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Jumpy, nervous, jittery user interfaces reduce "user trust"

What's with the trend of making user interfaces that hide until you mouse over them and then they spring out at you?

How did every darn company hop on this trend at the same time? Is there a name for this school of design? Was there a trendy book that I missed? Is there some UI blog encouraging this?

For example look at the new Gmail editor. To find half the functions you need to be smart enough or lucky enough to move the mouse over the right part of the editor for those functions to appear. Microsoft, Facebook, and all the big names are just as guilty.

I get it. The old way was to show everything but "grey out" the parts that weren't appropriate at the time. People are baffled by seeing all the options, even if they can't use them. I get it. I really do. Only show what people can actually use should be, in theory, a lot better.

However we've gone too far in the other direction. I recently tried to help someone use a particular web-based system and he literally couldn't find the button I was talking about because we had our mouses hovering over different part of the screens and were seeing different user interface elements.

Most importantly the new user interfaces are "jumpy". When you move the mouse across the screen (say, to click on the top menu bar) the windows you pass over all jump and flip and pop out at you. It is unnerving. As someone that already has a nervous and jittery personality, I don't need my UI to compete with me for being more jumpy, nervous and jittery.

I'm not against innovation. I like the fact that these designs give the user more "document space" by moving clutter out of the way. I understand that too many choices is stifling to people. I read The Paradox of Choice before most people. I swear... I get it!

But shouldn't there be a "reveal all" button that shows all the buttons or changes the color of all the "hover areas" so that if, like me, you didn't think of moving the mouse to the-left-side-of-the-screen-but-not-the-top-one-inch-because-for-some-reason-that-isn't-part-of-the-hover-space-oh-my-god-that-prevented-me-from-finding-an-option-for-two-months.

Why can't there be a way to achieve these goals without making a user interface that is jumpy and jittery?

User interfaces should exude confidence. They should be so responsive that they snap. Applications that are jumpy and jittery look nervous, uncomfortable, and unsure.

I can't trust my data to a UI that looks that way.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Rants

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7 Comments | Leave a comment

I get the impression it's less to do with 'hiding stuff that isn't available', more 'hiding stuff for a cleaner interface until it's wanted.'

This certainly appears to be what Gmail's interface is about - hiding stuff until you want to (try to) use it.

And I agree; it sucks: Want to highlight disparate sections of your email (which I do fairly regularly for script and/or code related stuff)?

"Click 3 times after you've highlighted a section. Every time."

I'd much rather have that color picker visible all the time (and certainly after the first time I've used it,) or at least available within one click.

I remember Vincent Flanders writing about this exact topic in the late '90s on I guess the blink tag will be coming back next?

Also, can we please go back to menu bars? The three bars indicating one single drop-down menu is fine for small screens such as phone, but it's very annoying to have to click multiple times to get a simple menu, or worse, to no longer have the menu accessible at all.

I blame it on all the super-young programmers who don't have any UX experience before they become millionaires. Get off my lawn!

I agree with this rant - it's like playing a point-and-click RPG from the nineties!

I've long been frustrated with GUI-heavy interfaces. You can't search icons. You can't look up the picture of the floppy disk in a dictionary to see what it means. You can look up the word "save" in a dictionary (I'm thinking non-English speakers here) and get a decent idea how that's different from 'close'. I get mad at interfaces that have no keyboard equivalents for common things.

An ancient piece of software, called FrameMaker, got this right. Every menu item had a keyboard equivalent. So a menu item like Tools → Sort → Alphabetically could be reached by typing Esc, t, o, a. Once you knew where functions were, you could invoke them easily. If you didn't know, you could always explore. Words convey more meaning more directly to more people than pictures do.

Oh, FrameMaker, is there anything you didn't get right?

I miss FrameMaker. It is a shame they priced themselves out of existence.

I think this is starting to disappear thanks to the prevalence of touchscreen interfaces where there is no visible pointer to hover over anything.

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