A few customised toolbars…

So it occurs to me that UI design for applications isn’t easy at the best of times, and that one key area of UI design is the toolbar filled with icons that sits at the top of most applications. It also occurs to me that this space is one that can be edited and changed very easily by users – should they wish to do so. So then it occurs to me that perhaps there are usability lessons that can be learned from looking at the various custum configurations that people use on these applications and that applications should prompt users a couple of days after they have made significant UI changes to ask them if information about their new configuration could be sent back to the developers. It should then be relatively simple for the developers to keep a live track of which parts of the UI are most commonly adapted and to pull out statistically which configurations people find most useful (with the aspiration of being able to improve that structure over all subsequent versions of those applications). Until that day, here are a few of my customised toolbars:

3 replies on “A few customised toolbars…”

That’s a good idea, but it would be annoying for anyone who wasn’t regularly connected to the internet (which doesn’t apply to any of the apps you listed). The same procedure could be used to get other useful information. Developers could put the most used menu items at the top of the menus, for example, after discovering which they are from user records.

Surely this then falls into the area (arena?) of company attitude. My professional experience working for a software company is that most of them are ‘unapproachable’. Let’s start with the beast – Microsoft – which although it has a myriad of contact forms, email addresses, forums and the like, you don’t really get the sense that you are contributing (a good example is their KB articles which prompt you to rate their effectiveness – what happens to that information?? It’s not easily found out).
Most software companies, believe it or not, are keen to hear from their customers but don’t want to place themselves in the position of actually having to deal directly with them.
Factor in that most people only want to contact a company when something goes wrong… have you ever emailed ‘Apple’ and said “well done by the way”. No I didn’t think so.
So what then? Well that’s a different discussion and I’ve rambled on long enough..
In short – I agree with your sentiment but the practicalities are not that simple.

I’ve worked in application UI and can assure you that some (major) companies do just that, at least within their own releases: they track what customizations are made by users and that data influences the next rev of the design. However, the vast majority of users do no customization whatsoever, which leads to internal debate over whether the existing app is “perfect” or if people are satisfied or lazy. UI designers argue the latter, but execs happy with the position of their favorite features will always argue the first.

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