More thesis work
Did more thesis research today, I'm looking into doing a project on universal usabilty. I'm really interested in the possibilities of this research. Particularly the focus that Ben Shneiderman has taken in his work on Bridging the Digital Divide. Ben did a more recent paper on Promoting Universal Usability with Multi-Layer Interface Design [pdf].
The idea sums up to having slightly different interfaces based on the need of the user. Show an advanced (in the sense of this instance of the application) user more tools and options, while not confusing users who are new to the system with too many things at once.
This has some obvious implications that all the unix people scream at, which is the 1% scenario where you use an application and need to get to the advanced interface right away because you're a power user. This situation usually stems from users being on a system that they are not often using, and therefore the application could not know that their level of ability. Sure there are lots of other ways to get to this scenario, but those are all such a rare case that I think it will be easy enough to put in a command line argument or something that bypasses all extra functionality. (by the way, the 1% scenario means that this situation probably happens 1% or less of all users use of the application... therefore we don't worry too much about it)
Current uses of this type of system include simple things like accelerator keys for common commands. New users are not bothered by the accelerator keys, because they would really never encounter them, however advanced users can go from button clicking to all keyboard action and be much more productive.
Benefits of universal usability in terms of multi-layer interfaces are things like not having 3 toolbars for MS Word when all I want to do is write a document with formatting like bold, italic and maybe some positioning every now and then.
In short, I need to do a little more reading of a few more papers, send an abstract to my advisor and contact Ben for any other ideas and further direction.