Why user interfaces should be visible, seamful, and explicit

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20 Responses to “Why user interfaces should be visible, seamful, and explicit”

  1. Antinous / Moderator says:

    That pretty much describes the 20th Century in architecture.

  2. Marko Raos says:

    I like big buttons. And knobs. Twisty mechanical ones. Ideally a bit gritty.
    I was sold on Edius NLE when I saw a big fat blue 0,0,255 border around preview screen – so I know where all my pixels begin and end. Invisible borders, low contrast selections and ID’s general “we pretend we’re not here but actually…” slyness bordering with hypocrisy has become odious to me. I yearn for the return to the good old Amiga Noisetracker UI design days… The times when you felt like a Creator when you sat down in front of your monitor.

    • Doug Black says:

      Knobs with detents.  Gotta have detents.

      • Heevee Lister says:

        Depends on how many. 

        Although carbon and conductive plastic potentiometers wear and get noisy fast, they have one advantage over the ladder pots formerly used in good audio consoles – they’re almost stepless.

        However, entirely too many 1970s audio gear manufacturers added detents to their cheap carbon pots to imitate the feel of a ladder pot.  (Ironically, good ladder pots were so fine-grained that they almost acted like carbon pots.)  Thus they layered the downside of a ladder pot onto the negatives of a cheap carbon pot. 

        To put it another way, they made an analog control work like a digital one, by enforcing fixed steps.  (Today almost everything has fixed steps, since it’s done digitally.)

        So, no thanks on the detents-every-x-degrees knob.  I wouldn’t mind one detent at the “this knob does nothing here” neutral position, though.

  3. theophrastvs says:

    loitered in here hoping for a definition of “seamful”.  y’know, “my god, it’s full of seams!”, said my uncle Tony the Tailor

    • Marko Raos says:

      Opposite to seamless, like new google interfaces where you strain your eyes to see spidery thin ultra-low contrast dividing lines between various page elements. As cool as migraine.
      On the other hand, this is “seamful” http://youtu.be/6q_8VhUW6sk

      • theophrastvs says:

        ok… i’m learning [chin in hand] so among interfaces one dislikes seamlessness and instead one’s seams ought to seemingly be highly protuberant (if not tumescent) -check-

        • Marko Raos says:

          Exactly, I find protuberanceness a highly attractive feature of knobs. If you find yourself turning them frequently and depending on them for a living (or just living as such), the protuberancier and contrastier they are, the better.

  4. Boundegar says:

    It occurs to me that there might be an audience for both kinds of interface, just as some people prefer stick over automatic trans.

  5. Daemonworks says:


    How on earth does “no interface” work? It just reads your mind and does what you want without you doing anything? You can’t get rid of a UI without making a device that isn’t actually controlled by the user…

    • Marja Erwin says:

      … run from terminal. no window opens, nothing specifies how well or badly it is running. any parameters needed must be specified in terminal. readme is nonexistent.

      at the other extreme. one window opens. flashing gifs blind user, and loud squeel induces headache. part of the window has buttons, but it’s hard to tell which parts correspond to which buttons. a few menus are incompatible with certain hardware and impossible for users with certain disabilities. an extra three clicks to get from a useless default setting to a usable setting any time you need to do anything.

  6. pjcamp says:

    That’s awesome.

    I’ve been trying off and on all day to figure out what is wrong with the Wired editorial:

    http://www.wired.com/opinion/2013/03/conversational-user-interface/

    aside from the obvious complaint about bad voice recognition. But that’s exactly what it is — hiding the operation of the device to the point that problems become opaque and unsolvable.

  7. Some days I long for the simple predictability of Apple System 7′s UI and the religious adherence developers had for their Human Interface Guidelines.  I wasn’t perfect, but it got so much right.  Then again, that’s when they had actual engineers study what worked for users with science and data and interfaces weren’t designed by college kids, magazine layout people, and CEO’s who want things to look like their toaster.

  8. retepslluerb says:

    I think Mr. Arnall misunderstands the meaning of “invisible”, as shown by his comments about typography and TV.   Invisible typography isn’t the absence of typography  - which is not possible  anyway – but such well-constructed typography that it enhances the content of the text, directs the user, invokes certain emotions without drawing attention to itself.

    Invisible design – and this applies to UI, too – isn’t about hiding stuff, but exposing stuff.

  9. Kimmo says:

    I don’t mind stuff that autohides and/or is nice and compact, but I want as much control as I can think of.

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