You Don’t Have to Use it

This past week was the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3 for short). Most of the major video game console vendors, publishers and developers get together and show the press some of the new stuff happening this year.

This year Microsoft unveils their new and improved Dashboard. The dashboard is the main Xbox interface that is used to navigate the downloads store, games, achievements, friends and media. Initial reactions on it were mixed. Some people felt it tries to dumb things down.

New XBox 360 Dashboard

As a consequence of this new press, Microsoft’s Nelson indicates that a href=””>you don’t have to use the new interface. The entire old interface is still present and can be accessed with the press of a button.

There are two fundamental problems I have with how they are approaching this problem. The first is that this is a violation of the DRY principle. Don’t Repeat Yourself. Most of the time we talk about not repeating code sections but I like to apply this to interfaces as well. In most cases, I cannot see a reason to create two interfaces that do the exact same thing. Users can be confused when they are presented with multiple ways to do the same task. From a user’s perspective they want to be instructed how to use the feature correctly and they expect a single answer for this.

The other problem with Microsoft’s approach is that they created multiple ways to do the same thing. I have been working on projects where new interfaces or features were proposed do deal with specific problems. These features were clear improvements over the old way. Inevitably someone asks “Is it possible to keep the old way of doing things as well as the new” or “can’t we have a button to enable the old interface”. These comments should cause you to rethink how good the change is. The new feature always one of the following: better than the old feature, worse than the old feature or neither better or worse than the old feature. If it is better, adopt the better feature. If it is worse or not any better, the feature should be revisited as to why the new approach was taken. Maybe a tweak of the feature could be better. The best option is rarely to keep both ways of doing things.

It is always best to provide a single way to do a single task. This creates a clear and consistent interface for the users. It also creates less confusion for users and makes it clear what is the proper way to use the product.