Mandatory UI reviews before check in

Blake Ross posted that Netscape has lost focus and proposed that all developers should be required to attend usability testing. He also says that there should be manditory usability testing and UI approval before check ins. Absolutely. Both of these would help improve the product. Even if only the Netscape developers attend usability testing, it would help. It’d be interesting to see Netscape do usability testing to evaluate UI developed outside Netscape.

Blake also mentions the pain of fixing UI bugs. He complains about bickering in bug reports. I feel there’s a place for everybody having a say about the UI. Certainly problems in the UI should and do get feedback. The challenge is to trust knowledgable and skilled UI designers to develop appropriate fixes. Having non-designers debating solutions isn’t profitable and leads to some wacky proposals, as Blake points out. UI review and approval before check ins would make a world of difference. This could be done explicitly, or just by module owners bowing to the UI designers.

I was starting to get worried about agreeing so much with Blake. But it makes perfect sense now. The world is ending.

Revising Mozilla

Asa pointed to a somewhat misguided but interesting rework of the Mozilla menus. This may just motivate me to put together a rework that is closer to MPT’s menu specs. That the current context menu for images does not have Back is driving me crazy. I made some of the modifications prior to Mozilla 1.0 but then Mozilla/Browser came along and stole much of the thunder. Perhaps I should just work on the Mozilla/Browser project on Mozdev. It looks like they are working to improve the Preferences.

Make room for the bicycles

According to a July 19, 2002 press release, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet will plan and build all new and reconstructed roadways with pedestrians and bicycles in mind:

Secretary of Transportation, James C. Codell, III recently signed the Pedestrian and Bicycle Travel Policy. This new policy will help guide the [Transportation] Cabinet’s evaluation of when, where, and how to include pedestrian and bicycle facilities as part of the overall transportation system. The policy guidelines give roadway planners and designers specific criteria for accommodating pedestrian and bicycle travel. Planners will bear in mind adjacent land use, existing pedestrian traffic, local bike plans, transit stops, and public input to determine the necessity for accommodating non-motorized travel.

This is great news for those that want to see additional facilities provided for bicycling, walking, running, and other non-motorized recreation. This type of planning combined with additional rail-trail development could help Kentucky build a nice interconnecting trail network.

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.

Coming soon to a browser near you…

Mozilla may soon have support for the Microsoft-inspired MARQUEE tag. Bug 156979, which is working on this support, is a microcosm of the problems with Mozilla development. We have claims that this will never be enabled by default, comments that we should have Standards über Alles, worry that Mozilla will be perceived as irrelevant, insightful UI comments, a fascinating (but incomplete) discussion about what criteria Mozilla should use for implementing and adding non-standard extensions, and recommendations to check it in now and broadly enable it despite several saying we shouldn’t. I am surprised that it has remained generally civil and relevant.

In comment 58, Brendan Eich fails to see how implementing this impacts usability. For those unfamiliar with the tag, marquee converts a text message into a scrolling string of letters that dance across the screen like the blinking lights in a theater marquee. If implemented as in IE, there’s likely to be no way to make it stop. Brendan’s argument seems to be that any tag or behavior added to the browser that occurs only in the web page content area does not affect usability or UI. Support for marquee seems to me to be a choice between usability and flashiness. I honestly question the assumptions of the bug: 1) that sites are currently broken without support for marquee and 2) that they should be evangelized to use standards-based means to achieve this scrolling behavior.

I’m curious what Matthew Thomas will have to say about this.

Caring for the little ones

We have two gerbils, Point and Click. They are great fun to watch and play with. Yesterday my eldest was playing with them and Click escaped on a little adventure and roamed around the house. Sadly, the little one somehow injured herself and lost a part of her tail. The tip of a gerbil’s tail is designed so it will easily shed if caught by a predator. More sickening than the bloody bone left after the injury was that she chewed it off. She seems to be getting along fine now with her shorter tail. We’ll keep an eye on her. Point is comforting her, too.

I know it’s here somewhere

It appears that Mozilla will soon have an incremental find feature that will find text on a web page as you type. You can download an initial version of this now or try the bookmarklets by Jesse Ruderman. I have mixed feelings about this. It sounds nice to be able to jump to links by typing a few letters from the link text, but seems like this has the potential to be really annoying. I seem to frequently get focus in the wrong window and start typing. Up until now this has been no problem in Mozilla. I wonder whether this will be a big usability win. It feels transparent, so perhaps it will be cool. Alan Cooper says, “A dialog box is another room. Have a good reason to go there.” And Jef Raskin has a similar suggestion for finding in a list.

Freedom of the Press belongs to those who own a blog

Basil’s recent comments about nuclear waste disposal in Nevada makes me wonder whether he’s been thinking about free speech and blogging. Peggy Noonan has:

Let us hold high a single sparkler to honor those American institutions that, in this interesting year, did not flounder or fail…

Blogging. The 24-7 opinion sites that offer free speech at its straightest, truest, wildest, most uncensored, most thoughtful, most strange. Thousands of independent information entrepreneurs are informing, arguing, adding information. Imagine if we’d had them in 1776: “As I wrote in yesterday’s lead item on, my well meaning cousin John continues his grammatical nitpicking with Jefferson (link requires registration) ‘Inalienable,’ ‘unalienable,’ whatever. Boys, let’s fight. Start the war.” Blogs may one hard day become clearinghouses for civil support and information when other lines, under new pressure, break down.

Howard Greenstein agrees with Noonan and expresses belief that blogs are a new (and potentially better informed) Press.