A Dandy Encyber PediaEdward Baig
The way William Flora saw it, Microsoft Corp.'s Encarta was a software program that looked too much like, well, a software program. So Flora took on the challenge of redesigning the interface on Microsoft's multimedia CD-ROM encyclopedia. In the process, he made the program a lot more versatile and pleasing to use.
For starters, the original 1993 version of Encarta had too much clutter on the screen. It looked more like a serious spreadsheet than a warm-and-fuzzy consumer title. The program contained dozens of buttons, distracting users from its main focus--to help them uncover the nuggets of content they needed to tackle school papers or other research chores.
The newly designed interface on Encarta '95 was meant to amplify and not overwhelm the content, a great deal of which was fresh information (about half the articles in Encarta were revised in the 1995 version). Flora's team cut the number of buttons in half. To call up additional information or functions, they added "fly-out" menus that swoosh down as needed. For example, if you place the cursor over "areas of interest" at the top of the screen, a menu appears with specific choices, such as "life sciences" or "performing arts."
Another consumer-friendly move: Designers switched to an understated, less-vibrant palette that is easier on the eyes. And users can change the size of article text or choose a flexible screen layout that lets them display--or hide--article outlines.
Microsoft also improved Encarta's searching capability. The program's Pinpointer lets people do searches based on words, geography, subject, time, and the type of media displayed (sound or video). Now, you can narrow references on Greek mythology down to a picture and spoken line from Sophocles' Oedipus Rex--or get a different take on the play from Sigmund Freud.