Author Archives: dtravisphd

Must try harder

I saw these two juxtaposed tweets in my Twitter stream today. These kinds of issues are par for the course with new software, but in an old timer like Office it’s very hard to excuse.

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A design pattern to avoid scroll stoppers

I was reading about a book on Amazon today when I came across this:

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Take a look at that last bullet.

The designers have greyed it out to indicate that there’s more content available. 

Now I know that the ‘Show More’ link should be sufficient, but frankly if that second bullet had been in the same black colour as the first one, I’m sure I would have missed it. After all, there are quite a few links on Amazon product pages and this one runs the risk of disappearing into the noise.

This is similar to the problem Jared Spool describes as ‘scroll stoppers': a design element (like a horizontal rule) that makes you think the page has loaded all of the content when in fact there’s more to be seen below the fold. 

I think that the Amazon designers have done a clever job in creating a design pattern that avoids this effect. I wonder if a browser vendor will implement the same kind of pattern at the bottom of a browser page to indicate that it has more content?

We have expectations about page layout

Quick question: If you wanted to search this web site for a product, where would you click?

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Maybe you managed to stop yourself in time, realising that the field at the top right is in fact a newsletter sign up form, not search. But I’m sure that they must have many other users who type search requests in that field. The fact is, we have certain expectations about where certain items will be on a web page. As a designer it makes sense to cash in on those expectations rather than try to subvert them.

User control and freedom

A basic rule of software design is to provide people with an emergency exit, if (for example), they don’t happen to have the device handy when they decide to install the software.

So how do I get out of this screen?

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What’s going on at Skype Update HQ?

Today, Skype told me that it needed to update itself. You know the kind of thing:

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So I clicked on the “Update” button and then saw this dialog box:

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I thought it was curious that it was “Downloading 32.7 MB of 22.2 MB”, but I let it carry on with the download in the hope it would sort itself out.

Finally, a third dialog box appeared:

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I think the developers did a good job of dealing with this problem in their user interface but it’s sad that a mass market application like Skype has this problem at all. 

Social: Good news for burglars?

It won’t have escaped your attention that everything needs to be social these days. I imagine design teams huddled in dingy rooms, having been told by senior management that they can’t emerge until they’ve made their app or web site ‘more social’. 

The culture is to make ‘sharing’ a default option. Since we know that people tend to go with the flow and accept the defaults, this makes it less likely that people will stop and question what they’re sharing. 

And there are risks with this kind of behaviour. 

For example, by announcing your location on Foursquare, you’re also announcing that you’re not at home, which is good news for burglars. Then I came across this today after buying a CD player on Amazon. 

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You’ll see that Amazon are encouraging me to share my purchase on Facebook and Twitter. 

Enlarged view:

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I doubt that someone will want to burgle me for a £30 CD Player but if I’d just bought an expensive digital camera or a computer, it might be different.

Hidden controls

I’m all for supporting free software, but I don’t think it’s right to trick people into doing it.

I came across this dialog box in Vuze. Where would you click if you didn’t want to donate?

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If you’re still stuck, look to the left of the mouse cursor.

Keyboard accelerators for web sites

A common refrain in usability is to support expert users. This often boils down to giving users shortcuts for common tasks: one of my personal favourites on the web is Amazon’s ‘One Click’ button that allows you to purchase a book with just, well, one click. Within desktop applications, expert users are much better supported with tools like keyboard accelerators. Curiously, very few web sites appear to support keyboard shortcuts, but I came across this excellent example at flickr recently. When you want to scan through lots of photos, these shortcuts are a real boon.

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Black hat usability taken a little too literally

I get lots of spam mail. I’m sure you do too. Lately, I’ve found myself looking for the ‘unsubscribe’ link in the emails that I’m sent.

I received this today. Where would you click if you wanted to unsubscribe?

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If you check the footer, you’ll see that the unsubscribe link is written in black. Yes, a black link on a black background.

 

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I truly hope there is a special place in hell for designers who do this kind of thing.

Sign-in woes

Increasingly these days I find myself visiting a site that I used in the dim and distant past but unsure if I actually registered at the site. Royal Mail is one example. I visited the site today to buy postage for a large letter, went through the long process of creating a stamp and then reached the dreaded ‘Register or sign in’ screen. After trying to register it helpfully pointed out that my email address was already on file, so I guessed at my password and hey presto I was signed in. However, rather than being greeted by my basket I saw this error message.

“You are already registered for this brand/community. You can not register again.”

I clicked the shopping basket icon on the top right of the screen, but that just seemed to link to the shop. 

I gave up and put two 1st class stamps on the envelope, overpaying by 20p or so. 

Maybe that’s their secret plan.

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