Monday, August 20, 2007

Microsoft: Thinking outside the box

Even the brilliant Joel Spolsky can't get into Office 2007:
It's a hard plastic case, sealed in two different places by plastic stickies. It represents a complete failure of industrial design; an utter F in the school of Donald Norman's Design of Everyday Things. To be technical about it, it has no true affordances and actually has some false affordances: visual clues as to how to open it that turn out to be wrong.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Not all plastics are created equal.

This has been something I've had an issues with for some time, and Rui sums it up nicely in his analysis of Nokia's UI problems:
No, my first thought was ā€œ800 Euro for this cheap greenish plastic?ā€

The thing looked like it was made in China (in the dodgy sense, since some of them actually are these days), and, worse of all, felt like it too. And Iā€™m not talking about pre-production samples (I handle plenty of those, and am used to unfinished plastics) ā€“ I was handling a commercial device.

Time was when I could go into Carphone Whorehouse and play with the dummy phones secure in the knowledge that the real things felt better - higher quality plastics, better fit and finish, more positive key action - generally all round more like something you'd want to pay money for and actually use on a daily basis. This, however, is no longer a given. In the case of the N95 I've even had salespeople tell me "yes, the real thing feels like crap too".

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Save is Broken

I'm planning on writing more about this very soon. This is only half of the story:
Once a user understands what a file is, there are still some hurdles to overcome. One of the biggest is the concept of "saving." In general, saving means "write the current document state to disk." Somewhat counter-intuitively, saving is typically a destructive operation; when you save, you are usually overwriting the previous version.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Broken Ad Placing

Of 15 Unfortunately Placed Ads, this is probably the worst, depending upon your outlook.

unfortunate Mail&Guardian image

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Search Field Default Dumbness

Ok, lots of sites used to use default text in search fields (and other form fields) to describe what you might put in there. Some still do, including eBay, but they usually have the sense not to act on the text if you actually click the submit button. This one doesn't seem to have worked out that PRODUCT SEARCH is just the text that was already in the field. It seems less and less common to use the default text in this way, and a bad idea unless space is a real premium and there's a good reason to have to tell users what's expected of them (clue: a standard product search field isn't a really good reason).

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Why the Rokr stinks

Wired 13.11: Battle for the Soul of the MP3 Phone:
Consumers want an iPod phone that will play any song, anytime, anywhere. Just four little problems: the cell carriers, the record labels, the handset makers, and Apple itself. The inside story of why the ROKR went wrong.* (*And what it will take to make a truly rocking music phone.)

Ok, the world and its dog appear to have a handle on why the Rokr doesn't, and it seems to boil down to the same things: Too few songs, no online downloading, no proper music buttons, too much Moto, not enough Apple. While some of this is undeniably true (especially the Moto/Apple balance - though what did people expect a Motorola phone to be? An iPod?) I'm not buying it all. Doesn't anyone think that there might just be some things about a phone that are inherently incompatible with a music player? I'm thinking:
  • Do I want phone calls to interrupt my listening? I'm happy to see who's calling, kick back and let it ring while I enjoy the music. I'll get back to them later.

  • When my iPod battery runs flat (not too often with the Nano, but it has happened once or twice on some particularly heavy podcast-listening and photo-browsing sessions) I'm not too worried. When the phone's out of juice I'm out of touch.

  • For iPod commuting I usually use my Apple in-ear headphones as they cut out a fair bit of traffic noise. At home it's plugged into my amp via a lovely Monster iCable. Sometimes I've been known to opt for a set of extravagant Bose QuietComfort 2 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones when I want to drown out someone else's TV viewing. My phone headsets have been universally rubbish, and even given a decent set I'd most likely be tied to that make and model (Sony Ericsson seem to change the connector as often as most people change their underwear).

  • My music player really doesn't need a set of number keys. But my phone does.

  • We might moan about Apple, DRM, the record labels, but if you really want stupid/entrenched/evil just look at the phone carriers. I'm not ready to turn my music listening over to them just yet. And as I always say; I don't know anyone who thinks their phone bill is too small.

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Broken Things I

Here's a first stab at some of the things we may want to turn our attention to here:

ATMs: There are a whole variety of these, but there doesn't seem to have emerged many standard ways of doing things. Different banks use different systems, buttons change their functions 3 or 4 times during a single task, user choices are presented in seemingly arbitrary sequence: The result seems to be constant re-learning and the impossibility of leveraging prior experience. What a mess.

Friends Reunited: When I asked Charlotte to think of something broken, she named the venerable FR without a moment's hesitation. Slow, counter-intuitive, and paid-for, to boot. Getting worse too, Charlotte tells me.

TV Remote Controls: There's no end of material in this one, and the recent comparisons of Windows Media Centre PC handsets with Apple's iMac/FrontRow remote control is only a part of the story. The whole operation of tv sets and recorders is worth looking at, including the implications of an iTunes model on TV design.

Pret a Manger Vegetarian Sushi: I picked one of these up recently for lunch, and while the Sushi was fine the packaging really irked me. There's a bunch of stuff that needn't be there, including a little plastic bottle and separate cap for the soy sauce, some plastic that's purely decorative, and a set of telescoping plastic and wood chopsticks that really aren't practical for reuse. A more environmentally-friendly redesign is needed methinks.

To come: Central Heating Controls, Mobile Phones (where to begin?), Moodle, DV Cameras. What else?

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Saturday, October 15, 2005


Over the next few weeks and months we'll be developing this blog as a part of the Futurilla network. WTDW is an ongoing project to document problems with product and UI design and to tentatively suggest some fixes. As we invite people to contribute here we'll be hoping to build up a resource on usability and product design and a focal point for better solutions. The first step is to build some outlines for articles and some broad categories, and I'll try to get around to the first part of this over this weekend.

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