Wednesday 22 April 2009

Designing the Wessex Premier GUI

A program can be amazingly sophisticated but unless the user can easily operate it then it's pretty useless. This is where a well designed GUI (graphical user interface), or in other words a good looking, easy to understand main form comes in.

The Wessex Premier main form is that shape because it is logical to start entering data from the top and with each new type of data continue downwards, finishing with what we all want to know - the total price.
Also it is important to stop the operator accidentally entering data that the program does not expect. For instance the top two size boxes will only accept numbers or a decimal point. The moulding boxes will only allow upto 5 characters (the maximum allowed for a moulding ID.) plus lower case letters are converted to upper case.
Next to the total price button is shown the quantity. Which is a numeric up/down control, numbers are changed using the small arrows rather than allowing the operator to enter them directly.

Those Visual Basic aficionados amongst you will have noticed that the buttons have a non-standard appearance. This is achieved programmatically rather than using bitmaps - the same goes for the graded background. The total effect is (I think) one of good design which helps promote intuitive usage as well as looking right in a sophisticated retail environment.

Whilst the most used part of the program is designed to be as quick & simple to use as possible, other parts the GUI is used to slow down the operator and give them pause for thought. One example is saving of the Options form.
It is purposely meant to be slightly out of the ordinary so the operator has to pause to decide what's going on, and in doing so may save themselves from making a mistake.

Of course what is invaluable is being able to test the program in a real environment with operators who don't really care how it works, just as long as they don't get into a mess with it! Here, the most lowly member of staff is as important(if not more so) than any number of "experts", because they are the ones who will produce the combination of keystrokes and mouse clicks that these experts haven't even conceived of!

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