Sunday, November 17, 2013

Does GIMP have good or bad usability?

GIMP logoA year ago, I asked readers to suggest programs that have good usability (I also solicited feedback through colleagues via their blogs and their readers). Many people talked about GIMP, the open source graphics program (very similar to Photoshop). There were some strong statements on either side: About half said it had good usability, and about half said it had bad usability. However, I decided to skip GIMP in my usability study, as it is intended for people who do specific graphics work, and my usability test targeted the general user. But I didn't discuss the split opinions in the usability of GIMP.

In following up, it seemed that two types of users thought GIMP had poor usability:

  1. Those who used Photoshop a lot, such as professional graphics editors or photographers
  2. Those who never used Photoshop, and only tried GIMP because they needed a graphics program

screenshot of GIMP
screenshot of GIMP

Users who thought GIMP had good usability used Photoshop occasionally, such as hobbyist photographers or casual web designers.

Digging further, I believe this is because:

  • Those who only occasionally use Photoshop understand the concepts and terminology used in Photoshop and so are easily able to transfer their knowledge from Photoshop to GIMP.
  • But those who never used Photoshop were completely lost in the terminology and concepts. GIMP relies on layers for image construction (so does Photoshop). "Layers" are a difficult concept for someone who has never worked with them before.
  • And those who use Photoshop all the time were confused that functionality and features differed slightly from Photoshop, or was accessed differently, or used different terminology; these users were stymied by what they perceived as a dramatic change from Photoshop to GIMP.

So GIMP is an interesting case. It's an example of mimicking another program perhaps too well, but (necessarily) not perfectly. GIMP has good usability if you have used Photoshop occasionally, but not if you are an expert in Photoshop, and not if you are a complete Photoshop novice.

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