Inductive UIs vs Productive UIs

9/28/2003 3:16:30 PM

Inductive UIs vs Productive UIs

I recently briefly mentioned in a prior post a trend now that is sweeping Microsoft.

Microsoft has a brief, disappointing introductory article on Inductive UIs. The author, who is a UI architect at Microsoft, explains the concept further at this link. Joel has some commentary on the article. Stephane had an angry reaction to Inductive UI, contrasting it to Productive UI.

The concept of Inductive UI has progressed quite a bit from the article. Inductive UI is a similar to, but very different from another task-based UI, wizards. I am NOT an expert on inductive user interfaces, having encountered the concept very briefly, but these were my initial conclusions.

An inductive UI is more like a user interface that you would find on a web, such when you search for a book at Amazon and then go through and purchase it through a shopping cart. In fact, some refer to inductive UI as "web UI." An inductive UI proceeds as a human agent would; if the computer was a human being, and you wanted that human being to perform something, how would that dialog proceed?

Its a formalization of a concept that combines the best of navigation on the web and the desktop, using lessons from wizards and other interface concepts. Unlike wizards, Inductive UI doesn't preclude the use of traditional controls like menus and so on. Also, unlike wizards, the Inductive UI is non-linear. You may not have the step 3 of 4 bit, and you can go to another step like a function to get any needed information, and come back to the same original step with the state changed. Inductive UI is not necessarily unfriendly to experts; the articles include the notion of links to "secondary tasks."

(I must defend wizards as being "productive" ui, as they speed users through a complex task and often don't require wading through documentation. Microsoft introduced the concept of wizards with the "mail merge" wizard and other features in an early version of Word, as a result of disasterous usability testing indicating users were unable to use the mail merge feature and ex(t/p)ensive product support calls from frustrated users. Wizards soon proliferated everywhere from praise from both users and reviewers. The problem with Wizards are that they are modal and that designers often drop advanced options that experts need to simplify the interface.)

I think that one possible and effective example of inductive UI is the user interface for TurboTax. Money is given as another example in the Microsoft article. You see some crude forms of IUI in various places in Windows XP such as the category view in the control panel (which I admittedly always turn off) and the search pane. Some of the shots of Aero interface at WinSupersite could be interpreted as inductive UI. The control panels look like a website inside an application, complete with a back button and a breadcrumb bar for navigation. I have never heard of the codename Aero before and have never seen these alleged Aero shots before, so I can't vouch for their authenticity; they may even have been debunked.

I expect to hear some discussion of Inductive UI at PDC, especially, based on the abstract below, from Chris Anderson session CLI304 on

"Avalon": Creating Windows "Longhorn" User Experiences (Part 2): New User Interface Possibilities in Longhorn
From top to bottom, the Windows "Longhorn" platform is designed to make it easy to create applications that offer your customers a great user experience. To this end, the platform includes support for new styles of application user interface and new user interface elements. See how easy it is to build Windows client applications that use Web-style navigation to let users explore rich information spaces, or to guide users through tasks. Learn about the new methods for delivering information and assistance to users, from new dialog styles to the new Windows sidebar.

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Net Undocumented is a blog about the internals of .NET including Xamarin implementations. Other topics include managed and web languages (C#, C++, Javascript), computer science theory, software engineering and software entrepreneurship.

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