24. Tap your Macbook keys hard when in a meeting
While in a meeting and everyone has their Macbooks open. When you’re typing and have completed a sentence, whack your return key like you’re a bloody Pianist. It’s make a good noise and sounds like you’ve just finished an important sentence, to an important person. If someone comments laugh that you’ve broken a few keys in the past.
The latest fad in user onboarding has been adding a bot or pseudo-bot to chat and interact with users, called a “Conversational UI.” I say fad because it’s getting a lot of attention and attempts right now — it may well be a useful tool for the arsenal, but I’ll be happy when it’s out of vogue and is “just another tool.”
My grumbling aside, there’s some useful articles over at A List Apart about it, if you care to learn more:
Last week, I was at a family reunion filled with fabulous, intelligent, talented people whom I’m glad to call family. One thing I noticed: as people pulled out laptops and iPads and smartphones, or discussed some of the current technological hurdles they’re facing in their day to day lives, there was still a lot of frustration and implied distrust of the hardware or software being used. It really hammered home to me that there’s still a long distance left between usable and intuitive. They were adding complexity and hurdles that didn’t need to be there, because they were used to a previous mental model that was more complex.
I work with software and computers every day, and have for years. Even a lot of my hobbies end up taking place on computers. It’s easy to take for granted the human-computer interactions I do on a daily basis, because I do them regularly, and generally even if it’s a new piece of software or hardware, it still behaves similarly enough to other software that I can get the hang of it pretty quickly. The thing is, even with the pervasiveness of technology these days, I am an anomaly, not the norm. Many people — highly skilled, capable people — simply don’t have that background and context for understanding, nor the time or interest to gain it. As far as I see it, this is a lot of what user experience design is all about: finding that line between simplicity and complexity, where people have enough detail to understand what is happening (at least a high level), but is still simple enough that they don’t have to invest cognitive energy to grasp how to use it.
Aiming for clarity is hard on its own, but what I was noticing is that it faces an additional hurdle: overcoming the complexities or mental models of previous designs. It seemed like a big problem in particular for older generations was that they’d fallen out of sync with what experiences were designed to be now, and were burdened with the expectation of complexity or failure from experiences in the past. It’s easy to say “oh, well they just need to retrain themselves,” but that implies they have the cognitive energy, time, and interest to do so.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t keep working on improving the user experience, but it is something to bear in mind when developing software or hardware. I have a few ideas on how to accommodate this, some of which may be more palatable than others:
- Evolving UX: Going with more iterative, minor changes rather than a large shift. This already happens some (depending on the software), and sometimes it’s unavoidable that multiple changes will need to go in at once.
- Documentation: Creating effective documentation can be invaluable for keeping older users up to speed on what’s happening. Three things I’d want to make sure to consider: keeping docs up to date to the current version of the software; keeping legacy docs for older versions; mapping the old user experience to the new user experience in change logs and within the docs themselves.
- Usability Studies of Existing Users: Doing usability research has definitely become more prevalent, which is a good thing, but I feel like tends to focus on how to attract new users, and doesn’t really give a lot of attention to existing users (I suspect at least partially under the presumption that once a user is committed to your product, they are less likely to take the additional effort to switch). It would be really interesting to make sure to include existing long-time users when doing usability studies. If considering retention of existing users isn’t on your radar, maybe you should reconsider.
Obviously, it’s impossible to please all of the people, and maybe more of this is already in progress than I’m aware of, but it does feel like we’ve got a distance left to go on learning to effectively clear out the cobwebs of past experiences.
8 Things You Don’t Know Are Affecting Your Decisions Every Day: As a follow-up to the article I posted yesterday, here’s another article about cognitive load, and how we end up making worse decisions over time, over at Buffer. The more choices the user has to make, the more likely they’ll simply choose the default/easy/safe (but not necessarily correct) choice as time progresses. (Hat tip to Felicia Day for linking to it.)
But if it’s “content” designed solely to suck people in (“7 ways to be OMG awesome!!”) for the chance to “convert”, we’re hurting people. If we’re pumping out “content” because frequency, we’re hurting people.
This summer, Apple is planning to release their next iteration of Mac OS X, 10.7 (codenamed “Lion”). From the looks of things, their primary focus this time around is interface improvements to make the user experience more fluid and effective. In general, I’m liking what I’ve been seeing, though looking at the system requirements that have been coming out suggests that I’ll be on the hairy edge of being able to run it at all (a Core 2 Duo or higher is required, of which I’m running the first Core 2 Duo Macbook Pro they offered), so I’m not sure how much real benefit I’ll be seeing in the near future. That said, one of the design changes they’re making seems like a horrible idea: they’re moving the Dashboard into its own space, rather than continuing to work as an overlay over whatever screen you’re on.
Given that the dashboard is for quick-reach, simple widgets, this seems remarkably backwards, and more like something you’d do to get people to not use it so it can be phased out of a later release. Think about it for a second: widgets are meant to show information at a glance, i.e. without significantly interfering or distracting the user from their task at hand. While several widgets seem like simply a bad idea to be shoved into their own space, there are a few that will have their usefulness significantly reduced, most notably the calculator.
To be clear, the dashboard calculator is not especially robust. It has no history or “tape”, no special functions, just your basic arithmetic. About the extent of its bells and whistles is that it accepts numeric input instead of being forced to use the buttons. But you know what? That’s the point. It’s a simple calculator for when you want to run some numbers really quickly, without interfering with the rest of your workflow. More often than not, these numbers will be pulled off a website or email, or chat. You aren’t particularly invested in running the numbers, you just want to check them really quickly. This, specifically, is the value of the dashboard calculator: just pull up the dashboard, and you can punch in the numbers, which are still visible, into the calculator for a quick total, without going through the process of loading up a separate application. I don’t want to have to constantly page back and forth between two screens just to run a quick number check. At that point, why not just use the actual Calculator app?
I doubt I’ll ever know, but I would love to find who made this particular design decision and ask them what on earth they were thinking.
While I’m not really a fan of the changes to the default gmail skin, I’m really liking the “New Blue” theme of Google’s just released Gmail themes:
So, John Nack has previewed the new Photoshop interface, which has been drawing a fair amount of criticism around the ‘net for being “un-Mac-like”. I think the criticism is frankly a lot of gnashing of teeth because it’s different, and very little else. As Nack points out, if you bother looking at some of the best “Mac-like” apps, including applications made by Apple itself, much of the new design draws very similar parallels. It’s a very clean, modern interface, and keeps pace with the trend towards encapsulated applications (the document driven, single window experience). Frankly, I like it, and look forward to it.
Let’s face it: any user who multitasks ends up with a boatload of windows open at any given time, and there have yet to be really any effective ways to manage all the windows. This is becoming increasingly problematic as we find ways to have more and more windows up at any given time (I’m looking at you, Spaces), and so user interfaces have been forced to rethink how they display their data, to better encapsulate that data, so that everything related to a particular document STAYS with that document. Tabbed browsing was the start, but it’s totally logical that this design philosophy would (and should) enter other applications. Some of my favorite applications are ones that integrate data into the session window — a prime example is Scrivener. In Scrivener, the inspector is attached to the document window, rather than sitting in a separate “inspector pane/window”. From a design perspective, this makes it absolutely clear as to which document you are inspecting, which is particularly important if and when you have multiple documents open at once. The application is designed so that everything you need to do to the document can be done from one document window, with multiple files within it. You can even split the window to display attached research files or another page of writing at the same time, or if you decide you really NEED it to be in a separate window, that option is only a right-click away. That is GOOD DESIGN: it avoids juggling through multiple windows just to get your work done.
Detractors who might say it’s not “Mac-like” haven’t been paying attention. While there is, of course, the opportunity to get it wrong, and not make an effective interface, this is true regardless of whether you’re talking about a unified interface or a multi-window one. However, it’s pretty clear all the way down to the interface of the Finder, that we’re shifting towards a single-window-per-need design philosophy (if you don’t believe me, use the “Find…” option in OS X 10.5, or “Create Burn Folder”, or try out iChat with “Collect Chats into Single Window” turned on and tell me it’s not a better way to juggle a dozen conversations).
The key to note in what I’m saying is that it is PER DOCUMENT, or PER NEED. The places that I’ve seen single-window interfaces be successful is where elements that belong together are placed together. A window, in essence, becomes a method to encapsulate the data related to the task or project it was created for. As such, there are going to be times it DOESN’T make sense. Frankly, I’m just glad designers are realizing that there are times that it DOES.
How To Be Friends With Your Ex is a good read, kind of relevant to me personally. There’s a lot to the whole notion of staying friends with an ex. My own personal philosophy stems from the idea that just because a relationship is ending, it doesn’t mean you suddenly stop loving someone. I still love all my exes, there’s no doubt in my mind about that. My opinion is that it’s a heck of a lot easier to process the loss of the relationship if you’re not trying to also suddenly “un-love” someone. Acknowledge that you still love them, and that they still love you, but that the relationship wasn’t working out. Something to consider is that you started dating this person because you felt they were good people. I won’t say that there aren’t some wolves masquerading as sheep so to speak, but generally, if you trust your judge of character elsewhere, you should trust it in this as well. If you trust your judge of character and believe that they’re good people, then why should that abruptly change because they’ve decided the relationship wasn’t working out? If you can accept that they’re still good people, but simply couldn’t remain in the relationship (for any number of reasons), then it becomes a LOT easier to become friends again a hell of a lot sooner. It’s a lot better in the long run, in my opinion, to change the nature of your love (from more eros to an agape-centric love), than to try and kill all feelings for someone and then maybe become friends at some distant future point.
There’s a lot more to all that than I’m really writing down, but for now that will have to do. It’s already a kind of cluttered explanation, but until I sit down and let it percolate for a while, I don’t think I’m going to do better.