Application design

January 26, 2010

Google Chrome under Mac OS X Snow Leopard

Computers have become a tool we use every day for word processing, browsing the internet, games, and so much more. We use them so much that we probably don’t pay much attention to the way that applications are designed.

The common applications we use are typically pretty well-designed. They use icon and text buttons to allow us to perform different functions. The design of the buttons is very important, and must convey a clear meaning of the tasks they perform.

Let’s have a look at Google’s Chrome browser. I love this browser, aside from the fact that it doesn’t support ad blocking. It would be my main browser if it did, but it doesn’t, so I use Firefox most of the time. Google Chrome uses a pretty unique tab system to allow for multiple web pages to be open at the same time:

Here I have 4 tabs open. Each tab is a different webpage, with its title displayed on its respective tab. Hurray for Captain Obvious, right?

Chrome does it differently than Firefox and Safari. The tabs are kept in the titlebar. This is neither better nor worse than the way Safari does it:

Anyway, the idea behind this is to have everything you need in one area, for quick access. Firefox has a really simple yet effective way to change tabs without having to use the mouse. This can save a lot of time. Under Mac OS, you press command-# to switch tabs. So if I want to view tab 3, I press Command-3. Neat.

In my mind, a properly designed application should leave very little to the imagination. You should know exactly how to use it within 10 minutes of your first use. Microsoft Word is a very good example of proper application design that communicates various functions.

As you can see, they tried to put all the main functions together. It’s pretty cramped, so they used icons instead of text. You can see very easily what the various buttons do just by looking at their icons. Font size, alignment, spacing, and font properties can all be changed from this main toolbar.

The goal of software designers should be to make the applications as concise as possible, and to avoid confusion by using very clear icons that convey the meaning of the function that the individual buttons perform.

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