Friday, January 15, 2010

UX meeting in Hamburg, Day Two


This is my second – and last – posting which covers my two days stay “UX meeting in Hamburg”. In the last posting, I've talked about non-disruptive messages and the common goal for Now, we will have a look at Impress and the printing improvements.

Christian and “What is going on for Impress?”

I had the chance to attend the meeting of the Renaissance team which currently works on the thinning out process for Impress. As discussed earlier, this process is intended to “clean up” the current user interface of Impress with the goal to ease the work on major improvements planned in the future. So let's state that we currently talk about how to improve the already well-known user interface.

The design principles are currently a bit implicitly stated, therefore I would like to turn it into something more explicit (as it has been explained to me)....
  • Only important things (I repeat, important things) should be made available in the toolbars
  • Some (currently unnecessary modal) dialog content might be considered for being used in the task pane
  • The task pane will be improved to be more usable on small screens
At the moment, I want to talk about the last item – how to improve the task pane. So why is this required? There are several reasons, but let's pick out two of them which mainly deal with the task selector elements:
  • They eat a lot of space: Each element is presented and therefore reduces the available space. Especially for the vertical arrangement of user interface elements, this is problematic. I've added a screenshot below how Impress looks on my 1280x800 notebook screen. You may notice (highlighted area) that the space being available for animation effects is … limited.
  • They require large mouse traveling: Especially if people search for a certain option this is even worse – they may explore the interface by clicking through each available task selector pane. Although we try to take care of how things are named, people might not be aware of the meaning of “Layout” and “Master Pages”.

But there are also advantages with regard to the current solution – the reasons for which they had been selected initially. For example, each task pane name is directly visible (e.g. “Layout”). If we would use icons alone, we might end up with the problems of the navigator and stylist. Many similar looking icons for context change and – at the same time – many clueless looking eyes ;-)

Okay, how to improve that? Some days ago, Christian Lippka already published an early visual example on Youtube which saves much space and which has been discussed in the Renaissance team. Finally, Christian Lippka, Frank Loehmann and myself ended up in discussing advantages and disadvantages of this and alternative designs. And, luckily, we were able to use the solution proposal by the IBM Lotus Symphony team which has been added to our wiki some time ago.

Within the discussion Frank sketched a proposal which presents versatile task pane content which might be docked on different places. It may be even present at “context” locations, e.g. selecting the slide layout directly on the slide. That leaded to the question whether toolbar content and task pane content etc. have to be technically different (with regard to future developments). If not, then this might ease the realization of an even more optimized UI in Renaissance.

We started to summarize the ideas in some wireframe mockups which also contain some explanations how it might finally behave. This time, I was in charge to produce something – and Frank took to opportunity to take a picture.

Please click on the graphic to explore the details.

I think, one of the most elegant ideas is the (decent) fading of the task pane content during mouse over on tabs. That would make it possible for the user to simply move the mouse pointer down (on the tabs) until she or he finds the appropriate element (in the contents area). A simple click makes the tab persistent. For most users, this might be far more efficient than looking on the headers only – since people usually search for visual clues (like the slide designs).

Like usual some of the ideas aren't technically feasible, but we agreed on some basic behavior which may even be realized for the upcoming 3.3. Stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed ;-)

Philipp and “Printer Pull Pages”

One thing I'm particularly happy about was the meeting with Philipp Lohmann, the guy who is the I-Team lead for the printing improvements for (printerpullpages). We are working on this topic since several months but we've met never before … a great opportunity to change that.
But, I am sure that we talked about many – to you – less interesting details, I'll skip much of the discussion. The main message is, that we will further work on improvements for the printing. For example, we discussed the necessity of the small “Print in progress” dialog which is shown after clicking “Print”. This modal dialog be even replaced with a non-disruptive message (see above). You may notice how well things fit together, don't they? ;-)

The End

That's it for now. I hope you enjoyed some – if not all – of the topics...



Mianriva said...

Using spreadsheets for over twenty-eight, to me the interface of Lotus-SmartSuite is good, but especially the properties box is the best developed so far.
The propierties box is easy to use, few space in screen and very powerfull (i.e. see the results inmediatly).
I don't why Ibm don't use it in Lotus-Symphony. It's possible there is a technical limitations in multi-OS operation.
Indeed very useful with the new little screens.

Johannes said...

Thank you Christoph for these 2 interesting posts. 3.3 will be an great release! Keep on with the good job,

Kami said...

The new design of Taskpanel loos better than older. Moreover I have more ideas to improve it. What about to replace add and remove buttons with + sign and - sign? They should be in row with change then we have more free space here.
Maybe we can use play sign isntead of play text at the bottom of panel and make in row with Slide show button.

Christoph Noack said...

Hi Kami, Johannes and Mianriva for your comments!

Kami, I don't know if you mean +/- for slides or the taskpanel. I you mean for the slides, then there will be soon improvements. One of the mockups show them (for example, not for development) in the spec at:

This would make it more "context specific". But maybe I get it wrong - then please tell me!


disciple said...

> Only important things (I repeat, important things) should be made available in the toolbars

I hope you really mean that only "important" things should be displayed in the toolbars by default. It is very important that a user can easily add things they use frequently to the toolbars (and of course easily remove things they don't use), even if to everyone else they are "unimportant" things. We all use the software differently :)

Christoph Noack said...

@disciple: Yes, you are right - it is a bit ambiguous. You correctly guessed what I wanted to say :-)