Usability

Intel Core i7 isn’t fast enough for Adobe

Uhl in Eagle, ID – I received this warning message today when I launched Adobe Bridge CS3 for the first time on my new computer, a Dell Studio XPS 435T. I thought it was pretty funny that it told me my processor was not compatible, even though it’s an Intel Core i7 920, one of the fastest processors currently on the market.

AdobeBridgeError

Lesson for you software developers: Don’t hard code specific processor versions into your product!

Secondly, any sort of system check is better done before the product is installed, not after. That way the user hasn’t wasted any time if they postpone the install until they upgrade their hardware, or, decide to install it on a different machine altogether. Anyway, it made me chuckle when I read it. And yes, Adobe Bridge runs just fine on my new computer.


New York Times Reference Search

Nytlookupcrop Uhl in Eagle, ID – As a user experience professional, I appreciate good design and today I was pleasantly surprised by a new feature of the online version of The New York Times. I read a lot on the web and I come across quite a few words I don't know (probably should have paid more attention in English class!). When I do, I go to straight to Mirriam-Webster Online to look them up. The reason I choose M-W, is because they allow you to listen to the pronunciation of the entries without having to sign-up for premium service (not the case with Dictionary.com).

This is my usual routine when I come across a word I don't know:

  1. Double-click the word to select it
  2. Press Ctrl-C to copy it
  3. Click the M-W icon in my Quick Launch bar
  4. Wait for the page to load
  5. Press Ctrl-V to paste the word
  6. Press Enter

It really doesn't take that long, but it's a bit of mousing and clicking. But while I was reading the NYTimes article, "The Afterlife Is Expensive for Digital Movies" today, I came across the word "husband" used in a different context than I've seen before. So I double-clicked the word to try and select it. It highlighted at first, but it didn't stay selected. After a brief, "Huh?!" moment, a second browser window started to open. At first I thought it was a pop-up ad, so I headed for the Close button. But as I was doing so, I saw the content and realized that it was a dictionary entry for the word "husband!" Cool, they read my mind!

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Fruit Tree Pruning

Img_7024Uhl in Eagle, ID – We have seven fruit trees in our backyard that we planted a few years ago. Since we got them when they were fairly small they didn't really start producing until last year. But the thing about fruit trees is they need annual pruning. There are a couple reasons for pruning. One is to reduce the density of branches so that each branch can get the appropriate amount of light as well as provide enough water and nutrients to the fruit when they develop. The second aspect is a usability issue—to make sure the tree easy to pick from! Even though some of ours are dwarf trees, if we just let them grow unfettered, the fruit would be 20 feet off the ground!

Img_7029 So each year at about this time I go out with my pruning shears and "sculpt" the trees to satisfy both criteria. It's actually kind of a mental exercise where I'd study the current structure of the tree and figure out what branches to eliminate so that what's left is an open and productive tree. When I'm not sure about a specific branch, I err on the side of cutting it. As they say in the Fruit Tree Pruning video we purchased, "When in doubt, thin out!" So now all of the trees are ready for spring to arrive and from the forecast it could be next week. Some of the trees already had buds! Hopefully when they bloom we won't have a hard-freeze.


Lazy Programmers

Lazyprogrammers1_2Uhl in Eagle, ID – Even though I am on my work sabbatical, I still find it hard for the user experience guy in me to ignore bad design. I've always had a problem with ecommerce sites that don't allow spaces in credit card fields. It's totally developer-centric and ignores the usability of entering a sixteen-digit number. While the developer thinks that preventing users from entering spaces will help reduce errors, they are actually increasing them. All credit cards have spaces in their numbers for a reason. They are much easier to recite, write down and enter because they are "chunked". Allowing spaces in the credit card field also allows users to enter the number exactly as it appears on the card, making a visual inspection for errors much easier.

Lazyprogrammers2

Despite this, I've seen various methods used to prevent users from entering spaces. Some just warn, "no spaces" next to the field name. Others will not let the user type them in. While others will just flag the error on the page when the user tries to go to the next step in the checkout process. But today I found the ultimate in useless code: I entered my credit card number with spaces, as I always do, and as I tabbed out of the field, I got the error, "Please remove space(s) in the Card Number."!

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iMac for the Folks

Imac Uhl in Boise, ID - My parents finally got tired of hearing all this great stuff about email and the "Internet" so they finally decided to buy a computer. As the family tech-guy, I purchased an Apple iMac G5 for them. I had it shipped to me so I could set it up (and play with it) then Heather and I would take a trip to New York and deliver it. It's a great little machine. Mac OS/X has such a cleaner UI than Windows XP. I hope it's still easy enough to use for my folks!


Stop bugging me!

Virus Advisories should not pop-up from the system tray when the user already has the latest virus definition files that would take care of the virus in question. Large, red messages like this:

Scrn0046_1 ...should only be reserved for serious issues, like when the virus was found, but not cleaned. Plus, the first option is comical -- I already have anti-virus protection, why is it asking me if I want to "Get it now!"?

Users are busy people, we don't sit here in front of our computers waiting to read about the latest viruses, especially those that we are already protected against! I knew that I was protected because McAfee already popped-up a message earlier today that the latest updates were installed...whoop-dee-doo!! That was yet another, unnecessary message shoved in my face. I really don't want to know every time the software is updated.

Subscription-based software should always update automatically, there's no need to bother the user with it. Only warn the user when the update failed or hasn't occurred in a while. I bet you if you talk to your customer support people, you'll find that there are a lot of customers who contact them when they see this informational message, thinking that they have a virus.

Scrn0049So making it so advisories don't display if the user is already protected, will save you money!!! If there's some crazy, architectural reason why this can't be detected, then at least change the look of the advisory so as to not look like a virus was found. Here's an idea:   Sorry for the diatribe, but I've become less tolerant of poorly designed software recently.


Creative Muvo TX FM

Muvoholstermod2_1 I just purchased a Creative Muvo TX FM mp3 player to replace the iRiver 180T I sold a while ago. The iRiver was a good player, but after the jog dial went out on me due to excessive use of the scan within track function (since I listen to a lot of talk shows), I decided to sell the warranty replacement I received and try something new.

After some research, I decided on the Muvo. So far it's been a great little player but as always, there are a couple of usability issues. The first one is the holster that came with the player. Kudos to Creative to actually include it in the package and not force customers to buy it as an additional purchase. The problem with it is that you need to remove it from the holster to remove the USB key. This seems like an obvious need people would have and the current design with slight modification actually would allow for it. So I manage to use a sharp razor blade and trim the area round the slot so that the USB key would clear it and now it works perfectly!


Adobe's Colorless Palettes

Photoshop_7_tools_2 Currently, in all Adobe products I've used (Photoshop CS, Illustrator 10, Elements 3.0) the tool palettes are black and white *until* the mouse pointer is over them.

My suggestion is to *always* show color for the tool buttons. This aids in target acquisition because color provides yet another cue in addition to shape and button location. In other words, with color, it's a heck of a lot easier to pick out the eraser tool when coming from all the way on the other side of the screen, than when it's black and white. Especially since there are other "rectangular" looking images in the tool palette.

The other benefit is you would avoid any confusion novice users may have distinguishing black and white buttons and disabled buttons.

I remember when Microsoft introduced the "coolbar" widget (used in various flavors of IE from Win95 to Windows 2000) so that IE's toolbar buttons were monochromatic. What a usability mistake! This made discerning between the buttons much more difficult, especially for a product with such a high frequency of clicking back and forth between the content area and the toolbar (it didn't help that the coolbar button's disabled state was very similar to its enabled state!).

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eBay Bad Experience #2

Uhl in Boise, ID - Well, this is the second bad experience I've had on eBay, but the first one was due to an incompetent seller so that's not eBay's fault. This one, on the other hand, was a string of poor UI design decisions on eBay's part that caused me 20 minutes of pain and frustration. Here it goes...

So, holy crap, I just went through a whole ordeal when all I wanted to do was print a packing list for an item I just sold. I had printed one before but I didn't remember exactly how. I've only sold a handful of items on eBay so far and the last one was over a month ago. Today, the auction ended on a foldable keyboard for a Toshiba Pocket PC I was selling. I was promptly paid and wanted to get the item ready to ship. So I fire up the browser and go to My eBay so I can print a packing list.

I scroll down to the "Items I've Sold" section and there's this nice big button called "Print Shipping Labels". Hmmm...that sounds pretty close, so I check the box next to the item and click the button. I see a PayPal page with a choice between UPS or USPS. PayPal has some deal with both shippers where you can enter all the info, purchase and print a shipping label then all you have to do is take the package to a dropoff location. All I want to do is print a packing list and the page looks similar to the one I used a month ago, so I play along. I think to myself, "I know I did this last time, but I'm not sure how". So I see that the "Continue" button is enabled even though neither of the two radio buttons for UPS and USPS were selected. So I click "Continue" without making a choice. Buzz! Wrong answer! I have to make a choice, so I just randomly pick one.

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