The Six Laws of UI Design And My Digital Roast Skype Meal

There was a time when software just WORKED.

A time when the user interface was not being messed with because it was simply a universal agreement. “File”, “Settings”, “Options” or other norms were the rule and it was absolutely intuitive to find where things were.

It is hard to pin where the trouble started, but I think the Windows 8 development team brought in a group of severely brain damaged viewpoints that decided that messing up a perfectly good interface was a good idea. And we all remember how well that worked.

The user community screamed loudly. And the outcries and howls of disdain that resulted forced Microsoft to do an about-face and return the Start key to it’s rightful place. Microsoft seemed to react with some degree of indignation on their part at those ungrateful end-users who just didn’t see how innovative it was to confuse users with a scheme designed by some obscure professor in academia whose students sat enraptured as he espoused the wonders of confusing menus, double-meanings in language and reversing the universal meanings of simplicity and complexity to thoroughly confuse an audience who had just wanted to use their application.

It’s hard to say what the Management at Microsoft was thinking, but I’d guess some heads rolled when the fire and fury hit home and the rush to fix things with a hop-skip and a tuck and roll past Windows 9 straight on to Windows 10 brought back some measure of normality to the end user experience.

But that left a problem in place. It is ONLY my opinion, supposition and best-guess, but I’m betting that with the people still on the payroll who created  the UI for Windows 8, the powers that be had to find a place for these poor confused souls to work… So… I’m just guessing they shipped them over to the Skype division and turned them loose to do their worst. How else to explain the next set of events?

And, as of mid 2017, the predictable result was an app that was once perfectly functioning with a great UI that now became a mindless automaton with no settings screen on the mobile version and a confusing menu system across the entire application.  The screams of the Skype community were loud and very direct.

Users were presented with a confusing array of choices, a stripped down protection scheme from callers and spammers trying to get their attention and the same howls of indignation rang through the blogosphere. And once again, the tone-deaf students of the unnamed professor somewhere in Redmond decided that the only answer was to stay the course and ignore those angry ingrates who didn’t appreciate the genius of their wonderful new interpretation of the app.

Enter My Skype Experience – The Digital Prune Native Reacts

And this morning, I awoke to another spam/telemarketer caller who now had Microsoft’s blessing to harass me because the enraptured double-meaning UI programmers and designers at Redmond had partnered with the Nigerian generals to help me get my $20 million that I just needed to pay $5,000 to have deposited in my account.

By the second ring of the unfamiliar ringtone, my Digital Prune Native subroutines went into full operation at that moment and instantly I found myself in my loincloth, a buckskin shirt with one and zeros spelling out the Holy Words of “Sic Simplicitus Hireus Aged”.  I was in full battle dress and posture, awaiting the next sound or movement in my now invaded peace. My moccasins gleamed in the morning sunlight and the 720k floppy disks hanging from my earlobes combined nicely with my silver headdress of simulated hummingbird wings and real, yet fake, nickel coins as my eyes scanned furtively from side-to-side, looking for the enemy creatures that had caused this transformation. My digital spear at the ready, I crept to the phone and inspected my nemesis closely.

The Skype app blindly followed it’s orders, having been fully consumed by a Borg-Like intelligence and I scowled as a I realized the sheer horror of what I was witnessing.  I stowed my spear and sat on my digital camp chair to contemplate my next actions.

It’s main functions cut away and left headless with no setup menu, it was a mortally wounded beast, wandering about aimlessly, destroying the peace of all whom it encountered. “What to do” my Digital Prune Native self wondered. “Can’t I just spear it?” and then I decided to go into the Dream Time and listen to my Higher Self. And then the answer came to me…

I decided to appeal to the Founder himself. How else to react but to go to the Creator God at Microsoft and implore his Divine help?

I summoned up all of my courage and approached the Altar of Divine Helpdesks. “Ummm… Mr. Gates, I know you aren’t in the drivers seat anymore, but do you think you can pick up the phone and call your guys there in Redmond and fix this colossal mistake of an app design?”

My message thus launched, I let my digital bottle of a message float into the universe and hoped that the Great God Gates would hear my plea. But hope was not now… And I took action.

And so I deactivated Skype. End of problem. So I moved off to another messaging app in a huff and discovered yet another complexity issue, this time with Android’s settings…

When a volume control isn’t a volume control, but more…

Oh Dear GOD! Did Microsoft ship some of those same programmers and UI people to the poor folks at Google? NOOOOOO!!!!!

My digital spear reappeared and my eyes flashed in diamond like brilliance as my anger peaked. I was a native readying for war… The anger burst in my heart like a boiling cauldron. And I suddenly got control and went back to sit on the digital stump in my campground and attacked the problem…

This time is was the notifications system in Android.  All I wanted was to get my bloody notifications for the app I selected and the only thing that was happening was a buzz when a message would arrive. Where was my audio notification? It was not available! Just that annoying buzz that reminded me of my dentist just getting set to wind up his drill, like a race car driver revving the engine before a big race. The terror gripped my heart and I moved ahead despite it’s grasp on my soul.

I checked all the obvious menus and rebooted several times. And then I remembered the UI complexity teams now deployed and armed to the teeth with their double-meanings, lawyer-like grins and evil intentions. So I decided to think like them.

The problem had to be with there being MORE than one volume control option. And when I checked my simple volume control menu, I discovered ANOTHER hidden set of controls that showed “Ringtone”, “Media”, “Notifications” and “System” volume levels, hidden in the background.

Obviously, one of those students of the unknown and very evil Professor of Complexity had snuck in and decided to confuse a simple function with yet more complexity. And Android, as wonderful as it is, decided it was OK NOT to link to this menu from their notifications screen so folks like me had an easier time of finding little Easter eggs like this.

So… I discovered this menu had my “Notifications ” volume turned all the way down and I cursed the fool who had neglected to use common sense in their UI design for what should be a simple thing.

I decided it was time to bring sanity back to UI’s once and for all. I would go to war with the Professor of Complexity, whoever this decrepit, acid-hazed refugee from the 1960s was and bring sanity back to we, the end-users. I set out on a Walkabout to speak to the Gods of Sanity and UI design and I am glad to say they smiled on me and I had an inspired vision and hereby share my vision thereof!

I began to cry as I realized that the Great God Gates and his archangels had heard my plea and they graced me with the following great laws of the UI to share with the world! I was humbled and nervously transcribed the message word for word as the Great Gates spoke unto me:

The Six Great Laws of UI Design

  1. The Windows 95 UI was and remains the ultimate UI design and remains so, even twenty-plus years later. Depart from it’s wisdom and pure simplistic genius even slightly and the Gods of UI will deservedly send thunderbolts of blinding pain into your nether regions with repeated burst of high-intensity voltage and gamma-ray emissions.
  2. If a UI design is even the least bit confusing to users in design trials, it is a failure.
  3. If a UI design fails to link obvious features to lead users to obvious functional needs, it has failed.
  4. If the language of the app is not immediately apparent and obvious to the end-user, it has failed.
  5. If there is no settings screen to give users expected levels of control of the app, it has failed.
  6. Users will remember your UI blunders. If you chance to violate the laws preceding this law, then your only choice is to acknowledge your mistake and immediately reverse course to the five preceding laws. Tone Deaf Corporate Will Be Damned. Your app is your bread and butter and your users are ALWAYS right when they react en-mass and condemn you and your app to the fires of hell. Listen to them and prosper. Ignore them to your doom.

My countenance began to change and my Digital Prune Native Warrior self subsumed back to my bathrobe and mussed hair with my coffee cup in hand as I sat in awe of all that had transpired. Once again, my Digital Prune self had won the day and I was a man back in control of my phone and apps. I was reborn. But… I was now hungry and I felt the stirring in my soul rear itself once again…

I hope this little rant of mine rings through to the UI designers out there and makes a difference. If you want to contact me to discuss this, please do, but not right now, since I am dressed in my full native warrior garb as I roast my old Skype app over an open fire and wait to pick the meat off it’s bones for my next meal…

Men In Black got interfaces right. You can too!