The Door in the Floor*

*movie title; Anyone remember this scene with the vagina drawing slapping against the car’s windshield? Had me in stitches…

The ever great Stu Maschwitz has written an interesting article on some aspects of software design and he’s using the “many doors” metaphor quite well here. Let me add a few more thoughts of my own.

  • Some apps are over-designed. In trying to make them too slick or innovative, software developers sometimes scare people off ‘cos you can’t find that dang button you’re looking for. If you get my meaning: Just as too many doors can be distracting and confusing, too much bling-bling and white designer walls can be as well. That’s what often puts me off with iPad apps for instance. My brain hurts from remembering all those extra swipes just to access some menu.
  • Getting rid of doors can make for a better living. What always irks me about many commercial apps is how slow they are actually to kick out useless features. How long did it take before we got rid of Brainstorm again in After Effects? Why is the (mostly useless) chart tool still in Illustrator? In Mr. Maschwitz‘ terms: closing a door and putting a wall in place to direct people to other places can be a good thing.
  • Doors need a bit of fresh paint every now and then. If you are offering people alternate ways to go, you have to maintain them. How many times did I think what power would be in Card Dance or good old Particle Playground if anyone only cared to make them attractive. It’s a door through which very few people pass since it doesn’t seem worth the effort even if they’re there.
  • A house with too many doors is too big to keep clean. Ultimately one of the biggest failings with many professional programs is their complexity. The interaction of different features is just like when you left a window open on the second floor and it’s banging a door shut on the first floor from the wind. And elsewhere the rats (bugs) creep in. While clearly there’s a difference between between a footage management tool vs. a complex design application, I’m all for downsizing and focusing on essentials where possible.
  • A door within a door is not a door at all. That’s what happens a lot with some After Effects plug-ins that can’t decide between using a fully fledged custom UI or relying on the program’s native effects controls. Examples of this were/ are Red Giant‘s own Colorista 2, “that other color correction tool” Color Finesse you get with every version of After Effects or even Element 3D. The issue here being, that obviously you spend a lot of time trying to keep things straight where, when and which setting in the custom interface interacts with the main effect. Or to stick with the door analogy: It’s like trying to peek into a house through a cat flap, remembering where everything was and then attempting to fire a shot through a solid door to put out a light bulb inside.
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