Friday, 29 April 2011

Cats can't count

If you have a cat you'll know this already - cats can't count. If you feed them on dried cat food, you rapidly come to realise that there are basically three states:

  1. Many - my bowl is full and I cannot see the bottom
  2. Some - the bottom of my bowl is covered with little plastic showing
  3. Few or none - I can see most of the bottom of my bowl, and I don't care if there's some round the rim MeeOW!
State #3 can be tuned into #2 by picking up the bowl to redistribute the contents and perhaps judiciously adding a few to give the illusion of the bowl being refilled.

This of course is good enough for a cat - it knows if it has enough in its bowl and can go and do cat things or if it has to find a human and annoy the hell out of them by scratching the fridge, study chairs, walking on keyboards while you're working, and the like, to get them to add content to the foodbowl.

Fine, enough cat stories, why are you writing about this?

Simple answer - user interface design and changing user expectations of the interface.

Looking at less technical users using applications such as Skype I've noticed a similar phenomenon to the cat and its bowl. They see the nice pane in the middle of the screen and can happily use it to call people, use the dialpad etc. What they can't do is navigate the pull down menus to add a new user - they need someone to help them.

Interestingly they seem to focus on the pane and (on a Mac at least) don't perceive the menu bar along the top of the screen, ie they focus on the application pane. Not a problem for full screen applications, but a problem for other applications.

Now this is purely anecdotal, and I havn't seen it in Windows or Linux (Gnome or KDE) users, but I wonder if we're seeing an iPhone/iPad one app/one screen type of effect here on user expectations ...

1 comment:

Vellum said...

I don't know. I think more likely you're just seeing how counter-intuitive the mac OS can be compared with windows and linux. I think it's really, really weird to have the menu bar not physically attached to the application, and I think that's a fairly common feeling. I know the menu is attached to the window in all the applications I run in ubuntu, but I don't honestly know about other Linux distros. Basically, as of March of this year, w3schools is reporting that only 8% of computer-users use the mac OS, and given that three years ago that number was around 3% that means more than half of current mac users are new mac users, who probably learned in an environment where the menu bar was physically attached to the application window. Once you've learned, like the vast majority of computer users, to expect the menu to be attached to the window, it seems very odd to look for it elsewhere.