Saturday, March 18, 2006

Transparent Technology

I have to give some kudos to Why? I was thinking about something today. I was thinking that the best applications (be them standalone software apps or web applications) are those in which the technology is transparent to the user. By that, I mean that the user is free to focus on the intent of the app, rather than struggle with or jump through hoops with the technology behind it. Bloglines is one such app.

I use bloglines every day to maintain my huge list of RSS subscriptions. However, I don't ever think about bloglines. I go to their web site and spend all of my time reading my new articles - and that's how it should be.

So many applications require much more struggle with the technology. One that comes to mind is Microsoft PowerPoint. It's quite a simple application, really. I gave a workshop to faculty on how to create a ppt presentation last week, and watching them struggle with the terminology, and then fight the menu system to find the right option to do what they wanted to do was almost painful. Yet, creating a basic presentation - in concept - is quite simple. Add slides containing your text and graphics to convey your message. Apply cute transition and sound effects. Save. Done. The user interface, however, is not nearly as intuitive as the concept, and therefore presents challenges for new users. The technology is definitely not transparent in PowerPoint.

I think that all developers should pay some attention to interface design - which is a much different process than designing the logic and functionality of an application. Too many apps separate visual design and design of logic, ignoring that bridging feature of interface design. I don't mean the pretty graphics themselves - that's the visual design. I mean, the design of how users will interact with the application. That's where more attention needs to be paid.

Kudos to for being a great example of transparent technology in a web application.

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