Academic software: KENPAVE is the depth of bad design

I had forgotten to mention previously that one of the worst offenders in terms of terrible user interfaces is academic software. I mean software that is included with textbooks on CDs and other matter. For example, one of the courses I took while a student was on pavement design. A piece of software included was called KENPAVE (The “KEN” signified “Kentucky”) had to have been one of the worst things ever.

Aside from the fact that it requires now depreciated dependencies and tends to crash (said crashes being totally unrecoverable with all work being lost), the interface shows a total lack of even being aware of Windows specifications.

Let’s start with the first screen:

KENPAVE / A Computer Package for Pavement Analysis and Design / Developed by Dr. Yang H. Huang, P.E. / Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering / University of Kentucky / Lexington KY 40506-0281

OK who chose the colors? I count seven different colors on this thing, which is completely gratuitous. The buttons are arranged in no logical order or understandable configuration. After some investigation, you find out you have to do it like this:


  1. Click “LAYERINP” to enter the information
  2. Click “KENLAYER” to get the program to do the analysis
  3. Click “LGRAPH” to get a pretty picture

Clicking LAYERINP:

Main Menu of LAYERINP. (I cannot type out a description of how hard to follow this is.)

Here’s a bad sign: The “help” is displayed as part of the main user interface. It takes up so much space I’d like to expand the window, but…

Showing the results of expanding the window: the interface is hard coded for a single resolution.

…it wasn’t designed with that in mind. You can also go the other way…

Same window resized as narrow as possible.

Now, to start analyzing, you have to go to File > New to create a blank file and then start entering in data by clicking the menus. You cannot see it here, but the menus like “General”, “Zcoord” and so on are actually buttons. Clicking them brings up new screens. The General “menu” gives us:

General Information of LAYERINP for Set No. 1. (Interface discussion below.)

Again the rather stupid seeming “help” is there, informing you that you just got here by clicking the so-called “menu”. More notably, and what really gets me, is that some of these entries are using numbers in place of drop down boxes. The first line, “Type of material”, should have a selection of four options in a list, not require you to make up for the programmers lazyness. Same goes for lines NDAMA, NSTD, NBOND and NUNIT. Why is the value of NL colored red, unlike everything else?

Also, note the lack of any way to close this window. You have to type a title, and fiddle with other lines before it’ll let you exit. Trying to shortcut will get you errors like this:

KENPAVE / If NDAMA = 0, NZ should not be zero. / OK

I was going to detail further poor design, but evidently another .OCX file was missing and the program was not built to fail gracefully. Instead, it just fails and corrupts your work to date as well.

If anyone is interested, I may delve further into this piece of work when I feel like getting smacked with unhelpful errors without much warning.

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A hopefully entertaining blogger, frequently of technical things, but some artistic commentary too.

9 thoughts on “Academic software: KENPAVE is the depth of bad design”

  1. The 2nd edition (most recent) of this textbook and accompanying software was published in 2003. I’m sure that, to meet the publication deadline, the authors had to provide the updated software well in advance. (The first edition software required the old-style running with a separate input file, if you’re old enough to recall that.} Evaluated in that context, it wasn’t so bad, especially as the software was essentially a free bonus with the book. The program was good enough that it was used by practicing engineers, rather than just for the educational purposes originally intended. So while it might epitomize bad software design by today’s standards, it was just fine for the intended pavement design education purposes back then. I will agree that it was a somewhat “creative” choice of layout and colors, however.


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