Schneiderman: Designing the User Interface

by Carson Reynolds

Schneiderman’s weighty volume does a through job of detailing many of the crucial tools of HCI: UI design tools, GOMS, LUCID design, OAI theory, and Fitt’s Law. He also shows the application of these tools to: dialog design, hypermedia, information visualization, and CSCW interfaces. It consistently presents an underlying agenda with this material though. Schneiderman clearly thinks that HCI could benefit from adopting a style of research much like that of experimental psychology.

Schneiderman also has his favorite areas and qualities of interfaces. His work is best known for and mostly closely associated with “direct manipulation.” This book provides an entire chapter on the topic and interfaces that exhibit this quality. Schneiderman also consistently rails against anthropomorphic or adaptive interfaces. He claims, with experimental evidence, that these interfaces undermine the consistency and predictability so crucial in good UI design. He also suggests that users have difficulty dealing with interfaces that may intimidate them or make them feel stupid.

However, he does admit some success of adaptive systems. Most notably adaptive hypertext help systems had repeated experimental evidence of success. However, Schneiderman notes there has been difficulties attempting generalize these results. Schneiderman also is conscientious about recognizing the diversity of human capacity: “The great diversity in these static measures reminds us that there can be no image of an “average” user, and that compromises must be made or multiple versions of a system must be created”

Schneiderman wants to see a “balance of automation and human control.” He faults too much automation with several interface disasters and even human deaths. He suggests that computers are good at some things, and people at others. Trying to shoehorn human capabilities onto computation is something Schneiderman thinks a fool’s errand. Instead he asserts “user-control, responsibility, and accomplishment” are more viable interface goals. His ultimate solution to reconciling human diversity and human control is allowing for adjustment through control panel interfaces.

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