User Interface Hall of Fame

A long, long time ago, I talked about a poor user interface. This is the follow-up "good user interface" post that I promised.

I'd like to talk about Anki, which is a flashcard program. The user interface is well done for several reasons:

  • It is uncluttered: in the main screen you are presented with the flash card decks that you have downloaded. You can open a deck (i.e. to study the deck) by clicking the button right next to the deck. The number of cards that you have "due" to study today is shown right there.
  • When you've opened a deck, you are presented with the "Study Options" screen. At this point, the main thing you want to do is review your cards. Again, this is a big "review" button, and it is selected/highlighted by default so you can just press enter/spacebar to move into review mode.

    • (I will note that the Study Options screen might be overcomplicated. There are a number of options here, and some information presented that does not seem essential. I'd say it's a minor fault that does not detract overall from the simplicity of this application.)
  • When reviewing, you are presented with one "face" of a flashcard and a "Show Answer" button. Again the button is selected/highlighted by default so you can just press spacebar to see the answer.

  • Once the answer is revealed, you click a button to say if you got the answer correct, and how easy it was for you to know the answer. So, for example, you're studying a French->English deck, and the face of the card is "non". Well, that's an easy one, it's "no". So when asked, you press the Very Easy button. Or, in a nice interface touch, you press "4", since the buttons are mapped to the first four number keys: "Again" (meaning incorrect) is 1, "Good" is 2, "Easy" is 3, and "Very Easy" is 4.

    • Because of the layout of the buttons, the UI can be driven very quickly and easily from the keyboard: see a card, say the answer, press space to show the answer with the thumb, press 1-4 with one of the fingers, and then the next card is shown.
  • Unobtrusive status information is shown in the bottom left statusbar. It shows the number of failed cards that you need to review, the number of cards awaiting review, and the number of new cards today. It also shows the amount of time that it expects you have remaining to study, based on your average time to answer each card and the number of cards remaining. And then there are small graphs that indicate by color and size whether you've done well (green, >80% correct) or poorly (red, <50% correct).

Anki also has a facility for editing cards, but I'm not going to review that. The primary study feature is really the key piece of the application, and it deserves a spot in the UI Hall of Fame.

Posted on 2012-05-05 by brian in user-interface .
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