Computerworld.com published an article yesterday about the coming and recent changes in graphical user interfaces by Robert Mitchell. The article highlights advancements which are meant to simplify the user experience based on context, whether it be technological (device used) or operational (item selected). Such advancements include voice commands for mobile devices such as PDA’s, customized layouts for different screen sizes, and menus which change based on the item being edited. The latter, most notably comes from Microsoft’s own Office applications which are renown for their feature-richness and consequently overloaded menu items. As Mitchell reports, the traditional drop-down menus will be replaced by a contextual ribbon bar in Office 2007. Therefore, if you are editing the table of contents, the menu associated with this feature would appear. This echoes the manner in which the traditional ‘picture toolbar’ now appears when editing an image.
Beyond contextual menu items, the GUI will also begin to account for screen resolutions in an even more substantial way than we are currently familiar. For the web, the need to adjust layouts to match screen resolutions has been a fundamental principle which has been tackled with elastic and fluid layouts. The desktop GUI is now set to take this principle yet another step forward to accommodate even more real estate; Mitchell states:
Tomorrow’s GUIs will adapt to bigger screens and multiple displays by rearranging the desktop and relegating different content to primary and secondary displays. Larger display acreage could also push gesture-based input devices such as touch screens, digitizing pads and the stylus into the mainstream.
Although the idea is a simple one: to adjust to a user’s perspective and technology, with the variety of devices and plethora of features in modern-day applications, this small target is an ever-changing one. Mitchell’s article presents great promise for enhanced usability for our most pervasive devices as our GUIs begin to catch up with other advancements in the field.