by David Dick
Reprinted from Usability Interface, Vol 7, No. 2, October 2000
GUI Bloopers: Don’ts and Do’s for Software Developers and Web Designers by Jeff Johnson (Morgan Kaufmann, March 2000)
GUI Bloopers is about the outrageous and sometimes frustrating designs that have become common to most software. Johnson calls them “Bloopers” and he has identified 82 of them. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself thinking, “yes, I’ve seen that one before.”
Jeff reasons that software is developed by programmers who lack training in designing user interfaces or who don’t have access to people with such training. Even when software is developed by a sizeable organisation, there may be no developers who have user-centered design expertise. Actually, many developers have user interface expertise in terms of the widgets and windows they construct—they just don’t understand the effect of their designs on users.
What’s the solution? If time and budget allows, a user interface consultant can be called in to review or test software. Although consultants can make a good living correcting common mistakes, I sense that Johnson believes the realistic solution is to educate software developers since there are so many of them and so few user interface design experts.
GUI Bloopers is organized as follows: First Principles, GUI Component Bloopers, Layout and Appearance Bloopers, Textual Bloopers, Interaction Bloopers, Web Bloopers, Responsiveness Bloopers, Management Bloopers, Software Reviews, and War Stories (which describes Johnson’s experiences as a user interface consultant). Each chapter presents bloopers, possible fixes, and design rules to avoid making the bloopers. I was particularly interested in the chapters about textual and web bloopers.
The chapter about Textual Bloopers stresses the importance of professional writing (for example, in labels and warning messages) for creating usable and elegant products. Ironic as it is, the so-called graphic user interface also includes text. It makes a strong argument for including technical writers on design teams. Technical writers can prevent textual bloopers by ensuring consistent terminology, correcting grammar and spelling, simplifying and clarifying error messages, and ensuring consistency of window titles.
The chapter about Web Bloopers has suggestions about web page design. The web, and the desire by everyone to create a web site, has turned traditional non-user interface designers into web page aficionados. You won’t be surprised (or maybe you will be) to learn that developers of web sites make the same user interface mistakes which affect the usability of a web site.
GUI Bloopers is a wonderful blend of practical guidance, case studies, and humorous illustrations. Unfortunately, the lack of figure titles is a cause for confusion.
Jeff Johnson is not a newcomer at sharing his knowledge and experience of user interface design. The book credits him with nine papers published by CHI, ACM, and IEEE. GUI Bloopers is his first book and heralds his talents as an author. I look forward to reading the sequel.