Since yesterday’s post was inspired by Language Log, I thought I would cite them again on user interfaces.

Don’t worry about me. I’ll figure it out by trial and error. I simply offer this to you as proof number 37 (I have made mention of many such examples in the past: road sign psycholinguistics and so on) of my claim that human/machine interface design today is in a state of total freaking disaster.

He is talking about projectors, ovens, and clock radios, but the discussion is especially relevant to MMOs. We are used to having forty hotkeys along with five chat tabs and a heads-up display that looks like a flight simulator. We forget that this is potentially insane.

I could point out that designers should pay more attention to the interface, that a MMO without UI-mod ability is a broken MMO, or that developers should prepare to adapt mods into the official UI after the players find a way to compensate for designers’ failure to pay attention to the interface. Feel free to take that direction in the comments. Instead, I will just point to WoW, which has more or less followed that cycle but also has a pretty easy interface for new players. The flight simulator display is for the advanced raider who can use forty buttons without thinking about it. The starting UI is simple enough for granny to start beating up wolves and bunnies. If, you know, your grandmother thought it was all right to beat up puppies because some dwarf told her to.

: Zubon

Three people on that Language Log thread cited The Design of Everyday Things by David Norman. I have added that to my (very long) reading list.

5 thoughts on “UI”

  1. With console MMOs appearing in the near future, we MAY see devs look at UI in more detail to eliminate the number of keys needed to play.

    The Agency will be the first one to check, as it releases on PC as well.

  2. I own the Design of Everyday Things, and I do recommend it wholeheartedly. It’s surprising how wrong things can go with simple things like doors and light switches when people don’t pay attention. And more positively, how little work is required to significantly improve the user interface. You’ll never look at any object the same way after reading the book.

    There’s also the spiritual sequels: Emotional Design and the Design of Future Things if you’re left aching for more.

  3. I’m not sure you can count WoW’s default UI as “simple”. If you were new to games in general, it would take some getting used to:

    Okay, there’s this picture thing in the top left. It looks kinda like my character…oh! My name is next to it, so I guess that IS me. Then there’s a green bar…and another bar (which may or may not be filled in with some color). What happens when I click on the guy in front of me…another picture thing with bars! Still not sure what that green bar is though…why does this guy have a question mark on his head, anyway. I keep clicking on him, but nothing happens. Hmm, what else is there. There’s 3 buttons on the bottom left, but 7 are missing! Did the game not install correctly? There’s more missing on the bottom right, next to the bag button. Ans what’s all these buttons in the bottom center? A book? I heard this game has quests, maybe it holds them there? My friend told me about achievements, that must be the trophy. What’s this circle in the upper right? Has a circle, and a question mark like the question mark guy…I guess it’s a map. Hmm, what if I click the magnifying glass to zoom in…what’s this list? I just wanted to zoom! Okay, let me click on that red X to cancel…where’d everything go! AAAAHH!

    I think you get the picture :)

  4. I think there really needs to be some sort of usability guide for this stuff. My current employer is pretty much obsessed with usability and accessiblity when it comes to work on the Web, so I hear about it constantly. Admittedly it gets tiring and I don’t worry to much about it with my own blog, but that’s another story lol

    There are probably thousands of articles online about how to best display or setup any little portion of a Web site or a piece of productivity software. Yet there is seemingly nothing about this when it comes to games or their user interfaces.

    I know there is some attempt at this in MMORPGs. There are reasons why these games use similar interfaces and it’s not just because every developer is out of ideas, but also because it’s what the average MMORPG player is supposedly expecting. At the same time, I think breaking these things down more and really looking into what “makes sense”, so to speak, would be a really good idea. I’d bet the result would be significantly different from what we use today.

    Of course, I’m sure a lot of people would think the result sucks. Neilsen-Norman Group may get a lot of attention with usability standards, but there’s a reason why a lot of designers don’t seem to care for what his group says. It’s easy to fall in the trap where everything looks the same and is “dumbed down” to existing groups.

    I guess I’m just kind of surprised that we never really hear that MMORPG developers have spent any time researching what works best from a usability standpoint. I would be interested in seeing a real study done on that… Maybe there has been one and I’m just unaware.

  5. I go by a slightly different UI philosophy. Managing the UI you’re given is part of the gameplay. If a game requires a mod to be playable, its broken… and if you need a mod to play a game that really is playable without, you’ve chosen to ride the bike with the training wheels still on.

    When you mentally track cards to determine the odds of the next card being favorable in blackjack, you’re working within the constraints of the game’s UI. When you use card calculators- just a UI enhancement- we call that something else entirely.

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