Theo Mandel GUI Guru by chenboying


									            Theo Mandel:
              GUI Guru
   The software industry has slowly evolved from the bare-bones world of
"feature and function" to the user-friendly era of the '80s and '90s to today's
environment of personalized, dynamic applications and websites. Products
must now be designed and developed at "Web speed" to meet business and
user needs. And to boot, they must be intuitive, easy-to-learn, and easy-to-
   Theo Mandel has helped individuals and companies migrate smoothly
along this path toward user-centered software design for over 15 years.
Armed with a doctorate degree in cognitive psychology and an 11-year career
at IBM as a user-interface architect, he founded Interface Design and Devel-
opment in Austin.
   In addition to his interface cogitations, Mandel is also an avid outdoors-
man (the Rocky Mountains in Colorado are his favorite getaway) and a na-
tionally ranked tennis player.
   TSN editor Jack Burlingame discussed training issues and directions in
interface design with Dr. Mandel.
                                                                                       Photo by Sung Park, courtesy of Austin American-Statesman Statesman

    TSN: What's the first step in         physical, physiological, perceptual,        Web design as if they had a big box of
training an effective Web                 and psychological aspects of human-         crayons at their disposal.
designer?                                 computer interaction. People (and
    TM: Step one is getting designers     developers, too) don't fully realize that       TSN: Is enough attention paid
to focus on users, not technology,        to make better software you need to         to accessibility issues by software
tools, or functions. Developers are so    know more about people, not                 and Web designers?
comfortable with computers and            necessarily more about computers or             TM: No. One of the golden rules is,
technology that they can't understand     software design.                            "Let users be in control." We can't
how a "regular" person might have a                                                   even make the keyboard and mouse
problem with their software. My               TSN: Should every software              easy to use for "average" users, never
training focuses on helping developers    design company have a cognitive             mind users with acc essibility
understand users and their tasks.         psychologist on staff?                      problems. If you don't believe me, just
                                              TM: That would be great, but I          try unplugging your mouse for a day
   TSN: When you left the nest at         don't think there are enough of us to       and see how easy it is to use your
IBM, what difficulties did you            go around! Much of my work involves         computer to do even the most
encounter in setting up your own          mentoring company employees to              common tasks.
consulting and training firm?             establish in-house expertise in the area
   TM: People think it is so wonderful    of human factors, interface design, and         TSN: The website design
to work from home, but then I ask         usability testing. As a consultant, my      process        brings        together
them how they would like living in        long-term goal is to make the client's      programmers, designers, clients,
their office! Murphy's law of             dependence on me go away.                   and managers, all of whom may
consulting is that your major clients                                                 have countervailing objectives.
are never in your hometown: too much          TSN: What is the most                   What's the best way to manage
travel is always a problem for            common mistake made by Web                  this disparate group?
consultants and educators. Handling       designers?                                      TM: It is absolutely critical to work
the peaks and valleys of consulting on        TM: Too much stuff! Users are           as a cohesive team. First, strong
your own is also very stress-producing.   frustrated by too many graphics, too        personalities and egos must be put
                                          much visual activity, and too much          aside to focus as a team. Second,
   TSN: What are the guiding              information. It is better to follow the     understand and rely on the skills and
principles for designing an               basic KISS philosophy - Keep It             expertise of each team member. Third,
"intuitive" graphical user                Simple, Stupid. It is healthier to          bring users in as part of the design
interface?                                approach Web design as if color and         team - that way, users have some
   TM: There are basic user-centered      graphics actually cost money to             "skin" in the game. Finally, create an
design principles I call the "Golden      publish, as it is with printed materials.   iterative, dynamic design and
Rules." These principles are based on     Instead, many designers approach            development process and stick to it.

                                     Reprinted from Texas Software News, March, 1999
    TSN: What type of training                  TSN: What's your advice for                 TSN: What's your favorite
have you found to be most                    older people who've never owned            electronic gadget?
effective?                                   a computer but are itching to get              TM: As I experienced with my new
    TM: I've done one-on-one                 on the Net?                                mobile phone, most gadgets are great
training, team workshops, seminars,             TM: Have patience, lots of              in some areas, but don't quite do it all.
retreats, and mentoring, in addition to      patience! Also, don't assume that you      I have a REX PC-card sized organizer
traditional classroom education. The         are dumb if you can't figure something     and a PalmPilot, but I don't use them
most important thing is to be flexible       out. If something is confusing, it's       as much as I thought I would. After the
for each client's needs. Overall, I try to   usually the designer's fault, not the      initial excitement wears off, these
focus on interface design and usability      user's.                                    electronic gadgets must provide real
skills and issues, not tools and                                                        benefits for users to keep using them.
technologies.                                     TSN: What's the most
                                             i n ter es ti n g  th i n g s  yo u 'v e       TSN: In what areas do tennis
   TSN: In terms of their ease of            discovered during hours and                and       computer/human
use, what are the best mass-                 hours of observing people while            interaction intersect?
market software programs?                    they're using computers?                       TM: It's true - I admit it! I would
   TM: Many people point to the                   TM: One, people usually overrate      rather play or teach tennis than do
Microsoft Office suite of products as        their own computing skills. Two, there     software design. Although tennis is a
the interface model they should be           is no "average" user. Three, there is no   social and physical game, logic and
designing toward. However, just              such thing as a "fool proof" interface.    patterns are involved, as with software
because a product has market share           And four, every software developer         design.
does not mean it is as usable as it          should be forced to watch "real people"
could be. Quicken is a good example of       use the products he or she develops.          TSN: If you could play a game
easy-to-use software. It follows a real-                                                of tennis with any high-profile
world, practical metaphor that people           TSN: In your opinion, what's            high-tech exec, who would you
can understand. Quicken takes basic          the best use of modern                     choose and why?
paper-and-pencil financial tasks and         technology?                                   TM: I think I'd like to play a
makes them easier to do on a                    TM: To develop things that make         doubles match with Bill Gates,
computer by automating repetitive            our lives simpler and better, not to add   Nicholas Negroponte, and Ted Nelson.
transactions.                                more functionality or complexity. For      Of course, I'd want Bill Gates on the
                                             example, I recently began using a          opposite side of the net.
    TSN: In your experience as a             mobile phone. I love that I can always
trainer and educator, what                   pick up a phone or get calls wherever I        TSN: How do you deal with
programs have been the most                  am. However, I am frustrated that I        the problem of information
difficult for people to learn?               have to manually enter all the phone       overload?
    TM: People are incredibly                numbers I want to store - I can't              TM: Turn off the *&$* computer!
adaptable, yet at the same time, they        import my contacts and phone               It is too easy to get sucked into the
are incredibly resistant to change. You      numbers from my address book on my         information vortex on the Web. Every
have to be careful when you ask users        computer. Many new gadgets make            once in a while, just turn off the
what they want. You get what I call          part of our lives easier and other parts   computer and go outside and do
WYKIWYL - What You Know Is What              more difficult.                            something. Get a life!
You Like. There is usually a "paradigm
shift" you have to help users overcome
when migrating from older character-
based or mainframe programs to
newer windowed interface styles.

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