Do you want to improve the user experience of your graphical modeling tool? Are usability considerations currently "too much effort" for you and your project team?
Users are accustomed to a variety of utile features in textual editing that also benefit graphical modeling tools, such as efficient auto-completion, automated formatters, and immediate feedback on the software. As developers of graphical modeling tools, we strive to assist users in creating high-quality and scalable models.
You can’t have it all – trade-offs between usability aspects
Over the last years, we experienced that improving the user interface of our modeling tool involves difficult trade-offs that the project's community needs to discuss. The trade-offs affect either usability aspects or user groups: For instance, adding a dedicated feature may support novice users in learning the tool, while slowing down experts. We share our experiences in dealing with such trade-offs as a software developer without extensive knowledge of user interface design.
Poor visibility, hidden dependencies, or high viscosity – you name it
The “Cognitive Dimensions of Notations” framework provides a set of usability aspects. The dimensions create a common understanding among the project team and encourage us to discuss the involved usability aspects rather than focusing on features. We show our lightweight evaluation approach that uses the framework. It includes developer walk-throughs and user studies within your community. We applied it to tool 4diac IDE – and found numerous usability flaws that affect our users every day.
Where is the problem? The many causes of usability issues.
Of course, it is not enough to find an issue – we need to fix it. But how? Usability issues come from almost anywhere: The way of presenting information in your tool, the Eclipse platform, the graphics frameworks you are using, or even the modeling language itself. Based on examples from our own experience with developing graphical modeling tools, we discuss common problems and their solution.