Since I ended up learning a lot about interaction design in a short space of time, I figured it might be interesting to take a look at some of the programs and websites I use a lot and see how they measure up to some of those criteria for good design. Let’s see which ones come out on top!
Warning: may contain frivolous misapplication of design criteria and bad comparisons.
1. Adobe InDesign
Professional desktop publishing software
The number of clicks required to achieve any goal is usually very few, generally 1-2 to find the tool you need and 1-2 more to apply it. Considering the sheer volume of things you can do, does this make it a ‘generous interface‘? You can accomplish a ridiculous number of things in very fine detail, using only the buttons available on the main screen, but considering how tiny they are and how very few of them can be used intuitively without going through a lengthy tutorial or spending 20 minutes googling them first. InDesign does its job perfectly, but you really have to work for it. Which I suppose isn’t that bad a verdict, for a piece of professional design software.
Pros: mediates a lot of content simultaneously, good on both big picture and fine detail
Cons: interface must be courted with caviar and roses before it will consider helping you
Final Score: 7 out of 10
Online MMORPG I’ve been playing too much of lately
I know MMOs are complicated, but seriously, how many different menu tabs do you need? How many different kinds of menus do you need? Zoom in on this screenshot and you’ll see icons for combat styles, daily tasks, skills, quests, armour, inventory, 9 different kinds of chat settings, friends, groups, contacts, settings, emotes, music, health, money… it just goes on.
I suppose it gets credit for having that many things onscreen without the game becoming unusable. I like this game, but considering that I’m already paying to play it I don’t enjoy the nagging suspiciousthat its much better at showing me the content that encourages me to spend more money than how best to experience what I’ve already paid for.
Pros: provides the comforting illusion of setting yourself goals and then achieving them
Cons: the interface and the mechanics feel like they’re getting in the way
Final Score: 5 out of 10
Video browsing website
A bit more alike in form to the digital archive/collection interfaces I’ve been studying, because it mediates content in a more linear way. Following this train of logic, I suppose Youtube is a pretty strong interface, given how easily and enjoyably you can get sucked into browsing material for extended periods of time, which includes discovering things you didn’t intend to search for. Pretty good on the ‘big picture -> subsection -> individual piece of content’ front too. Shame about the algorithms that recommend new content though; for my money they present you with videos that are too narrowly similar to the ones I’ve already been watching.
Making a channel, uploading videos and making playlists is much worse though, partly because the things you do as a browser and the things you do as a content creator are needlessly entangled. The screenshot above represents my channel, but only about a quarter of the visible screen deals with uploading and posting videos at all.
Pros: easy and intuitive to start browsing, and keep browsing for ages
Cons: you’ll mostly find more of the same, and managing a channel is much less intuitive
Final Score: 8 out of 10 for browsing, 4 for uploading
Digital storefront and library for PC video games
I’ve always thought of Steam as the iTunes of video games, and I’ve generally liked it a lot more than iTunes and the other musical equivalents like Google Play that I’ve tried. Those always try harder to show me new things I might buy than to make it easy to navigate the songs I already have. On the other hand, Steam divides the storefront and the things I’ve bought from the storefront into two categories (and does a better job of handling dual purposes than Youtube).
As far as the storefront goes, its easy to search specifically and browse generally. The presentation of the library is lacklustre, but then again, it only has to represent a list of things you’ve already paid for, so chances are you know the contents pretty well already.
Pros: looks nice, handles the store/library distinction well
Cons: recommendation algorithms have the opposite issue, casting the net a bit too wide
Final Score: 8 out of 10
And the winner is… hard to say really. As much as they could all stand to do certain things more intuitively, is it really in their best interests to do so? Arguably they are all generous, browseable & aesthetically pleasing to the extent they need to be, and no more. This was probably a doomed enterprise from the outset, but its been interesting to think about the interfaces I unthinkingly use in a more critical way, even if I mostly just ended up venting.