Issue #1 November 2004

Red Hat Speaks

Seth Nickell: Red Hat's Interaction Designer

Interaction design and user interface (UI) design are substantially different. UI design (aka interface design) typically works from the bottom up, starting with an implementation and figuring out "how should we say this" or "where should the button go." Interaction design starts with people and their goals to determine what type of software should be written to improve their lives. One aspect of that is how the interface works, but the perspective is very different.

We interviewed Seth Nickell, Red Hat's UI guy from the Westford, MA office about his thoughts on UI design and Red Hat. Look for his article on writing easy to use graphical interfaces in the next issue of the magazine.

Why did you choose UI design as a career?
Besides the lure of loose cars and fast living? Through working with some really great people at Eazel Inc, I realized that I broadly wanted "to create things that made people's lives better." Look at the number of bad or irrelevant products on the market that had good engineers behind them. The world didn't seem to need more engineers as much as it needed more products designed for people. So I renounced engineering and set myself to learning design. ;-)
Did you specifically select Linux UI design?
When I became interested in design, I was already involved with the GNOME Project. GNOME was terrible at this point, so it was a perfect opportunity to learn and make mistakes without much potential for making things worse.
What Linux application demonstrates the best UI design to you? The worst?
Epiphany is a solid application for its target users. It's not exciting, but sometimes you don't want exciting. With design, it is always important to ask "for whom." The best for one group of people can be the worst for another. As far as worst... well, it's not the worst but my current nemesis is the new GNOME volume control. Most people just want to change the volume of whatever is playing louder or quieter: that's *one* control. They don't care or know about "PCM" or "In-gain," let alone a tab called "Analog Devices AD1981B,Silicon [Audio Mixer (OSS)]."
Why do you work for Red Hat?
Red Hat is the only open source company I know of that is seriously interested in user-centered design.
What are your short term and long term goals for Linux UI design?
We've done a pretty good job of sanding the rough edges of the desktop, but we still don't know if we're building a chair or a table. A well-finished mish-mash of nailed together boards isn't much good. Most people don't care about computers, they care about doing something with them. We need to stop sanding and polishing and worry about helping people do things.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Argue, sing in a choir, cycle, cook, skate, sing in the shower, and argue some more.
Any other info you want to share with the readers?
So this man walks into a bar...