Tag Archives: user-centred design

Beautiful simple solutions

I was getting frustrated, as were others, about the Mac OSX default column width in column view.

Yes, you could handily double-click the column handle and it would expand that column to the width of the longest file name (you knew that one right?), but I often have to use long filenames.

So I recently decided to change the default column width, opened Terminal and steeled myself to having to hack some core setting with some command-line arcane incantations. After a search of a few seconds I came across this video from Jason Glaspey

Change default column widths in Finder (Mac OSX) from Jason Glaspey on Vimeo.

What I love about this control of the interface is that I could have discovered it by accident but it was also put there on purpose, by an interface designer who thought about (or paid attention to user testing about) the sorts of thing a user might want to modify globally. In addition, the change is shown in real time, across all windows, communicating very simply and elegantly, the results of the change to the user, immediately, without text or technical explanations.

That is what good design, and good user experience is about.

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Updated: 05/9/09

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internet, outer space, open source and the new open space

I Read an interview with Mark Shuttleworth, a personal hero of mine, in The Guardian last night.

A fascinating story of how he wants technology to help people, but not in that overbearing, paternalistic sense but in a more fraternal, assistive way. Having done some very interesting things, like spending $20 million on a trip into space, he also started the company that oversees the Ubuntu project, Ubuntu, meaning, “I am what I am because of who we all are”. Ubuntu is about computing for people, about an environment not directed at the technically experienced but for people who want to get things done on their not so expensive anymore bits of plastic and silicon. This, to me. is usability and user-centred design in action.

Ubuntu is a very popular, respected (among the geekorati) operating system that is open-source and free. Basically this means anyone can come along and modify the code used to create it, unlike Microsoft and Apple, who lock the source code away. (To be fair, the essence, the kernel, to use the proper term, of the Apple operating system, OSX, is DarwinBSD, an open source flavour of UNIX.) I see open source as part of the next wave of personal computing, open, free and distributed, that sees the entire business model of software and digital activity in general, change dramatically. Gone will be the Microsoft model, thankfully, which is already suffering from it’s own market ignorance and inability to see where the rest of the world is going. MS is big, but they won’t be for much longer when I can get everything I need from an office application online and for free from one of a dozen diferent service providors, like Google, and others. OpenOffice Org is working on a mac port of OpenOffice (does what MS Office does but for free!) after being available for Windows and Linux users for years. Even Adobe is offering a simple version of photoshop online, for free, with 2GB storage and some very nifty graphics tools. I still haven’t figured out their business model, but I’m not quibbling when it is so easy to use, unlike almost anything I have seen MS provide.

The thing that really got me from the inteview with mark Shuttleworth was the concurrence of his expression and my realisation, just a few days earlier, that we do so much of our stuff online. I am now in a situation where the majority of my computing is in www, there is so little I do that is not at the very least, networked! I now spend a great deal of my computing time in the open space of social networking, online applications, web-based tools like the one I’m writing in now, and being entertained by streamed music to match my current moods, like with LastFM. This is in part seriously scary, but also amazing liberating, as long as I have a network connection! Why the internet is not supplied as easily as a telephone line I do not understand but surely that can’t be too far away? This is an exciting time both for computing AND the internet, when the two converge in ways that we could not foresee a decade ago.

BTW: did you see how I tied my title through the article? How open can you get! 😉