Wednesday, December 20th, 2006

Do you hate splitpane views?

Category: UI

<>p>Jesse Kuhnert, the Dojo and Tapestry commiter, must have had one too many UIs with split-panes on his desktop.

It drove him to write about why splitpane views suck..:

I’ve recently been involved in some discussions surrounding ixd issues and attempted to use Yahoo Mail and Google Mail as examples of bad/good interface design techniques. There was a lot of push back because there were no follow up details outlining why one was good and the other bad. A complete analysis of the two applications would take much longer and require more effort than a random blog posting so I decided to focus on one core annoyance I have with Yahoo Mail – its use of ye old “Split Pane” re-sizable control.

Jesse’s core peeves are:

  • Sizing – The size of the view I care about is never right! When I’m browsing a list of emails I want as much real estate as possible to view them all, I don’t care about seeing any one particular email at that point. When I do select an email and the content within it doesn’t fit into my split view it’s annoying. I don’t care about the emails anymore at that point, I just want to read the email I’ve selected. In fact, I might go so far as to say it’s almost impossible for the view to ever be what I want in this scenario. By nature of the control the size of the view remains static until adjusted by the user, but when reading emails you really need it to change based on what step of reading them you are in. Arghh!
  • Scrolling – I know I know. It sounds like a real whiny thing to complain about, but it is annoying. After selecting an email message I must now consciously think about the interface and move my mouse over to the appropriate area before I can actually scroll through the content – otherwise scrolling right there and then would move me up and down through all of my other email messages.
  • Claustrophobia – I don’t know about you, but these split views tend to make me feel pretty constrained. All of the scrollbars appearing on the page really start to make me feel like nothing is the right size. Like maybe my monitor sucks and I should get a bigger one? I don’t know. The screen looks pretty large, how hard is it to fit everything on there without an all out assault on the senses from a million different UI controls all telling me the same thing – nothing fits!

Do you agree?

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26 Comments »

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Yes, don’t be such a crybaby, get a bigger monitor :)

Comment by Markku Uttula — December 20, 2006

It depends. Online, in a browser, probably not the best approach, but on the desktop i love it. I don’t have more screen real estate, so, what’s the difference?

Maybe it is the position of the panes. I set Outlook up with a preview pane to the right of the list instead of below. Makes the list a narrow column but I get all the info (from, subject, date) with the preview pane being wide and tall.

Same with the program (FeedReader) that I use to read my blog feeds.

I don’t think it is the panes themself that cause the pain, but rather they way they are designed.

Comment by Rob Sutherland — December 20, 2006

I’m the same as Markku. I like my Outlook panes, but I have the preview pane to the right of the list rather than below as well. I can understand the layout problem of the pane below because you have a single tall pane and then two split panes. It’s not a user-friendly layout in my opinion. Of course, I think Yahoo was just going for the “look like Outlook” effect. Yahoo reminds me of Outlook Express.

Comment by Vernon — December 20, 2006

Personally I love split pane views. I have a far bette overview and always easy access to most of the functionality. I do, unlike a lot of other people, NOT like the UI of gmail. I find it disturbing that I have to change view in order to see the contents of the mail and then change back again to get a view of the mailbox content – it simply takes waaay to much time. This i probably also why I only use gmail for things I dont have to care about on a daily basis.

Comment by Kim Schulz — December 20, 2006

Specifically for online email applications, I think he may have something of a point, but it’s important not to villify the split pane technique in general. On one of the applications I designed, it’s become an integral feature, because it allows users to quickly compare some aspect of multiple items by selecting the attribute they’re interested in in the detail pane and then cycling selections in the master pane. Imagine how hard that would be if the detail pane always replaced the master pane! As with all tools, the tool itself isn’t bad. I just has to be used in the right places for the right jobs.

Comment by Josh Johnson — December 20, 2006

I prefer the Outlook 2003/Windows Live Mail preview panes (sitting to the right). However, I would prefer to have the Outlook 2002 style preview pane (sitting below) than nothing at all.

Comment by Richard Kimber — December 20, 2006

Incidently, I thought the X in AJAX stood for XMLHTTPRequest.

Comment by Richard Kimber — December 20, 2006

I can’t agree with you more!

Google designed their user interface with real good innovation. On the other hand Yahoo! tried to catch-up but they copied the boring Outlook interface.

Comment by Tuncay Baskan — December 20, 2006

I like Outlook 2003′s right-left split view better than the old top-bottom. But I like the GMail way even more, and my current favorite is actually the Google Reader list view, where I have all the posts in a long list with one of them expanded to read. In this way I can consentrate fully on the one I am reading and still scroll up and down to view the rest.

Comment by Tobias — December 20, 2006

I think it’s an individual thing. Me, i like to see everything on screen, together. I don’t mind scrollbars, I rarely use them because I have a mouse wheel. I have two 19″ displays and I like having everything sectioned off. Even when using photoshop and illustrator I have them positioned so they work next to each other with all the palettes next to their windows. and when I’m coding I have four browsers in four quarters of one monitor and my editor and file windows laid out on the other monitor, it’s so much easier to turn your head than use alt-tab or whatever key combo the applications use. but thats me

Comment by Matt Smith — December 20, 2006

I agree with some of the annoyances Jesse pointed out, but I find split-pane views pretty usable and efficient in spite of those things. There is a UI that does a good job at addressing them, tho: Eclipse, the Java IDE. Eclipse supports combo views that act like the split panes in Outlook — and, as mentioned, often the view you need is inconveniently sized.

But in Eclipse, each view can be maximized — it instantly takes over the whloe workspace. Restoring it instantly brings back the multi-pane layout. This lets me easily toggle between an overview, monitoring many interconnected views, and a single view in which I can concentrate only on the items at hand.

Tho Eclipse implements in Java, the idea shouldn’t be too hard to do in HTML and a bit of JavaScript…

Comment by Val — December 20, 2006

Val is right, Eclipse is good. Granted, I hate two Apple Cinema HD 30″ monitors and run virtue desktop…

Comment by Dan — December 20, 2006

This guy needs to be introduced to the resolution settings.
Seriously, I don’t see what he’s complaining about

Comment by Andy — December 20, 2006

Andy and Markku–my understanding is that he is using a brandy spankingly new Dell 24″ widescreen monitor with the res cranked up as high as it can go. “Adjusting the resolution” is not the issue here, nor is it the issue for Jesse.

Comment by Tom Trenka — December 20, 2006

Sizing, scrolling, and Claustrophobia have nothing to do with the application and everything to do with your monitor size and resolution. Splitpane is fantastic when doing code reviews, image comparisons, spreadsheet comparisons, folder comparisons, etc.

Get a bigger monitor or an additional monitor.

Comment by Doug karr — December 20, 2006

Yeah, Tom is right. Though I think the technical viewing area was advertised as being 30″ not 24″.

It’s probably just a habit I have of a peferred window size, I think if I adjusted it to be any larger it would feel to overwhelming.

Comment by Jesse Kuhnert — December 20, 2006

The real issue, I think, is what you need to see. Split-pane isn’t *always* bad, as Doug noted, but in some cases it’s unnecessary; and unnecessary UI elements are, well, bad.
* “I don’t care about seeing any one particular email at that point.”
* “I don’t care about the emails anymore at that point, I just want to read the email I’ve selected.”

Or at least that’s how I see it, and that seems to be the main complaint I pick up out of reading the post. If you don’t need to see three different things at once, why do you need three different windows?

Comment by Tommy M. — December 20, 2006

I’d take this a step further and state objection to windowing in general. I think its a lazy paradigm which results in too much redundant information on screen at any one time. Incremental sizing thru click-and-drag is a waste of time – instead modal switching between ‘Show me enough of my email so I can read it comfortably’ and ‘Show me enough of my email headers so I can intelligently select what I want to read’ is preferable to me. Modern work in HCI is showing that alternatives exist and I certainly welcome those who challenge the dominant paradigms in search of more humanized interfaces.

Comment by wioota — December 20, 2006

Sorry to say this but when reading this one thing comes to mind:
Fat americans that are too comfortable to do anything by themselves. I mean, c’mon. Would it kill you to drag the window frame ? Or would the effort lead to too much exhaustion and thereof lead to a swift death?

Seriously, get a grip.

Comment by Andy — December 20, 2006

you know you could just press the “v” key on the keyboard to turn the reading pane off, and amazingly press the “v” key again to turn it back on. what will they think of next… “r” for reply!

Comment by Jared — December 20, 2006

I dunno …..How about “d” for ajaxian don’t they make that the default view if it’s so simple? =p

Comment by Jesse Kuhnert — December 20, 2006

The default discoverable behavior of an application, knowable without any instruction to the user, should be as close to optimal as possible. If you can only get close to optimal behavior by learning keyboard shortcuts, the design is wrong.

Comment by Joeri — December 21, 2006

Fuxache!

wioota is right. This whole thread is a waste of bandwidth.

Comment by Animal — December 21, 2006

I think email is bad in general, there is only spam arriving all the time.

Comment by drx — December 21, 2006

What’s this about? Everybody decides her/hisself if he/she is going to use splitpanes – if everybody hates them, nobody will use your programm. This is the simple Darwin principle. I often use splitpanes without thinking about it. Example: Firebird, and it’s good. I don’t use Dojo Toolkit splitpanes, cause they don’t work in every browser (look dodjo in opera) and often the UI reacts in a very slow way to my mouse movements.

Comment by Andi K — December 21, 2006

I agre,
The new Yahoo mail sucks just because in a 1Gbps connection, the scrolling hangs and its all cluttered up on the screen.
I am a great fan of YUI and specially Jacks Page http://www.jackslocum.com/blog/.
Making use of the good side of this library myself, I really feel sorry for the “New Yahoo Mail beta” and Ajax that it provides.
BTW, My yahoo account is the free one and those ads refresh so frequently that I feel GMAIL is much better on this part.
Yahoo! people, if you happen to read this, please do something, I really want to see YUI Powers in your site.

Comment by techno_adi — December 22, 2006

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