Dialog Boxes: Making simple things simple…


How much thought do you give to writing the text on dialog boxes when you’re designing?

It’s fairly common for these to be written by the developers as they’re being coded, from what I’ve seen. They certainly deserve a whole lot more attention than they generally receive.

Here’s a prime example.

Notice the text that has been bolded. It’s asking me a question ‘do you want to allow the new version to access the same keychain items (such as passwords) as the previous version?’.

Is it just me, or are the obvious answers to this question either Yes, or No. Yet this dialog box presents me with the options ‘Don’t Change’ or ‘Change All’. To which my immediate response is… Change What?! I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Let’s ignore the fact that, hypothetically, I have pretty much no idea of what a keychain item might be, the next line of text reassuringly tells me that whatever option I end up guessing at is permanent and affects all keychain items used by Adium.

OK. So here’s what I know… whatever choice I make here is pretty important and not able to be undone… and yet I know little about what the question is and pretty much nothing about what the options represent.

Not a pretty situation considering I was just installing an update to my IM application.

Potentially enough for me to bail and go install another application instead? Maybe.

It’s in the details people.

[Note: Yes, I’ve heard that Adium is the best IM client for Mac. I’m sticking with it for the time being.]

[Another quick note: how much do I *hate* the way that Mac software uses that little triangle on it’s side to represent ‘if you click here, a whole stack of functionality that you *really* need but have no idea where it is, will be revealed. Who thought *that* was a good idea? It has caused me grief over the past couple of weeks… even *after* I learned its meaning. End of moaning.]

Will anthropomorphism decline with the rise of social software?

Here’s something I’ve been pondering a while, and I’d be interested to hear what you think.

We know that people anthropomorphise technology, that is to say, they relate to it as though it has human qualities. People talk to their computers, they talk about them as though they are capable of having human emotions or objectives. They have, for many years, had more or less a one-to-one relationship with their computer.

These days, if you’re a fan of social software, it seems as though your computer is now crawling with *real* people. Emails, twitter messages, incoming IM conversations, skype calls. Photographs of people you know, used as avatars, are constantly popping up on your screen, appearing in the web pages you’re browsing. Real human voices, voices of people you know, abound.

It seems to me an odd juxtaposition – anthropomorphism and the increasing *realness* of the voices of the people who now ‘populate’, so vibrantly, our computers. (Did we ever feel the need to ‘humanise our mobile phones? I mean, I hate mine passionately… but I’m pretty sure it’s not ‘personal’).

I get a sense that, perhaps, our need imagine our computers human-like may be on the decline as they become more and more tools for transmitting the voices of people we know and love.

Anyone else getting the sense that anthropomorphism may be, slowly, on the way out?

Remind me … what’s so great about Omnigraffle?

For many years, as the groundswell towards Mac has gathered pace, I’ve had to endure many of my colleagues scoffing at the fact that I continue to use Visio when they’ve seen the light and made the move to Omnigraffle.

I got my first Mac in more than a decade last week, so I’ve left behind all my Visio skills for the time being and am trying to ‘level up’ in Omnigraffle as quickly as possible!

But I don’t get what’s so special about it. Can someone remind me?

Making the switch to Mac has been a fascinating experience. I’ve had so little experience with OSX and Mac applications, that I really feel like a beginner. And, no. It’s not as easy and idiot proof as those of you who’ve been using Macs for a while seem to think. Sometimes, really basic tasks like trying to save a document into a particular folder, seem completely impossible to me (there is a lot of functionality hidden behind little black triangles, I’ve come to discover).

I miss knowing all the shortcuts desperately. And knowing how to diagnose problems. I have to learn entirely new patterns and ways of interacting.

I’m a beginner. And it’s really frustrating, and disempowering. It makes me feel pretty dumb.

It also makes me think that I wish that I could have this experience about once a year to REALLY bring home what the experience of using the interfaces that I design must be for very many people. It lifts the ‘Curse of Knowledge, or the The Curse of Expert Ennui as Anne Zelenka might describe it.

We know so much about making our computers work and so much about how they are designed… it’s impossible for us to forget enough to really empathise with novice users.

Which, of course, is why it’s so important to regularly, carefully and empathetically¬†observe users of all levels of expertise and familiarity using your product. You might *think* you know what they understand, but you’re probably wrong. Design expertise is incredibly important, but it only goes so far. Regular observation of real people interacting with technology is a really important input to good design, and becoming a good designer.

Meanwhile. I’m taking any tips on how to become an expert in all things Mac.¬†Let me have ’em.


Summertime is for speaking

well, it seems it is for me this year! Here’s what I’m up to:

Reboot 9.0 – I’m off to Copenhagen at the end of the month to go to Reboot for the first time. I’ve heard rave reviews of this conference and can’t wait to experience it myself. I’m going to be talking about Ambient Intimacy (in the middle of preparing the presentation right now and *really* enjoying it!)

Enterprise 2.0 – then in June, it’s off to Boston to talk about Social Project Management (Everything Big is Small Again) at Enterprise 2.0. I’m slated to for the ungodly timeslot of 8am which will probably work well with my jetlag, but I’m almost not expecting an audience! ;)

User Experience Week – come August, I’m terribly excited about going to Washington DC to be a part of Adaptive Path’s User Experience week, where I’m going to do an extended mix of the Washing Machine talk and tackle the exciting yet hairy question of how us designers can better engage with agile practices.

d.Construct – if I’d have known that I’d end up speaking in between Jared Spool and Peter Merholz, I probably would have thought twice about agreeing to speak at d.Construct… eh, who am I kidding, this is *the* conference in the UK that I’ve been most looking forward to going to, especially since this year’s theme is ‘Designing the User Experience’, I would have said yes just to make sure I got a ticket!

So, exciting times ahead! I’m putting in a bulk order for rescue remedy ;)

Hope to see you guys at one or more of these events!