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My most important lesson about designing User Interfaces

Look at your screen right now. What do you see?

If you design software you'll see things like:

  • taskbars or docks or apps or notifications.
  • HWNDs and DeviceContexts.
  • start menus, systray icons, docked windows


What our users see

a piece of glass with glowing shapes on it.


My point

We who work in designing software products are exposed to UI in high doses. This warps our perception. Those shapes on the screen are *meaningful* to us at many levels:

  • A white dot surrounded with a thin black circle is a radiobutton in an unselected state.
  • A square white box with a thin black edge is a unchecked checkbox.
  • Triangles on the header columns of listviews will resort the listview on that column in ascending or descending order depending on the orientation of the triangle

Our users? Their interest is highly focused on *what they want out of their computer* and not on the underlying semantics of the UI technology that is blasting shapes onto that piece of glass.

Keep that in mind the next time you think about the usability of your UI. Is the UI really as *obvious* as you think it is?

Saveen Reddy


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