Ask Tog Reader Mail
Photoshop, the Dark Side
Pilots and their Priesthood
Mighty Mouse from Microsoft
AdsCan't live with them; can't get rid of them.
Browsers=NirvanaA difference of opinion
Photoshop, the Dark Side
From Mr. Scribblemonger's intro in your January issue: Cyberstudio joins Visicalc and Photoshop in Togs pantheon of stellar applications. I cant imagine what you like about this application. I have three major gripes:
- The User Interface
The first time I started this program (back around version 2), I thought, whats the big deal? Its features and functions are almost impossible to discover. On first look it appears to be a new version of MacPaint, except there is no way to draw circles or squaresor much of anything. And its pathetic manual that doesnt seem to cover a tenth of the programs functionality simply serving to create a whole market for third-party (and of course Adobe) books, courses and tutorials.
The functionality seems patched together. I can Save As JPEG, but I have to use an item in the Export submenu to save as GIF. The filters are simply listed in a huge, almost completely disorganized (or organized by manufacturer) list of submenus.
- The Feedback
This is related to (1), but so brain-dead that its worth calling out. Almost every day I run into something in Photoshop that just doesnt work. Why not? I have to dig through checkboxes and manuals (and the third-party books) to discover why a given command or option is currently disabled (or just doesnt do anything).
- The Functionality
The program stops working in indexed colour mode. Almost all of the features, including layers and filters, are simply disabled. Never mind that theres a huge number of people who have to create graphics with restricted palettes (e.g. the web-safe palettethats another gripe for another letter). I suppose this is another third party opportunitybut why should I have to debabelize my graphics? Why cant I see the end result of what Im working on? Why do I have to resort to Studio/32, an ancient and unsupported program, to do this sort of basic work? In Studio/32, I can create a document and restrict it to a given set of colors. When it anti-aliases text or graphics, it only uses colors in the palette. In other words, ALL OF ITS FEATURES WORK REGARDLESS OF THE COLOUR DEPTH OF THE DOCUMENT. This is circa 1990 software, no-brainer functionality.
We seem to be stuck with Photoshop. It killed off almost every other painting program, even though its really a photo retouching tool. Why do we stand for it?
Senior Human Interface Engineer
Chris, while I must agree with your conclusion, I'm not sure you laid out the full case. Let's see what we can do to augment it:
I hold Photoshop in a special place because it is a powerful, functional tool. But I fully share Chris's frustration in facing its crude and demanding interface every day.
Photoshop feels Frankensteinian, as though Adobe long since lost all control and has been simply running in front of the beast, doing whatever they can to give users some access, no matter how ridiculous, to its expanding powers. It's about time someone took charge again
The Photoshop team needs to sit down with all those dozens of books that have been written to help people get their work done in spite of this tool, and they need to carefully analyze what things are driving their users crazy. Chris mentioned that Photoshop offers no way to draw squares, but it does: All you have to do stretch out a selection rectangle, select Stroke from the Edit menu, enter how wide you want your rectangle and a few other assorted details to complex to go into here and, Voilá!, you have a square. Why do I know this and Chris doesn't? Because I have a friend who graduated from design school, and she knows what Stroke means. (I didn't dare select it, for fear I would no longer be able to draw with the left side of my body.)
I suppose some marketing person somewhere decided many years ago to have Photoshop remain "crippleware" in this area so they could be sure to sell more copies of Illustrator. But normal humans can't use Illustrator. I've bought three versions and made three separate attempts to learn it. I just don't get Illustrator at all, so if it doesn't exist in Photoshop, it doesn't exist.
Photoshop's making it impossible for anyone but a design school graduate to draw a simple square is, indeed, scandalous. It is time for Adobe to clean up its act.
Pilots and their Priesthood
Sorry I have to disagree with you in your article, "When Interfaces Kill: What Really Happened to John Denver," when it comes to pilots macho attitude.
It is pretty self-evident that pilot mental attitude to safety is the single most important factor in staying alive. I dont think anybody disputes this.
But I think the macho comments are somewhat tarring everybody with the same brush, which is not correct. True there are Richard Craniums (dickheads) flying about. But I would say the average General Aviation [private] pilot is honest in trying to be the best they can besafety wise. You can rest assured that when I pack my wife and baby in a plane, then fly over areas populated with homes and schools, I take it very seriously. Maybe I am naive but I think most other pilots think the same.
Be the best that you can be is the attitude to use. In this context best == safest.
The FAA has it right when they post you your license - it says on the card (I have it pinned up) Safety is no accident - it must be planned.
My comments regarding pilot-macho were intended to refer to a very different context . I know of no (living) pilots who are not extremely safety-aware and responsible: There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots.
Im referring to many pilots acceptance and even embracement of needless complexity, complexity that has nothing to do withand often compromisesthe safe pilotage of aircraft. For example, a small survey published in the June, 1999, Aviation Consumer found that only 40% of respondents favor digital engine controls that would replace the multiple Model T-style engine controls on todays aircraft with a single-lever power control.
The macho among us continue to choose manual transmissions even in this era when automatics have become so accurate and efficient that race car drivers have embraced them. So, too, do a majority of pilots choose to muddle along, constantly tweaking their inefficient spark advances and propeller RPM controls. Such controls, just as in automobiles, can be quite effective in keeping wives and girlfriends where they belongout of the pilot's seat.
Of course, the immediate cry will be that manual controls are more reliable. First, theres no proof of that. Second, if we are so interested in reliability, why do we festoon our aircraft with every boytoy we can cram in, practically ensuring that at least one system will fail? A friend of mine and I flew a rented Cessna 210 down to Catalina a couple weeks ago. This plane had been tricked out by its owner with everything available in the catalog, from stormscope to GPS receiver to an early moving map display so dim you could hardly read it to digital engine readouts to an AM/FM/CD player. And, as per the instructions in our DNA, by the time we returned, we had checked out every single feature on every single one of those toys, even though we had both initially decried such a senseless expenditure on electronic clutter.
Macho also spills over in pilots silence. Probably the most bizarre little pocket of cryptic design in aviation can be found in the official FAA weather reports. Not only are there several different secret codings, depending on the type of report, the codings can be downright weird. Weirdest of all is the packing of four bytes of information into two in Surface Aviation Weather Reports for the purpose of delivering wind speed and direction info with the highest possible error factor, one that could lead the unalert pilot into thinking that he would encounter gentle winds upon landing when, in fact, hurricane-force winds await.
Lets say you have a wind speed of 15 kph coming from 321 degrees. This could be expressed as:
Wind 15 knots from 320 degrees.
But why do that when you could instead say:
(with the 32 being int(321/10)*100 and the 15 being 15). After all, you save a whole bunch of bytes. (Those unschooled in human factors might also argue that it is quicker to read four characters than the thirty characters of the expanded explanation. However, it takes an extremly long time to interpret those four characters, wiping out any alleged savings several times over.)
Unfortunately, the designers of this madness ran into a little problem: What to do when wind speed exceeds 100 knots. But it is really no problem at all, since the wind direction cannot exceed 359 degrees! So, well just:
Simple. Wind at 115 knots from 320 degress is written:
So to "unpack" this code, we'll just:
Where are the protests over such idiocy existing in 1999? Nowhere. Why? Because todays pilots have learned to deal with it and, by golly, anyone else who wants to enter the priesthood should learn to deal with it, too. That, after all, is the only way we can keep out the riff-raff. Consider the response from "Chris":
Any time I see the word awash its a giant bullshit warning for me. Reading the body of the message confirmed my suspicions.
The last thing we need in the skies are people who feel so safe that they cram a cell phone in their ear and shave or put on makeup, while attempting to control a fast multi-ton machine.
Give me the macho filter to keep the sleep-walkers out of the sky unless they sit behind the first bulkhead.
This attitude, which is endemic in the General Aviation community, ensures that new pilots will be scared off before they can ever get their license.
I talked with one young woman who had been drawn to the Katana, a wonderful little fiberglass flying machine from Canada that is a sheer joy to fly, with simple controls and with visibilty and comfort reminiscent of riding a Honda motorcycle, rather than a 1954 Chevrolet with a dirty windshield and springs poking through the seats. Fortunately, her pilot boyfriend was able to talk her out of it. It seems the Katana is just too darn easy to fly, and she should start with an old, beat-up Cessna 152, just like everybody else. The strategy worked: She took two lessons and quit.
Thats why General Aviation is dying.
P. S., we never made it to Catalina. The beat-up old transponder in the aircraft that allows the air traffic controllers to see our altitude on their radar scopes failed coming out of Santa Barbara, and we were banned from the LA airspace. The CD player worked fine, though.
I wonder, in reading the comments about long web pages, whether you have any view as to smart mice (such as the Microsoft mouse) that include an embedded roller to allow scrolling in enabled applications.
I am a die hard Mac fan recently forced into the Windows world and the ONLY solace I have found is this, I think rather elegant, bit of hardware.
And Fredrik wrote:
In a recent AskTog, you wrote:
I hope a few of the good folks making bad trackballs might be listening. Instead of spending an inordinate amount of money trying to con people into buying what are provably inferior products, why not cast a little toward making aftermarket mice that stay clean?
Rolling wheels and knobs are excellent ways for humans to communicate with machines, as the shuttle dials on video editing equipment attest. We built such a mouse at Apple around 10 years ago as part of what became the Taligent project, and it was very effective.
Adding almost any additional pointing controls to the traditional set of one offered by the mouse is almost bound to be a winner. It is nice to have two words in your vocabulary, instead of one.
I haven't played with the new Microsoft mouse myself, but I sure will just as soon as they release the Macintosh version.
AdsCan't live with them; can't get rid of them.
On the web, many services are offered for free to users and are supported by ads. Ads, of course, have the sole purpose of trying to attract your attention away from whatever youre trying to do. From a design standpoint, this is horrible. From a users standpoint, its a nightmare! Some sites have started breaking up their news stories with unrelated information smack in the middle of articles. Whats a user to do, besides turn off images or use ad blocking software that rarely works?
The reason you are seeing ads breaking content in the middle is that people have learned to not see banner ads anymore. It isn't that they don't read them, they literally don't see them. Their eyes begin scanning at a point just below the ad.
Americans are now being hit with in excess of 3000 advertising impressions per day, and the number keeps growing. Ironically, a small but growing percentage of these are being worn by common folk who are receiving no compensation for acting has human billboards.
My own experience with the AskTog site has proven that if you don't get in people's faces with ads, they won't respond to them. Since I don't really depend on the income (loss, actually) from this site, I don't feel the pressure to place ads all over the place. Instead, I depend on my loyal readers to find just the one at the top of this very page that leads to the AskTog discount portal at Amazon. Open 24 hours a day.
Advertising is suffering from runaway inflation. TV shows are shrinking, radio has become one continuous commercial with an occasional program break. It is little wonder that webland is suffering a similar fate.
TV remote controls did nothing to stop the proliferation of ads, but they certainly cleaned up the quality, moving us from "You have Bad Breath! Baaaaaaad Breath!" to today's minifilms where you are sometimes hard-pressed to figure out the name of the sponsor.
The equivalent in webland are programs like Webfree (for the Mac) that block the ads before they ever arive. The advertisers are striking back, with clever workarounds, but if we keep up the pressure, they will learn, as the TV folks did, that the way to our hearts is not blocking our reading, but offering us exciting, entertaining, and useful ads that don't get in our way, but that will make us seek them out. Today's web ads are falling far short of the mark.
As for the total impact of advertising on our lives, I don't know the way out. This current inflation seems impossible to stem, even though it does nothing to increase our discretionary income, which means that one-tenth the advertising would have the exact same effect. Its as though everyone just keeps screaming louder and louder, trying to be heard above the spiraling din.
The only cure I've found so far is Egypt. After spending a few weeks there, I flew to Athens. I suddenly found Western advertising, both in terms of quantity and content, to be shocking. In Egypt you see but a few ads, and none of them are Gen-Xinsulting, profane, and in your face. Almost makes you yearn for Pleasantville.
Browsers=NirvanaA difference of opinion
I keep observing that empirically, people would in general rather access information and applications through a browser than through a custom client. Perhaps consistency is a higher virtue in GUI design than all the others put together? Browsers at least offer a consistent interface to everything.
Another hypothesis that explains the facts is that the combination of forward, back, click-on-self-describing-hyperlink, and fill-out-simple- form happens to be a strong maximum on the payback-vs.-complexity curve.
I was at a conference a few years back and a speaker from the then Tandem was talking about their travails with a document management system. She said how wonderful it was when all the vendors went to browser-based interfaces, because the primitive options available in the browser forced them to impose radical simplification on their user interfaces.
Another take: the single most damaging influence on user interfaces is the necessity to impress strolling executives in the trade-show context, by showing off lots of features in the minimal time.
A lot of "custom clients" really suck really, really bad, so your observation is not surprising. And the severe limitations of the browser have indeed, to this point, kept the more bizarre would-be designers in check. However, I would suggest to you that many of the people making these technology decisions have no intentions of ever using the product themselves and are being driven as strongly by fashion as by careful analysis. I have never faced so difficult a task in my life as getting normal human beings through the 10 page form necessary to apply for benefits in the workplace.
Browsers still today lack even the most rudimentary tools available to the custom-client developer, tools as simple as pull-down menus that have something to do with the application, instead of the browser.
With Microsoft's success in virtually eliminating the competition, we now have one browser, Internet Explorer, and that browser is getting better (as long as you are using Windows, not Mac, of course). If the IE designers once turn their attention to the needs of complex application developers, we may well get the tools and capabilities we need to write real software.
I understand the point that the woman from Tandem was making, and I might even agree with her if I had not faced the horrors of the all but insurmountable obstacles placed in my way the last four years by this crude interface technology.
And if the interface werent bad enough, the underlying technology is even worse. My wife and I spent more than two and a half hours this weekend selecting movies on the DVD Express website. Not only is the express in their name a paradox, since it is one of the slowest sites Ive ever come across but, when we finally hit the buy button at the end of this odyssey, the system reported back an untranslatable system message and threw away our 2.5 hours work. Now were out a fine collection of DVDs and DVD Express is not only out $327.30, they are permanently out a customer.
There is a difference between crude and simple.
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