A good user interface is the second most important aspect of great software. The first is that it works correctly, and very often, people are willing to accept just that (it's cumbersome but at least it finally works).
Why Is It So Hard to Design?
Because of ineffective testing. When testers try out a program for usability the first time, they cannot have a totally objective opinion when changes are made because they already know more or less what to expect. To truly learn how intuitive an interface is, first-time users have to try the program after each revision, not the same test crew, and that many people are rarely deployed. See Windows vs. Mac.
An Occasional Innovative Function
Over the years, some bright ideas emerge but do not necessarily migrate to every platform. Following are a few of the best. See alpha version, beta version, RTFM and user interface.
A Sign of Intelligence
A long time ago, this Windows option caused the cursor to snap to the default button in a dialog box so the cursor is on top of the answer or next to it instead of the opposite end of the screen. Sadly, this feature does not always work.
Starting in 2007, when a section of text is highlighted in Microsoft Word, an edit box is displayed right above the cursor location instead of some arbitrary location on screen. This text editing behavior should be standard everywhere.
Great UIs Make People Happy
The industry should take notice that "ease of use" helped create Apple. Much of the success of the iPod is attributed to the rotating click wheel that was later touch sensitive. That attention to usability helped bring the company back from its all-time low.
The MacBook Touch Bar
In 2016, Apple introduced a touchscreen toolbar on top-end MacBooks that takes the place of physical function keys. Each application displays its most important controls for the entire program or just the current activity. See MacBook
. (Images courtesy of Apple Inc.)