The Mac user interface - an endangered species?
Author: Michael Furniss
Date: April, 1989
Keywords: GUI hypercard hypertalk hyperbits column
Text: One of the neat things about HyperCard is that it allows you to create your own user interface. Tools that allow you to make the screen look and work anyway you like are right there and easy to use. Everything that was so familiar about Macintosh applications may be changed or discarded entirely. A stack can be written that does not even reveal that HyperCard is the maestro behind it. Neat stuff. Real power. But wait. Wasn't the consistent user interface the thing that really set the Mac off from the pack and made it such a pleasure to use? The commonality of operating paradigms between virtually all Mac application is arguably the single most important reason for the success of the Macintosh. Jef Raskin, who conceived, named and launched the Mac, envisioned an ''appliance'' computer that had many built-in functions. The Mac's toolbox (built-in ROM code for common operations such as windows, dialog boxes, menus, etc.) provides the consistency that the Mac had since it was introduced in 1984 and that the rest of the personal computer world is still struggling to establish. HyperCard can and does put an end to the solid consistency of the user interface. Most stacks don't work like other Mac applications. The ''click to select, double click to operate'' paradigm is possible in HyperCard stacks, but is not usually implemented. Buttons generally take one click to operate and then one never knows what might happen the first time you click. It can be great fun playing with a new interface, but the old familiar interface is gone in many stacks, replaced by HyperCard's own conventions and limits, and the wildly variable design ideas of thousands of stack developers. Chaos could creep in, and new users might not find the intimacy (user intimate?) that the familiar user interface nurtured. Is this a real problem? I think it could be. If you are writing or modifying a stack for your own use, wild and weird interfaces might be fine. But if you plan to share or distribute stacks, the interface design capabilities that HyperCard provides should be used with care to provide some consistency in how stacks look and operate. Some of the stacks that are out and around are truly weird in how they work. A few are really well done and intuitive. The latter of course are the hardest to produce. The Mac II opened up the hardware side of the Mac. HyperCard opens up the software side, allowing great control over the look and feel of the machine. New capabilities always tend to threaten the status quo. It often needs threatening. The old ways of the Mac are so important to users, though. We can only hope that some consistency in user interface design will become established that will facilitate the new capabilities and retain some of the consistency that continues to make the Mac a superior personal information appliance. Now for a few concepts of stack design that will help with user interface consistency. Creating consistency of interface in hyperspace is a special challenge, and user NAVIGATION is the biggest part of this. Because hyperspace is not linear, users need to know how to navigate through it. You have probably experienced the feeling of being lost in a stack, wondering where you are, how you got there and how to get back. The feeling of missing something tucked deep in the labyrinth is one I often experience. We are accustomed to linear presentations of information and the associative web of hyperspace can be bewildering. The ''Recent'' command is a great help in navigation, but it should not be necessary for users to resort to this for regular navigation through your stack. Here are four things that a stack designer should try to make sure the user knows at every card: * What kind of place is this? * How did I get here? * Where can I go from here? * How do I get back where I came from? These are not always easy to do. HyperCard does make writing code easier, but good programming is as hard as ever. Happy stacking.
Copyright © april, 1989 by Michael Furniss