In every aspect of our lives we interact with different user interfaces, ranging from simple ones such as an automated teller machine, to more complex ones such as a command prompt in Linux. Great care and critical thinking is essential in the design of any interface, as it acts as an interpreter between the user and functions of the system. A poor interpreter causes anxiety for the user as their desires will be poorly translated and hinders productivity. On the other hand, a good interpreter allows for users to quickly and easily access the systems functions and for the system to process their intended needs.
Some principals of a basic User Interface
- Efficiency of the User
- Explorable Interfaces
- Track State
- Visible Navigation
Looking at the above list we can see that there are many factors to take into consideration when designing a user interface. In a system with many features it is very difficult to make the design intuitive yet still allows user to access all its features easily. An example of this can be found in the automotive industry. Higher-end cars are packing more and more features such as GPS Navigation, entertainment gizmos, safety features such as traction control, variable suspension, and the list goes on. Of course you also need controls for the radio and climate. Adding more and more buttons to control these new features would certainly clutter the dash. How are automobile manufacturers dealing with this? Many of them have turned to a hybrid system consisting of the standard buttons, matched with a centrally mounted colour information screen. The controllable features are displayed on the screen and accessed either by voice command, touch, or some other external control. BMW for example introduced their iDrive system and received harsh criticism for being too complicated, slow, non-intuitive and frustrating. This just goes to show you that it can be tough to make a design "cool" and "simple" yet still be powerful enough to manage all its intended tasks.
Video graphics manufacturers run into similar design problems; though greatly magnified due to a much broader range of user experience levels. At one end of the spectrum they have to satisfy the power users who want control of every possible feature to make their games look and run as good as possible. At the other end there is the novice user who doesn't understand, and likely doesn't care, what things like anisotropic filtering and triple buffering are used for.
Today, ATI is launching their newest software innovation, one that has been in the works for quite a long time. This innovation is a new video graphics user interface which they've dubbed Catalyst Control Center (CCC). CCC is intended to educate the novice user, and promote the use of features that their video card can handle, while at the same time providing new features and greatly increased flexibility for the power users.