Author Archives: dtravisphd

We have expectations about page layout

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


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?


What’s going on at Skype Update HQ?

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


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


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:


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. 


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

Enlarged view:

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?

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.


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?


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




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

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.


Speak the user’s language

This screenshot comes from a web site where I’m registered and where I’ve bought items in the past. What do you think I did wrong?


It turns out I entered a different e-mail address to the one I used to register at this site. But I’m not sure how I was meant to divine that from this error message.

The Post Office shows how not to do it

I ordered some foreign currency from the Post Office today. I was a bit disappointed by needing to opt-in to opt-out of spam:


I was then disappointed some more when I was asked to press the ‘Purchase Order’ button, but my only choices were ‘Buy Now’ and ‘Cancel Order’. I know it’s not hard to work out the right choice, but this is totally unacceptable in a user interface.

Incidentally, after clicking on the Buy Now button I went through a ‘Verified By Visa’ section. Maybe I entered my password wrongly, but when I was returned to the Post Office screen I was told that the transaction had failed and I needed to start again. 

Which of these two options do you think is the correct one?

(a) It had remembered all my address details so I didn’t need to enter them again.
(b) I had to type it all again.

Based on the site’s previous performance, you don’t really need me to tell you the answer, do you?