The myth of consistent user interfaces

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/02/05 15:01 -05:00, original URI:

There are the lies we tell others, and there are the lies we tell ourselves.

And then sometimes there is both, as is the case for user interface guidelines.

Now I have talked about all of the inconsistencies here before in posts like this one, and Chris Pirillo has been going on about it for a while in posts of his like this one.

There is even a group within Windows that has the job to come up with UI guidelines that among other things includes using Segoe UI as the branding font and so on.

The problem?

The people who build the applications don't care. For them it can be Trebuchet MS or Arial or Helvetica or Tahoma or Microsoft Sans Serif or Segoe UI and they honestly don't care. They don't want to update anything and they do not mind if there is an inconsistency across the user interface pieces of Windows.

Interestingly, a lot of these folks are the same people who feel comfortable complaining quite loudly if the Italic look of Tahoma or the Bold look of Microsoft Sans Serif has some sort of flaw due to there being no actual font files underneath those settings, without even willing to be embarrassed about the fact that they are using the font from 2-3 versions ago. Expecting us to put the time and money into enhancing the older fonts so they won't have to change anything. :-(

Why can't they just update their damn font choice? :-)


This post brought to you by the letter F (U+0046, a.k.a. LATIN CAPITAL LETTER F)

# Chris Pirillo on 5 Feb 2007 3:11 PM:

My font hack works 95% effectively. :)

# Michael S. Kaplan on 5 Feb 2007 3:17 PM:

However, it works with no UI testing and without giving application developers choices when there is good reason for a different font (the exception that proves the rule!).

# Mike on 5 Feb 2007 3:43 PM:

As an example of app developers who don't follow UI guidelines causing problems I submit the case of the app-which-shall-be-nameless which hardcoded Tunga for thier (entirely US english) UI.  When the font got modified so that it could be used better by it's intended audience (Kannada) thier UI broke real bad.

I guess the app developer must have just thought Tunga looked pretty or something.  I can't think of any other reason why they would use it.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 5 Feb 2007 4:26 PM:

Ick. What app is that?

# swautier on 5 Feb 2007 4:55 PM:

Hmm... looks like you've just had an avalanche of e-mail from these people lately!

Come on, Michael, shout! It'll make good to you. Blogs are way less expensive than analysts yet sometimes as efficient :-)

# mrmckeb on 5 Feb 2007 6:59 PM:


A Microsoft "Software for Windows" program. Applications only get this branding if they meet the right quality and UI targets. Just like "Games for Windows" Microsoft will help these manufacturers sell their products.

Eventually it should be a requirement of any software product with any windows logo on it's box.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 5 Feb 2007 7:20 PM:

This would of course put us in the embarrassing position of finding many of the components produced by Microsoft (including a few that ship in the Windows box) being unable to receive logo approval. :-)

# Ben Cooke on 6 Feb 2007 3:17 AM:

Out of interest I temporarily pinched a handful of these fancy Vista fonts and put them on my XP machine. (I know, I know... bad bad bad... I've removed them again now.)

I set my Windows UI font to be Segoe UI 9 just like it is in Vista. I was quite amused to see that the only apps that actually respected my choice of font were ones using "non-standard" UI toolkits, Ethereal (GTk+), Mozilla Thunderbird (Gecko/XPUI) and Opera (their own crazy stuff) spring immediately to mind since I use them regularly.

Just about anything doing things using Microsoft's own APIs -- the "Run" dialog in Explorer being a particularly embarassing example -- is still using Tahoma. I'm guessing this is because most of these are dialog resources using MS Shell Dlg which always maps to Tahoma on an XP system with an English-speaking locale.

Another one that amused me was a Microsoft Installer file I ran where the Installer engine had scaled up the UI to accomodate my larger font selection, but whoever had constructed the installer didn't think of this and so their fancy background bitmap didn't fit anymore.

While it's easy to point at programmers and accuse them of not caring, I think a large chunk of blame goes to Microsoft's APIs for not helping programmers to do the right thing.

# Steffen on 6 Feb 2007 5:11 AM:

My apps has to run on 95-Vista, always with the correct font. It took me a really hugh effort to find a nasty hack. Loading dlg resource into memory and modify the font name based on system default fond or available font, including hacks for far-eastern font stuff. I've really no idea what micosoft thinks what we should do! Which font name must be in the dialog resource to support 95-vista with correct dpi scaling?


# Best Practises for Windows User Interfaces? on 8 Feb 2007 6:56 PM:

Hi Michael

I like apps to always have a consistent UI

I have done a list myself and if you have the time I would love your thoughts


# Michael S. Kaplan on 8 Feb 2007 10:32 PM:

Offhand, I would say that mere mortals would rather slide down a razor blade into a barrel of iodine than have that many rules to comform/comply to.... there needs to be some simplification of guidelines here!

Then I would add for the specific issue that standardizing on Tahoma 8 pt is very problematic, both across versions and across languages....

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