Tag Archives: computer

Poll: Mac vs. PC

Please take 5 seconds out of your busy day and answer this simple question (by the way, this poll is completely anonymous):

Thank you for your time!

Kurt

macpc
image courtesy http://www.contrib.andrew.cmu.edu/~jshersh/MacPC.jpg

Please Crash Responsibly: Blockbuster.com

I recently read an online article written by Jeff Atwood, a popular software & human factors blogger, titled “Crash Responsibly“. The gist of his article was basically that we as software developers need to protect the users of our software from unknown errors and even from catastrophic crashes. I agree wholeheartedly.

Everyone who writes software should make sure that their application is self-reporting of it’s own problems. Never depend on the user to tell you that your software is misbehaving. Of course, you should also have a means for the user to manually report problems, but that should be a secondary means that you find out about your software’s bugs, issues, and crashes.

Software developers should also hide the gory details of their errors from their users by default. There are always some software savvy or curious users who will want to know exactly what went wrong, but most users just want to know that something bad happened and the software developers have been notified and they are on the case and working diligently to correct it. There should probably be a means for the savvy or curious user to see more details and also a means for the user to report the problem, but again, these are both secondary. The primary error screen should be simple and easily understandable by the general public and no gory implementation details nor debugging details should be exposed to the user by default.

I performed a search on the blockbuster.com site just now for VeggieTales movies to add to my online Blockbuster queue, when I received the following error screen:

User Unfriendly Error Message from Blockbuster

Wow. I’m a full time software designer and I don’t think I can fully understand what this error message is trying to tell the user. I understand the “no server available” and the “timed out after 10 seconds” parts, but I’ll admit I had to look up the word “idempotent”. That’s not a word your typical user needs to be exposed to. Most users will probably even laugh at you when they see this error message because it looks like you completely made up a word.

So blockbuster.com, please crash responsibly!

Kurt

User Interface Annoyances: Blind Confirmations

As a software programmer, I feel the need to make the user happy so that they will like my product. We all just want to be loved, right? In order to make the user of my software happy, the user interface must not be annoying and the whole user experience must be positive. I personally have lots of opinions about what should and should not be done in a user interface, and I’m sure the whole world will not be totally in agreement with all of my opinions, and that’s fine. We can agree to disagree.

But one thing that I think is a bad idea is to pop up a dialog to the user that asks them if they are sure, without giving them any more information.

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On an Internet Forum that I’m a member of we use the very popular forum software phpBB. And this evening I kept seeing this same “blind” confirmation dialog over and over again as I was making various unrelated configuration changes to my account profile. If something is worthy of an “are you sure you want to do this” type of dialog, then surely telling the user what they are about to do and why it could be bad is also worthy of mentioning? When I try to close Word without saving my document, it doesn’t just say “Are you sure?”. It says something more along the lines of “Don’t you want to save your document before closing Word?”.

Just my opinion,

Kurt (with a tip of my hat to Joel Spolsky)

User Interface Annoyances: Labeled Toggle Buttons

As a software programmer, I feel the need to make the user happy so that they will like my product. We all just want to be loved, right? In order to make the user of my software happy, the user interface must not be annoying and the whole user experience must be positive. I personally have lots of opinions about what should and should not be done in a user interface, and I’m sure the whole world will not be totally in agreement with all of my opinions, and that’s fine. We can agree to disagree.

But one thing that I think is a bad idea is to use a toggle button to turn on or off a certain feature and to put a text or image label that states the current value of the feature onto that toggle button. Was that sentence confusing? Well, so is a labeled toggle button! And what’s the last thing you want your user interface to do? Confuse the user!

.Labeled Toggle Button from PrintKey 2000

I use PrintKey 2000 as my free screen capture software. Yeah, it’s old and outdated, but it works for me and I haven’t felt the need to go out searching for a replacement. Hey, if it ain’t broke …

All of the big fat buttons across the top actually do what their label says … all except for one, that is. The button labeled “OFF” does NOT actually turn something OFF. It does just the opposite of turning something OFF. It turns something ON. It’s a toggle button for the Auto Save feature and the current state of the Auto Save feature is OFF, so when you click on the button labeled OFF, it will turn the Auto Save feature ON and change the label on the button to read ON.

So the button is telling the user the current value of the feature, not what action the button will perform when pressed. But users are used to buttons doing what their label says. The Print button prints, the Save button saves, etc. But this one button acts differently than all other buttons in the world?!? Why? This sort of user interface behavior is not intuitive to most users and should be avoided.

Solution: If the value of the feature were placed into a text field that is separate but adjacent to the toggle button and the toggle button was labeled something like “Auto Save”, that would be just fine. It might be even better if the button label were “Toggle Auto Save”, but I realize that might be too wordy. Another solution would be for features that can be toggled, to forgo buttons altogether and use checkboxes with labels instead. A checkbox labeled “Auto Save” would turn the feature on when the box is checked and vise-versa. I think most users would find that intuitive.

Just my opinion,

Kurt