WYSIWIG Inverted

Usability expert Jakob Nielson says the rise of WYSIWYG over the past 20 years has been useful, but may be reaching the end of its life cycle in favor of WYGIWYS (What You Get Is What You See)-oriented interfaces. The idea is that rather than starting with a blank slate (document) and issuing commands to reach a result (chipping away until you have your statue), WYGIWYS software will provide thumbnail galleries that display formatting states and sub-states, allowing the user to select results, applying it to their existing content.

The idea makes a certain amount of sense, but I’m having trouble visualizing how WYGIWYS tools could offer complete control — it seems that formatting results would be limited to the gallery of states built into the software by the developer. Sure, the galleries could be customizable, but then you’d be back where you started. I can see an increase in use of the “Project Galleries” built into current versions of Office and extended to options applicable at the paragraph or even character level, but I can’t imagine menus and toolbars going away, as Nielson predicts. There’s a whole lot more to software than formatting — to make this idea work, you have to be able to visualize presenting “results first” for things like word count, spell check, inserting database records or video clips, yadda yadda.

Total control is precisely what makes free-form software so empowering (and the command-line even more so). I’m having trouble visualizing how a results-first approach could do anything but strip control (i.e. empowerment) away from the user.

Music: Cowboy Junkies :: I Don’t Get It

3 Replies to “WYSIWIG Inverted”

  1. What Nielson described is true–when you work in Word, you are presented with an endless process of massaging the contents of your document to make it look like what you want. But Nielson’s solution is also available in today’s Office. It’s called…templates, as you too noted.

    The problem that the WYGIWYS is that the user may start off with one type of document with its own formatting but then, as humans are so bloody prone to doing, evolve that document into something else.

    If, otoh, Nielson is describing a way to start with a document type and have the application help you along, whether by prompting or some other way, as you construct your document, that might be interesting. You can’t get rid of WYSIWYG–there are too many variations in documents just as there are in people. Some might want bold where others might like an italics.

    I do worry though. Microsoft’s good programming days seem very far behind and has not innovated in code for a long time. After all, we are talking about a company whose flagship OS release Vista (Longhorn) is fast becoming nothing more than a much-delayed Service Pack for XP. By reordering how Office works, Microsoft is opening itself up for trouble and possible adverse gains by its now-almost-dead competitors in the office application market. If the implementation of Office is wanting, users will either down-grade back or move over.

  2. IIUC, He’s refering to formatting the document with a Content Markup Language like DocBook.
    Then, you apply a Style Sheet to the document.
    This way, the same document is just as accessable to a Fully-Sighted Person, a Blind Person, a Contextual Search Engine or a Contextual Translation Engine.
    Think about the difference between and , Italics only refers to how the text is displayed, Emphasis refers to how the text is presented in any any medium. Extrapolate to use the DocBook tags , and , and you can use a Search engine to search for Pages regarding the company “Apple Computer”, but not Fiona Apple, or an Orchard. A Translation into French will not become “pomme ordinateur”

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