that clover flower pinwheel command thing

Today the spotlight slides onto the history of early user interface design.

A certain Steve Jobs some time ago mentioned the history of fonts on the Mac at the Stanford Commencement 2005 speech. Rumors of Jobs’ insatiable egoism notwithstanding, he laid claim to the existence of font technology on all computers. Of course, he didn’t actually design the appearance of the fonts so much as facilitate their implementation on the Mac. The initial design work was left to Susan Kare.

Susan Kare certainly has carved out her place in the annals of user interface design. Fortunate enough to design the well-made icons for the original Macintosh, she probably contritubed more than anyone could truly foresee to the popularity of computers today. Icons were a daring metaphor in a 1980s world of “serious” text and terminals, but the risk was well worth the reward. Ask any computer user today how legitimate icon-based interfaces are and you’ll always get the same affirmation. Everyone simply likes pretty things, and even more so when they help them get things done in an intuitive way.

Kare’s font credits include Monaco and the nostalgic original iPod font (originally “Elefont“, now known as the demised Chicago) Command Key flower. Kare even worked for Microsoft too on early versions of Windows.

P.S. Mac still has a few cool quirks with its typography engine (checked up to 10.4.2). Try opening up TextEdit, switching to the Zapfino font, and typing…”Zapfino” of all things. Cool.

Browser Design Critic

All users are subjected to the interface designer’s choices in a very real way. If there is something that flies in the face of convention, users tend to live with it, blame themselves, or if you use a Mac, subject your blog audience to nitpicking rants.

I love experimenting with new software and seeing how developers/designers choose to implement the user side of a given feature. Apple’s well designed button layout in Safari, with the integrated progress bar-on-address-bar is pretty slick:

Furthermore, they combined the stop/reload buttons due to their boolean, opposing nature.

This particular design, incidentally, was shamelessly ripped off by Firefox, although the combined Stop/Reload button is available as a 3rd party extension.

Seeing the UI travesty that is the IE7 beta, however, yet again implies that Microsoft employees don’t actually use the software they write. Needless paradigm changes and missing features adorn their new browser. Of course, this is a beta, but for something Microsoft knew would be scrutinized with a fine toothed comb, they sure like subjecting testers to very poor usablility.

EDIT: I forgot to discuss the needless paradigm changes: if you click the rightmost tabling, it will create a new tab. Whoever thought that was a good idea…sigh. Adobe does something cool: if you double click the background of their MDI interface it brings up an open dialog. Why not make [double]clicking on whitespace create a new tab ala Firefox?

And just like that, everyone wins

The year is 2005. The web has become commonplace, and people are ready for more dynamic content in their browsing experience. The ensuing battle of AJAX and Flash is fought tooth and nail. Macromedia Macrodobe claims 98% penetration of the Flash client on web-enabled computers, and even if that sounds decidedly optimistic AJAX likely has a level near that. The competition only becomes greater and greater for Web 2.0 apps, and everyone has the potential to benefit.

So. Check out this cool Flash revamped version of popular Earth mapping software du jour (currently Google Maps and MSN Earth). Decide for yourself who’s going to win the upcoming battle. I’d normally say Flash, but it’s had more than a few years headstart and hasn’t receieved nearly the attention from “serious” coders that AJAX has displayed of late. Possibly it’s only hype, or maybe it’s because there exists no Linux version of the Flash builder…or, possibly, ActionScript sucks a little too much. I still wistfully remember wasting 3 hours in a row debugging array code because the ActionScript interpreter wouldn’t display an error message. It stumped 3 labbies.

You know, users can actually handle it

Apple is well known for steadily advancing UI design and opting for user friendliness over technical details. That reason alone is largely why I was once absolutely, unerringly pro-Mac to the bitter end. But there’s only so much I can take of the conveniently abstracted Apple Candylandâ„¢, and when Apple is too scared to scare users, the relationship is just awkward:

iPhoto Update - 41MB!

Honestly, whats wrong with a little more detail? 41MB for … a rotation fix? My left foot. I still love you Apple, but sometimes…

Degrees of Separation

Aimfight.com was posted at Slashdot today. The site is a simple incarnation of social networking visualization, and represents another emergence of this untapped field. Compared to the extensive amounts of web research, social networking isn’t nearly as explored, likely because the two markets are thoroughly different.
In the world of Internet-life, email represents real mail, where friends’ messages and junk mail both arrive in your inbox. The web is harder to model, but suffice it to say that Amazon and eBay are like physical stores, just with exceedingly large stockrooms. Chatting, therefore, is most similar to a telephone conversation. It’s between two people, and you can’t just call anyone without knowing their screenname/phone number first.

This inherent privacy is largely the reason social networking is still so unexplored. It’s a tough sell to ask people for their buddy list for “research,” just like its hard to get a copy of someone’s address book – for “research” or not. Imagine a future where Amazon customer representatives send you IMs like telemarketers. Spam has no place in the chat room’s hallowed walls!


Aimfight.com gives each screenname a score based upon how many other people have the screenname on their buddylist. I was wondering how the developers managed to acquire up to date copies of every AIM users’s buddy list, assuming that this site is unaffiliated with AOL. It has that independent web project feel. Although the site neglects to mention it, the site was created by two software engineers at AOL.