Does Your Innovative Interface Suit Your Users Needs… Or Your Needs?

I got this new Renoir calendar for the office (what, you expected I would only like the artwork of Derek Riggs?), and I’ve noticed that it has escaped the usual bourgeois constraints of comprehensible design. Behold:

The Renoir calendar, calendar portion
Click for full size

You see, they “solve” the “real estate” problem of having a month comprise parts of six discrete weeks not by putting the final couple days on the bottom row with the preceding week, but by wrapping them to the top. You know, where you would not look for them because that’s the past. But the solution solves their problem.

When your designers break the mold and try to do something different, something that’s never been done before because now they have THE TECHNOLOGY to do it differently or merely because they’re just interns fresh from the second decade of the 21st century’s college of design pablum in their heads, you have to consider: Will my users understand this? Does it make their experience better? Or is it just something my designers want to do.

That leads me into some of my pet peeves:

  • Placing the control labels into the controls. Especially irksome when I tab into the control and the label disappears.
  • Reversing the normal button order of alert or confirm boxes. I hate when it’s Cancel/OK or No/Yes. Yes, I understand Macintosh has always done it that way, but it’s not the way I understand it. If I’m only half paying attention, which I usually am because I’m paying more attention to the all-woman Iron Maiden tribute band playing in the background, I’m going to do it wrong. Your application should be helping to keep me from messing up.
  • Fields that are out of common order. You’ve seen forms where the Confirm Password edit box is not right after the password edit box or where the fields in an address are out of order. Okay, these are not so much design decisions, but sloppy oversights caught with no QA.

Bottom line: If you’re going to break out of the traditional metaphors your user has experienced for years or decades, you’d better make sure your application is doing it for your user’s sake, not for the bragging rights your designers will get for doing something outrageous or extreme.

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