Origins of the Apple Human Interface - part 10

From: Shirl <shirlgato_at_email.domain.hidden>
Date: Wed, 11 May 2005 07:25:36 -0600

I remember very, very, very clearly that one of the massive controversies around the development for the Macintosh, circa 1982-1983, was developers would come up to us and say, "You know, if you make the user interface consistent, and if you put all that software in ROM that makes it -- you know, if you make it hard to write to the screen directly, so that we have to use your user interface software to talk to the user, how are we ever going to make our applications unique, and stand out, and be different from each other in the marketplace?" They found a way, I'm very happy, but the human interface and the idea about consistent human interface, much less a graphic one, was very, very controversial among software developers. And only by having the user testing under our belt to show them that hey, this is going to add significant value to your product, by making your product easier to learn and easier to use, especially for people who already know another application, were we able to really convince them that a consistent graphic user interface was a good thing to have.

I want to fast-forward a little, skip through the early years of the Macintosh and go to a tape that I dug up from the Apple library, of some user interface testing that shows how amusing user interface testing can be, and the kinds of situations in far-flung places that members of our glorious user interface group went, to find the truth about what real users would do. This is a tape of a couple of our user interface designers, Lauri Vertelney and one other person, I may come up with her name. [Inaudible comment] I don't think it was Gitta. Traveled to France to a parts dealership for Renault automobiles, who were deploying a new automotive parts catalog based on HyperCard, HyperCard being a free-form tool kit for designing new software interfaces. [It] presented an entire raft of new problems in human interface design. They actually went to France to test auto mechanics in their own environment. I'm going to play that tape for you now.

[Q, while videotape is being set up:] Was the name Kate Gomoll, is that
right? Do you know the name?

CE: It might have been Kate Gomoll, yeah. Thank you, Annette. Was that Annette? [Inaudible reply] Oh, it's Joy. Hi, Joy.

"The first part of the user test is to test users attempting to fill out the order form and the estimate form, using the current paper methods. These are the order and estimate forms that the mechanics currently use. The
[inaudible] part catalog is used to look up parts information. And the
repairmen will have instructions on how to [inaudible] car. Kate's going to test the procedure and tasks to be performed by the mechanic. All the instructions were interpreted for the mechanic because Kate doesn't speak French. [Several sentences in French.] If you have trouble with some of the tasks, it's the system's fault, not yours. [More French sentences.]
[Inaudible] Kate suggests that we have us evaluate the results later,
[inaudible] after the test session. Seeing the mechanic work with the paper
helps us to understand how he prefers to get information. For example, he stacks the forms on top of the catalog, and flips the pages while he's searching for information. Research techniques helped us to submit one recommendation for searching with the electronic version [inaudible]. Once we have finished testing the current form [inaudible] procedure, we ask the mechanic to solve the same problem with the documentation for the electronic system.

"At this point in our test the user has tried for over two minutes
[inaudible] to start the system. Kate finally instructs the user he must
click on the tiny icon below the Renault logo to start the system. The interpreter wants to know if he should explain the popup menu that
[inaudible] below the startup icon, and Kate says no. When he clicks on the
icon he knows nothing about how to use popup menus, and initiate the dialog box, which explains to him he needs to hold down on the icon. Of course, the mechanic's never seen a dialog box before, and is confused, not only about the message inside of it, but what to do with it. Finally he realizes he must click on OK to get rid of it. [Inaudible] he tried to stop the application and click on any of the buttons in the menus in the left of the screen. Unfortunately, none of the menu items worked at this point, because he had not filled out the appropriate vehicle identification, to actually start a work session. He tries the small icon in the center of the screen
[inaudible] the dialog boxes telling him to hold down on the icon. This time
he doesn't see that he must click on the OK boxes, but he's clicking around the screen [inaudible] Finally Kate instructs him to hold down the button in order to start the program [inaudible].... hold down the OK button in the dialog box." [Laughter]

"We tried testing the dialog [inaudible], one more time. But, [inaudible] the dialog box. [Inaudible] the OK button [inaudible] .... the popup screens are not going to work."

So, that just, I think, is an illustration of two things. One, that bad design knows no bounds. And two, that you never get a user interface right, and that user testing, from the earliest times when you have a totally unsaturated market -- people who have never seen personal computers before, much less mice, keyboards, screens, things like that -- to today, when we assume that anybody who's ever been in western society has had to have encountered a personal computer at some point, and knows the basics of pointing, clicking, dragging, pressing, what a file is, what a document is, how to print, why to print, what a floppy disk is. I still find it surprising that we don't talk about sectors and cylinders any more on disks, which was one of the main things we had to explain in 1978, 1979, because there was some reason you needed to know that, I forget why. [Inaudible comment] Yes. But that some things never go away, and that having to test new designs, and test your assumptions of what your audience knows, is pretty much eternal.

So, at that point, having run pretty late, I think Larry and I will take a few questions, and I think that we're going to take free liberty to defer to several people in the audience who are noted in Apple human interface history. I see Joy Mountford and Annette Wagner back there, who've been instrumental in human interface groups in the past, and if there are any others, and if you have strong opinions, disagree with us, have more information than we're able to supply, please chime in. And Larry, do you want to pass the mike around, so people can ask questions in the mike?

LARRY TESLER: [inaudible] to repeat the question.

Q: Larry, I wonder if you could comment on the story that's often told, that Apple ripped off the Xerox PARC work. I know Jef Raskin has refuted or denied that, but it's such a popular story, could you go on record as giving your perspective?

LARRY TESLER: Yeah. Well, I actually showed, at the beginning of the talk, a picture of the Smalltalk interface, to see that, in fact, the early user interface designs were very close to that. The look of the windows, in particular, and the icons and the desktop. But it evolved over time, and the menus moved to the top of the screen, and so on. If you actually look at either a Xerox Star or a Smalltalk screen, and then look at a Lisa or a Mac, I think you'll see a lot of differences. What was taken was the concepts. The concepts that there ought to be overlapping windows, that there ought to be direct manipulation, and so on. But the Xerox Star, for example, didn't have the concept of dragging things. And it had a two-button mouse, you'd click one place and then click another place. It didn't have a menu bar. In fact there was only one menu, that was added late in the development. Some things were similar: there was a horizontal and a vertical scroll bar. So certainly the concepts came largely from there, but as you see, some of the concepts came from other things: from HP systems, UCSD, from Apple II, from some work that was done at IBM that I didn't talk about today, that was published around the late '70's. So, there were a lot of origins for it. I think the Xerox work had a lot to do with it, but usually when the -- if you sat down to try to use a Star or Smalltalk you would find that there were I think more differences than similarities in what you would actually see and do.

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

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