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blue sky: user interface

power tools and rubber knives
April 20th
Submitted by Paul Phillips <> to UI.

As software becomes more complex, conflicting user interface goals become increasingly difficult to resolve. The power user wants ten thousand features only a menu or keystroke away, but the naive user wants only a few common features available and doesn't want to be confused by deep menus or frightened into a coma by accidentally triggering an unexpected feature.

One approach to this problem is to equip users with a rubber knife by default, and make them enable the power tools via configuration. A well known piece of software that does this with some success is the email client pine. In the default installation, everything possible to the user is visible on-screen; there is no hunting through menus because there's nothing else to find.

The huge majority of users will never use most of the features available in Navigator. You cannot do anything about this aspect of human behavior, but you can make software easier to use for this majority, your largest audience. Those people who do not fit into this group can enable other features as necessary. It is likely that "home", "back", and "forward" are sufficient buttons for the first-time web user. Maybe that's going too far, but that's for you to decide.

It's no-lose if this is done right. The new user finds a foolproof piece of software that remains foolproof, and the power user suffers only the briefest twinge of annoyance before enabling the full feature set and carrying on. It doesn't have to be a big deal to turn on the rest of the bunch, "enable all functionality" would be a sufficient switch. So work out what a useful feature subset is for various groups of people and see what you can do.