Ok, this question will be tricky.

We were having a discussion among some colleagues, and I came up with the hypothesis that most of the current-accepted UX design patterns are mostly based on our psychology. It does sound obvious when you say it, but it becomes tricky when you think there there's still innovation on UX design, and it is based on psychological basis too (and, furthermore, on the old experience of the previous interfaces).

A good example as we've been discussing is the operative system UI design Microsoft is taking. Usually, this came from a hierarchical approach where everything starts with your screen. Then you would have sub-sections of it named windows. Then subsections of it with different names (tabs, sections, regions?), then controls on them and then their content. Pretty much like storing a file in a folder which is inside a folder and so on. You then create your own way of navigating forward it.

Microsoft itself its changing its approach with the Metro UI pattern, where everything behaves like being laid out on a big blanket and what you see is just a portion of the blanket. Then you would navigate left, right, up or down to see several other sections. This looks more like a big desk where you will be laying stuff you're doing next to other stuff.

GMail is another good example, because when most of our approaches were classifying emails and putting them in folders, GMail came into the market with the motto of "leave everything wherever you want, then just search it in this box".

So, as for the questions:

  1. Is any of this real, or just our mislead chit-chat? If it was wrong, where was the big error?
  2. Are there a limited set of patterns? Not specific UX patterns as solutions to these, but groups of design-approaches based on a similar psychological necessity?

This isn't an answer so much as a comment. I've had this debate with myself many times before, and considering I studied HCI and Psych in college, I feel like I at least have some understanding of how people work/think. I'm not sure if the issue is our way of thinking or the physical devices we use to interact with computers.

Long story short, computer user interfaces haven't changed much in almost 40 years - Xerox developed the Alto in 1973, which is more-or-less the first WIMP system was seen. We've been using keyboard and mouse since then.

What I'm always stuck on is if this lack of convincing innovation is because what we have works so well, and if it's inherent to how we think, or if it's because we're stuck in our current thinking paradigm. When people think of computers, or using a computer, they think about keyboard/mouse, files/folders/windows, etc.

What doesn't seem to make sense to me is why this works/happens. We don't interact with anything else in the world through a single point of interaction (your mouse cursor), so why is it that we're limiting ourselves to this with computers? I've seen a handful of prototypes come through with different ideas, but they're still WIMP.

I'm not convinced the way computers work now is the ultimate and/or the best, but I haven't really put thought into improving it.

  • Thanks, it was actually helpful. I guess the real problem is related with innovation vs. training ourselves for what we already have. Helps me to narrow down on my search to know if there's any pre-set on this. – Alpha Jan 16 '12 at 16:23

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