Cedric responded to one of my rants about user interfaces:
Having seen Web interfaces take over these past years, I predict that fat Java GUI clients are coming back in force, as illustrated by the new generation of Swing applications. As Russell points out, a huge proportion of these applications have a terrible ergonomy because software engineers are very good at neglecting a vital part of the software lifecycle: usability.
Usability testing should be factored in at all times during the development process, and I would argue that this is the very reason why the distributed Open Source community has yet to produce a reasonable GUI application.
In a next column, I will share with you the fantastic experience that putting users in front of a prototype of your application and examining their slightest of their moves represents.
Hint: it's very humbling.
I'm a big believer in getting your app in front of real people as soon as possible. Prototypes will teach you so much about what people expect and what features are needed... It doesn't take much effort, according to an article I read a long while ago by Jakob Nielson himself, you only need 5 people to get pretty much the full range of feedback.
Joe Walnes also has some thoughts in response to Bob's "another Outlook clone" complaint:
Make it look like Outlook. dynamicobjects spaces is just one example of the trend of everyone wanting to make everything look like Outlook. We all complain about how crappy MS software is, how they can't design a humane interface to save their ass, yet we attempt to make every application look like Outlook. At my previous Day Job, we were working on a logistics execution application. It looked like Outlook. Hrm. Outlook's 3-pane design might be roughly useful for applications that mostly just organize data. But, for robust applications that have user interactions that are more complex than pushing bits from one folder to another, please attempt to resist the urge to make it look like Outlook. [bob mcwhirter]
The number one rule of usability is familiarity. Mac-OSX may have a vastly superior UI, but sit a regular Windows user down in front of it and watch their productivity decline. It takes a while to become familiar with new UIs.
Most of the applications I work on are targetted at your average business user who on a daily basis uses not much more than Word, Excel, Outlook and Windows Explorer for performing everyday tasks.
As sad as it sounds, when I'm designing a UI and I have to think about layout, shortcut keys, MDI/SDI, menu structure, skin, tab-order, input widgets, etc - more often than not, the Outlook-way is more desirable than the right-way.
I can see what Joe's saying, but personally, I think we're stuck in a rut. Familiarity is nice, but also breeds contempt. We're not there yet in UI design... we need more creativity. We need to jump to the next level and more widgets and Outlook clones in my opinion isn't doing anything for us.