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Category Archives: Usability

This one is straight out of the “don’t do this” examples. Buxfer is a website that helps you manage your finances. It was pretty good till Mint blew me away. So today, I decided to delete my account data on Buxfer, which is when I got this nugget (below):

Now what is the problem? Neither of the options is selected by default. One could argue that the choice is left to the user since this is an irreversible action. But then why is the submit button enabled? I promptly clicked it and got this:

Woah! Now there is no way to go back to the previous screen! I have to go to the accounts page and again press delete, and must not forget to select a Yes or No option. Not good.

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Have a look at this:

I hope you caught sight of the page title. I did not know that interest rates for fixed deposits (CDs as they are called in USA) should be called ‘Normalized Templates for Word 97’. 🙂 It’s a minor blooper but speaks of a lack of professionalism. Also, it’s a no brainer that this page has been generated by exporting some word document to HTML. However, a look at the page’s source (by pressing CTRL+U in Firefox) was even more astonishing:

It’s OpenOffice! I would have thought a bank like ICICI would have a pretty sophisticated way of generating and managing their web site content. Seems not.

Ended up getting a brizzly invite and promptly got confused by the signup process. 🙂 Yes, I am a lame chap but look at the screen shot below. I thought that I needed to provide only my invitation code and pick a user name since the email and password field were grayed out.

But on clicking the signup button, I got an error (see below):

Yes! I know it’s not a valid e-mail address. But what kind of GUI takes focus away from a required field? Totally lame (and equally confusing).

Here’s AT&T’s Play Safe and Win contest form which got me confused.

What got me was the * next to the U-Verse details. I don’t have U-Verse, and I normally associate * with mandatory information in forms. So I thought this form is not for me. What has happened is that the designer of this form has conveniently reversed the role of * to make it denote optional items. That goes dead opposite to convention and is confusing.

As you can see in this form, the U-Verse entry is the only one which is optional, so going with the convention of marking a * against every field in the form would have been a bit of a clutter. But, why not just label the optional field – "AT&T U-verse 9 Digit Account(optional)" and put a line on top of the form mentioning that all fields are mandatory unless otherwise mentioned?

Another sighting of slightly annoying UI behavior. This time, it’s VirtualBox. I was trying out the Sun Storage 7000 series simulator (an awesome piece of work. Go download and play with it even if you don’t care a dime about storage, it’s engineering at it’s best), and after screwing up the simulator to my heart’s content, I wanted to delete it. Off I went to the media manager to delete about 16 disks that belonged to the virtual machine and that’s when my head started aching. The task was to delete 16 disks. The list box allows you to just select one at a time. So, 16 delete actions instead of 1 :(. Once you select the disk to be deleted, the delete isn’t triggered when you hit the delete key on your keyboard. You have to take the mouse all the way to the toolbar and click ‘Remove’. Doing it once was OK but doing it 16 times is damn tedious.

Also, every time I hit the delete button, I get the message shown below.

The message is there for a purpose. The operation of removing the disk cannot be undone. So it serves as a place to double check. But imagine doing this 16 times :(. Also, as a power user of VirtualBox, I know what I am doing. Can there not be a way to turn this message off?

The scenario I mention about is pretty uncommon. Most VirtualBox users would have a disk or two to be deleted at a time, and that won’t be as painful. Also, I haven’t quite figured out why the disks can’t be removed by the step that deletes the virtual machine. Why delete the hard disks separately? At least, why not ask the user if he wants to delete the hard disks associated with the virtual machine to be deleted.

[Update: Raised a bug (http://www.virtualbox.org/ticket/4828)  for this as per a suggestion in the comments.]

Here is an annoying example of how ‘data’ on the screen eats away ‘information’. Browsing through JSch library’s users mailing list archive is such a pain. When you click on the link, you are presented with this page.

Very nice. I can pick and choose to view mails from as far back as 2002! But are the recent mails (August 2009)? They are below this whole matrix.

What’s more, even if you were to click on any month in the year/month matrix, you still are not shown the mail threads. You again get to see the huge matrix and some even more (un)interesting stats.

I don’t think I am interested in seeing how many mails were exchanged on the second Wednesday of February 2004. I want to see the mail threads, and this statistics bloat comes in my way. Not good.

Any one who has not seen this? Pretty rare, I believe.

This is Firefox showing the user that it is in offline mode. Now, I would think a thousand times before tagging some UI in a software such as Firefox as a blooper, but this one is worthy of it, in my opinion. I recently read a fantastic book on usability – Designing from both sides of the screen, and right into the first chapter of the book, an important point is made about ‘appreciating the user’s physical effort’ in using the software.

Look at this page shown by Firefox. What is the use of the ‘Try Again’ button if it is clicked without unchecking the ‘Working Offline’ menu item? Apparently, it does nothing, I found out by trial and error (another situation you want to avoid for the users of your software). I can’t seem to understand why I must ferry my mouse half way across the screen and click once to open the File menu, and click again to uncheck the ‘Work Offline’ item and ferry my mouse back to the center of the screen and then click on ‘Try Again’? Can’t the ‘Try Again’ button just be smart enough to do the unchecking of the menu item for me?

I don’t want to be overly critical in case I am missing some thing. Comments welcome.

A minor one today. This dialog box is pretty good, I just don’t like it telling me again and again that it is importing an appliance in it’s title. It’s too much information in the title.

I would suggest keeping "Importing Appliance" as the title and putting the detailed path of the appliance into the content panel of the dialog box. Or atleast do away the repetitive "import" and "appliance" words in the title.

For the past few days, I have been pointing to various GUI bloopers that I have seen. Today’s nugget comes from our own Solaris JDS screen to unlock a display. I am more than a 100% sure that this is a known issue, but I wanted to put the blooper here anyway.

Here’s the screen that is displayed to me for about a second or two when I have typed in my password correctly and pressed Enter. 

When I saw this dialog box for the first time, my first reaction was, oh hell, perhaps the password was incorrect.

Look at this dialog box – there is so much wrong in there. First, the password text box is displayed as is. Now it may be that the text box is disabled, but to my eyes, it does not look so (even if it is, it shouldn’t be there in the first place). Secondly, that poor little label telling us that the login was successful is a pauper on the screen when it should have been the king. And, the dialog box still tells me that the display is locked. Very confusing to me atleast.

I found another possible blooper. This time, it is the case of unclear feedback. It so happens that I wanted to follow CNN dot com live on twitter using Nambu. I got the following dialog box.

Fair enough. But after hitting Follow, I wasn’t told anything. Apparently, the status bar at the bottom did show the status of the action:

Now it can be argued that this feedback is good enough. But I have the following problems with this feedback through the status bar:

  1. It is blending into the background. A green color or any other contrasting color should have made it clear to me. Alternatively, I have seen NetBeans employ a balloon to do similar things. It gives the user enough feedback when the action completed (image below).
  2. The "Done" message hardly conveys anything. What was done? A message like "Successfully following cnndotcomlive" or something similar would have been better.