An idea for a car UI

car UI 4

So, I’m sure it’s been done, but why not mount your screen in the middle of the steering wheel?

This isn’t a touchscreen, by the way – it’s operated by four buttons down each side (remember the Nokia 9100?) – at any time there are different options (words on the screen) by each button.

So, you don’t have to take your hands off the wheel, wave your hand in mid-air, and attempt (and often fail) to touch an icon on a touchscreen. Just use your thumbs.

And your eyes are as little removed as possible from the action in front of you. In fact, most activities would just be muscle memory from your thumbs – you wouldn’t have to take your eyes off the road *at all* to tap the sequence of button that means (say) “Main Menu” – “Radio” – “Preset 3”.

(You can make a case for the screen & buttons rotating with the wheel as you turn it, or staying put – either would be fine though.)

So: eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, and no mis-types. What’s not to like?


A solution to the “ribbon vs toolbar” conundrum? (How Microsoft should’ve done ribbons?)

The “ribbon vs toolbar” debate polarises PC users, perhaps more than any other issue. It seems (from my recent research) maybe half the world like the ribbon and hate the toolbar – and vice versa.

While doing some app UI design recently, I tried to find a way to heal the rift:

  • Have a ribbon-like structure, rather than vertical menus, but on each ribbon, group the most commonly used items together first, under the label ‘Main’;
  • Then have an extra ribbon/toolbar – I’m going to name it ‘Main Toolbar’ for now – which just shows all of those groups of most commonly-used items, the ‘Main’ sections, all together on one ribbon – and voilà – it does what the old toolbars used to do.

So, say, here’s a wireframe of our first ribbon, for a ‘Docs’ (or ‘File’) menu/ribbon (by the way, don’t worry about this pic going “under” the right-hand WordPress column):

It looks similar to a Microsoft Ribbon; it’s just the menu, spelled out as icons and text, across the screen.

Note that the first group, at the left end of this ribbon, is itself labelled Main, and it’s the most commonly-used Doc/File actions – New, Save etc

(Incidentally, I’ve placed all the more advanced commands under the sub-title “Advanced”, to indicate to normal users that they should not worry if they do not understand these commands. So now there’s a nice left-to-right progression, from the main, everyday commands, through less used ones, to the advanced, power-user ones.)

Here’s the ‘Format’ ribbon/menu, say:

Again, its most common items are grouped on the left – Style (“Heading 3”), Font settings. B/I/U etc.

So Docs/Insert/Format/Tools are like using a ribbon; it’s your menu, laid out graphically, left to right.

But there’s another ribbon/menu/toolbar (whatever!), at the top right, that I’ve called ‘Main Toolbar’, and it’s like this:

It’s made up of the ‘Main’ sections of ‘Docs’, of ‘Insert’, of ‘Format’, and of ‘Tools’.

It’s like a 2-line Toolbar, i.e. with the old-fashioned toolbar benefit that all the things you’re most likely to want are now always on-screen.  (And not that dissimilar to a typical Apple Mac toolbar, by the way, which is 1 line of icons & text, rather than two.)

But it feels like a ribbon too, and it’s part of a combined toolbar/ribbon system:

1) Now if it so happens you’re a toolbar fan: fine, you click ‘Main toolbar’, and there’s a conventional toolbar, and it’s made up of all those ‘Main’ sections from each menu. And while we’re now in ‘toolbar/menus mode’, you can tap a menu and use it, and it then goes away and the ‘Main toolbar’ reappears. (Eg, click Insert, then Bullets – and you’re back with your Toolbar.)

2) But if you want to use it in a ribbon-like sense, you just tap any of Docs, Insert, Format, or Tools, and then tap on the document (sorry it’s only one line high in these pics – the line starting “Hi folks”), and now you’re in ribbon-world. You can stay there forever if you like: it’s now a ribbon UI. You tap Docs, Insert, Format, or Tools, and it stays displayed. (There’d be some minor graphical change to indicate  ribbon world vs toolbar/menu world.)

3) And in both worlds – ribbons, and toolbar/menus – you can tap the name of the currently displayed menu/ribbon/toolbar – to make it all go away and maximise screenspace. (Handy for tablet UIs, say.) When it’s like this, you can display Docs, Insert, Format, or Tools, and if you use them, they then go away again, returning you to your desired “maximum screenspace” state. So they’re now pop-ups. (Or if you bring one of them up but then click  on the doc, then you’re saying “back to ribbon mode please”.

(Here’s an animated Powerpoint wireframe of the whole thing. Click wherever you like.UI idea 5a – remember that if you’re a Toolbar person, and bring up the Toolbar, then if you now use one of the menus and pick something from it, you’re returned to the Toolbar being displayed. But if you prefer to use it ribbon-stylee, ie bring up a ribbon/menu then click on the document, it now acts like a ribbon, and ribbons now stay displayed.)

So… It always does what you want, and if it ever did do something that you didn’t want, it’s always just one obvious click to make it go back to what you do want – if you like toolbars, and it’s not there for some reason, click ‘Main toolbar’ and off you go. Or if you like ribbons, and it’s gone away, click the ribbon you want, then get on with editing your document.

A little icing on the cake of course (especially for power users) is that you can swap. So if you’re doing a bit of everyday editing: ‘Main toolbar’. And if you’re doing a load of file-based stuff, say, click ‘Docs’ and get on with it.


Well, by all means tell me what you make of it. But it does let both toolbar fans and ribbon fans continue pretty much as before. It also lets users have the same UI across desktops and tablets – which is great for them (one UI) and is also a major trend in the biz (Microsoft are bringing out a new Windows 8 system soon that, much like Apple’s Lion and upcoming Mountain Lion, will move further towards converging the smartphone / tablet / PC ‘experience’ as people like to call it. That said, Microsoft are plainly going even more down the Ribbon road in Windows 8, with Explorer getting one, so this issue, of lots of people now being used to ribbons, isn’t going away.)

Find me at

I’m Nick Healey, and my proper (company) website is at
Slash Design Ltd.

I’ve been designing mobile and other tech UX since the 90’s, when I designed Psion and Symbian’s platforms.

(This site is something of an anti-blog, at the moment…)

This is not a blogpost

So many blogs. So little time.

let’s not spend all day reading and re-posting…


Smartphone Design enters Stone Age

You know how, soooo often, you get your iPhone out to see a map of where you are, or to check Flook for what’s interesting there, or… or for whatever, but Britain’s “O2” mobile network can’t provide even the tiny data bandwidth required?

Like, about 50% of the time, I’d guess?

For some while now I’ve been carrying a second smartphone for just such occasions:

UPG - the Useless Palm Gadget

UPG - the Useless Palm Gadget

Made by the Stuckist artist Richard Conway-Jones, the UPG (“Useless Palm Gadget”) performs all of the same advanced data functions as my O2 iPhone does half the time (ie none). But with many advantages –

– iPhones are common as muck now (hence the “bandwidth divided by infinity” problem). Whereas people rush over to watch my UPG fail to display a map.

– Made of solid plaster – scratch-proof, drop-proof (may damage floors).

– Big, firm, tactile buttons, made from bottle tops and penny pieces, plus a screen that’s equally readable in any lighting.

– Sorry, iPhone users – but this actually *is* a work of art.

And I’ve just discovered UPG-Sync, which guarantees that all my devices contain identical Contact data. (It’s more a philosophy than a software product – you get all the other devices together and whack them with your UPG.)

In November 2010 I had the pleasure of introducing my UPG while presenting at the Smart Device and Mobile User Experience Summit, in London. Demand is already phenomenal. It’s a better option than my iPhone 50% of the time. And much, much cheaper.

(PS Here’s a review of that show, with various transgressions of mine, on leading tech-news site The Register.)