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Don’t let your programmers design the user interface

I’m a programmer, among other things. Like many in this profession. I suck at designing UIs (though sometimes I believe I don’t). When you let programming-focused people like me build your user interface, you will get things like this:

Joseph Cooney calls this The Dialog:

A developer needed a screen for something, one or two text boxes and not much more, so they created “the dialog”, maybe just to “try something out” and always with the intention of removing it before the product ships. They discovered they needed a few more parameters, so a couple more controls were added in a fairly haphazard fassion. “The dialog” exposes “the feature”, something cool or quite useful. Admittedly “the feature” is more tailored towards power users, but it’s still pretty cool. The developer thinks of new parameters that would make “the feature” even more powerful and so adds them to the dialog. Maybe a few other developers or power users see “the dialog” and also like “the feature”. But why doesn’t it expose this parameter? New controls are added. Pretty soon the technical team are so used to seeing “the dialog” the way it is that they become blind to its strange appearance. Ship time approaches and the product goes through more thorough testing, and “the dialog” is discovered, but it is too late to be heavily re-worked. Instead it is given a cursory spruce-up.

Some people are naturally gifted at user interface design. They feel physically sick about adding a button that clutters the interface or messes up the user’s workflow. Make sure you have a gifted UI designer on your team (whether or not he or she doubles up as a different role — including programmer). It will make a world of difference when you get your first users — the difference between a lukewarm response and “Wow, it’s great! I love it!”

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