Towards a Metric of Software Interface Complexity

The interaction between humans and computers increasingly governs productivity. There have been largely uncontroversial advances in interface technology, such as the original Macintosh operating system and GUIs (graphical user interface), yet the methodology of HCI is currently a confined one; it relies on the intuition of designers in conjunction with lengthy often expensive empirical study. The primary point of interest in human-computer interaction lies in what is now termed “usability,” but in the past has also been called “complexity.” Software engineers, developers, and designers are merely able to gesture at a nebulous conception of interface complexity, often disagreeing not only about what this alleged complexity amounts to, but also whether it is necessarily a positive or negative attribute. This paper aims to make a clean distinction between usability and complexity, and with this distinction to gain insight into the views concerning interface complexity. We hope to begin a discussion of a conception of interface complexity that is precise, quantifiable, and useful. With the further development of a complexity metric, a powerful tool will be placed in the hands of those interested in the improvement of software productivity.

By: Joshua I. Dulberger

Published in: RC23015 in 2003


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