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What do artists think of aesthetics in existing interfaces?

Most artists don't think about user interfaces, unless they are involved in designing one. At least that's the impression I got from speaking with a team of commercial artists at Creative Marketing Directions, an advertising agency in San Diego, California.[3] When I asked them what they would improve about the user interfaces they interact with all day long, their first and unanimous reply was `bigger, non-glare monitors.' Many of the items at the top of their wish-list were hardware-related. Other top-priority items included ergonomic keyboards and increased color depth for some machines. These requests come from experienced artists who log long hours of image editing and perform graphic document layout on state-of-the-art[*] Macintosh equipment. Amit Shamis, an intern in accounting, wanted the firm's one IBM-DOS system to display a menu of available software at boot-up.

When our conversation focused on the actual graphical user interfaces, three points came through as areas of concern with these artists: Andrea Frankeiwicz, a Creative Services Manager for the agency, wants better documentation, which goes beyond the cursory `getting started' section to provide tips on advanced use of an GUI applications such as Quark Express or Photoshop, and covers how to make related programs work together. For example, creating one advertising brochure might link elements created in Freehand, Photoshop, Microsoft Word, and Quark. Additional software must be used to compress the resulting binary file and output it at a service bureau.

Paul Billimoria wants all of his related files from different applications automatically created in and saved to a `project folder.' This would save him the time and hassle of locating these documents manually. This idea drew raves from his coworkers. Finally, we discussed error messages, which we all agreed are hopelessly cryptic in DOS and are still not informative enough on Macintosh. I got the feeling that these smart users could take some steps to prevent their computers from locking up or crashing, if only the interface would give them some kind of feedback about why it was stopping. Ann Lewin, also in Creative Services, suggested that the computers be outfitted with the equivalent of an automobile's dashboard warning lights--something that can tell a user about a problem before it arrives by surprise

My visit to Creative Marketing Directions taught me that there is some minimum level of hardware and site quality that are more important to the user than the software interface. If one has to squint all afternoon because sun is streaming into the office and onto the monitor, that user is literally in no position to discuss the finer aesthetic impact of their software's interface. Physical comfort and compatibility must be achieved before an interface can be evaluated. I expected a group of working artists to have a number of `aesthetic peeves' about their mission-critical user interfaces... I was wrong. Instead I heard tales of frustration almost identical to those I hear among users in the GSLIS Lab. Maybe interface aesthetics are not on anybody's mind in such a conscious way.


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sean dreilinger

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