[R] R GUI For Which User?

Dan Putler dputler at scu.edu
Thu Jul 11 20:11:50 CEST 2002

I also agree with Philippe Grosjean that there is a need to investigate the 
effects of different types of GUIs on software "usability". To do that, 
however, there is a need to develop a set of appropriate metrics, and to 
understand that the appropriateness of a given metric (and ultimately a given 
type of GUI) is likely to be conditional on the type of user.

My sense is that the heat of the rhetoric in this discussion is driven by 
perceived differences in implicit metrics and student/user types.  If I am 
training students to become professional biostatisticians who will be 
analyzing data from clinical drug trials, then my concerns (really the most 
important metrics) relate to the ability of the student to do the most 
complete and appropriate analysis possible in a way that can consistently be 
replicated.  In this instance, the most preferred user interface for teaching 
these students is going to be a text editor or an IDE.  On the otherhand, if 
my students are MBAs who will ultimately be marketing managers, placing them 
in a situation where they will be "customers" of statistical analyses rather 
then analysts themselves, then my concerns and appropriate metrics are very 
different.  Specifically, I want to make these students informed buyers of 
statistical analysis.  The best way to make them informed about the process 
of statistical analysis, and how to use the results of an analysis to make 
better managerial decisions, is to have them actually conduct several 
analyses and have them apply the results to a managerial problem in a 
low-risk, classroom environment.  However, in this sort of environment the 
two things I want to accomplish are: (1) minimizing the time it takes them to 
be able to conduct a usable (but likely imperfect) analysis and (2) 
minimizing the frustration level they experience when working with the 
software.  In this instance the best interface will be very point-and-click 
oriented, which will greatly limit a student's freedom in the types of 
analyses s/he can conduct, but will keep them out of "trouble" and minimize 
the time it takes them to use the software in a useful way.

So why this long-winded discussion?  The point I want to make is that there 
probably isn't a single "ideal" interface to R.  In a related thread, one 
contributor commented that there were 10 GUIs for R in some form of 
development, and there could ultimately be 20 (my sense is the author 
perceived this to be a bad thing).  It is possible that 10 different GUIs is 
the right number, although it is an empirical question.  The saving grace is 
that most (all)? of us are empirical researchers.

Dan Putler
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