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Posts Tagged ‘design’

Dear iCal team,

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

iCalLet me preface my remarks by commenting (like many Mac users) on how much the platform and its software have enhanced my productivity. I have a deep appreciation for the consistently good software that Apple releases, and I miss no opportunity to evangelize on your behalf.

Leopard has been a huge step forward in a lot of ways for me – it’s made me an even more efficient and effective computer user. But something has been bothering me consistently ever since I upgraded months ago, and it concerns the usability of iCal version 3.

I use iCal on a regular basis, both as a schoolteacher and a university student. On Tiger it was extremely easy to create events and access / edit information related to them. I’d often have to make changes to the time of an event, or its recursion settings, or its notes. If the event drawer was visible, changing any of these things involved at most two clicks.

In Leopard, however, not only do I need to double click on an event after it’s been created to view it, I next have to click on the ‘Edit’ button, and then click once more on the element I wanted to change. In addition to all these clicks, the event editing callout never appears in the same place twice, which means a different mouse motion is needed each time. These features violate a number of interface design principles – recognition over recall, consistency, flexibility & efficiency of use, and user freedom.

Conversely, the events drawer seems to me to be an excellent interface design decision: it allows users to access events in the same way, in the same location, in any view; it merges viewing with editing in a convenient and intuitive way; it doesn’t cover up other events in neighboring cells during viewing or editing; and it offers a much more spacious area to display event information.

As far as interface design goes, it’s obvious to me that the better event editing interface is in iCal on Tiger. I’m sure there are even better solutions out there, though I don’t pretend to know what they might look like; nevertheless, I’m convinced that what replaced the event drawer in Leopard is a step backward for usability. Using iCal has become a frustrating chore, and an uncharacteristically unpleasant step in my workflow. Please bring back the event drawer and its intuitive design, or alternatively, an even more innovative interface.

Ever since I switched to the Mac platform, working on even the most mundane tasks has become a pleasure. The only real exception is when I’m in the iCal environment.

I hope that, in the future, I won’t need to qualify this statement. Thank you for all the work you’ve done to make my life easier. Keep up the innovation, and thanks for reading.

Best regards,


Review: SMART Notebook on OS X Leopard

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

  I fundamentally think that the idea behind SMART solutions is a great one. The consumer electronics industry is all abuzz over touch-screen technology, and it’s no question that many devices are heading in this direction in the coming years.

I also think that the principles behind the software, and its ideal functionality, are well thought-out. SMART Notebook provides a potentially complete feature set.

What I take issue with is completely under the hood. While 99% of all educators that use SMART Notebook will never complain about this sort of thing, I do find it sufficiently frustrating to air my concerns here.

SMART Notebook was designed, as all Windows applications, to be a stand-alone, self-contained application. As such, it has its own proprietary file format, and doesn’t “play well” with other applications.

My problem is precisely with this philosophy of software design. I believe applications should be treated as environments that perform one task, and perform it well. Abstracted this way, one would construct “piped” workflows that take the output of one environment and channel it into the input of another. What this would mean, for SMART Notebook, is that as a software environment, it would be able to tap into system level APIs that draw on the resources of other application environments. It could import and export files of any type, display schemas for files that were organized elsewhere, and rely on other applications to perform specific tasks that have been poorly implemented in Notebook’s current manifestation.

Software shouldn’t be envisioned as a vertical system. It should work laterally to provide the most effective user interface.

And yes, I’m especially bitter over this because Notebook was developed on Windows, and simply ported over to the Mac, without paying any attention to the Human Interface Guidelines that all self-respecting Mac developers follow like a bible. It doesn’t behave like any other application on my computer, and so I actually find myself discouraged from using it.

I sincerely hope SMART Tech. raises its development standards with version 11. As far as Windows programs go, it’s a fine piece of software – but the Mac platform is a little more demanding in its interface standards.

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