Re: Dia's user interface

On Mon, 22 Apr 2002, Alan Horkan wrote:

i just finished reading that article, i like Havoc.

i went on for ages about keybindings but never got around to submitting
all the necessary patches.  I know that you can easily set these yourself
but that is no reason not to have sensible defaults (as i have said
previously on this list and was mentioned in the article).

I agree.  Most people don't know about the assignable shortcuts, so we
should have sensible shortcuts whereever we can.  Most of the Ctrl keys are
assigned, but I think the single-letter shortcuts should be assigned to
things like the standard tools.

if you are trying to do a fully coloured diagram in dia it is very
difficult as you have select each item, choose properties then choose the
color.  Ideally there would be a color picker so i could choose simply
"red", "green", etc or use #00000, i dont have time to go into detail, i
will eleaborate later if you like.  Try using dia for drawing artwork
instead of using the more sensible option of Sodipodi (which unlike dia
does not run on both windows and linux).

Here's a UI question:  If multiple objects are selected, should properties
changes apply to them all?  Currently that only happens when the objects
are grouped.

A couple improvements for the color picking I've been pondering:
Have easy access to the most frequently used colors in the diagram (not
  sure how -- menu on color widget?  Menu somewhere else?)
Have (even) more selection types, like select by same color, same line
  style etc.

MDI is great if you have a decent window manager, but frankly win32 does
not and it would be vastly more convenient if i could pin the tools
windows always on top, or that i could have the main window maximised
with enough room left for the tools window (i could do this manually but
anyone who tells me that is missing the point).  This kind of improvement
might be more appropriate to gtk for windows rather than dia, but i have
not talked to anyone further upstream.  Essentially organising the
various windows is a pain for some one who (even when using linux) is
still very used to SDI.

Somebody (I forget who) mentioned the desire for a tabbed environment,
basically being able to have a single 'document' (file) consist of several
diagrams, shown as tabs.  But that's not your point.

Side note:  For those with decent window managers, I've found it *very*
useful to have the (say) Windows key control all window managing, and then
have Windows+Leftbutton be move window anywhere in the window.  Reduces the
time spent looking for window decorations a lot.  But that's not your point

I believe we can give placement hints that the decent window managers may
ignore, but which may make it easier for SDI people to have a decent
layout.  Point to work on.

It was ages before i realised i had to use the center button to access
certain features.  Not many laptops come with a 3 button mouse, using a
trackpad can be far less precise than a mouse so i appriecate when a
program is well designed and accesable (but mostly i wait until i have a
desktop computer i can work at).  Sometimes redundancy is bad but i think
it should be possible to do almost anything just using the keyboard
(although this is slightly less practical with a drawing application than
say a word processor).

Ugh.  Good point.  A first step may be to have the object menu be
duplicated in the right-hand menu.  But we should definitely have a
keyboard shortcut for the menus -- seems even when the diagram menu bar is
on, the indicated shortcuts don't work.  And the diagram menu should
probably be on by default, for accessibility?

Are the start-up tips (as in Gimp and Gnucash) useful?  They may reduce the
amount of simple questions (like right-button click).  If well organized,
they can come instead of (or with) the splash screen.

Labelled toolbar buttons.  When you are just getting started having to
use tooltips is slow and cumbersome.  Also bigger buttons are easier to
hit.  Although i realise this may not be appropriate for Dia, it is
something programs like abiword should make more use of.  (Abiword can
actually do this if you edit a config file and it has the UI for it but
no one actually wired the UI to functionality.  It is an old bug and one
of my pet peeves but i digress).

Is this for the toolbox icons (ie pointer, magnify etc) or are you thinking
of load/save/print-toolbars?

I found the default selection behaviour very odd.  If i select an obect i
do not expect both the current and previous objects to be selected
(unless i have held down shift or ctrl or something).  This may be what
other have become used to but it is inconsistant with my general usage of
other programs, such as selecting files in Nautilus or on the desktop.

That's not what's supposed to happen, and I can't reproduce it.  Shift does
indeed make multiple selections.  Can you explain in more detail?

Font sizes are not set using the standard sizes such as 10 point, 12
point, 24 point etc.  It is like forcing an American to use metric.  I
can figure it out but i know roughly what size 12 point is when it is
printed and i dont have the same referenece to reality when the units are

Yes, that's probably the biggest UI problem, the fact that the units are
hardwired to centimeters.  There's half-assed code in there that does
unit-based input, but it needs to be tested and used.

Hope that helps.  I am one of those Usability critics mentioned in the
article who does not submit much code (yet).  I would be happy to give
this more thought and analyse more what things slowed me down when using
dia or did not work as expected.  I hope i can help to make dia even

That would be wonderful.  Every time I use Dia seriously (as opposed to
hacking on it) I find things I'd like to improve, but I never write them

PPS I strongly suggest comparing and reusing the best ideas from similar
programs like Kivio, Visio, Rational Rose, Sodipodi, Corel Draw etc.

Good point.

Thanks for all your comments.  This was exactly what I was hoping to hear
(including the fact that the UI is not hopeless:).  


Lars Clausen (| Hårdgrim of Numenor
"I do not agree with a word that you say, but I   |----------------------------
will defend to the death your right to say it."   | Where are we going, and
    --Evelyn Beatrice Hall paraphrasing Voltaire  | what's with the handbasket?

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