Bridging Tradeoffs in User Interface Design: Examples from Text Editing, Wide-Area Navigation, and Graphical Editing

Speaker: Robert C. Miller , CSAIL, MIT

Date: Friday, September 24, 2004

Time: 1:30 PM to 2:30 PM

Refreshments: 3:15 PM

Public: Yes

Location: Patil Seminar Room (32-G449)

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Host: Jaime Teevan, CSAIL

Contact: Jaime Teevan, (617) 253-1611,

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Reminder Subject: TALK: Bridging Tradeoffs in User Interface Design: Examp


User interface design, like all design, is full of tradeoffs. This talk will examine tradeoffs in three different domains --- text editing, wide-area navigation, and graphical editing --- and present the hybrid approaches we have developed to bridge the tradeoffs and find a better sweet spot.

In text editing, the conventional find and replace interface presents the user with a dilemma: replace matches one at a time, or all at once? Although ostensibly a tradeoff between safety and speed, in fact both approaches lead to errors: the former because of boring repetition, and the latter because of imprecise patterns. We have developed a new approach, called clustering find and replace, that clusters the matches by similarity, so that large clusters of related matches can be replaced all at once, while individual outliers can be considered one at a time.

In wide-area navigation, current mapping software gives users two ways to name locations: street addresses or latitude/longitude coordinates. The tradeoff is between familiarity on one side, which makes street addresses easier to remember and communicate, and universal addressability on the other side, since latitude/longitude can address any point on the Earth's surface. I will discuss a hybrid technique that combines a coordinate system named for a familiar locality or landmark with a metric offset that provides universal addressability.

In graphical editing, a user who needs to draw a diagram has a choice: draw it on paper, or draw it in a structured graphics editor. Paper is flexible and modeless, but a structured digital representation looks better and is easier to change. One hybrid approach is online sketch recognition using a sketch tablet or Tablet PC. We have explored an offline approach, in which the user draws on paper first, and the paper sketch is then scanned, recognized, and converted into a digital representation.

Drawing on these diverse projects, particularly the user studies that evaluated them, we have learned some general lessons about dealing with user interface tradeoffs. For example, bridging a tradeoff is rarely a matter of tuning a knob, but more often requires replacing the entire control panel; and user habituation is a gravity well that is hard to climb out of.

This is joint work with Alisa Marshall, Vishy Venugopalan, and Matt Notowidigdo.


Rob Miller is an assistant professor of EECS at MIT, and a member of the MIT Computer Science and AI Lab. His research interests span human-computer interaction and user interfaces, particularly for software engineering, intelligent user interfaces, mobile computing, and security. He earned his Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University, where his thesis concerned intelligent interfaces and pattern languages for automated text editing, particularly of structured and semi-structured text. He received B.S. and M.Eng. degrees in computer science from MIT in 1995.

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Created by Linda L. Julien Email at Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at 6:21 AM.