On User Interface

Last updated: 2011-12-15

I am passionate about user interface. After all, user interfaces (UI) are what link me to the human-made world. Looking at everyday objects or devices, I am sometimes happy to see well designed UI, and often disappointed by poorly thought out UI. This essay collects my observations from my interactions with different types of UI.

Bluetooth Headset On and Off Switch

Jabra Supreme Headset First, I believe this design originated from Motorola. I encounter this design first hand with my Jabra Supreme headset which I use with my iPhone. The mike boom is folded when not in use. Not only that will protect the boom and make the headset easier to store, it automatically switches the device off. Flipping the boom out automatically switches the device on.

Sunroof Dial Control

Audi Moonroof Jog Dial This is one of my favorite UI design. On Audi's, the sunroof control is a dial. How far you turn the dial from the close position sets the openning width of the sunroof. But since the dial is digital, or by-wired, you can turn and set the width quickly by turning the dial, and the actual sunroof will open to that width slowly via it's motor. You don't have to hold a "open" button down and wait for the sunroof to reach your desire openning width. This UI allows you to keep your hands on the steering wheel.

Time Adjustments

These days many devices have a clock on them. Microwaves, ovens, thermostats, clocks, VCR's are some examples. One class of device have a numeric keypad because the keypad is used for other purpose. For example, microwaves typically have a keypad to enter cooking time. VCR remotes may have a keypad if it is a combination remote that also control a TV. The keypad is used to access channels directly.

The other class of devices only have directional buttons -- either a pair of "up/down" buttons, a single "advance" button, or a jog dial. Up/Down buttons are the common UI. For example, my alarm clock, mini stereo system and thermostats all have a pair of up/down buttons. On some devices, holding down the direction button for a little time, and the time adjustment advances faster. This allow you to zoom quickly to close in on the target time, then single clicking the button will advance the clock until the desire time is reached. Devices that does not have two direction button, but a single advance button, make it very painful to go back if you shoot pass the target time.