I agree with Ori's point (if I understand it correctly). When I think about a UI there are at least two significant aspects to consider: the individual control elements and the procedural workflows. As a Mellel user I appreciate that for the most part each control element (i.e change font size) is simple and easy enough to learn. However, the sequencing of control elements within a writer's workflow don't alway seem that natural. This sense of awkwardness in the UI's workflow is partly do conventions that we have learned from other programs and also partly doing to the particular writing styles of Mellel's user base.Ori Redler wrote:...the problem is not the interface but the rather inflexibility of the way certain things work in Mellel.
Now the trick to a great UI is not how easy it is to use, but how easy it is to learn and to remember what I have learned (without referencing a manual). IMHO, the Mellel UI is easy enough to use, but it's not always that easy to learn. As I already said, this is largely due to the fact that Mellel does some things in a ways that I have no prior learning to draw on. That's OK, if breaking with common conventions helps me to write, or managing the writing process in a better way. In fact, its a good thing, because then the software is actually help me learn to write better. An example of this is auto-titles. Learning this feature actually helped me to write in a more disciplined way. However, sometimes Mellel forces me into a workflow that seems to go against the way I want to write. I am not opposed to doing things in a different way from other software (that's why I use a Mac), however, my desire is to have software that fits my writing workflow closely.
So the challenge is not just designing a better UI, but better understanding people's writing workflows. The only real way to get this info is to watch how people use Mellel to write. Whenever, the software breaks a person's writing flow their is a place for improvement. For example, when I am writing in Mellel and insert a new autotitle the pop-up dialogue breaks my flow. My attention is focused on the place where I expect the autotitle to appear and then all the sudden I have to reorient myself to the a different context. In other words, its a bit jarring to my train of thought. So auto-titles are great (I love them) and iliminating the pop-up would just make my writing workflow a little bit smoother. Also, if I am writing (with my hands comfortably positioned over my keyboard) and I want to insert an auto-title I have to engage my mouse and open a pallette select a title option and then click insert (or use the right mouse button in context). Adding a keyboard command method would make this part of my writing workflow a lot smoother.
All this to say that Mellel is generally easy enough to use, but the more I use it the more I want it to better fit my writing workflows. It's like urban planning. You can put the sidewalks where you think they should go, or you can wait until people create pathways in the grass and then put the sidewalks there. The challenge for the Mellel developers is determining where most people want the sidewalks to go. Without a usability lab this insight can be hard to determine. These forums can be helpful in this regard, but people often jump to requesting a solution that they think with solve a workflow problem rather than to articulate how the current UI breaks their writing process.
Still, I am hopeful and I believe there is good evidence to support the fact that the Mellel developers truly seek to understand the writer's workflow and feature set needs. And in response they have continually worked to evolve Mellel into a simple, flexible and powerful tool from writing professionals. There is still much work to do, but I think it continues to move in the right direction.