Archive | January, 2008

27 January 2008 ~ 3 Comments


For the last 10 years, web browsers have been more or less capable of downloading files on their own. The worlds’ collective “downloads” folder sags in testament to this fact.

Adobe, continuing its tradition of wildly over complicating the download process, presents us with this confusing array of controls, progress meters and data – all while downloading a single file (Adobe Reader).  Here we have the “Adobe Download Manager powered by getPlus”.

Some observations about this dialog (that appears to have been programatically generated?)

  1. Three progress meters. Three. To download a single file? Anything more than a single progress bar is exposing too much of what’s going on under the hood – none of which we need to know about.
  2. “A short-cut to resume download and installation from point of interruption has been placed on your desktop.” What is a “point of interruption”? Has the download been interrupted? It appears to be proceeding normally.
  3. Why is the icon so bloody large? It’s positively massive, dwarfing all other components in the composition.
  4. There’s too much confusing terminology for Adobe Reader downloaders.  Unless this audience is computer scientists or software developers, because who else understands “KB/sec” or “Decompression 20.9%”?  More importantly, who cares?

What if we reduced this dialog to its bare essentials? And what are those “essentials” anyway?

Progress and termination.

Look, we’ve even left the gargantuan icon in place. I had to point it out in case you missed it…

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20 January 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Swimming with Sharks

Every Asian grocery store I’ve been to features an aisle of extraordinarily priced items, typically with no English labels. I can only assume these are shark fins?

Notice the pricing: $260 per pound. This jar was surrounded with several others, all of which were priced well over $150 per pound. Are these the typical purchasing weights for items like this? At those prices?

How about: 1/4lb or 4oz. – $65

The usability implications should be obvious – label appropriate to use, saving people the effort of calculating these numbers on their own. Especially when the division isn’t quite clear (I used the Mac calculator widget to do this :)

I could be wrong… people could be scooping up shark fins by the pound!

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19 January 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Scrolling is Painful Enough REDUX

One of my first posts was in regards to custom scrollbars – a way that designers can take an already cumbersome interaction and turn it up to 11.

With the release of Office 2008, I had a quick visit over at Mactopia, Microsoft’s Mac homepage which received a recent revamp. Clicking on each Office product kicks off a Flash movie. During the movie, different areas of the screen activate depending on which feature is being discussed. I had a look at the Entourage video.

This is something I’ve never seen before.

The extreme ends of the scrollbar aren’t anchored. The entire thing moves when you drag it. I thought the interface was broken when I picked it up.

Why go to all this effort when they could have just used a few more vertical pixels and shown the entire paragraph? My guess is the designer valued uniformity and alignment of the text blocks over functionality. Nope, take a look at the full row of text.

They aren’t uniform to begin with.

“Well Rob, there was probably a lot of scrolling and it would have really knocked things out of whack.” Actually, there’s about 10 pixels worth to scroll, if that. The initial viewport obscures about half a line of text.

I’m amazed how we find new and interesting ways to abuse scrollbars.   I hope the irony of that section’s name (“Tame the Chaos”) isn’t lost on anyone :)

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16 January 2008 ~ 0 Comments


Today while depositing a few cheques, the Wells Fargo ATM asked me an interesting question.

To which account should the cheques be deposited?

Hmm… Well in this situation I’m just going to say that I feel comfortable in allowing the ATM to make that decision for me.

Then again, if anyone or anything could get this one wrong, it would be a computer :-)

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13 January 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Unnecessary Repetition

In Windows XP, you’re asked to repeat your wireless network password, which is really quite meaningless because if the password is invalid, you won’t be able to connect to the network.

While one might argue that there are several things that might prevent you from connecting, a bad password is likely your problem.

Microsoft got this one right between XP and Vista.

Peripherally related are cases where we ask users to repeat themselves even when they can see the data they are entering. It is not uncommon to see this strange phenomenon with email addresses.

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10 January 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Invisible Text

One advantage HTML has over desktop applications is that we can search for functionality.

Rather than hunt for the ability to obtain the current page in printable form, why not search for the word “print”?

The BBC understands:

…as does ABC News: however, has room to grow:

It’s possible to overlay text on to an image to give the appearance of a button while retaining searchability. There are other reasons as well, most notably that graphical text doesn’t resize for vision impaired users.

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