Friday, February 21, 2020

rip larry tesler

Daring Fireball is eulogizing Larry Tesler, a giant in the field of UI, who codified terms like copy and paste, helped invent WiFi and Arm chips, and a host of other things. But this twitter thread DF links to makes me wonder:  -- specifically
We were content to literally put a string on the clipboard and insert it at the insertion point. As a 20-year-old college dropout tech writer I was not going to argue with Steve Capps. But Larry wanted it done better.
He wanted the spacing around words to adjust automatically.
I wonder if I consider that a good thing. When I do UX and UI, I often think in terms of "The Dao of Programming" - a program should aways do that which surprises the user least. Auto-adjusting spacing around copy and paste text... that is a flavor of "Guess What I Mean" in interface, vs "Do What I Say"

When it hits the sweet spot, it's great... but when then heuristic isn't perfect, it can be extremely frustrating to have to undo. Many editors today have similar problems, like when you copy a URL into a document that then gets turned into a clickable link, say... but then the editor has to decide if the letters you type right after are part of the link, or not. Usually not. But when you do want to change the link? Or when the editor has to figure out if you're changing the target URL or just the visual representation...there was a reason why many users back in the bad old days of Word Perfect 5.1 loved "reveal codes" so they could see that weird markup and get things precise.

Of course I'm not calling for a return to pre-WYSIWYG days, or arguing everyone should be writing in markdown or html or whatever... just saying that it wasn't just engineer laziness that would vote for Espinosa keeping paste as "just put the string into the insertation point" - there's a decent UX principle where it's better to risk making the user do a little more work than a LOT more work to undo a mis-guess, and to always be clear about what just happened.

(This entry lightly modified from me pontificating on the Lost in Mobile WhatsApp group - come join us if it sounds interesting!)

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