Archive | May, 2008

25 May 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Do Panic!

Much of this site is dedicated to identifying and improving usability gaffes, but there are some terrific companies and products out there that deserve mention for Getting It Right ™. Panic is one of them. The contributors to WordPress are another.

Now is the Time to Panic! – If you own a Mac but haven’t experienced any of the applications from Panic, you’re missing out on something phenomenal. Hell even if you don’t own a Mac, take a trip over to their site and revel in the aesthetics. All of my web work these days is done in Coda, one of the handful of programs you’ll find at the Panic website. Combining terrific usability with best-of-breed graphical and visual design, it’s a must-buy.

As mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of modeless feedback. Coda has an integrated FTP client which allows you to edit files on the server and download those updates once complete. Yes I realize I should be working the other way around, but it’s a pain to setup a local dev environment ;) Watch what appears when I download several files:

So much conveyed in so little space:

  • Current filename.
  • Current file count.
  • Number of files in total.
  • Progress indicator.

Absolutely terrific.

When Coda was first released, I found it a little rough around the edges, but picked it up anyway. Even if it wasn’t going to be in daily use (as it is now), supporting developers who Get it Right just Makes Sense(tm). Each application like Coda serves as an example to others and the more of them, the better.

Presstacular – As I type this post in my recently upgraded WordPress 2.5 blogging software, modeless feedback is occuring in the form of auto-saving. The folks at WordPress have this one about 95% correct. WordPress in general gets most things 90-95% right which is well above the open source community whose usability track record is abysmal.

The “Save” and “Publish” button colors change during an auto save. The color change is not drastic, however it is a considerable amount of area which draws my attention from the task at hand. I take it the buttons disable so as not to interrupt AJAX during the auto save? There’s a simple solution – just ignore the button click if an auto save is in progress and report success. If, when the auto save returns the content has changed, run another auto save. It happens so quickly (<1s), you’ll barely notice.

It’s great to see developers and designers getting it right. Is there room for improvement? Sure there is, but they so frequently get so much of it right that the little glitches don’t seem to matter. For all of the great design successes, this holds true. Every iPod and iPhone iteration has a few glitches, but nobody seems to care (some people care, but Apple’s ridiculous success shows to what extent).

Where does your application land? Did you get it mostly right? 5%? 70%?

How do you know?

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20 May 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Bucking the Trend – A Mind Blowing Installer Adventure

(In which I, Rob S., a man of relative experience with the personal computer, failed to install a program.)

It begins with a desire to communicate.

As I had recently re-imaged my machine at the office, I realized I was yet to install Windows Messenger.  A quick trip over to MSN and I’m ready to roll.

The process begins with this dialog, which is also where it ends.

Confronted with a confusing array of check boxes, progress bars, buttons and links, I simply froze.  This was unlike any installer I’ve ever seen, and I’ve used every computer from the Atari 800XL, Apple IIe, various PCs and Macs for 20+ years.

I sat there, perplexed, until the top half of the dialog sprang to life and changed to this:

The installation had already begun and subsequently failed, all before I could understand what I was looking at.  I clicked the “Get help with this” links but they presented me with the software installer equivalent of a brick wall – a general help page at the Messenger site.

Having failed the installation with no idea what to do next, my only remaining course of action was to quit the installer, so I did.  This web page appeared:

As some sort of cruel parting gift, Microsoft drops me at the Sign In page.  Or is it the Sign Up page (see top left)?  Where I would have loved to sign in with my new Messenger ID had Messenger finished installing.

Let’s look at went could have gone better:

  • The installer dialog, in and of itself, is far from the most complicated dialog out there.  In context however, it is amazingly complex.  When an installer appears, I expect to repeatedly click “Next” until either (1) the installation completes or (2) the installer tells me to close Firefox and Microsoft Office.
  • The word “waiting” adjacent the Messenger and Sign-In Assistant components should be relabeled “installing.”  Just a few pixels above, the dialog refers to its own action as “You’re installing these programs.”  Why the confusing terminology?  Who or what is the installer waiting for?
  • “As each item finishes, you can start using it while the others install” – I would just be happy to get something installed, let alone begin using my installed programs while the others are being installed.  In my entire history of using computers, I’ve never met an installer that’s allowed me to begin using parts of the applications it was installing…

…which brings us back to the title of this post.

While the installer allows you to continue installing and running in parallel, this new installer presents an interface and interactions completely unfamiliar to anyone who’s installed 100 other programs.

Don’t buck the trend.  Your users have already learned how to install a program – play to their strengths.

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18 May 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Galleries Updated

Before it was a UI blog, All About Balance was the home of my photography from 2003 to 2006. Those photos are back online (Galleries) and I’m working on several years worth of backlogged images, which I hope to process and upload in the coming weeks.

I was an early adopter of Apple’s Aperture. The idea of eliminating my bubble-gum-and-paper-clips RAW “workflow” (I use the term more loosely than it’s ever been) was, and still is very attractive. As with any version 1 product, there were glitches. The most unfortunate of which was the removal of my PowerMac Dual Core 2.0 GHz from the supported platforms list. Rather, the platform is supported but performance is so poor I opted to stick with the devil I knew. Not to mention RAW conversion quality issues, lagging support for bodies (e.g. Nikon D200) and an extraordinarily high price tag…  Aperture 2 has been released, but I just can’t imagine performance has increased to the point where my now 3 year old PowerMac can keep up.

Along came Adobe with Lightroom.  Over the course of 3 weeks, I used a beta version of Lightroom to cull 1500 images from my trip to Africa.  Performance was terrific.  RAW was terrific and already you could see the marked improvement in usability over their other tools.

Two years later, Lightroom is now at 1.4 and I’m working on understanding the ins and outs before importing all of my images, specifically with respect to backup and restore.  That process does not seem well understood by many, and it needs to be bulletproof for me to take the plunge.  Aperture had it right with their notion of a Vault, and first-class support in the UI as we’ve come to expect from Apple.

Currently on the lookout for good Lightroom books as I start to experiment…

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18 May 2008 ~ 0 Comments

The Amazon Gold Box Phenomenon

If you’ve used Amazon within the past few years, I hope you’ve stumbled on to the Gold Box.

The Gold Box is daily set of deals tailored to your interests, with what appears to be at least a 5% discount over the normal price. 5% might not seem like much, but when you’re mostly interested in a new Mac Pro and Nikon D300, it’s quite a lot :)

What I’ve noticed recently, is that the discussion topics at the bottom of the Gold Box have turned into a general community, irrespective of Gold Box deals.

Of note:

  • motherless at 5yrs old, anyone else? how did it affect you?
  • How to dye gray hair?
  • PB&J pancakes How do you make them? (communication side note – no punctuation separates this sentence but we read it as two separate because of the use of sentence case)

Why is this? How does design factor in? Specifically, what did Amazon do to encourage this?

(1) This ‘forum’ is not a separate site as most forums are. They tend to have their own unique URLs where you leave an area of interest (e.g. the Gold Box) and transition fully into the forum. Here Amazon has a forum ‘preview’, to show that there is a community in place with (mostly) relevant ongoing discussion.

(2) No extra steps are necessary to begin posting – not a single one. The text area at the bottom allows you to begin a new topic immediately.  As you click into the Topic: field and begin typing, message components appear immediately below the topic.

No page navigation, refresh or other needless transition.  Compare this to the flow over at macnn (not to target them specifically – I just happened to be there yesterday).

Now to be fair, when  you are looking at an individual topic, there is a “quick post” section.  However that is not the focus here – quickly creating a new topic is.

(3) Simple posting interface.  Compare Amazon’s interface to the one in use over at macnn.  I had to max out the browser window on my 30″ display and I still have a scroll bar.

If you make it easy for people to express themselves, it will happen.

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17 May 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Health Care(fully)

It’s been quite a while since my last post and a lot has happened during that time. Unfortunately, not much of it has been related to a general, world-wide increase in usability.

I finally moved away from iPower, my previous hosting provider, and over to GoDaddy. This move was due largely in part to the usability of their new hosting platform (or rather, the lack of). Combined with increasingly poor customer service, it was an easy decision. Oh, and when they moved me to the new platform, they botched all the file permissions, didn’t copy hidden files and didn’t copy the admin interface folder for WordPress… which makes it difficult to post!

Back to business.

This past Tuesday morning, I was visiting the Kaiser Permanente office here in Mountain View. While waiting for my physician, I used the iPhone to snap a few shots.

Oops, wrong one.

Have a look at the login screeen for Epic’s “Hyperspace”, taken from the terminal Kaiser has in each patient room:

If there’s a screen I’d like to be simple for my practitioner to use, it would be the login screen.

  • Centered, giant, red letters to indicate a safe state?
  • “Spring 2007 iU1″ – I would guess this is the release/version of the software. Seems like something my physician or her assistant would like to know while logging in.
  • Why an “Exit” button on this screen? Windows users are certainly aware of the the ‘X’ to close a window, especially physicians – this ain’t their first rodeo.
  • A checkbox for “Change Password”. Rather than a button or a link (which I would actually like to see here), a checkbox. Does it mean that I enter a new password instead of my current password? Will I be taken to a separate screen? Do I have to enter my username first?
  • That background and those graphics might look great as the default desktop for Apple’s Leopard OS, but are entirely out of place in a business setting especially in a health care environment where speed and efficiency are of the utmost importance. Any distractions (like a flashy, garish background image) should be cut.

This is only the login screen… Next time I’m at Kaiser, I’ll see if I can finagle a peek at my patient record when the system is online.

Hopefully not too soon :)

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