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The foreword to the book “The GUI Style Guide,” pp. xiii-xiv.

Put two species in contact. Each possesses a treasure house of experience, a perceptive point of view, powerful abilities of comprehension, and habitual skills of expression. Each experiences the world from a fundamentally and irrevocably different point of view. Yet both have a mutual need and interest in sharing and exchanging experience. (Think of woman and man, parent and child, human and Klingon.) Put these two species in contact, and what do you get? A failure to communicate.

One party is quick, careful, painstaking, accurate, tireless, and eager to accomplish a million tasks. The other party has excellent perceptual and physical coordination, an attraction to grand but vaguely specified concepts, a slow reaction time, a short attention span, and an inability to remember or handle more than seven things at once. What do you get? A failure of computers and humans to communicate. (And you thought I was describing woman and man.)

The user interface is the unbreakable glass barrier on which humans and computers scribble in their struggle to communicate. Failure in this struggle means at least frustration and waste, at worst loss and danger. Success in this struggle means that humans and computers can collaborate to get good and useful things accomplished. If you are responsible for this success, you need skill to make it happen.

This skill depends on many levels of knowledge and experience. You need to understand the goals of each side – what the human is trying to do and what the computer is trying to do. You need to understand the abilities of each side – what the human can do and what the computer can do. You need to understand the terms of a common language – the signs and signals that humans and computers can exchange. You need to learn a style and discipline in manipulating the terms of this language, so that unfamiliarity and misuse do not cloud the communication. And, finally, you need to put goals, abilities, language, and style together to make successful communication.

The book that you have in your hands (if you are a human) or in your memory (if you are a computer) is a unique, organized guide to these needs for communicating through the glass barrier. It starts from a basis of the elements of the language – the text, numbers, tables, menus, graphs, icons, helps, buttons, bars, windows, cursors, pop-ups, desktops, and so on. It furnishes style and discipline in assembling and using these elements. It justifies style and discipline not according to arbitrary rule books but according to the cognitive, human, and social factors on which they are based. And, finally, it links the stylish and disciplined use of the communication language to the purposes of communication, showing how to enable the human and computer to say to each other what they need to say.

When a human uses a program and when a program uses a human, their communication should be easy, responsive, fluent, and productive. When people observe such successful communication, they make comments such as, “My nine-year-old kid could do that” and “What was so complex about that?” If you are the one who made the communication successful, you should not boast or enumerate the problems that you solved. You should just nod and smile and say “It was nothing,” and silently thank the human and computer authors of this book.

And after these authors and you have solved human-computer communication, perhaps you will help us with woman and man, parent and child, human and Klingon?

Nicholas Zvegintzov
Software Maintenance News, Inc.
141 St. Mark’s Place
Staten Island, NY 10301 USA

Page added on 6th June 2004.

Copyright © 2002-2006 Marcin Wichary, unless stated otherwise.