[Desktop_printing] Usability: Printing roles, tasks and environments

Robert L Krawitz rlk at alum.mit.edu
Wed Mar 8 19:05:11 PST 2006

   Date: Wed, 08 Mar 2006 20:21:24 -0500
   From: Michael Sweet <mike at easysw.com>

   Robert L Krawitz wrote:
   > ...
   >    If you look at the Gimp/Gutenprint driver options, you'll see a LOT
   >    of output quality controls (that is one of the major complaints I
   >    have about the current Gutenprint drivers), and that is something
   >    I'd like to talk about at the summit - focusing on usability WRT
   >    driver options.
   > Or as I'd prefer to look at it, how to better organize and present the
   > options to users.  I don't believe that it's necessary to reduce
   > functionality to improve usability -- I'd prefer to have good defaults

   In general, improving usability usually boils down to reducing the
   number of choices a user can/has to make.  This *might* mean a
   reduction in functionality, but in my experience you can change how
   a user provides a particular piece of information to get the same
   effect *without* losing functionality.

   For example, the current Gutenprint driver separates the density
   and gamma controls - with CUPS 1.2, you can provide a *single*
   option that supports both values so the user can pick a preset or
   adjust an on-screen curve control to set the gamma *and* density.
   You don't lose functionality, and you improve usability and reduce
   the number of options at the same time.

I'd be fine with having curve controls :-), although in this
particular case gamma and density are rather different in effect.
I also don't mind having presets (that's a new feature in Gutenprint
5), as long as the more precise controls are also available.

   That said, if in the end you lose a small amount of functionality
   to provide a large improvement in usability, IMHO you should go for
   usability over functionality - if something isn't usable then it
   isn't functional - you ultimately can't get things done.

The problem here is that "usable" means different things to different
people.  A casual user may want simple presets (text and graphics at
high quality), while a professional fine art photographer or graphic
artist may want full-fledged control over ink limits and may be
willing to do a lot of experimentation to get just the right effect.
There seems to be a market (not a mass market, to be sure) for
high-priced RIP's that allow this kind of control, and a user
community willing to invest the time in it.  I want to cater to those
people as well as to the more mainstream users.

   > (or simple settings) that work for most users, while having the
   > whole panoply of options for people with more advanced needs.
   > When the epson-inkjet at leben.com mailing list was in existence,
   > there were a lot of people who were screaming for more control
   > over their printers.  Those people were definitely the high end
   > power users (professional photographers, artists, and such), but
   > they're the ones who lead the way and we should not ignore their
   > needs.

   Sometimes you need to provide different solutions to different
   groups of users.

Agreed, which is my motivation for this "successive disclosure of
complexity" as a former colleague of mine put it.  Maybe successive
disclosure of complexity isn't the right approach, but I see no reason
why Gutenprint (for example) can't be the underlying core printer
driver for all of these users, with different interfaces for different
users.  But philosophically it's not acceptable to me to turn the
power users away in the name of "ease of use".

   > The current PPD-based print dialogs I've seen don't have any way
   > of selectively hiding options from users.  Many (but not all)
   > offer tabbed dialogs, but that's still a lot of tabs with the
   > number of options we offer.  Gutenprint provides a lot of
   > information that could be used to be more selective about which
   > options to display, but there's no way of taking advantage of
   > them.

   The problem with option hiding is that users have to figure out how
   to "unhide" those options.  We run into the same issue with GUIs
   that disable conflicting controls - you end up making it extremely
   difficult for users to make a selection...

Yes, we ran into that particular problem in spades with disabling
options in the CUPS driver, and fortunately we reversed that
decision.  Maybe it will turn out that we should offer multiple sets
of PPD files (simple and full-featured) or something, I don't know.

Robert Krawitz                                     <rlk at alum.mit.edu>

Tall Clubs International  --  http://www.tall.org/ or 1-888-IM-TALL-2
Member of the League for Programming Freedom -- mail lpf at uunet.uu.net
Project lead for Gutenprint   --    http://gimp-print.sourceforge.net

"Linux doesn't dictate how I work, I dictate how Linux works."
--Eric Crampton

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