Last week I had lunch with Dave Aron, a research director at Gartner.
Aron believes that PC users are handicapped by the legacy of Windows. The designers of the Nintendo Wii and Apple iPhone had the good fortune of being able to create their user interfaces from scratch, to develop GUIs that appear to ooze innovation.
But the poor old PC is stuck with a clunky UI, called Windows. Now I’m no expert in human computer interfaces – just a humble user – but it seems that the way we use a PC is closely linked to our culture. Along with the obvious language and character set differences, people from different cultures will use different metaphors in the way they communicate and interact with other people from the same culture.
I came across a fascinating article on ZucshLogin which looks at the common help desk calls tech support staff get. User interface designers cannot assume the user will think in the same way as them. Their assumptions will be based on past experience and their cultural experiences.
Today’s desktop GUI comes from large US-based software development. Are they exporting US culture to the rest of the world in the design of the UI? How annoying is it when software defaults to US English and, when you have to enter a postal address, you inevitably have to scroll all the way down to “U” to select UK (and we don’t have zip codes or states here; postcode and county would be nice).
When there is no real legacy with the US, as in the GUI of mobile phones, designers are free to experiment. The design will be influenced by the cultural influences of the designers. Just look at the differences between Nokia and Samsung for instance.
Perhaps it is time for a radical change. What should we look for in a 21st century user interface?