Thoughtless design is going to cost me money… (or, why you shouldn’t ignore conventions)

BT Aqua Phone

Here is a new phone we got the other day. It’s our landline phone. Pretty cute huh? It’s called the Aqua by BT. Don’t buy it. I paid about £100 for a set of these phones. They are going to cost me a lot more than that in no time.

Here’s the thing. How do you end a call on a slide phone (which is what these are)? Simple – you close the slide, right? Well – yes, on every other slide phone that I’ve ever encountered, but not on this phone. Closing the slide does nothing… except closing the slide. So, when I went to make a call last night I discovered that, in fact, a call was still in progress. A call to a mobile phone, that had been connected for 8 hours. Ouch. I am *dreading* seeing this months phone bill because this isn’t the first time we’ve made this mistake. Although, this is probably the worst example.

We keep making this mistake because the slide-to-end-call convention is such a strong part of our model of how a slide phone works. We will keep making this mistake – despite the fact that we will be punished, seriously, by our telco.

As cute as these phones are, they’re going to be returned very soon because the experience of using them is so broken.

Moral to the story – if you’re designing something that has existing conventions associated with it – ignore them at your peril. Otherwise you’ll end up designing something that sucks as badly as this phone. And we don’t want that, do we.

End of rant.

‘I can’t work this!’ – iPhone’s cameo in Sex In The City Movie

Yes, I’ve seen the Sex In the City Movie, I’ll admit it. Either the rest of the UX community hasn’t seen it yet or we’re all just ignoring the fabulous user experience moment that Carrie has with the iPhone. For those who haven’t seen it, she is handed the iPhone (not hers) at a time when she urgently needs to make a phone call. She looks at it briefly, pronounces ‘I can’t work this’ and asks for a proper phone.

Unsurprisingly, Gizmodo reported it this way: ‘Confirmed: Carrie Bradshaw is too stupid to work a iPhone‘. Very helpful.

Personally, this was my favourite part of the whole movie (which says more about the movie than it does this particular moment). I loved the fierceness of her reaction to the unfamiliar interface.

It reminded me again that those of us who are ‘into’ interface design are really a fairly small group and how important it is for us to remember that the vast majority of people who encounter our interfaces do so on the way to achieving a task – sometimes one that is urgent and very important to them.

The people who encounter our interfaces in that kind of moment are not going to find them interesting, but an obstacle. And that they won’t take the time to ‘explore’ and ‘enjoy’ and ‘learn’ our amazing interface design.

It would be easy to say that SJP’s encounter with the iPhone showed that it lacked ‘usability’, but in fact it is probably more instructive as to the importance of evaluating usability over a longer term than just a one hour session in a usability lab. As I’ve said in the past, if something like the iPod, and no doubt the iPhone had been ‘usability tested’ using the traditional methods, they no doubt would have ‘failed’ and the world would be poorer for it.

All these things I had to think about because the movie was so disappointing… (speaking of bad UX).

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.]