Interface design requires finding the right balance between two often conflicting objectives. An interface is intuitive if it is easy for a new user to understand. This typically requires hiding advanced features and options which they are not likely to need. On the other hand, a program's usability typically depends on having those features and options right at one's fingertips. The more the advanced user has to go digging to find those options, the more difficult the program is for him or her to use. It is relatively easy to create an intuitive interface by hiding all but the most basic features, but the result is a program that is clumsy to use for anything beyond the basics.
I like to illustrate this difference by using the analogy of a paint-by-numbers kit and an artist's studio. The paint-by-numbers kit is intuitive. It has a few options and a clear step-by-step procedure to follow. However, for anyone beyond a rank beginner, the paint-by-numbers approach is terribly confining. The artist's studio, on the other hand, is stocked with a wide array of materials and tools, typically arranged so the artist can use them whenever his creative impulse demands. The novice sees those things and has no idea when or how to use them, but the master needs them all within easy reach.
Accordance has always been a bit like the studio of a professional artist who teaches less experienced students. In order not to overwhelm his students, he must simplify his studio to make it less confusing and intimidating. Yet in order to be able to work efficiently when he is creating his own masterpieces, he can't hide the things he needs in a closet across the room; he must keep them in a cabinet which is easily within reach. They must be hidden, yet easy to find and easily within reach.
Like that artist's studio, Accordance has always sought to keep advanced features hidden, yet close at hand. When we've had to choose between the needs of the master and those of the novice, we have tended to err on the side of the master. This has made Accordance as smooth as silk for power-users, but with a moderately steep learning curve for new users. In Accordance 10, we strove to simplify the interface for new users without unduly complicating it for experienced ones. That has meant hiding a few features and options, yet in such a way that they remain easily discoverable to new users, and easily accessible to power-users.
Here's just one example. In Accordance 9, when the Words button was selected, you had access to several important search options, such as the ability to set the range to be searched and the field in which multiple items had to appear.
The natural language prompts made them relatively easy to understand, but they took up screen real estate and gave the new user two more options to learn right away.
Those options have now been hidden, but can easily be accessed through the familiar plus button to the right of the search entry box. Click the plus button once, and you'll be given the most used option: that of setting the range. If that's not the option you want, you can easily switch to a different one. You can also click the plus button again to add a second or third option. Obviously, this means an extra click or two on those occasions when you need those options, but it greatly simplifies the interface when you don't. They're hidden, yet easy to find and easily within reach.
In the next few posts, I'll show you some other places where we hid features and options to simplify the interface, while still keeping them easy to find and easily within reach.
Accordance has always been extremely customizable, but Accordance 10 offers new ways to adjust its look and functionality to your own personal tastes. Here are a few of the new options you should be aware of.
Customize your Toolbar: The new toolbar now places a number of features and resources at your fingertips, but you can customize it by control- or right-clicking it.
The contextual menu which appears lets you choose how you want the toolbar items displayed. I prefer to use the small icon size and to display both icons and text labels. Users with small screens may want to choose the Text Only option to save on vertical space.
To customize which items are included in the Toolbar, select Customize Toolbar… from the contextual menu.
You can then drag additional items from the menu onto the toolbar, or drag items you'll never use off the Toolbar to remove them. In addition to the default set of items, I've added the Atlas, Timeline, and Search Selection items. The last of these replicates the functionality of the Search button on the old Resource palette: namely, it searches the current text or tool for any word you select.
Change the Zone color and look: Open the Preferences dialog and select Appearance from the list of settings.
You'll see a couple of options related to the appearance of zones. First, you have the option to Hide tab area if only a single tab. Check this, and whenever you only have a single tab in a zone, you will just see a thin zone title area rather than a full-blown tab.
Tabs won't appear until you open a second tab, saving vertical space in single-tab zones.
You can also customize the Active Zone Color. I prefer Dark Blue, but Molly Ringwald might prefer something like this:
You can choose from a variety of pre-selected colors, or even create a custom color.
Library Panel or Popover? Also in the Appearance settings is an option to display the Library as a popover rather than as a panel. Where opening the Library as a panel moves the other content in a Workspace to the right…
opening it as a Popover leaves everything in place and simply places the Library on top of it:
If you want to leave your Library open all the time, you'll want to open it as a panel, but if you like to leave it closed and only open it when you need it, you may find you prefer the popover interface. Whatever you select as your default, you can always choose the opposite simply by holding the Shift key down when you click the Library icon in the Toolbar.
So which of these options do you prefer? What items do you have in your toolbar? Do you always want tabs or do you like saving space when there is only one tab in a zone? Which zone color do you like best? Do you prefer the Library as a panel or popover? Do you ever switch between the two? Let us know how you've tailored Accordance 10 to your own tastes in the comments on this post.