On Me

I call myself a programmer, mainly because I often find myself writing software and enjoying it.
I also attended university to study software engineering, but I needn’t have done so in order to call myself a programmer.

With that out of the way, anyone reading this will know all they need to know about whether to trust my opinion on which terms are common knowledge and which are known only to programmers and computer scientists.
The answer of course is not to trust my opinion on that matter at all.

On the other hand, having been actively involved in programming, software development and other nerdy pursuits for many many years, I’ve seen lots and lots of User Interfaces.
I’ve seen UIs that start out looking crappy and hard to work with and never get any better.
I’ve seen UIs that immediately look useable but soon show themselves to be limited, finicky and annoying.
The block, I has been round it.

On Blender’s Interface

So it is with all of the above stated plainly that I declare that I do indeed, for the most part, love Blender’s UI (post 2.49).
Take from that what you will. A programmer overlooking flaws in a UI for very geeky reasons is certainly nothing new, but I also have other reasons that I don’t think are so geeky and are actually mostly based on usability. I shan’t go into them unless pressed but if you’re interested, they align neatly with those expressed by Sebastian König in this video: https://plus.google.com/110725366823695093673/posts/QhypqEYnZh6

On Andrew Price’s Podcast

I appreciate the frankness with which Andrew Price (http://www.blenderguru.com/) is approaching his issues with the UI in his podcast, I really really do. Believe me when I say that the frankness, is thoroughly appreciated.
What I don’t appreciate however, is the apparent lack of research into the problems that he finds, that leads him to conclusions that I would say are flawed, such as “I don’t know this word therefore it must be the wrong word or some archaic and obscure word that nobody’s heard before”.
So if I’m being honest, I’d take the criticism of the UI more seriously if the people doing the criticising would just hop over that first hurdle, look it up, understand it, decide *at that point* whether it’s the UI that’s wrong, or the user in that case, then take a more humble approach if required. It’s not surprising, given how I started the very first paragraph of this post that I absolutely don’t subscribe to the theory that the user is always right. It’s simply not true. Sometimes the user is wrong, and listening to them is fine, but acting upon their requests would also be wrong.

On Naming Things, Propaganda and Other Stuff

Now, indulge me for a moment while I enumerate the list of things that I *would* like to mention with respect to user interfaces, the idea of uniformity across packages and a few other things.

1. In my opinion, just because best selling package A does a UI element one way, doesn’t mean that’s the best way to do it and anyone who says that it does is peddling propaganda and should stop it right now.
“Best” is also a totally subjective term. It depends what you’re after. Which leads me on to…

2. Being the kind of guy that I am, I want the UI to be optimal with respect to speed, while retaining any elegance possible after that optimisation. Furthermore, and this is probably my nerdyness showing through, I hate using the mouse when it technically isn’t necessary. Compared to the keyboard I find it to be slow, inaccurate and basically overkill when I’ve got hundreds of key combinations at my fingertips that don’t require me to navigate to a point on the screen with an analog (roughly, you know what I mean) pointing device. Give me keyboard shortcuts. They’re fast, and work well for a lot of tasks.

3. If you have difficulty remembering what something does, the name should tell you, *but* and this is a big *but*, it should be the proper name. It should be a word that even if you don’t know exactly what it means at the time, that should you look it up in a dictionary, it would be so accurate and so close to the actual function that the button enables that there’s no ambiguity at that point as to what that button achieves.
If you take this standpoint and run with it, then yes your users may have to look something up once in a while, but probably only once, then they’ll know a new word, one they should probably already have known anyhow, they’ll know *precisely* what it means in that context, they’ll remember what it means I suspect, and they’ll perhaps appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the field in which they’re working by using your software.

4. If your software is built for working in a technically dense field i.e. there’s a depth to the knowledge required to fully understand the field that you wouldn’t expect a novice to intuitively grasp, don’t try to dumb it down too much unless you are *absolutely sure* that you won’t cut off access to advanced options and features.
It’s not a good enough argument to say that you shouldn’t, for instance, label a slider “normal” and place it within the “velocity” pane of the “particle” settings because a user wouldn’t immediately guess that that slider controls the “velocity” of a “particle” along the “normal” axis. That’s not good enough in my opinion, because the user WILL WANT TO KNOW THIS if they plan on using the feature. In this example, if the slider in question was simply called “velocity” or worse yet “speed”, how on earth would you define in which direction you expect the particle to travel?

5. As a user, have some respect for the options that have been given to you. The default settings may not be optimal for you. It’s highly unlikely that *any* set of default options would be optimal for everyone.
You are given choices however.
Choose.
Look at the options.
Change them, try them out, save them if you like them.
If you don’t learn how to customise a piece of software in a very basic way like this, then you will be forever at the mercy of the software that you choose to use, and the way it presents itself by default.

6. Keep an open mind. If it takes a long time to get used to something, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth getting used to. I’ve often thought that cars would be easier to control with a joystick and buttons, rather than a wheel and pedals, but if I ever do learn to drive, I won’t say the wheel and pedals are dumb because I don’t know how to use them right away. It takes time to learn things, but if they’re worth learning, you’ll be glad you spent the time.

In summary

I’m a fan of the Blender UI. I find that it allows me to work really, really quickly on most tasks and doesn’t often slow me down on anything that I can personally think of a better way of doing off the top of my head. I’ll accept that it’s tough to get into, but you know what? CG is a pretty technically complex topic.
I didn’t expect it to be super easy to do straight off the bat with no prior knowledge at all.

*Goes off to mumble grumpily about this sort of thing*

Dave

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