Thursday, June 24, 2010

Top 5 User Experience Don'ts

We here at IDV try to make software that lets customers do relatively complicated things without them necessarily feeling like it was. Every interface has an energy budget –there is no way around that. Some interfaces cheap out on the creation side and save all the work for the user, others get the effort out up front by investing in making the interface easy for the user.

But here’s the thing: Making something complex seem simple requires a heavy pair of usability goggles -and usability goggles don’t come off easily. There are examples of user experience pitfalls everywhere, and if you look around with the right kind of eyes, you’ll see them all over. Here are my Top 5

1) Unsafe Exposure
Features that are poorly prioritized, or when appropriate, not tucked away, can result in frustrating mistakes. The most famous example of this, detailed by Donald Norman, is the swapped position of the ejector seat and throttle controls in fighter jets used to train pilots. Really. Unstratified tools that vary greatly in function and importance provide no guiding visual hierarchy and they lose meaning.

One of the best Far Sides ever.

In Monsters Vs. Aliens, the President's coffee dispensor and the launch-all-nukes button look identical and are labeled in binary.

Unsafe exposure goes hand in hand with there being too many tools in the first place. This leads us to the big fuzzy monster of…

2) Feature Creep
This application has to do…everything. The law of diminishing returns tells us that every new feature or doodad that is added dilutes the overall value of the others. What’s more, there is an all too easy line to cross whereby each new doodad actually reduces the overall value. Too much stuff!

Best...feature creep...ever.  Yes, it's real.

Also real.

3) The Red Herring
Don’t disguise a design element as another type of design element. Likewise, don’t camouflage important or interactive things as otherwise. This sounds pretty obscure but is pretty common.

Apparently I wan't the only one faked out by this gas pump's octane label.  The actual button sits above and says "Regular."

This machine uses one of it's big button-like zones to notify the user where the actual buttons are.

Red herrings, will almost always result in a funny last minute “fix”, which is the 4th type of User Experience pitfall…

4) The Bolt-On
Thinking through the entire workflow of a design, considering carefully the audience, and testing thoroughly will, I assure you, lead to cost savings and reduced headaches down the road. Bolt-ons are expensive, and they usually fail. In many cases they serve only to hilariously highlight what the original problem was.

Few people enjoy grabbing a public restroom doorhandle on the way out.  Poor planning leads to ad-hoc wastebaskets near these doors all over the world.

A drive-through or a drive abruptly around?  The lack of a planned drive-through traffic directing curb has led to a we-wish-we-thought-of-this-sooner safety barrier.

Bolt-ons are symptoms of a failure to plan and, usually, the dangerous assumption that the folks you are helping are defuses. Which leads us to the 5th and most sinister User Experience pitfall…

5) User Contempt
Sometimes, in an effort to make something so simple that everyone can (and must) make sense of it, the result is something so verbose, regimented, and tedious that nobody can. Contempt, or at least the blanket assumption of dimwittedness, of users is a horrible trap. It’s easy to slip into this mode, but don’t let condescension (which is really fear) rule you. People are smart; designs that treat them like imbeciles are not.

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