Interface Discovery

Published: Jun 1, 2022 by

I spend a lot of my days building new tools that individuals use to power their day to day work. Because of this I always keep an eye out for behavior in the apps that I use which inspire me to consider how my apps work. One of the things that has stood out to me over the last year is how some apps introduce let you discover functionality.

Garageband Quick Help — a feature you can enable in Garageband and Logic Pro is quick help. Once enabled it introduces a short tooltip hover over. Considering the amount of options that these applications provide and the depth of the interface being able to simply hover over a button, knob or other part of the interface and immediately find out what it can do is incredibly useful.

Adobe stories — Stories seem like a nice way to share that new functionality is enabled while also creating an index that lets users return to the a story when they are ready to use a feature. Often times when I was using Fresco I would see a new story introducing a new tool, but it wasn’t something I was ready to use yet. I knew it was there though and often times I would return to the story in the next few weeks as I tried out something new. While plenty of apps offer changelogs the presentation and the fact that stories are always right there available in the app is a nice touch.

Emacs/Jetbrains/VS Code and probably your favorite editor — This one has been around for ages, but is still missing in many tools and web apps. Universal search related to functionality. Emacs has had M-x for who knows how long, Jetbrains added Shift + Shift and VS Code has the command palette (not quite the same, or as powerful but good). Being able to toggle into these universal search places and discover options, settings and commands is really valuable and I’ve found plenty of features I never knew existed just by searching a related term.

RTFM — nothing new here, but having picked up some new hobbies and devices over the last couple of years having some docs is super helpful. We often take this for granted, especially if we are building internal tools, but at the end of the day a user manual goes a long way to enabling somebody to read the instructions and be on their way. Bonus points if your docs are built in, indexed and up to date.

Photo by Alex Fu: