Skip to main content

Ralsina.Me — Roberto Alsina's website

Interface Designers and Free Software: A Realistic Proposal

And now for some­thing at least some­what con­struc­tive: A mod­est, and hope­ful­ly re­al­is­tic pro­pos­al on how UI de­sign­ers can co­ex­ist with free soft­ware coder­s.

James Damour / 2006-04-03 05:46:

I'm a coder for an application that could use a good designer. We're currently working towards eliminating bugs for all the changes we made recently, but after the next stable release we'll be making fairly radical changes to the UI design.

Can I get any volunteer designers to help us out?

Alan James Salmoni / 2006-04-03 05:47:

Good article, although as a HCi person _and_ a coder, I can see both aspects of the discussion!

However, I have to point out that in the commercial world, designers don't really rule the roost that often - our jobs are mostly political, i.e, not stepping on too many toes (sometimes developers, mostly PHB's) while getting the point across. A truly good designer will know how to word things enough to get them listened to, but not so much that it annoys people! However, this is changing slowly, and companies are realising that good designers do add something.

That aside, I quite enjoyed reading this. Thanks!

C.O. / 2006-04-03 05:47:

You appear to be using KDE. That would account for your opinions. KDE applications are frequently cluttered with too many complicated config options and terrible ideas on how to organize them.

I'd definitely recommend you give Gnome a try from . All applications must adhere to a rigorous Human Interface Guideline, and the result is nothing short of a joy to use. It's an interface perhaps rivalled only by Mac OSX. In many cases it resembles OSX, and in many cases it SURPASSES OSX. Either way, it beats the hell out of Windows and KDE if you ask me.

Give it a shot. Use it for a month straight and post what you think. You might be glad you did!

Roberto Alsina / 2006-04-03 05:48:

C.O.: Sorry dude, but if you check and look around a bit you will find out that I am pretty much a KDE guy :-)

Anyway: Congratulations, you are the first GNOME user on my site, you get a cookie ;-)

Kent / 2006-04-03 05:49:

From a users point of view...

Free software user interfaces may not be the best in the world, compared to stuff like BeOS or OSX (neither of which I have ever used), but for most parts it beats the stuff coming out of Microsoft.

Some people claiming to know about UI design really just want to make everything look and act like windows, which is a guaranteed way to move people over to OSX. Running mostly Gnome software at home, and XP at work, I can tell you that Windows' UI is still not something worth copying. I feel I waste a lot of time with Windows' terrible UI, but at least I get paid for it. At home I refuse to waste this time, so I don't run Windows.

Reading the Gnome Human Interface Guidelines, I got a feeling that they were written by real UI-designers, and not the "just copy Microsoft" crowd. I don't know about KDE, haven't looked at it recently.

Gus / 2006-04-03 05:49:

One valuable way for coders and developers to look upon the UI problem and to gain some appreciation for it, is this:

The human interacting with the application has a given API.

If you code as closely to it, the overall performance will be greater.

If you don't code closely to this API (and yes it is ugly and contains legacy code) then overall performance will suffer.

This perspective helps cut down on the problem where someone develops and application with a non-intuitive but completely flexible and extensible UI, saying to himself, "Look at how incredibly productive I can be with a UI where I hold down the Alt-Ctrl-+ key while using the right mouse button simultaneously!"

Contents © 2000-2023 Roberto Alsina