be building applications that I would actually want to use? In software, attention to detail is everything; all these glaring little oversights in Vista's user experience collectively add up to a huge vote of "no confidence" in the whole shebang. A mismatched font here, an ugly pixelated icon there, soon enough you feel that you're living in a neighborhood with an awful lot of broken windows.
If Microsoft's developers can't muster the basic level of craftsmanship necessary to make Vista's bundled applications consistently look and work the same as the rest of the operating system, how can users or third party developers be expected to give a damn about the user experience? Honestly, it's embarrassing.
John Gruber has been critical of Apple's minor UI inconsistencies in the past.
Consistency in and of itself has been a fundamental pillar of the Mac user experience from 1984 onward. But with Apple no longer leading the way, it's fading. "At least it's still more consistent than Windows" is not high praise.
That comment was made well before Vista was released. Nobody's perfect, but from what I've seen of OS X and Vista, I'd say Apple cares a lot more about consistency of user interface today. Microsoft has all but abdicated their responsibilities with Vista.
But the saddest part of this whole situation is that it doesn't have to be this way. Every major operating system is released alongside a set of design guidelines, guidebooks for developing applications that are consistent with the conventions and standard applications provided by the OS.
As a young developer, I remember eagerly paging through the early design guidelines for Windows 95 and the Mac OS. You can always do worse than following the well-worn paths the OS designers have conveniently laid out in front of you. Much, much, worse. And many have.
Of course, all design guidelines begin at home. These guides are only as good as the underlying operating systems they're based on, which are de facto reference implementations. It's hard to take Vista's design guidelines seriously, since Microsoft's own development teams clearly didn't.
If you're a software developer, please don't make this mistake. Understand the design guidelines for your platform -- and for God's sake, follow them!
For a great platform agnostic primer on the importance of UI consistency and design guidelines, look no further than GUI Bloopers 2.0.
The original version of GUI Bloopers has been on my recommended reading list for years, and this greatly updated version was long overdue. There's a sample chapter (pdf) on the official book website if you'd like to get a sense of what the book is about. Jeff Johnson, the author, also provides an excellent companion reading list on his website, which also includes the Web Blooper of the Month archive.
Like everyone else, I'd prefer to use only the most beautifully designed applications. If you can't be beautiful, at least be consistent. Start with the basic level of consistency afforded by following the design guidelines of your chosen platform, and you might just avoid the "homely" and "ugly" end of the spectrum.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
Btw, what about Java developers wanting to create software for mac/windows/*nix os'es? Which interface/design guidelines to follow?
Seriously? All you have to complain about is the fonts menu, and typeset inconsistencies?? how about the rest of the crap....
Jeff you have a great point. It may be "trivial", but it is very important. Just think of the case with a website. How would you feel if the fit and feel of a website changed across pages? At the very least I'd feel it was amateurish and hashed together from pieces. If I were a novice, I might even wonder if I was at the same site. While advanced users might call it "eye candy", the look and feel of a product is just as important and shows its level of polish and professionalism.
Desktop UI is one of the most undervalued areas of sw development ... Everybody and their dog has an opinion on how things should be done, but then only the dog is paid peanuts to actually do something. We get what we pay for, there are gazillions of stuff about web HCI because that's where the money went (and web UI is several orders of magnitude simpler, only harder if you want to use stuff not like it was meant to be used ... but that's another story). Let's not bash Vista so much (I personally hate it) and think, for example, how much it has taken GNU/Linux to get semi decent GUIs ... The sad thing about Microsoft is that it seems that their best is probably in the past. Like someone said it seems that the GPU builders now own the desktop ... Lots of noise and no substance.
I hate it very much when pops up a non resizable window with tiny lists. Also I hate it when I open Windows Service -list of services and the window is way too small and always in the left upper corner where I need to drag it away from there. And Windows keep looking for net disks jamming file browsing while I am in vpn. I _hate_ tooltips! IE tabs are broken. Windows sucks in many ways extremely hard.
I tried to read Windows interface design guidelines on MSDN a while back, but it was all marketing material for Vista. Can't really blame programmers for not reading it. Interface guidelines should read like api documentation. Short and to the point. And absolutely no rambling about how great and innovative some feature is.
What Microsoft and everyone else producing interface guidelines should do, is strongly connect interface guideline documentation to the framework API documentation. Every gui framework API documentation should have links to design guidelines and design guidelines should have links and at least footnotes on how discussed features can be produced with the framework in question. That should help psychology oriented usability people talk so that developers can understand, and developers designing as they code could do some quick checking that they are using widgets as they are supposed to be used.
SPEAKING OF FONTS,
Why does windows still load every single font into memory when not all are used in UI components.
As a designer try loading a ton of fonts into the windows fonts directory and watch what happens to even a fast machine.
Its one of those things microsoft just doesn't care about: customization.
Neither XP or Vista scale well at all, and its still ass backwards when it comes to fonts. I find it to be no surprise that dialogue received no attention.
Designers end up relying on third party font browsing applications to get the job done. Shouldn't that be part of the OS, since its a vital part of the way it all works?
Theres a windows picture viewer, and slideshow app built into windows right? And when I want to look through my pictures it doesn't LOAD EVERY SINGLE JPG ON MY MACHINE INTO MEMORY AT THE SAME TIME.
I realize certain fonts should be centralized or you'd have a big mess, but the current framework should be seriously rethought. Also while we're on the subject, the way BROWSERS handle the fonts is totally retarded as well.
The browsers should allow for naturally embedded fonts as part of either HTML or CSS spec. In order to achieve a properly cross platform font that looks the same in different browsers/os'es is to:
-Embed it into a JPG
-make the whole thing in flash with the font embeded
So you've got solution one which just sucks, or solution 2 which assumes the person has a third party plugin, also sucking.
Why doesn't the browser just read the damn font?
Because mac/pc/linux cant all get along since they all have different proprietary fonts? Stupid. These are things that should have been centralized years ago.
Think about the size of a font. Verdana is 167k. Your telling me 167k is going to overwhelm and destroy a modern computer? No way. Browsers should allow font embedding.
So many new ways invented to waste RAM, why not one that would actually do the world some good.
The glowing office icon problem almost pales when it comes to UI's that take there cue from video games and flash apps on sites where you are reduced to mousing over anything that remotely looks like it might do something. I shouldn't have to use the same techniques that are used to find application Easter Eggs just to save a file.
The worst part is not so much that the glowing icon had file operations in it, it is that the icon replaced a rather useless, little-used, mostly ignored, mostly redundant set of operations. Wait... hmmmmm replace a useless bit of UI with something useful...
Not only the parts in vista are inconsistent but also Microsoft's other standalone-apps. Every single one has a different title bar.
Office 2007 - Got this blueish title bar with a big round button to the left and a small X-button to the right.
Microsoft Live messenger 7 - Also a small title bar with a realy small X.
Media Player 11 - Got the Vista Aero titlebar even if you'r running on XP.
There are more but i cant remember them right now.
I'm delighted to see this topic: yesterday I ran Visual C# for the first time and was aghast at the UI design. Stupid, nit-picky things that took more effort to bollocks up than to get right: non-mnemonic menu accelerators, "shortcuts" that aren't shorter, hiding the real single-key shortcuts.
Yet my colleagues don't seem to understand why this ineptitude *matters*. Somebody actually put in extra work that made this product harder to use. It defies belief.
Microsoft realised that they didn't have a hope in hell of shipping the original Longhorn vision anytime soon, so they threw the code away, started over and rushed Vista out the door in two years.
John, that massive Scoble quote ( http://radio.weblogs.com/0001011/2004/03/20.html#a7069 ) is pure gold. And Scoble wonders why people don't think he's credible..
Now you've managed to contradict yourself in the same paragraph.
Only if you connect two unrelated sentences. Let me make it more explicit for you:
"I think the amount of Vista nerd rage out there is completely unwarranted ... It's arguably the worst FIT AND FINISH of any operating system Microsoft has ever released."
When I said "worst", if you included the previous sentences, it'd be clear that I was referring to FIT AND FINISH. Not some broad pronouncement.
I quite enjoy many aspects of Vista; in general it as far better OS than creaky old 2001 Windows XP. It's just a shame the pieces of it don't fit together more coherently.
"I think the amount of Vista nerd rage out there is completely unwarranted ... It's arguably the worst of any operating system Microsoft has ever released."
Now you've managed to contradict yourself in the same paragraph. This reminds me of Rick James:
"Come on, what am I gonna do? Just all of a sudden jump up and grind my feet on somebody's couch like it's something to do? Come on. I had a little more sense than that. [short pause] Yeah, I remember grinding my feet on Eddie's couch."
Here's what Scoble had to say about the Longhorn UI, back in March 2004*:
'Remember, Kam and his team is designing the next "look" of Windows. Kam gave me a tour of Aero. He forbid me to take pictures of it, though. So, what do I have in my evangelist's toolbox? Stories!
So, in a minute I took Bob into the $250,000 Maybach that I sat in. I don't think I told you about that one. It was parked outside of the hotel I was staying at at the PDC and Mercedes let me sit in it (Maybach is Mercedes new super luxury car line). Mercedes was having an event there and was showing off their new expensive toys. Remember the pictures of the $700,000 SLR that I took (they didn't let me sit in that one)?
On Thursday Kam told me his team had studied expensive German cars. Maybe he had even sat in the Maybach.
Here, slide into that car. Feel the rich leather seats soak your body up. Now, start playing. Notice the moon roof. It isn't your typical moonroof. First, its glass has an electrically-controllable opacity element inside. You flip a switch and you can't see through the glass. Flip it back, and you can see the sky. Note that Longhorn's window borders evoke the emotion you feel when looking through that moon roof's window.
And the switch isn't the type you find in my Ford Focus (which are darn good for a $15,000 car, but they aren't the same quality or feel as those that are found in a $250,000 one). It's the most expensive and best designed switch around. It evokes emotion when you play with this switch. I dare you to sit in the car and not play with the switch for 15 minutes (the car salesman even encouraged me to do that -- he told me he still plays with it even though he gets to sit in the car everyday).
Kam told me in one of the expensive cars he sat in he played with the sunglass drawer. He was fascinated by how its slide action made him feel. And he's been chasing that emotional feeling ever since and is trying to deliver that to us in Longhorn. I bet there'll be some things in Longhorn that feel as good as that finely-designed drawer Kam told me about.
In the Maybach all around you are fine materials. All designed by the top designers in the world (in fact, three separate teams of the world's top car designers worked on it).
So, once I took Bob into that car, then I started explaining Longhorn. First, Aero makes you think of that car's moonroof. Finely designed. Best technology. And responsive. Sensual, even.
One thing Kam showed me in Longhorn's Aero (that's what they call the new user experience) was a folder icon. This isn't an icon like in Windows 95 or XP. No. First he showed me how he could zoom the icon up and down. No pixelization. So, now you understand how the entire user interface will scale from low-end low-resolution screens, to that $8,500 200DPI IBM screen that Kam has sitting in his office.
Second thing I told Bob was that the UI makes you think you're in the middle of a finely-crafted world, not a bitmap-limited one. Back to the folder icon. It looks like a photograph of a real manila folder. And inside, rather than just showing that some generic files were stuffed inside, were real document thumbnails. Oh, and there was a light source which threw a shadow from the front of the folder across all the documents and onto the back of the folder. Like I said, this isn't any UI you've ever seen.
Oh, and don't try to tell me that the Mac is as good. I'm using a Mac right now (I'm staying at my brother-in-law's house right now and he works at Apple). If XP makes you think you're sitting in my Ford Focus (which ain't bad, I really like that car) and the Macintosh makes you think your sitting in a $40,000 Mercedes, well, Longhorn's UI takes me back to the time I got to sit in the $250,000 Maybach.
Of course, by this time Bob was salivating and said "when we gonna get it?" I didn't even have to answer. We both know it's a couple of years away at least. Man, it's a long wait, but then fine things do take time. Even if you had the $700,000 to spend on a car, for instance, the SLR is sold out for a couple of years. Oh, and Longhorn will cost a very small fraction of the price of a new super luxury car.'
So what happened? Microsoft realised that they didn't have a hope in hell of shipping the original Longhorn vision anytime soon, so they threw the code away, started over and rushed Vista out the door in two years.
There were many reasons why I switched to Linux, but Gnome's relentless UI consistency is a big reason for me staying there.
(I am aware that KDE has similar standards.)
I think a lot of the FUD can be explained simply...
A high proportion of IT "professionals" operate on guesswork and 'net rumour. Most who gave up on Vista do not know enough about anything to make it work (and are not bothered to learn). Most who complain about Vista have never used it and are just repeating FUD from dubious sources as "authoritative".
Vista is bad: a *journalist* said so and an anonymous forum poster called 'fingurBunz' agrees! Mac users and Linux fans are unanimous on this issue! Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war!
I am not saying this lightly: it is the dirty little secret of the IT industry that there is a great deal of incompetence, laziness and false authority which preserves itself by keeping good people out of the loop ("...temporary contracts for the best, full time employment for the rest").
I thought this was an Australian anomaly, but some of the press I am seeing indicates it is a problem everywhere.
Of course some will have genuine concerns within their own field of interest/expertise, or the environment in which they are deploying, but these are not the people I am talking about.
The point is that there are happy Vista users out there and I am one of them. And my PC is set up to do a lot more than the average software developer, so I think I would have been more likely to encounter problems than most.
I don't know if it's just me, but in firefox with text size set to normal the text on this site is very hard to read (almost blurry).
This violates UI design rules.
Changing the font from calibri to arial fixes this.
Definitely agreed - the control panel is a horrible mish-mash of old and new.
While Vista itself and everything that comes with it should have a coherent feel, I think apps running on Vista can and should break Vista UI guidelines when justified. Office is an extreme case here, but it is well justified even though it isn't perfect (the Orb design and location sucks).
Breaking guidelines is what pushes better UI design forward - otherwise, we'd be beholden to whatever Microsoft/Apple comes up with next, and they're not always the best and cannot possibly predict the situations your app may have to deal with.
It's odd that we expect UI consistency for desktop apps (which is why cross-platform GUIs don't work), yet we have no complaints about all these web apps making their way into our lives having completely different UIs...
Very interesting comments from you all, may i suggest you to try using Adobe CS4 and you will understand why some people suddenly evolve into serial killers...
My compliments again for the post+comments
And yes, linux is quite inconsistent too because of GNOME : KDE has a strong UI interface and guidelines.
What? Where have you left your brain? Have you ever try them?
I think the concept of UI consistency should be applied to musical instruments. Look at the variation in the interfaces between the piano, the guitar, the trumpet, and the trombone. These should all be redesigned to work alike and to be the same color (green).
The worst offender for consistancy in my opinion was Office - Why could the "MDI" set up of Word work across two screens and actually be two windows and two task bar icons, but Excel's MDI was true MDI with one window and multiple documents within it, meaning that you could only have one window on one monitor and yet still have multiple task bar icons! And that's supposed to be in the same product (Office)!!
Go figure! Cause I can't!
Everyone always points to the Install Font dialogue box as an example of inconsistancy. But when was the last time you actually had to use it font dialogue? You've been able to drag and drop fonts into the font folder to install them since Windows 95. In Vista, IIRC, you can also right click on a font and click "Install". How could a font dialogue box, even a hypothetical nicely redesigned one, make this process any better? The more a href="http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/000676.html"unnecessary dialogue boxes/a we can get rid of, the better.
You could argue that having the dialogue box in the OS at all, even if you never have to use it, is still bad because any normal user could accidentally come across it and be offended by the Windows95ness. But this isn't actually true: the only way to get to it is through the old menu bar, which is essentially deprecated and not even shown by default. The only people who enable the menu bar are people who like the "old-style" (i.e. non-Vista) way of doing things anyway...
I don't have much experience with Vista so far (had to work with it sometimes at a tech support job last year). But on the general topic of user interface consistency:
Why is it so hard for them and everyone developing software for Windows to use just ONE toolkit for the UI? If they did that, everything would have the same look and feel (at least widget-wise) and would automatically "update" its look and feel when used on a new version of Windows. I mean, this is not something like GNU/Linux, *BSD or the like, where there is no single person/company in control of the UI. This is Microsoft, they do have the power to control it (and usually use their power in many other areas).
As a GNU/Linux and GNOME user, I am somewhat used to the fact that not everything looks the same, but:
1) within a single toolkit, there is usually a very high consistency and, at least to me, GNOME looks very polished in that area (and GTK seems to be working pretty well too). KDE (with the underlying Qt) also does a good job here, they just like to keep the UI a little crowded and "messy" (in my eyes).
2) due to the fact I mentioned before, the problem of different toolkits cannot be totally avoided and because I generally support the *nix paradigm I can live with that.
Someone mentioned that everyone should use wxWidgets to overcome this problem. I don't see how this should help with consistency, because in the end, KDE and GNOME are just too different on a deeper level (e.g. gvfs/gio vs. kio), that merely using a "meta"-toolkit doesn't help much with that.
Sorry for double post, but I just thought about something that always annoyed me about Windows (and still does in OpenOffice, which apparently trys to emulate Windows):
Many dialog boxes are not resizeable. At least up to Windows XP many of the OS dialogs but also many application dialogs are just not resizeable and have been laid out for prehistoric screen resolutions that they look pretty cramped. Is this still the case in Vista?
can't agree more, Microsoft is very bad at designing a cool UI (generally), I don't think Windows 7 is going to change anything in this direction...
That Fonts dialog, is actually a Windows 95 design.
Oh wait, some have commented it was already in Windows 3.1. I cannot remember that far... nor do I think I want to!
@Gerald: In testing, it took users considerably longer than one minute to spot the Office button. Many didn't find it at all.
The Office button glows orange when you put your mouse over it. You'll notice that, when using Office 2007 for the first time, the Office button actually flashes a few times to grab your attention. This was added specifically because users didn't otherwise notice it during testing.
You're forgetting that us, the readers of this blog and similar content, are far removed from normal users in terms of the ability to figure things out. We're much more likely to play around and see what it does, whereas most people just want to get their task done and don't care to play.
There are also very clear signs that the Office 2007 interface is broken. Interface elements should communicate their purpose through their appearance alone, as well all know. The Office button fails here.
Put your mouse over the Office button and it gives you a very large 'tooltip' that both graphically and verbally describes what happens when you click. To need to go to such lengths to describe the purpose of a button is almost interface failure by definition.
There's even a support page solely for the button, detailing where it is and what it is to be used for. Again, almost by definition, a manual for a button is failure.
For those who still haven't, please do observe at least one user testing session. Hopefully then we'll get fewer "but surely they'll notice this" or "even a child could figure this out" thinking behind interface design. It's also really really enlightening, very much an epiphanic moment.