I wrote this random web page for my Human Computer Interaction class, and thought it’d be fun to post.

Introduction

In the modern computer paradigm, there is a focus on developing user interfaces that do very standard and expected things. Most consumer (and for that matter research as well) operating systems are based upon WIMPS — Windows Icons Menus and Pointing. This model was popularized by the Apple Macintosh and has stayed popular ever since, regardless of its applicability and effectiveness in computing. This style of interface does not handle things such as notification or information display well.

Good user interfaces traditionally have included clear and simple usability functions that scale eaisly from novice to advanced users. They offer very task oriented functionality where other features do not occluded the user’s end goal. Many times, simpler interfaces are often the more powerful ones because they allow the user to complete their task and then be on their way. This is their elegance and by some measure their power. With simplistic and clear design the interface is able to easily accommodate any user, thus offering a spectrum of applicability.

SpiraClock

One such interface is SpiraClock, a calendaring display application that is not based upon general WIMPS. It offers a small widget that sits on the top right side of the display, showing a sea shell underneath a traditional hour and minute hand clock. The authors of SpiraClock very accurately describe it as a “continuous and non-intrusive for upcoming events.” SpiraClock is powerful because it leverages what we already know: how to read a dial clock. By overlaying the upcoming events on the clock the user is able to quickly see what events are coming up and how long they will last.

The first image shows SpiraClock in its idle state, with no events coming up. The time is 9:30 and the spiral behind it show no events (shown in blue). To advance forward in time to view upcoming events, the user grabs the minute hand and then rotates it as if was a real clock towards a forward moment. The second image shows 2:00, and the blue spiral is an event that is going to last one hour and twenty minutes. Upon hovering over the event, a tool tip comes up displaying a short description of the event.

This interface is incredibly powerful in my daily life because unlike other calendaring applications it does not create pop-up windows that alert me. The alerts are subtle yet salient, since as the minute hand goes over the current appointment, the blue spiral is at the same location. The interface further adds to its power by allowing the user to hover over the item, giving more detailed information. When the event is passing the blue fades out (not pictured) showing that the event is ending, which is an understated way to show the event is over.

Discussion

Powerful and useful interfaces often are simple and understated. They derive their usefulness from how easy it is for a user to understand the interface based upon principles they may have already known in the physical world. SpiraClock is an excellent example of a mapping a physical minute and hour clock with calendaring data. It further enhances by utilizing many of the good interfaces practices mentioned earlier by being simple, being subtle and being grounded in reality. Even more so, I personally enjoy it because it does not rely on traditional WIMPs principals making it unique among scheduling software.

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