UI Design Blinks 2011 – Overview

By Gerd Waloszek

Gerd Waloszek Welcome to this column of brief, blog-like articles about various UI design topics – inspired by my daily work, conference visits, books, or just everyday life experiences.

As in a blog roll, the articles are listed in reverse chronological order.

See also the overviews of UI Design Blinks from the years 2010, 2012, and 2013.

 

2011 Blog Roll

November 29, 2011: Bike Speedometers and Some Worst-Case Use Cases (or Scenarios)

Bike speedometerFor quite a while now, SAP User Experience has been promoting use cases as an indispensable tool for the UCD (user-centered design) process. Others favor less formal approaches such as text- or sketch-based scenarios. The "standard" example of use cases in the literature is the automatic teller machine (ATM) – a hardware device, not a software application. This tells us that use cases and scenarios can be applied more generally than just to software applications. Here, I will follow that vein and look for them in the realm of bike speedometers (or bike computers, as some say...). I will investigate whether the designers of these devices really had all the possible worst cases in mind that can happen to a "dumb" user like me. ...

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November 16, 2011: Technology Serves People???

C clock from JapanIn a blog entry in 2007 (the blog is called "bokardo"), Joshua Porter describes five design principles, one of which is: "Technology serves humans. Humans do not serve technology." This principle is only one of many variations of a general theme concerning the relationship between technology and people. Actually, I would rather phrase it as "technology should serve people" or "technology is there to serve people". Twice a year, however, I feel that the principle is only partially true at best – when we put our clocks forward in March and back in late October. Changing my clocks just a few weeks ago inspired me to write this UI Design Blink. ...

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October 18, 2011: Processing "pour l'art"!

Vera Molnar's digital artIn a number of UI Design Blinks published last year, I reported on my experiments with Processing, a Java-based programming language for designers. At that time, I had used it to create chart types that were not available in Microsoft Excel or, as I found out in the course of my experiments, would have been available if I had rearranged the data appropriately. This time, I would like to report on another type of experiment, namely "re-creating" computer art. My story goes like this. ...

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October 12, 2011: A Matter of (Visual) Perception...

Color assimilationJust before I went on my summer vacation, SAP Corporate Portal received a facelift. Before I left, I was able to check briefly that there were no severe issues with our Portal pages. Of course, I would need to perform more careful checks once I was back in the office. Among other things, the redesign included changes to the third-level navigation on the left and the teasers on the right: Both columns now have a white background, and various elements such as header bars, selections, and separator lines appear in different shades of gray. Therefore, I changed the background and header bar colors of our manually-created teasers accordingly – the navigation is out of my scope – and also applied the respective changes to further internal SAP UX sites that mimic the Portal's look. ...

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Don't Take My 4:3 Monitor Away from Me – or Perhaps You Can? Looking at the Options for Portrait Monitors, and My Conclusions

August 11, 2011: 4:3 portrait monitorIn three UI Design Blinks, I discuss whether I should fight for my trusty old 4:3 monitor or move over to a current 16:9 full-HD, wide-screen monitor. As I have already outlined, a portrait monitor would be an interesting option for my workplace, too. As a first step, I investigated and reported in a previous UI Design Blink whether modern pivot LCD monitors (pivot monitors can be rotated by 90 degrees) exhibit the same drawbacks I experienced several years ago. I found that in modern monitors, orientation effects caused by the microstructure of the LDC pixels cells are only minor and acceptable. In this, my final UI Design Blink on this subject, I move to the second step and present the results of tests that were geared to my own use cases at work and conducted with monitors of different aspect ratios in portrait mode. And finally, I present my conclusions. ...

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What Is a Usability Issue?

Controversial screenAugust 10, 2011: At a recent team meeting, my colleague Theo Held reported on his visit at the UPA International 2011 conference in Atlanta, GA, where he had attended an interesting panel discussion led by Rolf Molich from dialogdesign in Denmark. In his panel, entitled "The Evaluator Effect Revisited (CUE-9)", Molich demonstrated that when usability experts watch the same usability test sessions and write reports about their findings, depending on the evaluator, the number, type, priority, and severity of findings will be extremely variable. Theo remarked that even opinions on successful completion were highly controversial. ...

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Don't Take My 4:3 Monitor Away from Me – or Perhaps You Can? Checking the Feasibility of Portrait Monitors

LCD pixels detailAugust 9, 2011: In a previous UI Design Blink, I complained about wide-screen monitors, because they do not fit my use cases at work. But obviously there are no other choices these days. Initially, it seemed to me that all I could do was fight for my trusted 4:3 monitor to keep it on my desk as long as possible. A closer look, however, revealed that the case might merit reconsideration. Therefore, I will investigate this old issue of mine, in this UI Design Blink, using LDC screens in portrait mode. ...

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Don't Take My 4:3 Monitor Away from Me – or Perhaps You Can?

MonitorAugust 9, 2011: There is something in front of me that is a rare species these days: a 4:3 LCD monitor having a resolution of 1600 x 1200 pixels. Some years ago, such monitors used to be the rule, but at a certain point in time, the computer industry decided that computer users shall only have wide-screen monitors. They started their "coup" somewhat conservatively with 16:10 monitors, and in the end came up with 16:9 ones. Even the 16:10 monitors are now either unavailable or available only at a premium price. ...

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Full Press Snap and Dumb Users Who Do Not Know Their Cameras...

Ricoh GXRMay 23, 2011: This UI Design Blink does not deal with computers. Instead, it deals with digital cameras, or digicams for short. However, since Alan Cooper's remarkable presentations at SAP we all know that digital cameras are indeed computers. For example, they need some time to boot when turned on. And the issues that I will present here definitely also apply to computers and mobile devices. My digicam Ricoh GXR has a special feature called full press snap (FPS) that can lead to confusion – this is what I want to write about here. The feature was suggested to Ricoh by a professional photographer who also insists that it should be turned ON by default for speed of operation. I am a hobby photographer, a usability professional, and also an advocate of "dumb" users. Therefore, I maintain that this useful feature should be turned OFF by default. ...

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UI Guidelines Are a Developer's (or UI Designer's) Best Friends!

Nice dialog windowApril 13, 2011: This blink is a little different from my previous ones. This time, I am not going to tell just another story about how I struggled with a quirky user interface. Instead, I would like to spread some propaganda about a topic that is not much in the limelight in times of joy and fun: UI guidelines. We all know that UI guidelines do not enjoy the best reputation. Some developers regard them as limiting their creativity, others as too rigid, and still others as often incomplete or even as unusable. Moreover, some developers regard UI guidelines people as police officers who point to every error in the user interface and punish it mercyless. But while some developers definitely have a negative image of UI guidelines – and often include the people who create them in this "love" – UI guidelines can also be seen in a much more positive light. And this is what I would like to point to in this UI Design Blink. ...

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Missing and Misleading Error Messages from a Bank Statement Printer...

April 12, 2011: Bank statement printerA rule for good user interfaces is to design applications and Websites in ways that errors cannot occur, instead of remedying bad design through carefully crafted error messages. However, there will always be cases in which errors happen. Here, we are at a point of decision: Should we still stick to our strategy of not sending error messages and treat the error secretly – or should we send such messages and if so, should we inform the users about what has really happened? In the following, I will present an example that shows where the developers opted to baffle users.

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Enriching and Not-So-Enriching Complexity

Personal collection of electronic devicesMarch 24, 2011: In his Interactions article, Simplicity Is Not the Answer, from 2008 (also found on his website), Don Norman highlights that complexity is an ingredient of our world and enriches it. He emphasizes that any interesting product mirrors this and has an inherent complexity. In his new book, Living with Complexity, from 2010, he adds that it is complexity that makes things interesting for us. He also points out that most of us prefer a "medium" level of complexity – too low means dull, too high means overwhelming and frustrating. ...

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The Plagues of Modern Times (1): Online Software Updates

Popup for software updateMarch 10, 2011: Every computer user who is connected to a network (and who is not these days?) has probably had the following frustrating experience: You start an application on your computer to do just one "small thing" – it's only a matter of minutes or even seconds. But instead of taking you straight to your task, the computer asks, or even urges, you to install the latest updates from the Internet for the application you just launched. Arrrggghhhh!!! The last thing that you want at this moment is to wait for an uncertain – and often undisclosed – period of time to perform an update that possibly involves a system restart as well. ...

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A Clash of Conceptual Models Leads to Credit Card Hassles...

clickandbuy WebsiteMarch 8, 2011: Don Norman spends a lot of time talking and writing about conceptual models. Until just recently, I did not pay much attention to them, although I am well aware of the fact that developers and users think differently. The following episode, however, brought me into direct contact with them.

Some days ago, I found an e-mail from clickandbuy in my private e-mail inbox. It said that I should update my credit card data because the card would expire soon. So I went to their Website, logged on to the customers' area, and, following their instructions, navigated to the settings for the payment method. There, my old credit card was listed, and I clicked the "Ändern" (Change) link in order to edit the card's data and change them to my new card's data. However, on the screen that was then displayed, the card's type and number were set to read-only – I was only allowed to change the expiration date, the card security code (CVC), and my address data. ...

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The Blessings of Auto-Complete

February 1, 2011: Knife restHas this happened to you, too? You find some strange e-mail in your inbox from someone that you know and you wonder why on earth you received it. For example, I exchange a lot of e-mail with my brother. One day, however, I received an e-mail that was directed at his team at the university where he works. I was puzzled and asked myself why I had received the e-mail and what my brother wanted to tell me with it. When I sent him a "???" reply, he responded that I had received the e-mail in error. Needless to mention, this pattern repeats from time to time. ...

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Last Revision: 03/16/2014

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