By Fred Stauder, HyperChat Editor, Zurich, Switzerland
1st Annual HyperChat Award
Amanda Goodenough author of the Inigo and Your Faithful Camel series, and self confessed techno-wimp is the winner of the first annual HyperChat Award for stack design. The award was presented at the January MacWorld in San Francisco.
You may ask why this award goes to someone who has written childlike stacks. Let me tell you a bit of history regarding Amandas work. When I first saw Amandas stack Inigo Gets Out, in the very early HyperCard days, I thought this was done by some kid, and it didnt have any cool scripts or buttons. The reason was that I was a techno-macho as Amanda puts it. My quest in the early days was to look at stacks that had neat scripts and tricks. I saw many really ugly stacks with excess buttons dropped, I assume, randomly on cards. One day I saw people playing Inigo gets out. I watched the people. They knew intuitively where to click. Even very small children saying things like click on the tree. Before long we were all involved in Inigos adventures, totally forgetting about the Mac.
Here was a great example of the Mac being used for its original purpose-a tool. The machine was unimportant, it was what you could easily do with it that was.
I started to look at Amandas stacks from a design and human interface perspective. I discovered that Amanda achieves simple functionality by a few key insights.
The number of objects on each screen is minimized. Objects are familiar and recognizable. Controls (button) are not hidden. With appropriate placement, the eye focuses on important objects. No Cryptic Keys. It is Fun. Introduction of emotion into software (not the type when you get a bomb).
Note the similarities with the above and some of the Apple Human Interface Guidelines. How do you introduce fun into a commercial serious software package? Look at the MPW 3.0 about box, thats fun; isnt it? Introducing emotion is a bit more difficult, but still appropriate in some instances. How many people have had an AppleLink signed with a happy or a sad face? I have. If you are developing communication or training software, you should look at how emotion can be a powerful tool.
I am not saying that you should write a word processor or page layout program that has Amandas style. Actually that would not be a bad idea after all. If you can make it simple enough for a child to use, you would gain a lot of insight into how to simplify an interface and retain functionality. Actually that is one of the steps I do to design interfaces. I mentally put myself in the shoes of a total novice and ask how would they like to do something, and then integrating those ideas with the needs of the power user.
Too many programmers increase the number of menu items as the number of features increase. This is a no-no. Dont leave the user confused. Don´t think the user must be dumb if he/she cant use your software. Dont forget you might have Mega hours on computers and the end user may only have a few. Peter Higgs from Apple Australia in his excellent campaign for lawyers, headed it with Use a Macintosh if you haven´t got time to learn about computers.
Lets strive to make our software more intuitive and easier to use. This is a much bigger challenge than writing tighter loops.
I believe in the future, when we won´t have to wrestle syntax and structure, we will be part of a transition from programmers to software designers. As we make computers faster and smarter, we can let them do our dirty jobs for us.
A aircraft designer no longer has to modify an aircraft and jump off a cliff in it to test it; he has available to him tools to make his design job easier.
I would also like to congratulate Steve Maller, Robertson Smith, and Elon Gasper; if there was more than one prize to give they all deserve one. Steve for Rescopy, Robertson for Stack Starter, and Elon for HyperAnimator. There is one unsung hero in Amandas stack life that I would like to acknowledge, her husband Bob, who is an inspiration to Amanda and the Hypercard community. Thanks Bob.
Amanda on receiving the award said that she would give the next recipient of the HyperChat Award a complete set of her software.
It was quite a spectacular splash the introduction of Supercard. The HyperCard you always wanted, Color, Big Screen, Multiple Cards... and the list goes on. At first glance, it looks good.
From the other corner of the Globe (Germany) comes another HyperCard competitor temporarily named Plus. It too has color etc. One interesting thing from a programmers point of view is the concept of software slots. The company will provide developers with object code so they can modify to their hearts content. I feel this will be a future trend.
I will be giving you a full report of the cards compared from a developers perspective in the near future. Another really exciting thing was the announcement of HyperTmon. This is a truly useful HyperCard debugger brought to you by Icom.
Last year I saw an expert system tool for HyperCard called HyperX, it is written entirely in Hypertalk. I thought it wasnt polished enough to review, and it was a bit awkward to use. Well HyperX is now Xciting (xcuse the puns). It is really good to see a company that listens to the end users and constantly improves their product (improves not just adds new features). This is a product to watch out for. I will be reviewing it as I make some serious applications with it.