Origins of the Apple Human Interface - part 7

From: Shirl <shirlgato_at_email.domain.hidden>
Date: Wed, 11 May 2005 07:22:49 -0600

All right. Now it's still 1981, I should mention that the Xerox Star was announced at NCC or something -- National Computer Conference, I think in June of '81. Some Lisa people flew out there, got a look at it. Bill Atkinson went, I believe, and Steve Jobs went, or maybe he sent Bill and didn't go himself, I can't remember. At this point we had a guy named Greg Stikeleather who had joined the group, working for Ellen Nold in Lisa Training. Some of you may know Greg, because he's more recently been an entrepreneur, sold a couple of companies. And Ellen is sending a memo to various people, copying Greg, on responsibility charting for user tests. Now, that user interface council we talked about before, with the majority vote, I don't know if they ever even had one meeting. We kind of overwhelmed them somehow. And by this time, a few months later, we had to have a new process. So the new process was that, based on some lecture we all went to by some management consultant, we were going to have people with authority, people with responsibility, people who are consulted, people who are informed. And basically, Product Management had all the authority, since Ellen worked for them [laughter], and Engineering and Training, which was Ellen's group, had all the responsibility. So we did all the work, and then Product Management would bless it and say that ... [portion missing from tape]

Okay. February 1982. A year and a half has gone by. Engineering user tests. This is a sample test. This is a write-up of a test. We had a standard form to write them up in, now we're getting real formal here. Not just, you know, run in to Steve Jobs after the test and tell him what happened. We were writing formal reports: what the person did, how they did, I'll skip over a little bit of this. The person had to draw an org chart, and here, not having a graphics program myself that had printing working yet, I was doing it in the word processor and drawing little org charts here. But they were really doing it with a drawing program.

And by the way, the thing that won over the Product Marketing people was when we gave them the drawing program. It was the first one to get working. I had Mark Cutter just try to get it really reliable, and don't worry about too many features. And then we gave all the Product Marketing people a Lisa, some temporary operating system, and the drawing program. That's it. It was a single-tasking operating system at that time. And they all started using it to make foils. You can do text, you can do boxes, you know, and they all did foils. They fell in love with the Lisa, and even started to understand the Lisa, and gradually the complaints started dying down, and they started trusting like maybe we knew what we were talking about. So that was a very good political move. I always made sure Mark gave them good stable versions of the Draw program. They'd draw a floor plan. And then at the end ... [few words missing from tape] ... had comments to make, and you could see that the comments were summarized, and people were basically very positive about this program. Sometimes there were complaints, and we addressed them.

This particular test was, I guess, run by Greg Stikeleather and me. He probably ran the test and I was in the room, or sometimes we switched off. He made a comment, which was that I-beam, which was the cursor that you used to select text, when the person would start typing, that little cursor was covering what they were typing. So he suggested that we get rid of it. Well, there was no mechanism to get rid of it. in the software, but he didn't know that. So it was good that he was there, and suggested it. And we then implemented that.

I pointed out that the stretch handles were a problem. Initially, what Mark had done was he studded the outside of the object, like every fourth pixel, with a little handle. So big objects had beads all the way around the outside. It was like a necklace. This really confused the people, and I suggested that we just have the four corners and the four sides, and that's all. And that is the way it ended up.

Of course, I'm going to show you all the good comments. We had a lot of stupid suggestions, too. And now, remember we had user test guidelines before. Greg wrote some new ones. Here, he was trying to address this to people who might have been used to formal user testing, and never experienced what he was calling development testing -- things you test after the fact, and things you test while you're still in development. So he made some guidelines, and they were interestingly a little different from mine. A different level. And I think I didn't bring them. Just the fact that he did.

All right, getting near the end here. May, '82. A little less than two years since I arrived. I had just finished some tests, so Greg said we should run some development tests, so we did, we ran development tests. I taught 30 Apple employees, over a period of several weeks, several different applications, to see whether we were on the right track. By this time people were accepting this as a good approach, because it was a lot better to be informed by a user test than to just see who could talk the loudest in an argument, or who had the most political clout.

What I found was, the way we taught it made a lot of difference. You could take the same user interface and teach it a different way, and people would get real confused, or understand it, or make more mistakes, or fewer mistakes. And terminology made a difference also. So we then started a terminology project that Ellen Nold ran, which ended up, and I have many slides I didn't bring on that, and that ended up with the File menu, the Edit menu, et cetera, as you know today. And the various commands that were in them, choosing all the words for everything, that have pretty much survived into the Mac. I'd say 95 percent of them survived into the Mac, and most of them went into Windows also. So that was a very healthy terminology exercise. We did a lot of testing, and a lot of debating, a lot of linguistic analysis.

One thing that I say here, is that after all these tests, I discovered a lot of things that could be better, but we do have to ship a product, and it's been a long time since I've been at PARC, so okay, we'll ship a product. But couldn't we fix these in the next release? Well, little did I know there would only be one more release.

And then we had a process, again, where we were going to be very careful about prioritizing all the user interface changes, and measuring their schedule impact, and being sure they were worth it. [It] didn't have to be zero, necessarily, but it had to be worth the schedule impact.

I think by this time people were really realizing that our only differentiation was ease of use, and it better be really easy. And then I went through some problems. This thing went on, by the way, for about 30 pages, so I'm just going to show you one page. Cursor changes were not consistent, and there were cursors changing shape everywhere. The I-beam wasn't the only one, like, no matter where you went in the window, you got a different cursor shape, and I thought that's too many, let's simplify that.

We had double- and triple-clicks at that time, and some people -- it was the amount of time between the clicks mattered, and you couldn't control it. So I suggested we add a preference item, that people could control that time, which of course is what you do today in Apple's mouse control panel. And I also had some comments about how you teach it, and in fact, when I looked at that whole memo, I'd say there were at least as many comments I made about how to teach it, as to what it is.

And then, months earlier, I think it was, maybe one month earlier, Greg Stikeleather had pointed out that the I-beam should disappear when you type. I don't know whether I forgot, or whatever, but I suggested the same thing again, or observed it, and I proposed we hide the cursor. And here in the margin is something I wrote later, saying it has been implemented.

If you're wondering about the cursor changing to a clock, or an hourglass, various other things, that was something that was actually at Xerox. Xerox had that at PARC. The way we did it was, we would wait a certain number of seconds, and if the operation wasn't done we would put up the hourglass. Trouble was, by that time the operation was probably done, or some of the applications forgot to put it up at all. So we came up with some clever algorithm for having it come up automatically, and disappear at the right time, and all that sort of stuff.

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Received on 2005-05-11 06:34:02

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