2 days ago I had a major breakthrough in Domburi‘s interface. I had been racking my brain for several days for a simple, elegant way to provide all the new functionality I had dreamt for it, but the standards I’d set made the task daunting:
Simple and easy to understand
Building (or at least not interfering) upon earlier knowledge
Minimally intrusive ((as in hidden)
Even onhover interfaces must be extremely discreet, not only for conceptual clarity, but because rendering times can make for a jarring experience.
I dabbled for a while with tool palettes like those of Adobe Photoshop but in the end sweared off modes of any kind, even graphic ones.
I tried expanding the weird text-toolbar I currently use in Imagery but it proved too constraining.
Jensen Haris’s Office User Interface Blog sent me reeling into the possibilities of ribbons and contextual tabs (GUI innovations in upcoming Office 2007), but though interesting and definitely appropriate sometimes, they can be brutal overkill for such a simple application as Domburi.
In the end, it was clear to me that what was needed was a contextual menu of some sort and a way to activate it graphically (since I wasn’t willing to break the right-click, and other keyboard/mouse combos reeked of inelegance).
I finally found my solution in a little known interface innovation from Flickr (who introduced it only recently in a May 16, 2006 redesign).
They call it a “person menu” but it’s not the menu itself what interests me, it’s the way it’s activated: you hover over someone’s (otherwise undefiled!) buddy image and this obvious sidebutton appears; you click on it and your options to manipulate the image are presented.
This is a natural evolution of the pulldown button (), of course, but it allows for a revolutionary array of possibilities. I’ve been playing with the idea for 2 days now and am ready to nominate the onhover sidebutton as one of this decade’s contributions to our shared GUI alphabet: a visual, yet non intrusive, way to activate a context-menu. I’m using it everywhere in Domburi now (the idiom is evolving some impressive refinements!) and it has simplified things further than I thought possible. In the prophetic words of Jeff Han: “the interface just disappears.”