On bad user interfaces

The class I’m taking this quarter is called “Human-Computer Interaction”, which is essentially about user interface design. There isn’t any actual code writing until the 8th week of the class (the class runs for 10 weeks). This week’s assignment was about designing a control panel for a copy machine and building the control panel out of index cards. I had originally planned to do a post on PADS, but the copy machine assignment ran too long. I don’t know if it’s just me, but planning, and building the user interface was a horrible struggle, and despite the effort put into it, testing it with random people was embarrassing as they got confused with and/or pointed out the weaknesses of the design. Guess I won’t be so quick to complain about hard-to-use user interfaces in the future.


The cards represented the screens of the copy machine, which were supposedly 300 * 180 pixels and only black and white. Some cards had spaces where the information was written in pencil and could be erased. Other cards had a slider.


Other cards had components that could be installed on them, by inserting the tabs in the gaps. This allowed options that locked out other options, such as Collate Yes being required in order for Staple Yes. The gaps were chosen so that no more than one component could be installed on a card at any given time.

See the complete documentation and test results here. I learned during the assignment that the wording of the instructions to the tester, and the wording of the text on the user interface is extremely important. Being both short and clear is difficult, and sometimes having no text at all is better.

4 Responses to “On bad user interfaces”

  1. User interface design is a lot tougher than it looks. I had to botch one up in order to really understand what I was doing. (Both products sold, but the second one sold a hell of a lot better than the first.)

  2. Samukun says:

    …*what!?* No lunatic mode!? XD

  3. Sixten says:

    @Steven: After last night’s class, I know I would do better if I had to do this again. What’s going to hurt my grade the most is that the interface took so long to build that I wasn’t able to do a good writeup. There are also some mistakes in the report that I could’ve caught with a little proofreading.

  4. Stumpy McGimp says:

    i think these sorts of classes are good lessons in learning why a team is important: the ui is designed by the designer and not the coder.
    same as when creating advertising you have a designer an illustrator a copy-writer and an art director to put it all together. no one can do the job of the others (not as well as is necessary).

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