Principles & Golden Rules

(material from: Things that Make us Smart by Donald Norman, Information Anxiety by Saul Wurman, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte, Designing the User Interface 3rd Ed. by Ben Schneiderman, The Psychology of Human-Computer Interaction by Stuart Card and friends, Human-Computer Interaction 2nd Ed by Alan Dix and friends)


1 - Recognize Diversity

Advantages Disadvantages
Direct Manipulation  - visually presents task concepts 
- allows easy learning 
- allows easy retention 
- allows errors to be avoided 
- encourages exploration 
- affords high subjective satisfaction
- requires a graphics display and a pointing device
Menu Selection - shortens learning 
- reduces keystrokes 
- structures decision making 
- permits use of dialogue management tools 
- allows easy support of error handling
- presents danger of many menus 
- may slow frequent users 
- consumes screen space 
Form Fillin - simplifies data entry 
- requires modest training 
- gives convenient assistance 
- permits use of form management tools
- consumes screen space
Command Language - is flexible 
- appeals to 'power' users 
- supports user initiative
- allows convenient creation of user-defined macros
- has poor error handling 
- requires substantial training and memorization
Natural Language - relieves burden of learning syntax  -requires clarification dialogue 
- may require more keystrokes 
- may not show context 
- is unpredictable

In terms of the general history of user interaction

but note that the later ones have never completely replaced the earlier ones

image from wikipedia

image from digibarn


Direct manipulation - originally interacting with a computer was direct manipulation at a low level - moving wires, flipping switches. Direct manipulation returned in a big way in the 80s (after a lot of basic research was done in the 60s and 70s) at a higher user level which could involve using a light pen to touch a location on the screen (70s), moving a mouse to move a pointer on a screen and clicking the mouse button to make selections (80s) to more modern alternatives where the user uses a stylus or their finger to more directly manipulate the interface itself (2000s).

In 2003 Sony started shipping the EyeToy. The concept would improve with the PlayStation Eye in 2007, and Microsoft's KINECT and Playstation Move in 2010, which would show a different kind of direct manipulation without a controller and without tactile feedback

Menu selection is ubiquitous on computer interfaces today

Form fillin is also ubiquitous on the web, making it easy for people who need your data to get it in a form that they can easily process.

Command language can be very useful in applications such as ImageMagick allowing you to do a variety of simple or complex operations such as:
convert image.jpg rgb:image
convert night_club_orig.jpg   -sigmoidal-contrast 4,0%   night_club_fixed.jpg
convert piglet.gif -background white -flatten -colorspace Gray -negate -edge 1 -negate -normalize \
          -threshold 50% -despeckle -blur 0x.5 -contrast-stretch 0x50% color-in_cartoon.gif

Natural language is commonly used today when getting information via the phone on movie times or airline flights or the weather, etc. Services like 1-800-GOOG-411 were useful from 2007-2010 for users with 'dumb' phones, and Siri, Cortona, Google Glass etc. help smart phone users, and tools like Alexa have moved that into the home (and soon car). Voice can be very successful in areas of limited/focused vocabulary. More general natural language recognition is harder. Talking to your cell phone solves part of the problem of noisy rooms when you have a good microphone or set of microphones. Having a connection to a large cloud-based data store solves part of the problem of fixed vocabulary as the recognition problem can be passed off to a more powerful computer to solve with access to a larger and evolving store of knowledge about correct and incorrect queries.

2- Eight golden rules of interface design

3-Prevent Errors

back to the 7 stages of action

but perhaps most importantly, evaluate the design at multiple stages during its development

Lockheed guidelines for design of power plant control rooms

Conditions for Optimum Problem Solving


Getting the User's Attention

Here is an email from Bill Gates trying to install a piece of Windows software.

The evolution of the pocket music player is worth spending a little time on, showing how capabilities and controls evolve together. Physical controls with a simple mapping to their function have been evolving into more generic virtual controls .

Transistor Radios - in the mid 1950s a transistor radio (back with the word 'transistor' sounded really cool) had basically two controls: a knob to turn the radio on/off and increase the volume, and a dial to change the station you were listening to.

Walkman - 20 years later in the late 1970s the move from a portable radio, where you could only choose which station you could listen to, to being able to choose which cassette tape to listen to was a big leap. The physical controls now needed to let you eject the cassette, control volume, play, pause, fast-forward, rewind. If you had an advanced one you could switch to the other side of the tape without taking it out and putting it back in the other way, or fast-forward to the beginning of the next song.

fast forward another 20 years to the iPod in 2001 and the basic controls for playing music on an iPod or similar mp3 player are not all that different, but now you are carrying much more music around with you so there are now more controls to help you get to the music you want to play.

Within another decade the physical controls would almost completely disappear in favor of a touch / multi-touch interface and vastly more storage.

and now we are at the point where your music is likely not even on your person - it is off in the cloud somewhere on an internet connected device - where you perhaps have access to 'all' music. Now the issues of finding what you want to listen to, or might want to listen to, become even more important, especially when the same music may have been recorded by different artists, or played at different times by the same artist (i.e. pick the particular concert you want to hear that song from).

It is also good to think about the kind of feedback these devices give you about their current state. With the transistor radio the controls themselves give you feedback on their state: the volume knob has numbers on it to tell you how loud is, and the frequency dial has numbers to tell you what you are tuning into. As you are turning the knobs you get tactile feedback and would hear what you are tuning into.

On the Walkman the button you press would push in giving tactile feedback, and often you would hear feedback from the clicking of the buttons or the whirring of the tape, so you have immediate feedback about what mode the device is in. To tell where you are in the cassette you could look through the little window and see how much tape has already played through.

On an iPod all of the feedback, aside from the audio itself) is coming to through the LCD screen.

On a modern device all the feedback is coming through a very high resolution, very bright, very colourful screen, which may be on your phone, or on your wrist, or on your head.

Telephones have gone through similar changes
image from Wikipedia

In really early phones which just had a mouthpiece, earpiece and a crank:
1 - lift the receiver
2 - if no one else is on the line then ring the phone to get the operator's attention
3 - ask the operator to connect you to the number you want
4 - listen for person to answer

note that this order of operations would continue to be the practice for collect calls

image from Wikipedia

In a classic home phone or public telephone which had the addition of a way to enter the number you wanted you would:
1 - lift the receiver
2 - listen for the dial tone
3 - find the number in your memory or a notebook
4 - dial the number
5 - listen for person to answer / busy signal / howler / etc

and even the phrase 'dial the number' comes from having a dial on older phones.

image from Wikipedia

when push button phones were introduced to replace the dial phones the layout of the buttons was 'fixed' and has remained the same since - notice that it is not the same layout for calculators / computer keyboards which are more based on cash registers. Bell Labs did user studies to come up with the most appropriate numeric phone layout. The numeric layout on phones is also better for mapping the alphabet to the numbers which allowed for handy mnemonics back in the 20th century.

image from Wikipedia

With cell phones you would:
1 - check the number of bars you have
2 - dial the number or select it by scrolling through your contacts - your main interface was still an alphanumeric keypad
3 - press the call button
4 - listen for person to answer / recording to answer

This initially caused a lot of confusion as the order of operations was different

With a smart phone you could:
1 - bring up your phone application
2 - find the person in your previous call list / dial the number directly

1 - bring up your contacts application and find who you want to talk to
2 - press the dial icon on the contacts page

1 - activate your phones audio interface
2 - ask your phone to call the person by name (which is pretty similar to the very first telephone interface)

1 - bring up the text conversation that you previously had with this person and continue it

Another good example is a look back to the olden days of recording video. Early VHS Video Cassette Recorders (VCR) in the late 1970s had physical controls and the remote control had only a single button (pause/play) and was connected by a 20 foot cable. Today its almost impossible to use a home video device without the remote control.

The controls are broken up into three zones, each with different physical controls. The basic controls for turning on the device, playing/recording a tape, and recording/playing a tape are pretty easy to use and still somewhat familiar today, though the commonly used icons had not been invented then. The two big knobs for changing the TV channel were very common then and pretty easy to use (remember this was before cable TV existed and there was just local over the air broadcast on VHF and UHF), and long before viewing things on a device connected to the internet.  Then there was the clock and the timer, which were as difficult to set as any digital clock.

vcr front

vcr back

As with the transistor radio and the Walkman the VCR and Tuner controls themselves give you information on their current state. Compare this to a modern TiVo type device. Interaction is now through a remote-control, rather than the physical device itself and feedback is now on the TV/monitor screen rather than on the device - the control and the feedback are now separate, though one can certainly see a touch-screen future where they will come back together on a phone/pad device that talks wirelessly to the recording device.

but we now tend to watch videos through the internet, so if I want to watch the latest Zero Punctuation video I now have a smaller set of controls which disappear to hide themselves as the video is playing. I have play/pause (or click on the screen), a slider to pick a specific point in the video, a choice of resolutions, mute/not, a volume control, and full screen/not

and admittedly, this technology looks really ancient these days - but at the time, and in the case of the VCR only 40 years ago, it was cutting edge for consumer electronics. All of today's technology is going to look similarly archaic in a much shorter amount of time. The goal here is applying good design principles based on the users needs and the current level of technology available, and being able to adapt as that level of technology changes.

Here is a nice example from the Illinois Secretary of State office of trying to get the user to do things in the correct order.

When you renew your license plates you get an envelope in the mail that you should not open in the standard way.

a good site for bad examples

if you grew up in the days before cell phones and MP3s

IBM's RealPhone

IBM's RealCD

Mapquest vs Google Maps back in 2006 - why did Google win people over?


and how do they look a decade later, how is the interface different, and how has the way people use them changed?


Guidelines for Public Access Terminals

Portuguese translation of this page -

last updated 6/6/17