by cloudier

  • I love ads which feature employees playing with their inventory to come up with new appliance and electronic concoctions that make them dorkily excited (via)

Attracting attention by having a pretty front-end is important, as it makes the user want to use the product. They are attracted to it just as they are attracted to a beautiful person. The first glance establishes a relationship with the user. Pretty graphics seem to say, “Hi, I appeal to your senses; don’t you want to interact with me?” They make the first experience with the application a pleasant one.

So once we’ve got the user’s attention, we need to hold it. Keeping him distraction-free will allow him to reach a state of flow: a state in which he is immersed into his work with the application and in which he feels happy just by doing the task. When in a state of flow, you leave self-consciousness for what it is and no longer think of your individual self but are fully focused on your task. A sense of joy takes over, your mind is entirely devoted to the task, time seems to go slower and everything around you fades into the background.

So where do graphics fit into this story? Do they help in facilitating a state of flow?

Why yes, they do! One example of this is the rounded rectangle. Often considered as “mere decoration” when used in a UI, they apparently also have a lower cognitive impact than regular rectangles. Credit for uncovering this to the greater public goes to Keith Lang in this article on rounded rectangles. Windows 3.1 style graphics, which are still used in some applications to this day, are harsh, full of visual obstacles and hard to scan. The obstacles, like big borders with sharp edges, constantly interrupt the eyes’ movement across the screen, making it hard to navigate the application.

Subtle gradients and “soft edges” (created by subtle drop shadows or embossing) lighten the visual impact of the screen on the user, making it actually easier to use. But that’s just one small part of the whole.


A police officer and divorced mother of three, Kathyrn Bolkovac was looking for a fresh start when she signed up as a UN peacekeeper in Bosnia. But when she began to investigate the local trafficking of young girls into prostitution, all the evidence pointed to those she worked alongside.

In the first week of October, 16 young women arrived at the local IPTF station in Doboj, the oldest city in Bosnia. They were originally from Moldova, Ukraine, Romania, Croatia, Bosnia and Belarus, and had been found after police raided a local bar. Most of the women gave separate, detailed reports of local and international police who frequented the bar as their clients. They described specific identifying features: gold teeth, jewellery, uniforms, tattoos and first names.

This was the single largest case implicating IPTF we had yet documented, and I suggested we conduct a photo lineup. Positive identification of IPTF monitors who were frequenting brothels would send a strong message to mission officials and all IPTF members that these were serious charges.

The next morning, I turned on my computer to find an email from a senior official. The email was sent to me and approximately 120 others, most of whom were American DynCorp monitors. It said there had been a raid on “some houses of ill repute” and that a “few ladies of the evening” had been taken into custody. And: “I have been informed that several descriptions were given of ‘American IPTF’ monitors… Apparently, photo lineups will be made available to the ‘witnesses’.”

My head was spinning. Did an officer just leak confidential information on the particulars of a case – to the suspects in the case? They might as well have entitled the email: “Get your alibis in order, everyone!” Shortly after, the case was pulled. Nobody could tell me why. I was livid. Why was I being paid taxpayer dollars to collect evidence I was then forced to suppress? Why should trafficked women risk their lives coming to the IPTF and give us information when we were not going to do anything with it?