I was looking at Blogdex when I came across Jakob Nielsen’s latest Alertbox article: R.I.P. WYSIWYG – Results-Oriented UI Coming. In the article, Jakob Nielsen asserts that WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interfaces are now dead, and that the future of user interfacing lies inside the next version of Microsoft Office, where pointing and clicking to modify pre-built templates is the real way to go. Excuse me Jakob, but you’re so full of shit it’s coming out your ears.
His Paid Viewpoint
I was a bit hesitant to write this post for fear that the Nielsen fanboys would come lynch me, but then I realized that modern user interface design theory and practice is no longer derived from what Jakob says, and that he has no fanboys by his side, so then I relaxed a bit and carried on.
Jakob waxes ergonomically about how WYSIWYG interfaces lead to clutter and user confusion, but I postulate that feature-itis and poor design lead to confusion and not the manner in which the interface is displayed. A poor craftsmen blames his tools, and Jakob is saying that complicated software is unusable because of the underlying interface paradigms instead of addressing the real problem. A quote, if you will:
Unfortunately, we’ve now reached the limits of the current GUI paradigm. Displaying commands in menus, toolbars, and dialog boxes works with a limited number of elements. But Microsoft Word 2003 has 1,500 commands, and users typically have no clue where to find most of them.
— Jakob Nielsen
Hmm, maybe it’s the 1,500 commands that are confusing users and not WYSIWYG! The jist of the article is that instead of creating content first and then making it look how you want, you should start with the aesthetics first, and then mold the look until it fits what you want, and then create the content. Supposedly the next version of Office has no toolbars or commands, but works on the basic results-oriented principles Jakob is talking about.
I had the distinct feeling this sounded like a pitch for the next version of Office, so I did some digging.
Peter Merholtz, a real interface guru, has this to say about Jakob’s new viewpoint:
The problem is, there are infinite desired results… How will Office be able to accommodate them? And, given their past UIs, why should I not simply fear that their attempts at making it “easier” will only confound and frustrate me?
The last thing I find puzzling about RIP WYSIWYG is that, well, WYSIWYG remains pretty well intact in the new Office interface. I try to make the thing on the screen look exactly how I want it, so that I can then print it. There’s no great paradigm shift.
Exactly. No paradigm shift. Jakob is simply spouting off. Hell, maybe Jakob is even in Microsoft’s pocket and was paid to write this to hype the new interface. Hmm, well it looks here that Nielsen and a Microsoft guy are talking about results-oriented interfaces at UX2005 with a highlight placed on Office 12. Looks like money rules Jakob’s opinions after all.