Confusion in the user interface can happen anywhere

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/01/22 06:01 -05:00, original URI:

After that post Strategic avoidance of stepping in a CrapFest, I realize I might have come off as a little snooty about UI stuff. 

I figured I should give my own story about the worst UI experience I have been involved with, just so people don't think I am under the delusion that it could never happen to me.

In a way, you could say that the cause has at its root the process I described here that was used for development of the very first version of MSKLC (which was from another point of view the third version and from yet another point of view the second -- the explanation of THAT make a nice post another day).

So here is the user interface in the 1.4 version coming out some time soon:

Now the piece of UI that is simply weird and non-intuitive is the bottom section with the directory and build location. I know exactly why it is how it is (having lived through its birth and all), but it is still really hard to explain and really hard to justify . :-)

The very first drop of MSKLC did not have any UI for this. There was of course the Windows "current directory" notion which was controlled by how the EXE was launched and that current directory was changed any time you used a File|Open or File|Save dialog and navigated anywhere else. But even in the earliest days, people found this confusing.

So eventually the View|Options menu had a control added to it that gave the current directory. It seemed like an advanced setting so out of the way made some sense.

But folks found it really confusing that the place we loaded stuff from and the place we built stuff was so tightly coupled, and hidden, at the same time.

And other folks were worried about "losing" where they had just built a keyboard if the setting was changed. should the punishment for not opening the directory after a build truly be to not give them a way to do it after they realized they did not mean to say 'No' when asked about opening it up?

Other people hated that the open and save dialogs were moving the current directory around, so we fixed that too.

And then others had concerns about having to change the setting every time MSKLC was started, so we had to remember what the working directory was going to be.

So we ended up with the current UI:

There is nothing redeeming about it; in its own way this UI is as bad as the initial UI was, in that both are pretty confusing.

As the screenshot indicates, this particular issue is not being fixed; we simply haven't gotten very many complaints about it, not like the issues we did get feedback on like Vista and 64-bit support. Perhaps everyone understood it or no one actually was troubled by the issues, after all.

It just feels really ugly to me!

Just so you see that it does not take hugely complicated cross-division projects to lead to confusion in the UI -- it is just as way in small groups, too. :-)


This post brought to you by ¿ (U+00bf, a.k.a. INVERTED QUESTION MARK)

# Centaur on 22 Jan 2007 7:57 AM:

Shouldn’t the built files be always put somewhere near the source file, independent of the current working directory?

# Michael S. Kaplan on 22 Jan 2007 8:11 AM:

It all depends, really. There were (and likely still are, though we did not open up the issue for the upcoming release) multiple, conflicting opinons on the subject....

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