I have a suggestion for a design rule which I have not found among yours. It has to do with programs which compete for the users attention. Countless times have I been interrupted when writing (or clicking, or ...) by a program that springs to the front and gets focus just to tell me that it has started or that it is finished with a task. Sure, sometimes I would like to be noticed but not by losing focus on my current work. The time to get going again is usually not very long but in most cases totally unnecessary.
The rule could be named "know your place" or "don't interrupt the user". The problem is related to what you've written about doing things in the background when possible but I think it worth a rule of it's own.
Any suggestions of how to follow my rule in the best way? Maybe to tell me when I've stopped typing and stopped moving the mouse?
And please don't tell me that I should use another OS because most of us haven't got that option. ;-)
Best regards, Par
--- Par Olsson, Icon Medialab
You didn't tell me what OS you are using, but since you said you don't have the option to change, we will assume it's Windows. However, it really doesn't matter what OS it is, as long as it really is an OS, rather than, say, pure HTML. You have the power to do the right thing.
And the right thing, folks, as Par pointed out, is to know our place.
Errors, status updates, and all manner of messaging can be a lot more subtle than most of us have been making them. Consider these principles in making your design decisions:
Those of you who have seen the Starfire film have probably noticed a dialog box that pops up in front of Julie that says, "Verbal command not recognized." Within a couple of seconds, it disappears. How does it know to do that? The system watches her eyes, and when it sees she has read the message, it removes the message.
We are still a ways away from that (even though all the necessary technology is here). In the meantime, think of your messages as coming from a valued assistant. Make them polite, make them useful and responsive, and scale them to the level of interruption necessary.
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