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Docked Shopping Cart

October 29, 2005 

Synopsis: A real improvement in the online shopping cart has been created by, by applying a simple concept that has been present in varying degrees in all programs, ever since the command line disappeared... docking instead of dialogs.

Thanks to a post on the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) ( discussion group, I want to share with you a design idea that is sure to prevail over time. And it's amazing how simple the idea is, simply docking the shopping cart and supporting drag-and-drop. Here's a picture:

That's it. Do it. Get used to it. Everyone will be doing it eventually so I put it in my Function Tree. The only curious part---or is it?---is that the site is apparently just a T-shirt sideline of a software shop, not a substantial e-commerce juggernaut. Great work, and thany you Panic! But I do have...

Some Comments

Panic's docked cart is a fascinating statement about the craft of user interface design and the software industry's dynamics:

1) On the one hand, it represents simply applying a trend in UI design that has been unstoppable: "docking" more and more controls. Whether you call them palettes, docked panels, or non-modal windows, this is all they've done. (That is: There was a time when, in graphics editors, you had to open and close a dialog for every color change. Now the color swatches stay on the screen all the time if you want... docked.)

2) Yet they thought of it first, so they still deserve tremendous credit.

3) And why did it take 11 (?) years of the web of the web to dock a shopping cart... in an industry that we think moves fast? One reason shows up if you look under the hood. It's not meant as a slight on MS, just a comment on complexity and industry tradeoffs:

<!-- This bizarre chunk of magic IE CSS conditional code is an attempt
to get IE to display our floating cart div properly. Hopefully, future
versions of IE will natively understand position: fixed, and this can go away.
Source: -->

4) If we teach highschool programmers when to dock things, we will have extracted the right moral from the thread and served our craft well. Now as long as Panic doesn't think that the mere notion of docking itself (as opposed to their code) is protected by their patent claim...

<!-- PanicGoods Product Page v1.0 -->
<!-- (C) 2005 Panic, Inc. / Cabel Sasser -->
<!-- Patent Pending -->

"My interest in usability arose from the pain and tears of patching the wounds of suffering interface designs with the inadequate bandages of help files and user guides." — Daniel Cohen

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