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Program Design Considerations for Good Usability
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Designing for usability is really just good system design. The same principles apply, and you may detect echoes here of the principles of Agile Development ( (see 9): Understand the purpose of the program and the tasks you user will conduct, and fit the features and workflow to them. Keep the application focused on the fundamentals and avoid unnecessary features, as these could distract the user from the main purpose of the program. Keep themes and controls consistent: if you have command buttons, use the same type throughout; if you have image buttons, adopt a consistent visual design for them. Don t surprise your user. Support keystrokes that your user already knows (like C) and ensure that these meet their expectations.
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CHAPTER 14: Usability and Accessibility
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Support the workflow of your application by including visual cues to show what can and cannot be done. If a particular function accessed by a command button is not available, then make the button unavailable (grey it out). Don t leave your user hanging around. Many applications have an introductory splash screen in some cases this is purely for marketing purposes and in others it is a way of distracting the user while loading data. Either way it is to be avoided where possible, as your program is essentially telling your user to wait until it is good and ready to start working. It is always better to put up something useful as soon as possible. If you must have a splash screen, then offer your user an option to not display it. Avoid modal behavior. Modality occurs when you have a window or other control that refuses to allow the user to move to another window or control until the user has carried out some interaction with that control. This is most often seen in dialogs that prevent your user from returning to the program until she has dealt with the dialog s message. While there are circumstances a critical error, for example, or some print or save dialogs where you might need to do this, use modal behavior sparingly. Don t expect your user to think too much. Remember that this is not to insult your user s intelligence; rather, the best programs act as windows into the underlying functionality. Anything that gets in the way of that like an ungainly interface or an inconsistent use of controls will detract from the usability of your system. Don t expect your user to have to use help, but provide focused, context-sensitive help where it is likely to be needed. Use of tooltip help is also a good idea, though sparingly, as flashing tooltips all over the user interface can be distracting and annoying.
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Autosizing and Auto-Positioning
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Apple has invested a huge amount of effort over the decades in understanding good visual layout. The autosizing and auto-positioning tools in Interface Builder enable you to lay out controls to help you use white space well and get the optimum spacing and sizing behavior for your program. Take a quick look back at Figures 3-5 and 3-8 in 3 to see how these work.
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Consistent Visual Design
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The stamp of consistency in the design of the user interface controls available within Interface Builder is clear. Figures 14 1 and 14 2 show the tools available for Mac OS X and iPhone applications.
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CHAPTER 14: Usability and Accessibility
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Figure 14 1. Visual design of UI components for Mac OS X applications
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Figure 14 2. Visual design of UI components for iPhone applications
The one area of slight inconsistency is the presence of the HUD window (circled in Figure 14 1). This gray, semitransparent window is a recent introduction and is reminiscent of the UI of Apple s professional applications, such as Aperture. Does this perhaps indicate a move to a wider choice of user interface options for the developer Time alone will tell.
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