Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Et tu, HIG?

So I’m designing a few dialog boxes for a company I do a little work for. It’s like five hours of work, total. Despite it being written in Java, I thought since everybody who uses this app is on Windows, and probably XP too, I'd get the latest XP HIG document (the Windows XP Design Guidelines) and give the users a break.

Do it right, 'n shit.

Notice something? Yep, the downloadable guidelines are an .exe file. Since I'm on the Mac, doing mockups in Photoshop (pretty common practice, actually), what am I supposed to do with an .exe file? What’s in it? Couldn’t they provide a Word file, or a PDF, or something? HTML, God forbid? Guess not.

Edit: a smarter person than me has pointed out that Stuffit opens .exe files; doing so to the above yielded the XP HIG as a collection of HTML pages. Arrighty then! Learn something new every day. A manifest of the file’s contents would still have been nice (for example, “Download ‘WindowsXPDesignGuidelines.exe’; HTML format; 5.2 MB Zip archive; Updated: March 5, 2002”). Including such information is free, and harms no one.

So with a little Googling I found a PDF that wasn’t that useful. Perhaps it is what is contained in the .exe, but without a manifest, who knows? It didn’t, for example, tell me how many pixels to put between related & unrelated buttons, nor the margin between the OK/Cancel buttons and the window edge, none of that.

Back to MSDN and I find an older Design Guidelines for what looks like Windows 2000. And I discovered why Windows applications are all totally different from one another, totally non-standard, all wonky. I quote:

The system defines the size and location of user interface elements in a window based on dialog units (DLUs), not pixels. A dialog unit is the device-independent measure to use for layout. One horizontal dialog unit is equal to one-fourth of the average character width for the current system font. One vertical dialog unit is equal to one-eighth of an average character height for the current system font. The default height for most single-line controls is 14 DLUs. Be careful if you use a pixel-based drawing program, because it may not provide an accurate representation when you translate your design into dialog units. If you do use a pixel-based drawing tool, you may want to take screen snapshots from a development tool that supports dialog units and use those images.


Did your eyes glaze over? Let me get this straight: I should measure my mockups not in pixels but in DLUs – which are different depending on whether they are vertical DLUs or horizontal DLUs – and I should steer clear of pixel-based drawing programs (ahem, Photoshop) to do mockups.

Could laying out a damn dialog be more of a pain in the ass? For one, isn’t a developer going to look at DLUs and say yeahh right (it’s what I said when I read it) and slap together whatever looks OK? Two, did they explain which design applications measure DLUs correctly? No, but I’m betting it’s a $1000 Microsoft product that runs on Windows, whaddya say?

The usability is hard to use. It’s beautiful, in its own special way.

I mean, comment-spam me if I’m wrong.

1 Comments:

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