Start me up

Designer often gets far too close to the piece he is working on and it is not uncommon to see this causing unseen troubles down the line. The designer knows, or should know if he was actually the one who worked the piece, all the ins and outs of the designed product. This designer knows how the product is supposed to be used and in what conditions. Or rather, the intended use. In reality, products may end up with different uses in the consumers’ hands than what the piece has been designed for. It’s business as usual.

Nothing these, a person who comes completely outside the field can become invaluable assets in the development of the design. PC interface has seen changes throughout the years, and it can be argued that Apple’s GUI has been the forerunner in many ways. With Windows 95 Microsoft wanted to put their foot down on the market and make the definitive OS and needed a GUI to with it.

Danny Oran wasn’t a designer. No, he was something better. He is a trained behavioural psychologist, and was hired to work with Windows 95 to make it easier to use. See, like with engineer jokes, coders tend to think their customers are some sort of specially retarded and can’t figure shit out. Unlike with Windows 8 and onwards, before Win95 Windows was relatively hard to use, because its core design assumed the user would understand how it functions almost on the same level as the programmers and designers did. That, of course, is an impossibility. There’s a very good reason there are brick sized books how to use Windows, because there are incredibly useful tricks no common user ever would figure out.

I highly recommend reading how the Start Button came to be, because the rest of the post ties to it.

One thing behaviourists have over the normal folk is that they know why people act the way they do when and can make valid assumptions on expectations. It’s no wonder that System button didn’t caught up. System is a heavy word that doesn’t invite you to test it. Even worse, one could even think that it leads into the core components of Windows, and as certain people tend to be almost deathly fearful of doing anything with computers because they may mess things up, it’s understandable to see it go unused.

However, naming the button as Start is something that’s inherently natural to us. It’s a simple and friendly term. Windows is more or less globally universal user interface, and as it is it functions well enough. Start button, whenever localised properly, should function properly in any language and be as inviting anywhere.

It’s hard to top the Start button. Oran’s Start button is, at its core, so well designed for intuitive and easy use that it’s harder to beat than most realize. In addition, it’s been around in Windows for twenty years, and during that time it’s become something people are just absolutely used to. It would be wrong to say that Start button can’t be beat. However, now we have the trouble of people having used to the Start button to the extent that it’s become a second nature to people.

The first GUI interface I know I used was The Operating System on Atari 5200ST. It’s green background is forever etched to my mind, as is the fact nobody in our family could figure it out, so it was used as game machine mostly. My brother did some odd compositions with music maker here and there. While the basics of GUI hasn’t much changed since then, the few simple changes in the interface’s core design has dramatic impacts on how people approach them.

I’m interested to see what sort of future OS design will bring in the future. While Windows 8 failed with its attempt to revolutionise the Start button with Metro, the core fault in that was the fact it was designed mainly for tablets and other similar devices. Even if people are moving away from traditional desktops in increasing amounts, the fact is that you just can’t take one user interface and port it to another without fully adapting it. It was a halfassed attempt to force Win8 interface across multiple devices. Perhaps with Windows 10 Microsoft will put more emphasize on making their OS unique to that platform. While tablets and smartphones have inherently just a PC in your pocket you can call with, the tactile nature between a proper PC and your tablet is different.

Topping the Start button would require Microsoft to understand how their customers are using their operating systems. The modern problem modern Windows has is that it’s made to idiots, or rather to the idiots Microsoft designers think their customers are. You can keep the system complex in the background and give information to the user, but in exchange the interface needs to deliver a soft approach. Newly installed Windows offers guides, and while that’s nice and all, most of the design has gone into making everything look smoother rather than be more intuitive to use. Perhaps there needs to be some level of total separation again with next version of Windows’ staff, but that’s not going to happen.

Next time you wonder how the hell to work with something, try to think like the designer and approach the product from their point of view. It’s an awful thing to tell, but it seems this causes better products than when the designer underestimates their consumers.


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