User interfaces don't age like fine wine. If an application's user interface is not updated from time to time, it's going to start making the app look old and out-dated. Additionally, if the application has a lot of features, its developers are likely to have learned quite a bit over the years about how people use the app. It's important to continually advance the usability of an application, this improves the productivity of its users and, in the case of commercial software, keeps the app competitive.
In some cases, incremental improvements can be made to a user interface. But sometimes the entire user interface needs to be redesigned. If you could do it over again, would you create the same user interface you have today? Though it may be a lot of work up front, a much improved user interface should be seriously considered throughout an application's life. Real Studio has gone through several user interface changes since version 1 and we are working on another big one right now.
Let's take a look at how the Real Studio user interface has evolved. Real Studio was first released on July 4, 1998 as REALbasic. The original release of Real Studio back in 1998, looked like this:
When Mac OS X was released, we updated the user interface to have an appropriate, native look and feel:
|REALbasic 5.5 for Mac OS X|
And when we brought it to Windows, we took care to make sure the UI felt native:
|REALbasic 5.5 for Windows|
Over the years we began to recognize that there were areas where we could really improve the user interface. One of the downsides to the original interface was that a user could easily end up with a lot of windows open. At the time, browsers also suffered from this same problem and to solve it the idea of using tabs to separate documents rather than windows was adopted. We also recognized that users spend a lot of their time navigating their projects, so anything to make navigation easier would be helpful. Lastly, we decided we should be eating our own dog food. The IDE was written in C++ and it really should be written in Real Studio itself. So in 2004 we began redesigning the user interface, rewriting in it Realbasic, to solve these and other problems. In mid-2005 we introduced the current Real Studio user interface:
|Real Studio 2011|
This current interface uses a single window rather than multiple windows. This makes it easier for the user to concentrate on the item they are editing, rather than spending time rearranging and scanning through windows that are layered on top of each other. This concept started on Windows and Linux but has been adopted more and more by Mac OS X applications as well.
The user interface you see above has served Real Studio users well for the past six years. In that time, however, we have learned a lot about how people use and learn to use Real Studio and we have taken note as interfaces have changed in the last six years. As a result, we are applying all of this to a significant redesign of Real Studio's user interface. Our goals are a cleaner user interface, easier navigation, better interactivity, a more intuitive user interface and a more modern look and feel. I'll be more specific about these goals for Real Studio:
That's a lot of steps. It's also not easy for a new user to figure out these steps. Making basic tasks like this more simple and intuitive helps create better interactivity. And this not only makes it easier for a new user to learn; it makes the experienced user more productive.
It's been 2 years since we first began designing and implementing a greatly improved user interface to reach these goals. Because Real Studio has many editors, this has been an enormous task but we are very pleased with the results and I'm sure you will be too.
Some people just don't like change and any significant change to a user interface will result in some of the existing users balking at these changes. There's just no getting around that. Though most of our users really appreciated the changes in the 2005 user interface refresh, there were a small number of users that just hated it. Apple changed the direction of gesture for scrolling in Mac OS X Lion; though it seemed like a huge change at first, it quickly became more intuitive to users. Technology moves fast and user interfaces need to keep pace. People will adjust quickly to well-thought-out changes and designers have to consider what the best user interface will be for the application moving forward.