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Definition: good user interface


To the developer, a good user interface is the second most important aspect of great software. The first is that it works properly and does not crash (freeze, lock up). After months of trials and tribulations, if the application is stable, the developers are often willing to publish it. However, there never seems to be enough attention paid to the user interface, especially for the first-time user.

Why Are Good User Interfaces So Hard to Design?
Because of ineffective testing. When testers try out a program for usability the first time, they cannot have a totally objective opinion when changes are made and they test it the next time. They already know what to expect. To truly learn how intuitive an interface is, each new revision has to be given to an entirely different group of first-time users, not the same test crew. And that rarely happens, which is why major software such as Windows is made available to thousands of people in beta form (see beta version). See Windows vs. Mac.

An Occasional Innovative Function
Over the years, some bright ideas emerge but do not necessarily migrate to every platform. Following are a few of the best. See alpha version, beta version, RTFM and user interface.




A Sign of Intelligence
A long time ago, this Windows option caused the cursor to snap to the default button in a dialog box so the cursor is on top of the answer or next to it instead of the opposite end of the screen. Sadly, this feature does not always work.






Brilliance... Finally!
Starting in 2007, when a section of text is highlighted in Microsoft Word, an edit box is displayed right above the cursor location instead of some arbitrary location on screen. This behavior should be standard everywhere.






Great UIs Make People Happy
The industry should take notice that "ease of use" helped turn Apple around. Much of the iPod's early success was attributed to the rotating click wheel that was easy to use with one hand. That attention to usability helped bring the company back from its all-time low.








The MacBook Touch Bar
In 2016, the touchscreen toolbar on top-end MacBooks replaced the physical function keys. Each application displays the functions for the current activity, and the Touch Bar's location is easier to tap than a touchscreen. See MacBook. (Images courtesy of Apple Inc.)






A Personal Solution
These keypads for the Mac (top) and Windows (bottom) are programmed for widely used repetitive keystrokes within the OS and specific applications. For details, see programmable keypad.