Its time to get off the shoulders of UI giants.

In my usual daily grind, I am constantly called into variety of different projects to help out with some of the UX puzzles the teams face. All too often, it is a case of a project is already underway and the person doing the asking has this panic look of “please help us unlock this perceived usability issue”. I take a deep breath, I think about the problem in front of me, I tap into all the years of experience I have around how one could solve this and last but the most important of all - I wait for an idea to kick in (science, experience and luck). That system has proved to be quite beneficial for me and others I’ve worked with for years until recently. The change has occurred the day I noticed a Tablet for the first time. I’ve seen tablets for years but recently I sat down and focused my energy on one single thought – “what if Tablets replaced 100% of all PC’s / Laptops”. I am now obsessed with this thought, as while it is not going to come true in the next few years, it does force my skills into an area of unchartered and uncomfortable thinking. Today most user interfaces have tree controls and datagrids much more often than I am comfortable with. They also have menu(s) that typically drive via the mouse and not touch as with a mouse you have more precision (perception) and a finger you don’t (along with visual black spots due to hand being in the way). This all is fine if you keep the two inputs apart and design for both individually as in the end you are solving two problems right? Well.. I do not know if that’s a fair call to make (especially given how the desktop vs. tablet could have this transition period). I mean why can’t you build the same UI for both? The datagrid and tree control for example are holding you back but in the end if you can build a UI for touch why can’t that hold true for mouse? (ergonomics and form factors aside, just shut up and work with me here on this stream of thought). I am thinking that we should probably start tackling the problem of solving the same UX issues we face when wanting to present users with a visual hierarchy and large data sets. I do not think the datagrid and tree controls ever solved this problem but in a way we declared a truce on it via their creation. Tablets in my view create a unique opportunity for us all to start asking more questions like “Why do you use a Datagrid?, Why do you use Ribbon Menu? Why does Blend work on a 2D top-down design surface instead of a vanishing point perspective?. Why…why…why..” Start challenging the stuff you assume works, as I don’t recall ever seeing a whitepaper where they outlined “We tried 115 different ways to present data and datagrids came up with a higher score?” as well, they suck and they don’t really help the user as much as say an infographic would? Imho it’s time to get off the shoulders of our UI/UX elder giants and start doing this differently as with tablets our canvas has been somewhat wiped clean – my fear is we’ll see datagrid/tree/ribbons making an appearance on these devices (metro be damned, you’ll eventually revert back once the metro boredom kicks in). P.S If you find the grammar/spelling annoying use the Fix-It.  I’ve typed this on a plane and right now motion sickness is settling in from staring at the computer – must figure out why that happens.  

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  • Traceur

    Right now, tablets are for consuming the information, not for creating it. Yes, it’s very nice when you play with your finger on a tablet, or on a smartphone, but let’s presume you work in a bank and you have a lot of data input instead of data visualization and data has to be entered quite fast or else everybody start to be nervous. This is one example, where PC has a certain advantage over tablet, the input is a lot faster than a tablet, sure there is OCR, but it’s still too early to talk about this.

    I try to visualize an invoice app,on how would it look like on metro style and I don’t see it very useful for creating information aka introducing data, sure you can create an enormous input form and the user start typing in it, wait the keyboard appears(some space on the screen has just gone), next you have to do some validation, other screen with a error message on it, and so forth, in the end the user is feeling overwhelmed and frustrated and turns to the good old PC, where he feels very powerful and in control.

    In my opinion, the PC won’t be gone, maybe upgraded to other input that will be available at a certain time, right now PC is still the king, all the information that is consumed by tablets is created from a PC one way or another(even your post was written from a PC).