via Beverly Tang
There are a few people who remember when I came up with the name of this site. My then four-year-old son was very into dinosaurs and I became an armchair paleontologist. I was amazed that the number of dinosaurs which can now be named by the average pre-schooler far surpasses the species that can be identified by the average adult.
I was intrigued by the stories and mishaps generated by arcane scientific logistics. The famed brontosaurus turns out to be an imaginary creature. It was actually an apatasaurus with the head of a camarasaurus. The ultrasaurus, thought to be the largest dinosaur, might not really be very large. It’s all history and personality. It struck me as very similar to the definition of Internet protocols. So this dinosaur that I learned about through the inquisitive nature of a small boy became my website’s namesake. (more about the ultrasaurus)
Meanwhile, two years pass… the fascination with dinosaurs is replaced by Transformers and Yu-Gi-Oh. We pass the time in grocery store lines and car trips with made up games. Spelling is new. Word games are fun. In our new game, Mom says a letter and you have to come up with a word that starts with that letter. This summer we got sophisticated — categories: food, then animals. A is for Ant. B is for Bat. We got all the way to N without a hitch. Dad had to chime in with Nightingale. We got stuck again at U. I was stumped for hours. I established that we could consider extinct animals. Finally I realized the obvious: ultrasaurus. I was so psyched. I thought he would laugh so hard that we both had forgotten this obvious choice. However, he didn’t believe it was a real dinosaur.
Reality check. Two years for me is a few release cycles, a whirlwind of planting seasons, rainy weather, and long summer days. Two years for him is one third of a lifetime.
I believe any engineer can create good UI. With basic communication skills, anyone can come up with reasonable words to describe user actions. Desktop applications provide numerous example patterns for the use of common UI elements such as radio buttons, checkboxes, toolbars, and palettes.
Anyone can informally watch a new person use the software. There are plenty of candidates: your non-geek friends and loved ones, a product manager or marketing folks. Bad UI is a bug.
Great UI is something else entirely. Great UI requires inspiration. For graphical user interfaces, it requires someone who can do visual problem solving, someone who understands that the design needs to change depending on whether there are 2, 3, 4 or N elements. Visual problem solving requires an understanding of how shading, color, shape and placement affect our perception. Its amazing how a few pixels can dramatically alter the effectiveness of a UI element. It’s important to know all of the cookie cutter solutions offered by standard UI toolkits and why they work, when to use them and when not to.
This person is not simply a designer, nor is he or she often a “usability” expert, as our industry commonly defines the role. Usability testing confirms or refines a great UI, but I’ve never seen it generate one. True usability experts can not only find flaws in a bad UI, but can create great user experiences.