Window Research 1: Why Windows

by Luke Wroblewski December 21, 2003

I recently pulled out some research I did on windows (the interface element, not the Microsoft cash cow) for a Web application project. The developers working on the project resorted to opening a new browser window one too many times. I presented some of this to them as grounds for reducing the complexity created by multiple windows. Originally, this research was part of an ongoing effort to design effective window mangement alternatives.

Hix, Deborah, & Harston Rex H. (1993). Developing User Interfaces: Ensuring Usability through Product and Process. New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

“A window is a screen object that provides an arena for presentation of and interaction with, other interaction objects. All interaction between a user and the system occurs through a window. Via windows, a user can organize work by tasks and work on several tasks at once. However, a user’s interactive desktop can become cluttered if there are too many windows open at once. Also, windows require management and manipulation; we have heard users loudly proclaiming, while struggling to manage a maze of overlapping windows, ‘I don’t do windows!'"

Apple Computer, Inc. (1992). Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.

"Windows provide a way for people to view and interact with their data. Windows have standard appearances that create a sense of perceived stability for people because they have a standard way to view and interact with the different types of data they can create and store. … A window is a view into the document (portion of the document). The application puts windows on the screen, each showing"

Shneiderman, Ben. (1998). Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.

“The general problem for many computer users is the need to consult multiple sources rapidly, while minimally disrupting their concentration on their task”

Galitz, Wilbert O. (1996). The Essential Guide to User Interface Design. New York. John Wiley & Sons

"The appeal of windowing is that it allows the display workspace to mirror the desk workspace much more closely. Windows act as external memories that are an extension of one’s internal memory. Windows make it much easier to switch between tasks and to maintain one’s context. Windows also provide access to more information than would normally be available on a single display of the same size."

Cooper, Alan. (1995). About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design. Foster City, CA: International Data Group Books Worldwide.

"Overlapping windows demonstrated clearly that there are other, and better, ways to transfer control between concurrently running applications than typing in obscure commands.

Overlapping rectangular windows were intended to represent overlapping sheets of paper on the user’s desktop. Okay I’ll buy that, but why? The stated reason is that it makes it easy to see which programs are running and to shift between them, but if this were true, Microsoft wouldn’t be offering us the button-lined program changer tool called the Startbar. The overlapping windows concept is good, but its execution is impractical in the real world. The number of pixels on today’s video screens is way too small and users can’t afford to waste them.

We have rectangular windows because they are the easiest to program, not because they offer cognitive superiority or information-management leverage."