Are AI UIs Really Better?

June 27, 2023

User experience design firm Nielsen Norman Group believes advances in AI define an entirely new way of interacting with computers. Writer and company cofounder Jakob Nielsen asserts, “AI: First New UI Paradigm in 60 Years.” We would like to point out natural language is not new, but we acknowledge there are now machine resources and software that make methods more useful. Do they rise to the level of a shiny new paradigm?

Neilsen begins with a little history lesson. First came batch processing in 1945 — think stacks of punch cards and reams of folded printouts. It was an unwieldy and inconvenient system to say the least. Then around 1964 command-based interaction took over, evolving through the years from command-line programming to graphical user interfaces. Nielsen describes why AI represents a departure from these methods:

“With the new AI systems, the user no longer tells the computer what to do. Rather, the user tells the computer what outcome they want. Thus, the third UI paradigm, represented by current generative Auk is intent-based outcome specification.”

Defining outcomes instead of steps — sounds great until one asks who’s in control. Not the user. The article continues:

“Do what I mean, not what I say is a seductive UI paradigm — as mentioned, users often order the computer to do the wrong thing. On the other hand, assigning the locus of control entirely to the computer does have downsides, especially with current AI, which is prone to including erroneous information in its results. When users don’t know how something was done, it can be harder for them to identify or correct the problem.”

Yes! Nielsen cites this flaw as a reason he will stick with graphic user interfaces, thank you very much. (Besides, he feels, visual information is easier to understand and interact with than text.) We would add a more sinister consideration: Is the system weaponized or delivering shaped information? Developers’ lack of transparency can hide not only honest mistakes but also biases and even intentional misinformation. We agree with Nielsen: We will stick with GUIs for a bit longer.

Cynthia Murrell, June 27, 2023

Work from Home Decorating Ideas

June 13, 2022

A happy quack to the person who alerted to me to this WFH (work from home) gallery of design ideas. The display of ingenuity is a reminder of the inner well springs of excellence within humans. The pristine settings would make Martha Stewart’s cell at FPC Alderson into a show stopper. The image only Web site presents more than 24 irl (in real life) decorating examples. Plan to share these with any teenagers or college students whom you know. Ask these individuals which approach is their fave. What fashionable touches will you incorporate into your Zoom nest?

Stephen E Arnold, June 13, 2022

Usability: Why Not Hide Stuff and Use Low Contrast Colors? We Do, We Do!

April 19, 2020

The Decline of Usability” complains that current user interfaces suck. The main pivot in the write up is the application of mobile design conventions to desktop applications. Yeah, mobile. Doesn’t everyone work with a phone, Franken-tablet, or a game device?

Apparently not.

The author of the article uses screenshots to illustrate the craziness applications favor. The article asserts:

Usability, or as it used to be called, “User Friendliness”, is steadily declining. During the last ten years or so, adhering to basic standard concepts seems to have fallen out of fashion.

The article points out about a stack of title bars that appear to create instant confusion:

Almost all of the title bars contain some kind of UI widget. Some have little tool icons, some have tabs, some have drop-down menus, some have combinations thereof. There is no set behavior and, more importantly, the clickable area for traditional operations (move, focus, raise) on each title bar is now of variable width. If you’re accustomed to a title bar being for handling the window and nothing else, it’s very easy to misclick and activate an application feature you didn’t intend to.

Just a thought: The youngsters who create these difficult-to-use interfaces may want to consider making it possible for users to select a less-jazzy version of an application.

Not everyone wants a black interface with gray highlights. Not everyone wants colors to be low contrast. Not everyone wants weird icons instead of words.

However, the future is clear: Game-type conventions, creating interfaces for young eyes, and removing user control of interface elements is the trend.

The approach is not cute; it is indifferent to the needs of many users.

Stephen E Arnold, April 19, 2020

Google UX: Some Interfaces Are Little Bafflers

March 13, 2018

I  read “What Google Is Learning about User Experience.” I am delighted that a giant company is “learning.”

I noted this statement:

Josh Lewandowski, lead UX researcher at YouTube, said he asks himself two questions each day he comes into work:

  • “What are the desires, needs, and problems our users have that we should be anticipating?”
  • “Once we know what those are, what’s the best way to solve for them?

Interesting. From my vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, Google’s user interfaces have some pock marks. There are confusing functions; for example, upload a video to YouTube. There are boxes in which one can describe the video. None of the boxes provides a maximum word count. Careless or indifference? I don’t know.

On my Android phone Google Play insists that I turn on certain features. I don’t want these features. The controls for Android OS no longer allow me to turn off updates to apps I never use. I cannot disable the annoying and distracting message about Google Play having a problem. Careless, indifference, or a larger plan to remove user controls.

In Google’s Gmail, I find it fascinating that I have to click to see my email, not just the default listing. Even better is that there are no controls to make it easy to delete junk. Even the hapless BlackBerry I had years ago, make it easy to clean up an email in box. BlackBerry!

For more words and promises, be sure to read the complete article. Do it on your mobile phone for the full experience.

Stephen E Arnold, March 12, 2018

UX (That Means Interface) Excitement

November 9, 2017

I read an article in Thread Reader. The first person essay titled I think “Graviscera.” In theory, you can find the story at the link provided in the previous sentence.

The subject of the write up is the UX or what oldsters like me call an “interface.” The concept is simple, but like most digital thingies, it is a challenge to some. My father, before he died, struggled with using a mouse. He was a keyboard type of person. I find that I am okay with a mouse, but every once in a while, I long for XyWrite III+. IBM bought this fine word processors and, well, you can pretty much figure out the fate of that nifty, speedy piece of code.

In Graviscera, a person with a strong sense of what works expresses opinions about a number of the silly, perhaps stupid, interfaces foisted on users. I enjoyed the write up because it has oomph.

Here are three points, and I urge you to read the full essay. If you are under the age of 35, you will probably disagree with the ideas in the essay. If you are a bit older, you may recall keyboard centric and command line interfaces which did not require moving a cursor to and fro or putting a large finger on a Lilliputian icon in order to view a document. Believe me, old fingers and tiny icons on a zippy mobile phone can frustrate even a manic Facebook user or twitchy tweeter.

Now the three points I highlighted with an old fashioned orange marker:

  1. Google Maps is unusable. Yep, Graviscera nailed it. I am not sure what the Googlers are trying to accomplish with maps, but performing certain operations is impossible for Graviscera and me. Don’t believe me. Try to figure out what’s on a route from a mobile version of Google Maps. Give up? Now try the same thing on a desktop version of Google Maps. Give up? I have. As miserable as Bing is, I find its mapping function slightly less worse than Google’s.
  2. Use a mouse to view Twitter content. Graviscera points out that a keyboard interface would make life easier. That’s true. The low contrast of Twitter adds an additional usability challenge. Those with perfect eyesight probably love the mousing around thing on pale blue text. Well, I don’t, and Graviscera seems likely to agree.
  3. Keyboards and function keys work for many applications. Graviscera nails this. The focus is on point of sale terminals. But there are many applications which would benefit from consistent keyboard functions. Even the crazy IBM keyboard with the two dozen function keys were easier to operate than some mobile interfaces. Graviscera does not mention Fitbit, but I think it is a poster child for mobile wonkiness.

I recommend that you read Graviscera. Let me conclude with this quote from the write up:

Nobody will agree with me, citing anecdotes and examples that are meaningless in the current zeitgeist.

No need to fret. I agree with you.

Stephen E Arnold, November 9, 2017

Google Scholar Interface Changes

September 23, 2017

Short honk: If you use Google Scholar, you know about the “interesting” interface. Now Google has responded to criticism. The interface changes are available. Details of the “drawer” and other obfuscations are described in “Better Ways of Getting Around.” I am not sure I agree with the Google Scholar team’s improvements. Are there scholars on the team or just engineers?

Stephen E Arnold, September 23, 2017

Google Innovation Convoluted to Many

September 7, 2017

In a race against time, Google seems to be struggling to keep up with Apple in many categories, messaging and video chat just to name a few. A recent Phandroid article called out Google on their multiple fails over the years in its plight to dominate Apple.

The primary criticism is Google’s lack of comparable messaging system. As the article explains,

Right now, Google’s solution for handling messaging for the average user is looking a lot like the early 90s landscape for all those competing messaging services. But at least those services were competing with one another. Google’s messaging services cannibalize one another as Google meanders down its course of attempting to find an iMessage solution in the wake of its upheavals.

Although the folks at Phandroid do make good points for Google’s identity crisis, they leave out many other innovations that, although possible missteps, are moving things forward. One such development is the introduction of YouTube Messenger that might seem redundant to many, but also answers many of the problems mentioned by Phandroid.

Catherine Lamsfuss, September 7, 2017

Giffying All the Way to Profits

June 7, 2017

Giphy, the GIF search engine has secured $150 funding at $600 million valuations. What started as a web crawler is on its way to profitability.

Business Insider in an article titled Inside the GIF Factory: How Giphy Plans to Build a Real Business by Animating the Internet says:

Giphy isn’t profitable yet. In fact, the company doesn’t even have a reliable means of generating revenue at this point. But now that GIFs are an ingrained aspect of online behavior, the company is hard at work drafting a blueprint to turn its popular service into a money-making business.

Though there are multiple ways to monetize GIFs, a mainstay of personal messages and online forums and social media networks, Alex Chung, the founder is yet to find a way to monetize it. Giphy can be integrated into various communication tools for inserting reaction GIFs into comments. Internet users also flock to the website to get entertained. The website claims to have 150 million users daily. With that kind of user base, it would not be difficult for the company to turn profitable.

Vishal Ingole, June 7, 2017

Catch the Chatbots Chattering Away

May 17, 2017

Chatbots are not self-aware, but the better-programmed ones are so “intelligent” they can hold a real conversation with a human.  While chatbots are meant to engage humans in conversation, have you ever wondered what would happen if two bots are told to speak with each other?  YouTube user winter blessed decided to pit Mitsuku and Cleverbot against one another.  You can view the results in the video, “Mitsuku vs Cleverbot – AI (Artificial Intelligence) Showdown.”

Mitsuku is a female-styled chatbot that can be accessed like a Flash game, while Cleverbot was built using Cleverscript-a SAS that teaches people how to build their own chatbots.  While both Mitsuku and Cleverbot are highly praised, neither of them use Bitext’s analytics platform to help power chats.  They might benefit from incorporating it into their conversations.

Listening to Mitsuku and Cleverbot is an interesting demonstration of how far chatbots have progressed and still how limited they are.  The pair does comprehend each other, but they end up misinterpreting questions and responding incorrectly.  It is like listening to someone who strictly relied on Google Translate to speak a foreign language.  Their conversation is understandable, but devoid of meaning.  Humans are still needed to add meaning behind the words.

Whitney Grace, May 17, 2017

Interface Design: An Argument for the IBM i2 Approach

April 15, 2016

i read “Why I Love Ugly, Messy Interfaces — and You Probably Do Too.” I have been checking out information about interfaces for augmented intelligence or what I call “cyber OSINT.” The idea I am exploring is how different vendors present information functions to people who are working under pressure. Now the pressure in which I am interested involves law enforcement, intelligence, and staying alive. I am not too worried about how to check the weather on a mobile phone.

The write up points out that

…there is no single right way to do things. There’s no reason to assume that having a lot of links or text on a page, or a dense UI, or a sparse aesthetic is fundamentally bad — those might be fine choices for the problem at hand. Especially if it’s a big, hairy problem. Products that solve big, hairy problems are life savers. I love using these products because they work so damn well. Sure they’re kind of a sprawling mess. That’s exactly why they work!

Consider the IBM i2 Analyst’s Notebook interface. Here’s an example courtesy of Google Images:analyst notebook

The interface has a menu bar across the top, display panels, and sidebar options. In order to use this application which is called Analyst’s Notebook, one attends classes. Years ago I did a little work for i2 before it became part of IBM. Without regular use of the application, I would forget how to perform certain tasks.

There is a competitor to i2’s Analysts Notebook: Palantir Gotham. Again, courtesy of Google Images, here’s an example of the Palantir Gotham interface:

palantirThe interface includes options in the form of a a title bar with icons, a sidebar, and some right click features which display a circular context menu.

The principal difference between the two interfaces boils down to color.

There are some significant differences, and these include:

  • Palantir provides more helper and wizard functions. These allow a user to perform many tasks without sitting through five or more days of classroom and hands on instruction.
  • The colors and presentation are more stylish, not exactly a mobile phone app approach but slicker than the Analyst’s Notebook design
  • The interface automates more functions. Both applications require the user to perform some darned tedious work. But once that work is completed, Gotham allows software to perform some tasks with a mouse click.

My point is that interface choices and functionality have to work together. If the work flows are not assisted by the interface and smart software, simple or complex interfaces will be a barrier  to quick, high value work.

When someone is shooting at the person operating the laptop with either of these applications in use, the ability to complete a task without confusion is paramount. Confusing pretty with staying alive is not particularly helpful.

Stephen E Arnold, April 15, 2016

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