Archive | July, 2008

24 July 2008 ~ 0 Comments

We Can Dream, Can’t We?

Encountered during a hardware beta survey… is this question really necessary?

Continue Reading

22 July 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Bill Gates: Film Critic

In his Microsoft blog, Todd Bishop highlights a 2003 email from Bill Gates detailing the frustration felt when attempting to update Movie Maker (c/o Compete On Usability).

Gates recently commented on this during a farewell event,

“One of the newspapers had some e-mail that I sent about how maybe Windows could have been better at something, and they said, ‘This is a shocking e-mail. Shocking!’ And I said, ‘What do you think I do all day? Sending an e-mail like that, that is my job. That’s what it’s all about. We’re here to make things better.”

My own comment on his response has nothing to do with usability, but everything to do with a comment made by Ledwell in regards to Gates’ email:

“…it takes a lot more than one-off emails to inculcate the cultural and corporate values needed to ship products with superior usability.”

I’ve nearly completed Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies: Understanding Patterns of Project Behavior, a terrific read from the team that brought us Peopleware.  One of those patterns is the “Film Critic”:

Film Critic: Team members or corporate spectators who have determined that the value they add to the project lies in pointing out what has gone wrong or is going wrong, but who take no personal accountability to ensure that things go right.

What really makes a Film Critic however, is the belief that one’s success can be separated from the success of the project in question.  Gates may be an exception, but for many of us whose entire office buildings can be cleaned by a single person each night, the luxury of purely spectating does not exist.

Film critics rarely have a positive effect on a project, and often a negative one.  A good friend once told me that you don’t have to reply to every email, and I took that to heart – emails from critics should get a quick scan and end up in the bin.

If you’d like to reply, here are some suggestions:

  • Would they like to donate time to test new features?
  • Can they provide resources (either $ or people or both)?
  • Do they have any specific input from customers that would help?
  • How about unique insight that their position affords them?

Do you have any film critics in your organization?  The next time someone berates the usability of your project, challenge them to constructively contribute.

Continue Reading

20 July 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Bait and Switch

During E3, what used to be a massive entertainment software convention, I tend to search for a fair number of games over at Gamespot.  Usually I get it right, only searching for games I know are released.  Sometimes, though, I get it wrong.

Here’s the screen that appears when I search for “rob is cool”, a phrase I’m sure is at the top of Gamespot’s analytics ;)

My eyes shot down to the orange and white text below, which appear to be search results… until I read one.

“Robert Free?  Reduce De-… oh…  eww.”

The very first bit of information on the page is “Search results for…”, only to be followed by “No Results Found”, which because I know there are results, read as “X Results Found” and start scanning.

Percentage wise, let’s look at the amount of space dedicated this key bit of information.  In this tiny cutout featuring 237,500 pixels, a modest 850 (0.3%) are reserved for the word “No”.

Instead of using a Google-like “did you mean…?” to match text with games, you’re effectively searching for  advertising.  Type in “final fintasy” or “super marip brothers” and, although Google handles these quite effectively, a site dedicated to gaming does not.

I know of no better way to devalue your visitor’s time than to show them what amounts to junk mail after they make a typo.

Continue Reading

20 July 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Amazon’s Buying Power

How do they do it?  Volume, volume, volume!

Continue Reading

02 July 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Web Form Design – On the Desktop?

I’m a few chapters into Luke Wroblewskis’ Web Form Design and as with all good books, the first thing it does is change the way you look at the world.  While the book is about forms on the web, component layout and interaction is valid on the desktop as well.

Today, I happened to give the OS X Spaces app a second shot.  Have a look at the configuration screeen:

The number and layout of virtual desktops is specified graphically via interaction with what I would refer to as “non-standard” components.  They aren’t part of the shipping widget library, but I figured out how to use them immediately.  This is likely due to their similarity (in size and shape) with radio buttons.

The key design component is that it relies on pre-attentive variables to speed perception.  Arranged figures are of appropriate size and shape such that I immediately perceive them to represent desktops.  Before I parse a single word or component on the page, I know what I’m looking it.

On the other hand, this too would have been a perfectly acceptable way to prompt for Space configuration:

Among these, which presents a more compelling (and to be honest, “fun”) way to configure your desktop?

Of the two, it’s clear which would have taken much longer to develop.  This level of polish however, has come to typify the Apple experience.

Continue Reading