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Hiring your next user interface designer

I have found an excellent article about hiring your next user interface designer:

http://www.hello.nl/articles/Hiringyournextuserinterfa.html

The suggestion he makes is extremely interesting, but it's not practical.

The rest of http://www.hello.nl/ is worth reading also - it's the blog of an imaginative person.

MX
Monday, March 22, 2004

I liked that blog, but couldn't find an rss feed.

Aussie Chick
Monday, March 22, 2004

There is no RSS-feed. Neither is there an option to subscribe to a mail list or to provide comments. These will be added when the blog has more body.

Karel Thönissen (www.hello.nl)
Monday, March 22, 2004

I thought this was a poorly written article.  The author provides no evidence to support his claims.  I think the following excerpt is priceless:

"... user interface design is not their field of expertise. Let programmers design your user interface and you might end up with something that is graphically ugly, uses a language that only bares a resemblance to English, requires the user to twist his mind, but that is a showcase of technological wit."

The irony of this post is rich given that Joel (a programmer) authored a book about ... <drum roll>  ... user interface design.

Canuck
Monday, March 22, 2004


I think Joel is an exception.  I, too, am a programmer and I think useability is incredibly valuable.  But I"m unusual. Most programmers (in my experience) are worried about what's under the hood.

YOu never hear a programmer saying "use XYZ language because it'll let you design an easy to use program".

Alan Cooper, THE useability guru, has advocated this same position for probably a decade.

Basically, he's said that having the programmer design useability is like having the plumber design your house. The whole house will be designed to make the plumbing easier to install.

That said... I think it's certainly POSSIBLE to find a programmer who can do good useability design. But I haven't found one.

The other side of the coin is that EMPLOYERS, IMHO, don't put a premium on this. In my only two programming job interviews (before I started my sw company) there was no investigation of my ability to make things USEABLE.  Only a focus on technical skills.

Mr. Analogy
Monday, March 22, 2004

Look, the author doesn't think anyone can design software. He slags off programmers, artists, MA's and HCI people. No, the only ones are stage designers. Presumably, the guy is a stage designer.

Can we move on?


Monday, March 22, 2004

The best part of an otherwise rambling article:

"... designing user interfaces should concentrate on the interaction between the user and the program ... [and] ... should make sense to the user in the light of the task that he wants to perform."

K
Monday, March 22, 2004

The guy is dead wrong with his stage director thing. It sounds like a twisted theoretical joke on Interaction Design.

My supposition is that your next UI Designer should be an actual Interaction Designer :)

Guess what, stag(e) director, this job is already spec-ed in Alan Cooper's books and artsy designers of comedia-del-arte shows are nowhere nearby.

Cristian Cheran
Monday, March 22, 2004

Following the same flawed rationale: should Picasso or Dali be alive today, wouldn't they design the website of Amazon or Yahoo?

I bet that in the next years we'll be buying tons of CSS Designs from Versace or Pierre Cardin :)

Cristian Cheran
Monday, March 22, 2004


Bah, pay for UI? I'll rather design it myself!

Engineer
Monday, March 22, 2004

Was "stage director" meant as a euphemism for someone with UI talent, or did he actually mean someone who graduated from drama school? I couldn't tell.

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

> YOu never hear a programmer saying "use XYZ language because it'll let you design an easy to use program".

Rubbish. Delphi gets a run on here all the time precisely because it makes building good user interfaces quick and easy.

Personally, I care about good UI, but I also know making them is not my strength, so I avoid it and leave it for someone better. Maybe other people are like that too, and you just mistake them for only caring about things under the hood, when in reality they're just focusing on using their strengths on a project?

Sum Dum Gai
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

> it makes building good user interfaces quick and easy

building != designing

You can build as many UIs as you like "quick and easy" but if they're crap it really doesn't help.


Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Thank you semantic nazi. @_@

Sum Dum Gai
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Philo, I read the article again. He means stage director as in theatre. A complete fruit cake.


Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Actually I think there may be something in it. I'm going to have a think about what he says.

On some things he is wrong, however: Even the Brits have given up the imperial system. [from another blog entry]

That's just untrue. Road signs are still in miles. I think of petrol in gallons, regardless of what the pumps say. I think of small distances in metric and larger distances in Imperial (dividing point being around 1 yard / 1 metre). Younger people use more metric, older people (much) less. We certainly haven't given it up though.


Tuesday, March 23, 2004

And its untrue that American's haven't adopted metric.  Try buying a bottle of Pepsi without knowing what a liter is.

Ugnonimous
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

One thing this thread show is that you should indeed not let a programmer design your user interface.

And that some people seem to prefer shooting their mouth of rather than reading an article completely and comprehensively. The last paragraphs clearly explain the authors reasoning and it also explains clearly that an actual stage director is not of any use either. It is just that his skills come a lot closer to the skills you require to design a good computer program, than the other skills you need to actually construct the program.
And if you don't believe that this is what was meant, why not ask this person.

Oh, and by the way, a good user interface is a requirement for a usable program, but by no means the only one. No amount of user interface design can correct basically flawed behaviour, however technically superior.

Erik
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

I don't agree that a sense of the dramatic is not needed for UI design. On the contrary.

"Error: Out, out brief data, life is but a walking shadow and yer string is two bytes short"

Woodentongue
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

I haven't read the article yet, but a stage director certainly has most of the organziational skills to make a good Project Manager.

I had an engineer friend who mixed with lots of stage people courtesy of his wife. He detested them as 'arty-farty'types, yet if he had ever taken even a brief look at what is required to get a play out on time he would have realized his job as production manager at a medium-sized factory was simplistic in comparison.

Of course the fact that there are few stage directors working a program managers merely goes to prove that the idea of transferrable general skills is greatly hyped.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The idea of some skills common with stage director isn't goofy per-se, but the author took it too far away.

First of all, an Interaction Designer is a person that is (at least) half-techie so he wouldn't request stupid utopian things to programmers and lose credibility.

The stage director metaphor is also wrong because the web or software are completely different media from theater, they are interactive: they function by exchaning signals with the user and are directed by him- as opposed to theater where the user is passive and served a liniar story.

Another common fallacy about this is that the Interaction Designer should be a psychologist. I won't delve into that, though.

Cristian Cheran
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

A well written article, and I agree with almost all of his "metric" arguments as well.

My only caveat is with his misrepresentation of time which probably comes from ignorance rather than malice, and seems to be a common failing.

For those not in the know, "a.m." is ante meridiem (i.e. noon) and "p.m." is post meridiem.  Therefore 12 noon is just that, 12 noon.  It is neither before nor after.  I have never understood what is so difficult about this concept and why people who are used to the 24 hour clock consistently get it wrong.  Unfortunately, these same people then produce digital watches/clocks that reproduce their own misunderstandings and thereby increase the confusion.

Other than that, yes, let's standardise on YYYY.MM.DD for dates, and use underscores instead of commas (or periods) as a thousands separator.

The only shame is that the metric system chose badly with respect to the scale it uses.  For example 1 gram is too small a unit for everyday use.  And before anybody says that the standard unit of mass is the kilogramme, then why is not the standard unit of volume the kilolitre?  (And so on).

David B. Wildgoose
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Dear David,
                  A litre of water at sea level weighs one kilogram. The two are clearly related. A "kilolitre" is a cubic meter, and a cubic meter of water weighs one metric ton at sea level.

                  Adequacy of unit size depends entlrely on what you are measuring.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

So wouldn't the ideal candidate for user interface design be someone who oversaw product direction. Isn't this something that a Program Manager does at Microsoft?

Geoff Wilson
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The best user interfaces are designed by programmers. I have never seen a program designed by a UI expert that wasn't a piece of crap. The absolute, hands down, worst commercial program I ever tried to use was designed by Don Norman. It's true that many programmers design terrible software - for example nearly everything on the Linux platform is crap. But there is lots of great software out there, much of it designed and built by a single programmer.

Scott
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

What is that software designed by Don Norman? BTW: Don Norman is a programmer too, he has a PhD in CS.

Cristian Cheran
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

In case he doesn't see this, it's probably his first interactive CD, although that's just a guess and I've only read about it and not seen it for myself.  It was apparently Not Good.

I can't imagine he does much actual programming these days.

Rich
Wednesday, March 24, 2004

> Other than that, yes, let's standardise on YYYY.MM.DD for dates

On the contrary, the reverse is better for every day use. I probably do not really want to know the year a letter was written, for example, I am more likely to be interested in the day and then the month. By all means use the reverse format internally if that is what makes life easier but people in the West generally read left to right.


Wednesday, March 24, 2004

The major-minor order is used in our company for everything, not just dates. Version numbers, times, file paths, people's names, project monikers, paragraph numbering, telephone numbers, addresses, file names, etc. We have a few simple rules that are easy to memorise and that take the variance out of much of our decisions. Call it an example of knowledge management.

Another benefit of this order is that it allows for designating other periods than just days. With the same syntactic device we handle weeks, months, quarters, and times. This is possible in a way that is still easy to read and that allows mechanic parsing and sorting.

The left to right argument is not that strong, because scientific research tells us that people scan text with many different strategies. The human eye and human mind is capable enough to handle things like this.

Thönissen Károly wagyok! (in improved Hungarian notation 8-)

thoenissen.karel

Karel Thönissen (www.hello.nl)
Wednesday, March 24, 2004

I should have added that my notation also works when used in file names, although it is wise to leave out any form of punctuation.  All my files have names like these:

20040324 mother letter to.txt

This keeps the files sorted on any platform in any view.

Karel Thönissen (www.hello.nl)
Wednesday, March 24, 2004

You write letters to your mother on your computer? "You need to get out more!"


Wednesday, March 24, 2004

> The only shame is that the metric system chose badly with respect to the scale it uses.  For example 1 gram is too small a unit for everyday use.

Isn't that like saying that metres and seconds are too small, and that they should have standardised on kilometres and hours?

Christopher Wells
Wednesday, March 24, 2004

"Isn't that like saying that metres and seconds are too small, and that they should have standardised on kilometres and hours?"

No, not at all.

I think the best example is that made by my Uncle, who was a radiologist.  The metric unit is so small compared to the Imperial unit that now everything is metric radiologists are making mistakes and giving people doses ten times too great, or ten times too small, either one of which has disastrous consequences.  There have been news reports about this if you want to perform a search.

(And yes Stephen, I do realise that 1 litre of water is 1 kg, but you've missed my point about one to one, rather than one to one thousand).

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, March 25, 2004

[The metric unit is so small compared to the Imperial unit that now everything is metric radiologists are making mistakes and giving people doses ten times too great, or ten times too small, either one of which has disastrous consequences.]

Wouldn't that be because the radiologist is faulty in his arithmic, rather than that the arithmic is faulty? And wouldn't that be simply because of a change to something they are not yet familiar with? And wouldn't that have happened with any other change?

Erik
Thursday, March 25, 2004

It is a problem of scaling not of metric versus avoirdupois or imperial.

Karel Thönissen
Thursday, March 25, 2004

My point exactly.  The system should be based upon "human" sized numbers.  I find it interesting that in France you can buy "un livre" of goods, or in Germany "ein Pfund", both of which are understood to be about a "pound" in weight, say around 500g.

And why does the building trade use the "metric foot" of 30cm so widely?

I also notice that soft drinks are sold in cans containing 330ml which is rather an odd number when you think about it.

Please don't misunderstand me.  I was the first year in the UK to be taught metric units at school.  The only thing I know about the Imperial system is what I have picked up by osmosis from those around me.

My complaint isn't with the principle of the metric system, just the scale of its standard sizes.  If I remember correctly, a metre was originally designed to be some fraction of the size of our planet, but one of the French surveyors actually falsified his figures for some reason.  That seems just as arbitrary a method as Imperial measurements.

I just think it's a shame that metric measurements weren't based upon the most commonly used Imperial measurements.  Conversions would be easy.  Confusion would be minimised.

Incidentally, there was also an attempt made to metricate time.  That one failed of course.  Not surprising when there are 365/366 days in the year!

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, March 25, 2004

Here's the original definition of the metre:

http://www.npl.co.uk/npl/publications/length/length1.html

The text of which is:

The metre was first defined in 1791, as ‘one ten millionth of the polar quadrant of the earth passing through Paris’. If you ran a piece of string from the North Pole through Paris to the equator, and then chopped it into 10 000 000 equal length pieces, each section would be one metre long. The team of surveyors that measured the part of the Polar quadrant between Dunkirk and Barcelona took six years to do it. This definition of the metre was realised practically with a bar of platinum metal.

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, March 25, 2004

[My point exactly.  The system should be based upon "human" sized numbers.]

But what are these human sized numbers?
Would this human be an astronomer, or a surgeon? Or a carpenter? Or a painter? Or a farmer? Or a chip designer?

Erik
Thursday, March 25, 2004

The mythical "man on the street".

Basically, the scale at which people naturally want to measure things in their everyday lives.

Even a neurosurgeon might want to buy a pound/livre/pfund of tomatoes.

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, March 25, 2004

Although I buy the occasional pound (500gr) of tomatoes too, I just had to apply a spoonful of salt for taste.
We all bring our perspectives and prejudices into the world. Although it is probably not right to pick an arbitrary metric without giving due consideration to usage, it may not be possible either to find one that matches everyones purposes, or even to find a common purpose.

Erik
Thursday, March 25, 2004

I agree.

I just think it's a shame that we can't evolve our systems in a more organic fashion.

There was actually a half-hearted attempt at starting the metrication of Imperial units in the nineteenth century.  The UK introduced the "florin", valued at 2 shillings which is one tenth of a pound sterling, (20 shillings).

We also changed pints from 16 fluid ounces to 20 fluid ounces as part of the same movement.  The United States didn't follow suit with this, and that's why a pint (and a gallon) are different sizes depending upon which side of the "pond" you inhabit.

I think it's far better to "grow together" than to force a conversion, and indeed that is a good metaphor for life in general, but looking at the state of the world right now it's probably more idealism than realism.

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, March 25, 2004

"The best user interfaces are designed by programmers."

LOL.

Interaction Architect
Thursday, March 25, 2004

Stage director for designing interfaces...sounds like a suggestion made by a gay-happy fooler who has bought too much into web hyperbole. Information content -1.

programmer
Thursday, April 01, 2004

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