Tue, January 17, 2006

Kodak Kills the K

Kodak has decided to break out of the box. It is eliminating the widely recognized somewhat K-shaped box that has contained the Kodak wordmark for the last 70 years. The new logo — really just the Kodak brand name set in a new custom typeface with lines above and below — continues to use the company’s red and yellow colors.

Comparison of old and new Kodak logos

It is hard to believe that Eastman Kodak would throw away its brand, as UPS did earlier, but it appears they feel it will help them get away from being known primarily for film photography. According to an article in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle Kodak wants the new logo to provide a “contemporary look but be flexible enough to apply in new ways and new venues across Kodak’s varied businesses –everything from tiny handheld digital cameras to computer software to the letters on Kodak buildings around the world.”

It probably is unfair to compare the old logo with the new one. Kodak had already stepped away from using the old logo on packaging, opting instead to simply use the lettering from the old logo without the box. When comparing on that basis, at least the new one is moderately distinctive.

Old Kodak wordmark

In other boring logo news, Intel has decided to change theirs as well. Since the company is eliminating the Intel Inside phrase it is worth mentioning, but getting rid of the dropped E and adding a swirl sounds tired before it even gets much exposure.

Wed, June 22, 2005

Usability Testing is Painful

Based on my observations of usability tests, I’ve known intellectually that when a website has usability problems, it can be a tremendously frustrating experience for those struggling to successfully use it. That theoretical knowledge became painful reality last night. It’s been a long time since I’ve been as angry, frustrated, and beaten. I was shouting at the website on my computer “I want to send you money! How do I complete the sale?”

The worst part was that I was fairly sure the site was broken. I’d used the site many times before and it had worked fine.

No, perhaps the worst part was that as a website designer and developer, I thought that perhaps I’d just overlooked something. Banner-ad blindness, you know. I took a long careful look, again, at the shopping cart for the “Complete Sale / Check Out” button. No button.

Like most people in usability tests, I blamed myself. What am I doing wrong!? Am I logged in correctly? Yes. Does the help on the site say anything? “Press the Complete Sale button…” Where? I search the rest of the help for anything, anything that might tell me what I’m doing wrong. Nothing. Wait, are my Greasemonkey user scripts or Firefox extensions breaking something? Nope. Was I blocking the images or something? No. Is my computer infected with spyware? I grabbed the latest update and tested to find a bunch of false positives, but nothing apparently wrong. Perhaps I should try another computer. Nothing. How can a hugely popular site be missing the button to complete the purchase!?

I was almost at the point of doing something crazy and trying the site in Internet Explorer when I stopped myself. If the site doesn’t work with my browser, do I really want to send them money? No. Sale lost!

When a website breaks, as in this case, there’s no obvious way for the user to know that the site is broken. At least in a physical store, if there’s no clerk around, I know it. The web user is left to wonder and blame himself, even when he should know better.

After sending off a sad email to the site’s customer support, I gave up, defeated. The next morning, the site’s shopping cart was fixed and worked as I’d expected it to. The button appeared in a sidebar that just hadn’t been there before. Too bad I no longer wanted to purchase anything.

I’ve gained a lot of sympathy for those we torture during usability testing. I now know why I’ve seen them close to tears while we think “It’s obvious! Just go back two pages and press that other button. Why are they getting so emotionally involved?”

Mon, September 15, 2003

Lotus Notes may save the Web

Ray Ozzie, creator of Lotus Notes, writes about how Notes may save the browser from Eolas patent lawsuits. Eolas recently sued Microsoft over the use of plugins in the browser. Notes was doing essentially the same thing years before. Indeed, Ozzie writes that Notes people didn’t see much difference between the Web and what Notes could do:

In 1993 or thereabouts, we saw the emergence of TCP/IP, HTML, HTTP, Mosaic and the Web. From our perspective, all of these were simplistic emulations of a tiny subset of what we’d been doing in Notes for years. TCP/IP instead of Netbeui or IPX/SPX, HTML instead of CD records, HTTP instead of the Notes client/server protocols, httpd instead of a Notes server. And we were many years ahead in other ways: embedded compound objects, security, composition of documents as opposed to just “browsing” them, and a sophisticated development environment. I am quite embarassed to say that we frankly didn’t “get” what was so innovative about this newfangled “Web” thing, given the capabilities of what had already been built.

Sat, May 31, 2003

Why should links go missing?

<rant>I hate the magic wand link effect that became popular after IE introduced hover. Web designers took to making links invisible unless you waved your magic wand over them. Not only did this make links difficult to find, but startled users with the unexpected appearance of color or underlines. This was especially frustrating to those who had link underlining turned off and liked it off.

Now Mozilla users get to suffer through it again and worse than before. In “The Search for the Missing Link” Stuart Robertson takes the idea to a whole new level and describes how to make whole paragraphs blink for your magic wand. The sad thing is he’s trying to be helpful to users. He writes:

“With thoughtful use of colour and typography, links can be made less of a visual disruption, creating pages that are more aesthetically pleasing and text that is easier to read.

“However, if the style of a page’s links is too close to that of the text on the rest of the page, it can be difficult for users to see the links at all. In particular, users who have poor eyesight or are colour blind might have trouble finding the links on an otherwise well designed page.”

Underlining is extremely jarring from a typographic standpoint, so I understand the desire to eliminate it. Still, the web is all about links and for many users, unfortunately, underlining is the indication of a link. Intentionally making links “subtle and unobtrusive” means that many users won’t notice them at all, even with the hover effect, because they won’t think to try it.

I’ve already noticed a few in the Mozilla community—Asa, for one—playing with this effect in weblogs. If any style of writing is about links, it’s blogs. I don’t see a good reason to make links almost invisible. While it might make the text more readable, it makes it less usable. Linuxart jumps all the way to hiding content—the time of a post and the link to add comments—unless you mouse over the text. This prevents keyboard use because the content isn’t even there. So much for this helping accessiblity.

For quite a while now I’ve been thinking about how much more usable the web would be if there were consistent link colors and styles. I’ve thought about creating a user stylesheet that forces all non-visited links to blue. I can’t quite bring myself to do it because every once in a while I come across a beautifully designed site that uses uncommon colors, but is still quite usable. They’re rare, but I don’t want to miss them. Perhaps I need to create a Mozilla “manager” for always using my link colors and styles on specified sites.</rant>

I feel somewhat better now.

Tue, April 08, 2003

UPS: no joy

I found the following gem in the discussion thread related to the Speak Up post about the new UPS logo that I mentioned earlier:

I’m not just sad about this redesign. I’m angry.

Little by little, people that call themselves “designers” (but are in fact no-talent idiots who exist only to perpetuate the ill-conceived agendas of visionless corporate drones) are remaking our visual landscape. All traces of humanity—surprise, humor, charm—eventually get replaced by conformity, slickness, and above all, emptiness.

Here’s a company with an icon etched in the brains of every person in America. Anyone who had ever seen the UPS logo can draw it. And that was worth more than anyone could say. What they had was an integral piece of American visual culture. Now, they have a meaningless, overproduced logo which will no doubt be redesigned again in less than a decade.

When Paul Rand designed the UPS logo 42 years ago, he showed it to his daughter and asked her what it was. “It’s a present, daddy!” was her response. Will anyone (or anyone’s daughter) look at the blight on our culture that FutureBrand has brought upon us and say “that’s synchronized commerce through an efficient supply chain?” I think not.

As designers we have a responsibility to look past the petty concerns of the moment and act not just in our own interests, or those of the client, but to create work that speaks to people and adds something to the world. This new logo says nothing, does nothing, and removes a little bit of joy from the world. And that’s bad for designers, bad for people—and bad for UPS.

Shame on you, FutureBrand.

Posted by Scott on 03.26.2003 at 09:30 PM

Infant Usability

Scott McDaniel wrote A Heuristic Evaluation of the Usability of Infants:

“The infant does not conform to normal industry standards of night and day, and its natural language interface is woefully underdeveloped… Infants have only a single error message, which they use for every error. The user, therefore, is left to diagnose each error with relatively little information. The user must remember previous infant states to see if input is required, and the user must also independently check other routine parameters.”

Tue, April 01, 2003

UPS ditches logo

UPS has a new logo. I’d swear this was an April Fools joke if it hadn’t been announced earlier. Have they gone completely insane? The old UPS logo, one of the most recognized brands in the world, was a distinctive design by Paul Rand created in 1961. The new one, well, it has a semi-swoosh. Boring! I can’t imagine wasting an estimated $20 million on rebranding to that. And in a slow economy, too. The courier-journal has a story which notes the problematic timing of the rebranding.

Old UPS logo: a parcel tied with string above a shieldNew UPS logo: revised shield with no parcel

Update: Subtraction blog nails it:

What this logo lacks, and what Rand’s logo had in spades, is wit. Rand said that he knew when he’d hit upon the right design when his young daughter saw immediately that the top of the shield was a gift box. Its message was clear and simple: UPS delivers good things — the effect was to inspire a smile. In spite of the fact that UPS forbade the use of string to tie up packages, the company recognized the emotional resonance that Rand’s work communicated, and they allowed it to become one of the most well-respected design landmarks of the modern world.

Fri, February 07, 2003

Techie personalities

I wrote earlier about Personas and Personality. A recent post on slashdot mentions techie personality types and claims that most developers and tech people have personality types that make up roughly 12% of the population. The author of the post writes:

When you study the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) for techies you find that they are made up almost entirely of 4 types INTP, INTJ, ISTP, and ISTJ. nearly all the core software that runs the Internet was written by INTP and INTJ people. (In general INTs are more likely to like python or lisp while ISTs are more likely to like Perl.) NTs are concept oriented with STs are detail oriented.

INT*s make up about 2% of the population and IST*s make up about 10% of the population. The key is the IT in the type. “I” stands for Introverted and “T” stands for Thinking. The ITs make up only 12% of the population.…

The result is that the people writing the code have a point of view that is shared by only a small minority of the population. While the largest subgroup of the population has a point of view that is exactly opposite of the techies.

Good personality types for personas would then be ones that are more heavily represented in the general (non-tech) population. One could even assume that the “techie” types are already reasonably represented and may actually be the personality type of UI designer.

Thu, January 30, 2003

Personas and Personality

I recently ran across a simple and thought-provoking comment while looking at some design documents for an open source project.

Target users have personality types. What may be simple for one, may not be for others.

I’ve used personas as a design technique for a number of products. A persona is a precise description of a stereotypical target user of a product. (For more details, see The Inmates are Running the Asylum by Alan Cooper. He and other designers in his company have written about using personas.) A persona defines a fictitious person and the person’s goals. Although a persona is based on actual users and an understanding of their goals, a persona is not a description of an actual person—real people have idiosyncrasies and varying skills that may skew design decisions. A well-defined and precise persona can help the designer make decisions that reflect user needs. The persona also helps the designer step outside his own view-point and see through the eyes of another.

What intrigued me most was the mention of personality types. During college freshman orientation we were required to take the Myers-briggs test as well as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), a practice that I’m sad to say has been discontinued, probably because of limited time and money. These personality assessment tools can be quite useful in pointing out distinctive goals, motivations, and behavioral preferences. It certainly helped me to better understand myself and my friends.

As a designer, I know that my personality type affects my perception and influences my design. I wonder if identifying a Myers-briggs Type for each persona would be valuable. With just 16 possibilities, but significant behavior and perception differences, it would be easy to add. A very simple 4 question test can be used to identify your personality type and these same questions could be helpful in assessing and creating personas. The Myers-briggs types also lend themselves to brief summaries.

I wonder how much our personality types are relevant to our use of a software product. For a communication product, it would seem quite relevant. I wonder if there’s an ideal personality type to design for. Perhaps you need the design to work for two completely opposite types. I’ll have to experiment with this.

Mon, January 20, 2003

Toilet UI

Earlier I wrote about Donald Norman debating proper toilet paper UI and now we hear of excellent urinal interface design in Amsterdam. [via mpt]

Wed, January 08, 2003

Apple software design

Apple Gets It is an interesting commentary on Apple’s new Safari and Keynote products. I believe it was written by Brendan Donohoe, who was a former interface designer for Mozilla.

Fri, October 18, 2002

Mac OS X UI Hall of Shame

I found a Mac OS X UI Hall of Shame. The site describes itself like this:

Mac OS X, Windows and Linux/UNIX desktop managers such as Gnome and KDE have a similar purpose and, as such, similar shortcomings. This site is designed to be a source of “dos” and “don’ts” for interface designers and application developers. The main section of the site is dedicated to various specific GUI issues that can be found in many places in these systems. The second part of the site is a showroom of examples of bad GUI from various popular applications available for various operating environments.

Thu, September 19, 2002

Even with CSS, frames suck

Asa has apparently decided it is a good idea to ignore or downplay complaints about the usability of his blog. He writes:

Some folks are complaining that my site doesn’t provide the same experience for folks on low-resolution systems. They’re right…. If … you can’t cope with the links over to the left not all showing up in your browser because your resolution is archaic then you’re in luck. I’ve constructed a special version of this site just for you.

[He then provides a link to view the source of the page.]

What he describes is a common problem with framed pages: web designers will set frames to have no scrollbars and just pretend that everyone uses the exact same screen resolution and font sizes that they do. This frequently causes inaccessible content just like that seen in Asa’s blog. But Asa isn’t using frames, he’s using the shiny new CSS (validated no less!) that is supposed to cure world hunger and bring world peace. Or something like that.

The problem is that CSS position: fixed elements (those blocks that act like frames) get overflow: visible by default. If they had overflow: auto they would get scrollbars when necessary. Asa could easily fix his blog by adding overflow: auto to the .leftcontent class in his style sheet. I hope he does. I understand people blog for the fun of it and that you can’t please everyone, but this is a trivial change that doesn’t fundamentally change his design.

It troubled me that at least with old framesets, if you didn’t do anything special, the default was to get scrollbars automatically if they were necessary. With the CSS replacement, you now need to add both position: fixed and overflow: auto to get the same behavior. I suspect that many designers using position: fixed will, because of ignorance, arrogance, forgetfulness, or by design, omit the overflow: auto and therefore create sites that have accessibility problems. This prompted me to file bug 164983. Too bad this isn’t a technically feasible solution. In bug 105796 mpt made a similar suggestion which would also help with frames.

I find it ironic that because IE doesn’t apparently support position: fixed, Asa’s blog is more usable in IE.

Wed, September 11, 2002

Responsiveness vs. Performance

An IBM developerWorks article discusses design and implementation considerations related to Progress Indicators. The article distinguishes between responsiveness and performance. Responsiveness is how quickly an app acknowledges and indicates acceptance of user input. Performance is how quickly it completes a task and displays the final results. A more responsive app contributes more to user satisfaction than quick performance by itself. A quick response can make the application feel faster, even if it takes longer on an overall task.

“Progress indication is needed because: (1) there are inevitable limitations in UI performance, that is, there are always cases where the user will have to wait for a final result, and (2) increased UI responsiveness, or improved communication with the user, can make the wait more acceptable to the user.”

I noticed the other day that the throbber makes Mozilla feel responsive. It activates immediately after clicking a link or entering a URL. The progress indicator in the status bar only seems to show up after a fairly lengthy period of time. For those that want to eliminate the throbber completely, this points out the need for better responsiveness in the rest of the UI.

The article is packed with practical and specific information. All designers and developers would do well to carefully consider the information in this article and how they could improve their application’s responsiveness.

Mon, August 26, 2002

Validators can’t

Ian Hixie provided an insightful quiz to show that there’s more to writing proper markup than running it through a validator. The answers are educational and identify several common misconceptions about which tags are required and how tags should be used. Proper and accessible pages take work beyond what a validator can easily check.

I was happy to get 4 out of 4 in a minute. The errors seemed obvious to me, almost as bad as someone using the <a> tag just to create underlined headings. Based on the results, there’s a lot of educational work to be done to teach people how to create proper markup. The quiz also makes it obvious why automatic conversions from a non-markup format (such as Word .DOC or Adobe Acrobat .PDF) to a markup language generate such poor results.

Mon, August 05, 2002

Inductive User Interface

Technical writers can make a tremendous difference in the quality of a product if they are allowed to provide feedback early enough in the process. Apparently Microsoft is making this more official with their new UI guidelines for their inductive design. Fascinating. I have noticed that web interfaces are influencing traditional software interfaces. It seems to be a good idea when this involves embedding help text (tips, hints, short instructions) right in the interface, especially since no one reads the documentation. Writers are quite sensitive to complications in the UI even when they cannot suggest a good way to solve the problem. At the least, they tend to write things that make more sense than the typical programmer-speak.

Tue, July 23, 2002

Usability and Beauty

Don Norman is working on a new book, “Emotion & Design” which will explore the roles that beauty and emotional impact play in the usability of designs. His site has a number of essays related to this topic, including Emotion & Design: Attractive things work better. One of the interesting points raised in the essay is that we use our emotions to make good/bad or safe/dangerous evaluations of the world, while we use cognition to interpret and make sense of the world. In stressful situations, the emotional aspect of the design can improve its usability. In short, “Attractive things work better.”

Given the horrible usability of many products, it is easy and understandable for design professionals to be stuck on the basic plain-and-simple functionality and ignore the beauty aspect. Norman emphasizes that the usability is still important–this is not just about prettiness:

There are many designers, many design schools, who cannot distinguish prettiness from usefulness…. True beauty in a product has to be more than skin deep, more than a façade. To be truly beautiful, wondrous, and pleasurable, the product has to fulfill a useful function, work well, and be usable and understandable.

May we have more products that are beautiful to look at and pleasurable to use.

Tue, June 25, 2002

Extreme programming vs. interaction design

After reading my earlier Jon Udell and Alan Cooper blog entry, Basil dug up an interesting debate between Alan Cooper and Kent Beck. They are discussing the differences in process between extreme programming techniques and interaction design. At times I feel they’re speaking different languages, but I feel like Cooper generally has a better understanding of the software development process than Beck does of interation design. I believe Cooper won the debate, but then I believe in interaction design as a way to improve the quality and usability of software.

Wed, June 19, 2002

Going to extremes

Jon Udell talking about his question to Alan Cooper: “Is there no hope that interaction design can itself be made interactive, with the assistance of software? He doesn’t rule out the possibility, but thinks that useful interactive prototypes are unlikely and, in any case, unnecessary … It’s extreme design versus extreme programming. I don’t buy either one completely. Call me an extreme anti-extremist.” More…

Tue, June 18, 2002

Jakob Nielsen Interview

Pixelsurgeon has an interview with the usability guru. I was quite amused by how hard they tried to get Jakob Nielsen say that splash screens on a web site were worth doing (they aren’t) and to recant his Flash: 99% Bad article (he didn’t). If you are a web designer, Nielsen is interesting to read as always.

Tue, June 04, 2002

Why your stove is a pain to use

Cooper has an excellent monthly newletter about design issues. In the May issue, they discuss the problems of bad mapping using Donald Norman’s classic stove burner control placement example.

Parallel Design

Human Factors International describes the benefits of Parallel Design. In parallel design, user interface designers first consider as many alternative designs as possible. They then select the best one and begin an iterative refinement process. By evaluating many alternative solutions first, the result is often better than iterations of a single design. Interestingly, they found that by evaluating multiple designs, the designers were able to rapidly find consensus on the optimal design approach.