Avoiding The Uncanny Valley of User Interface

Are you familiar with the uncanny valley?

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2008/12/avoiding-the-uncanny-valley-of-user-interface.html

What do you think about eyeOS? It’s an attempt to clone the modern desktop and put it on the web.

Is it ok to build your web app so it looks and behaves just like every other web app just so you don’t violate users’ unwritten expectations of how a web application should look and behave?

Isn’t breaking convention how you progress?

Where is the line between ‘being considerate of users previous standards and expectations’ and ‘being afraid to progress because some Luddite user (oh no! he didn’t just say a bad thing about ‘users’ did he!?) might be a little uncomfortable for a week’? (That is a serious question by the way.)

Nice article, I appreciate the education. So how about this. What if I’m in a flash application? Does the user think they are on the web? What if it looks like a desktop but it just happens to have a firefox window? What are the expectations when we are in a browser, but loading a flash .swf?

ps I use thunderbird against gmail, so what does that mean?

Isn’t breaking convention how you progress?

Indeed it is, but it’s a question of degree. See Doing It Like Everyone Else Does


A bit of a stretch of the metaphor, IMO.

BTW… Shouldn’t you be working on StackOverflow?

Totally agree! esp with webmail.
I had a client who was using some webmail supplied by thier ISP, and it was MS exchange webmail, which was branded outlook. the UI was exactly the same as desktop outlook 2K3, and this was the problem. they were applying desktop usage methods to a webapp and caused them (and me) a load of problems as it just wasn’t beahving ‘right’

No, Webapps apeing desktop apps causes even more confusion than it solves.

Mac apps should look like Mac apps. Windows apps should look like Windows app. People have been saying this for years. :slight_smile:

+1 @Dave Markle, you don’t need to elaborate that much to say you don’t like desktop-alike web apps.

Maybe it’s just that this point has been made so much times that you need some kind of elaboration for it to be noticed.

Anyway, I agree. Web apps should not be mimicking desktops, each have their own UI paradigm, strengths and weaknesses.

Case in point - iTunes on PC. Horrid!

And it can go the other way too - something that IS a deformed version of something else can be pitched as something entirely different so that people don’t make the comparison.

For example if the iPhone were pitched as a scaled-down laptop that only runs proprietary software, it would be seen for its limitations. But instead, it was pitched as something like super intelligent drywall (I just made that up), and in that context, it was the most amazing thing ever!

When you watch a video on YouTube, it’s A movie inside of a WEB page! rather than A new kind of T.V. with sub-standard content, sub-standard production quality, and a super-small viewing area.

…you’re violating users’ unwritten expectations of how a web application should look and behave.
For me, web applications that try to mimic desktop application violate users’ unwritten expectations of how a desktop application should look and behave. Anyway, I agree with the whole point.

Hee hee… I thought the valley in question was that between her Chesticles.

This is exactly why it pisses me off that Microsoft uses Segoe UI on all their sites.

You were just waiting for an excuse to use that picture weren’t you?

A nice cleavage shot always improves whatever I’m looking at :slight_smile:

One of the important features of the uncanny valley which Jeff doesn’t mention is that there is something the other side of the valley.

The theory is that, if your replica does manage to become nearly indistinguishable from the real thing, the feeling of familiarity returns and there’s no uneasiness about it any more

However, in the cloud (ugh) it’s impossible to be able to replicate the feeling of a desktop app as the user has complete control over their desktop settings in a way that you, the web designer, don’t have access to. So the analogy of an uncanny valley dies, and all we’re left with is an uncanny cliff with no real hope of survival on the other side.

So where does that put Java Desktop Applications?

I’ve always thought that the GUI on most Java applications is a triumph of Java over common sense and taste. They’re almost - but not quite - entirely unlike proper native applications.

Now, answer honestly: do you regret giving your email address to Chris Smith?

I felt the same way about the Linux desktops that came out a few years ago. They acted just enough like Windows to raise expectations, but they didn’t deliver. They’ve gotten much better now that they’re not trying to mock Windows 95 and they’ve moved on to doing their own thing.

Actually, this may account for why Ajax apps often bug me - they appear in a browser but they don’t behave like web pages.

Subverting the dominant paradigm causes upheaval. Sometimes it is worth it! (Experience shows that it is sually not, though.)