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A New Approach to GUIs

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extralongpants

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I was sitting next to a co-worker the other day, whom was showing me something on his computer.

I noticed that once in a while he had trouble grabbing scroll bars or navigating menus without clicking on an unintended button. His cursor was off by just a few pixels now and again.

I got to thinking about how often this happens to me. I spend several hours a day on a computer, and I still have trouble fiddling with buttons and menus once in a while.

I also got to thinking about how much of the screen is taken up by buttons and widgets that exist for the sole purpose of navigation. In some environments/applications, there are so many that they begin to clutter the screen. It seemed to me like an annoyance and a waste space.

The only time I make no mistakes in a menu is when I have it spatially memorized. My hand just puts the cursor right where it needs to be, straight from muscle memory.

So anyway, I tried thinking of some ways to eliminate as many common buttons and navigation interfaces, and make navigating GUIS a little less tedious. Here are a few things I thought of:

- More extensive use of right-click-style menus
I think right click menus are very intuitive, useful, and space saving. It's like asking, "I want to do something with this item. What are my options?" Or often even more simply, "What are my basic options?"

- No more scroll bars
The worst of all GUI controls is, in my opinion, the scroll bar. It is tedious and lends itself to near misses or overshoots, and it doesn't really look all that great either. Getting rid of the scroll bar isn't easy though. I thought of a user holding a specified mouse button and dragging across a window to pan it - much like the hand tool in photoshop. But this creates the potential for a user to get 'lost', especially if the window scrolls both horizontally and vertically. I'll have to think about this issue a little more.

- More extensive use of history
I haven't thought out the specifics for this option, but I think somehow using history as an organization criterion more commonly would make navigating GUIs much easier. If there were some space on the screen dedicated to recent options, a user wouldn't have to think about where a previously pressed button was. Maybe there could be another sort of right-click menu known a "recent command menu" that would have a list of commands organized by history, either in a top-down list or in a radial style, with the most commonly used items closest to the cursor.

That's all I feel like coming up with right now - I need to get some sleep soon [lol]

Everyone and their mother wants to make a better GUI, and I know there is no perfect answer, but it's definitely an interesting topic to muse on.

What do you guys think? Do you have any ideas on how you'd make common GUIs easier to use?
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Quote:
- More extensive use of right-click-style menus
I think right click menus are very intuitive, useful, and space saving. It's like asking, "I want to do something with this item. What are my options?" Or often even more simply, "What are my basic options?"

This is true. The problem today as I see it, and I find this to be especially true in Windows, is that the right click often doesn't offer enough context on the actual file itself, but rather offers instead a general overview of what can be done to a file. If a context menu were to offer more functionality based on the file type and file content, it would be a much better system.

Quote:
- No more scroll bars
The worst of all GUI controls is, in my opinion, the scroll bar. It is tedious and lends itself to near misses or overshoots, and it doesn't really look all that great either. Getting rid of the scroll bar isn't easy though. I thought of a user holding a specified mouse button and dragging across a window to pan it - much like the hand tool in photoshop. But this creates the potential for a user to get 'lost', especially if the window scrolls both horizontally and vertically. I'll have to think about this issue a little more.

In The Humane Interface, Jeff Raskin suggests that we abandon scroll bars altogether and implement a universal "hand tool" as a system UI tool. As it is, this is currently being done in a lot of applications by using the third mouse button or scroll wheel. Its still a pretty good idea.

I recommend that while you think about it, you might consider reading a little about it too. The aforementioned The Humane Interface, by Jeff Raskin (one of the original developers of the Mac interface) is one that I am currently finding to be a great read. There is a suggestion of a radically different UI design, which is currently being worked on.
Joel Spolsky's online UI book is another interesting, if traditionally approached book. It does make pretty good use of analogy in getting some of its points across though (IMO)

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Wow, very cool - thanks for the info. I'll have to keep an eye on that project, and pick up that book too. It sounds like a great read.

Hopefully these kind of innovations will hit the main stream soon, and we can all benefit from them. Of course, maybe I shouldn't wait for "them" to do it. Maybe I should just start my own implementation - I am a programmer after all [lol]

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If I remember correctly, RISC OS had a little buttom in the gap between the horizontal and vertical scroll bars which allowed you to drag both scroll bars simultaneously. I saw people using that quite often.

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