Digg links to this year's Vincent Flanders Awards for the worst-designed web pages, and there's no contest for my personal favorite - the Association of International Glaucoma Societies. It's hard to know where to start: the fact that the page takes nearly twenty seconds to load even with my 6MB broadband connection, the Pythonesque heads that pop up from above the menu bar, the spinning globe reminiscent of some Austin Powers evil mega-corporation, the animated Flash medical image that's over 4.5MB in size (might hit 50K at the outside as an animated GIF), and of course the operatic Glaucoma Hymn ("Glaucoma! Glaucoma!"). What's not to like? I'm almost ready to join the society right now just to save it from bankruptcy due to bandwidth charges when Digg and Slashdot have finished their maulings.
Still, they look like they have a good time at their meetings...
My only serious point in a vague attempt to make this posting somehow relevant to the general subject matter of this blog is that user experience matters. The introduction of WPF brings great power to allow you to build almost any kind of user interface, but with that power comes responsibility.
One of the greatest benefits of Windows in the early days was the harmonization it brought to different applications. I used to have all the WordStar command keystrokes memorized, but switching to another word processor or application meant starting from scratch. Every application had their own shortcuts and keys to bring up menus or command structures, and there was no consistency between them. The ability to take many of the basic memes in Word and apply them to Excel was a great step forward. Since WPF makes it easy to restyle and replace the visual template for any Windows control, the importance of good design and careful thought about usability applies even more than ever. There's plenty of scope for innovation, but great care needs to be taken to ensure that it doesn't come at the cost of ease of use or accessibility.
I'm sad to say that I expect to see some applications that go to far and become the "Glaucoma! Glaucoma!" of the Windows world - slow to load, hard to navigate, and full of unnecessary frippery that distracts from the purpose of the application itself. On the other hand, I look forward to seeing applications that apply these technologies wisely to allow far better navigation and visualization of data. I had the privilege to meet with Mary Czerwinski of the VIBE research team last week to see some of the amazing work they're doing in this area, and I'll share more about that in another post.