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If Only I Were a Cyborg (And Ramblings On The User Interface)

Cyborgs are coolCyborgs can do way more than humans. They can turn themselves into molten metal, they can make their eyes glow red, and most of all they can use Cyborg Interfaces. Human interfaces, or User interfaces are slow, clunky, and passé, at best. You see, when a human has to interface with a system, they need pretty icons, practical and familiar layouts/design, and structure. Cyborgs need none of these. Linus Torvalds is a lower-case “c” cyborg. He doesn’t need a Human interface any more than a meteor needs wings.

Mr. Torvalds, and Cyborgs, are both technically superior to us. They can process data at incredible speeds. They can also type really, really fast, so using interfaces such as the command line is easy for them. But for us mere humans, we need a little help. It’s not that our minds are weak. They’re just too busy monitoring our bodies as they replicate skin (Cyborgs don’t have this problem), or keeping the ol’ ticker going (don’t confuse Cyborgs with the Tin Man – they will probably kill you for it as they are and always will be heartless).

We, as humans, interact with many different types of systems on a daily basis, such as computers, automobiles, and even simple things such as milk cartons. We understand these systems best when there is an interface in place to facilitate that interaction. In the examples above, these interface elements might be:

– A mouse, a keyboard, and a screen
– Steering wheel, keys, pedals, and dials
– A handle, a cap, and a translucent bottle

How might you respond if you were asked to drive a car using a keyboard and a monitor? Would translucency benefit your computing experience as much as it does pouring a glass of milk?

We (well, most of us) mortals have certain expectations when interacting with any system, and if these expectations are not reasonably met, we become frustrated. The net effect: we leave, we stop using it, we throw it away, or we make fun of it. A good interface is always simple, clear, and rarely noticed by the average human. A good interface is not defined by a certain color palette, a set of icons, or a font. A good interface is not a set of buttons or graphics that take you through the steps. Sure, interfaces use these and other elements, but a true Human Interface is built around the Human for whom the system was originally intended. If they struggle to use it properly, they aren’t doing something wrong. The interface (and possibly the system for which it is built) is flawed.

Another defining characteristic of a great interface – if not always, then often – is the lack of extensive documentation detailing how to use it. This is not to say that you can just throw away your documentation and win the award. You need to carefully craft your product so that the number and order of the steps to complete a task or objective are sequential and obvious. An example of this is the Apple iMac. The iMac’s original manual was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for being the world’s smallest manual, containing only 32 words — something revolutionary in a world where PCs were sold alongside their voluminous manuals outlining how to get the complicated machines up and running. The manual wasn’t short for brevity’s sake, but rather a reflection of the fact that the machine was simple to set up and use.

A good user interface requires little instruction, because the interface is designed in the first place to satisfy the needs AND instincts of the end user. They will feel that using the interface is instinctual, natural, and even familiar. Keep these points in mind when designing your product. It will save you a great deal of time and money in the long run, not to mention the frustration you’ll save your customers as they try out your product or service. This can only lead to increased customer satisfaction which will in turn produce better brand evangelists for your business, a great reward for caring about your customer’s experience.

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