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With Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble’s comments about upcoming redesign of the Second Life user-interface, I took the time to ask Linden Lab about it; both the goals and the methodology, as they’re of considerable interest to me, and – if you’re reading this – potentially of great interest to you also.

Second Life Viewer 2’s design methodology suffered from the sin of local maxima – which is how it came to be the way it is, while still falsely appearing to be a great leap forward. I’ll be talking about that specifically in an upcoming piece. Watch for it.

After a bit of a wait for everything to go through the communications machinery, the Lab’s PR office got me a statement back from Rhett Linden. The absolute first thing that is mentioned is the side-bar (or side-panel, as you might prefer to call it) looks to be discarded.

There will be an initial release that removes the Side Panel and starts to normalize the behavior of floaters and toolbars. This isn’t a total redesign, and what you will see in the first release is not the end state – it’s the beginning of many changes across the board where we can improve the value of the service. 

By ‘normalize’, I believe you can infer that things that normally appear in the side-bar are going to go back to being in their own little windows within the viewer (called ‘floaters’ by viewer-developers), and that those windows are going to be trained to behave in more familiar and intuitive ways.

Rhett also hastens to remind us that we won’t see the whole thing change in one fell swoop. The UI is going to be changing for a while and the Lab will be monitoring and measuring.

 

While we don’t reveal our design methodology [I’m guessing that means this time –Tat], it involved some traditional components you would expect – talking to and observing users as well as other methods. We’ll be watching a number of metrics and continuing to test things as we make these and other changes to improve Second Life.

On the one hand it is nice to think that the new user-interface will not just be a sudden fait accompli, but unfortunately the darker side to that is a user-interface that is a moving-target for an unspecified amount of time, and frankly that might not be any better as a situation. We’ll just have to see.

Our goals for the coming UI changes were simple:

  • Provide existing users a flexible workspace so they can arrange the UI to fit the way they use Second Life.  This is important because it moves us toward a model more like most creative software.
  • Design a UI that gives new users the essential functionality they need – which Basic Mode showed us was just too basic – and gives them access to all functionality as they grow.

Basic mode too basic? I can certainly see that. The idea of a flexible and customisable user-interface for Second Life is one that I’ve been relentlessly harping on, ad nauseum, for a very long time, so I cannot say that it is an unwelcome goal.

The first code for the new UI systems in the viewer was merged today.

What are your own thoughts? Does that sound like somewhere that you want the Second Life viewer to go?

Update: Nalates Urriah has screenshots of the first cut of the new UI.

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