User interface

EVERY COMPUTER user has a different relationship with his PC: for some it’s simply a tool that must be tolerated, while others develop a genuine fondness for one system over another.

EVERY COMPUTER user has a different relationship with his PC: for some it’s simply a tool that must be tolerated, while others develop a genuine fondness for one system over another. The system that allows computer users to interact with the system is known as the user interface.

That can be as simple as a command line, a single blinking cursor on a black screen (where only those who know the correct code words will ever be able to get anything done) or it can be an image-rich, reasonably easy to navigate system, such as Windows or Apple’s Mac OSX.

The brilliance of any user interface relies on two things: consistency and ease of understanding. Consistency is important, as it allows people to use their experience to navigate the system. When my aunt received a new hi-tech oven with her new and shiny kitchen, she had to have someone come in to explain to her how to turn it on. On other ovens she’d probably have been able to work out which knob was for temperature and which was the timer. But because the manufacturer had changed the user interface, she was at a loss.

In that example the oven manufacturer also neglected to make the interface easy to understand. For the oven manufacturer that’s a relatively easy problem to solve, but for a software manufacturer with thousands or millions of users, ensuring that people don’t need to go on a technical course to be able to open a file is the difference between success and failure.

User interfaces are part of every element of our daily lives but it’s only because of the concentration of functions in a PC that a difficult to understand system can cause mass panic.

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User interface