The power of defaults in our choices

My bus ride home trippled in time last night because of some construction so I had the opportunity to watch this TED talk.

This really drove home the power of defaults in user interface choices and how it is the responsibility of good designers to default to the right behaviour, especially when the options are complex.

<img src="http://images.ted.com/images/ted/tedindex/embed-posters/DanAriely-2008P.embed_thumbnail.jpg&#038;vw=432&#038;vh=240&#038;ap=0&#038;ti=548"/>

Dan Ariely asks, Are we in control of our own decisions?

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Design by Committee

I like to look at this painting every so often to remind myself how things can go so wrong even when they seem like they are going right.

If you haven’t seen this image before, the description of the project is amazing.  An effort to find the “People’s Choice” art award a market survey queried respondents from around the globe on what aspects of art they enjoyed.

Results were tallied for various countries and “The Web”, the paintings were created to spec with total disregard for an overall vision / goal / theme and the results are completely unappealing.  I originally found this site via the excellent email on Design from Dan Winship of years back.

U.S.A. - Most wanted Painting

Design & Choice

I was talking with someone about Design about a year ago and we go into the topic of choice vs. decisions, we debated this.

Committees make decisions

Making decisions is the process of evaluating and understanding the options from various possibilities and then merging and pruning the list of possible options until only 1 option remains; which could be a hybrid of the original possible options.

Design makes choices

Making choices is the process of evaluating and understanding the options from various possibilities, then selecting one of the options.  The design process suggests that this selection be iterated on and further choices made.  Part of design choices means knowing that other options are valid but possibly lack a clear expression or vision.

Decisions vs. Choices

The difference between choices and decisions is subtle , some of it has to do with the quality of your ingredients and some of it has to do with compromise at the wrong stage of development.  Is the process all that matters?  A process that is used to constantly create new possible options and choose from those instead of making Frankenstein out of the options given?  The design process will constantly emphasize the goal in the iteration of options leading to a choice.  I don’t think that definition clear, but it’s the best we came up with.

Allowing More Choice

If design requires choices that defines a vision and other designers incorporate that design with their own vision…  How do we create this space where design can make choices according to a single vision and still allow other designers [1] to continue making further choices toward their own vision?  And further, how do you have a meaningful community other designers can make their own?

[1] As in, “Everyone is a designer”, by choice or by accident.

Getting Inboxes Done

Spent some downtime Sunday reading Getting Things Done (GTD) after previously talking about it I picked up a copy a couple weeks ago and have been running through it in my spare time.  I probably talk about the book too much already and am boring everyone with my fascination over the classic email overload problem.

Another great source of similar information is Merlin Mann’s thoughts at Inbox Zero. If you haven’t seen his Inbox Zero talk, take about 40 minutes right now to watch it.



Here a link for the Video for Merlin’s “Inbox Zero” talk
 
Getting my Work DoneHere’s my plan over the next couple weeks:

I already started some work on Thunderbird and the tabbing interface by interviewing people about what they use tabs for in their browser and what tabs mean to them.  Should be posting some of that information shortly.

product, brand… strong like bull

I am often inspired by Timbuk2. I’m a proud owner of one of their laptop bags and oddly hope that one day it will break just so I can design a new one of my own. Of course I’ve had this thing for almost 4 years now and it’s not wearing through at any points yet.

Their web site seems fun, friendly and light; which I have always assumed reflects their corporate personality. Take for example their Product Guarantee, which covers all defects but…

If your Timbuk2 product is otherwise damaged in the course of normal (or abnormal) wear and tear, you may not qualify for our warranty replacement, but we’re sure you’ve got a great story to go along with the marks.

Even their gift certificates are fun and realize the strength of their brand.

Recently, in another moment of hip and fun attitude, they released the Macbook Air Sleeve.

timbuk2macbookairsleeve_side.jpg

timbuk2macbookairsleeve_front.jpg

sleeve link via the ever cool, metacool

Refresh in reactive displays

In the web world every browser needs a refresh button because the main protocol (http) doesn’t allow for the web browser client to know if there were changes made on the remote end. Lots of MacGyver like fixes using AJAX are built to accommodate the fact that the web is stateless and yet we use it for almost everything even though it’s probably not the best protocol out there, just the most pervasive. The lack of state change events coming from the remote http server makes the system non-reactive and the user interface becomes a static copy of what we asked the server for, thus we have to refresh and poll the server for changes.

When the system behind the user interfaces are reactive the user interface should be a dynamic representation of the system and thus a refresh/reload system doesn’t actually make much sense, and in fact it can be a bad thing. Take the mockup below as an example, it’s the NetworkManager applet with a refresh button packed tightly into the menu. (this is not a good thing)

nm-refresh-buttonbad-idea.png

bad idea

A refresh button like this is tempting for people to add to the interface because it might help work around some of the networking bugs current Linux systems have. However a button like this is not helpful for everyone, it actually erodes away at the experience of NetworkManager (NM).

Reactive Back end

Network Manager is controlling the wireless card in your computer to scan for new networks when most appropriate, finding new networks as they become available. Both types of scanning, passively and actively, are governed by Network Manager in order to be friendly to the access points and wireless networks around you as well as give you the most up to date list of available networks. So NM effectively acts as the proxy to the polling system that happens in your wireless card, delivering a stateful display.

Because NM is providing this kind of reactive back end to wireless networking our display interface (nm-applet) can be fairly simple since everything is just a dynamic representation of what’s out there. Assuming NM is working as it should be the list of networks shown in the applet is always going to be the full list of available networks. Using a refresh button on this kind of dynamic display starts to change that view.

Putting You to work

Since our interface is assuming that NM is always presenting us with all the available networks there is no need for a refresh button. It’s actually just making you work a little more when that work should be inside of NM itself. The one-two step interaction of clicking on the applet to view the wireless networks and then choosing from the available networks becomes a two-three(-repeat) step system where you have to open the applet and click refresh (because you can’t be certain anymore that the applet is showing the correct list), then opening the applet again to see what changes.

Why is it a bad thing to have a refresh button in a reactive display? Because it creates an unneeded inconsistency in the interface. When you look at the mockup above you can’t know if those networks are all that are available… until you hit the refresh button. The refresh button creates an inconsistency by making you think there’s extra work to be done before you can assume there are no other wireless networks. Without the refresh button you have to assume there are no more networks available, of course there’s no way of knowing if NM is looking for more networks or not (more on that below).

Where things go wrong…

Most of the issues in this area of wireless networking on Linux come from systems not telling NM to suspend, sadly your distro is somewhat responsible for making this happen. There are lots of other possible problems through the whole stack from wireless tools to driver support that can make things not work well. :( But in the end the fixes need to go down into the networking stack to instead of up in the user interface.

Aren’t we still missing something?

So where did we go wrong? Feedback. (often the right answer in interaction design)

The Network Manager applet does lack in user visible feedback during an active scan. When you don’t have a network, either after booting up or resuming, you don’t know if network manager is scanning for new networks. I’m usually left wondering what it’s doing until it connects to something. It would make sense to have some kind of feedback in the applet that indicates it’s currently scanning for wireless networks while you don’t have one (scanning while you are connected to a network isn’t that interesting).

they makin’ me sekur

With the help of several other people (a group design!) from this years Boston GNOME Summit.  I was finally able to rework one of the important dialogs many update applications suffer from.  I think the end result is more fun, intuitive, and thus probably more secure. :)

I can haz sekret kee?

I’ve got a bunch more made up as well that I’ll post later.

Web Browser Homepage Observations

I’ve been looking over the comments from the earlier Web Browser Homepage post and there were certainly a large number of people who said they were using about:blank, mostly for speed reasons as well as the distraction reason. And some other interesting situations / use cases that people mentioned happening, here’s a quick breakdown.

Persistent Browser Sessions was a topic touched upon a number of times by different people.  Having the browser know what sessions you used last time and bringing those back after a crash or having it remember a state you want to have every time you open the web browser.

Dirk mentioned using Wikipedia:Random as a homepage where you always end up learning something new, which I thought was a really cool idea.

Lots of people use google.com or google.com/ig or the firefox equivalent start page.

Many people use a local file:// link to bookmarks.html or another local page of links and useful things they maintain

Straight up about: (which I didn’t know existed) gives a quick loading page that reminds you what version you’re running.

Several mentions of Speed Dial from Opera, which I have to say looks very nice.

Some people use planet, which probably loads fairly quickly and keeps you up with what’s happening in your world / universe.

Bill had an interesting solution of using the about:blank page with custom sidebar of file:// links, lots of speed and the ability to jump off to new places.

A couple mentions of using del.icio.us bookmarks page also with specials tags like “workflow”, i.e. links you’d go to often

Many people used the set | of | tabs | for | homepage which opens multiple pages in different tabs at once, several people mentioned that the order of the pages was very important.  Some people even put in the about:blank at the end of their list of tabs so they have the last one ready to go somewhere new.

Custom web homepage of the /~clarkbw/ variety.  Dan and Jesse had some really interesting and different ones.

Other people used news sites like http://politiken.dk/ or http://news.bbc.co.uk/ because they are pretty fast and they want to get a glimse of what’s happening in the world before start something.

Adam mentioned loading his router’s status page because it’s really fast and can have some useful information sometimes.

Firefox Journal

Walters and I have been talking about the web browsers homepage, bookmarks, and history and how they all relate for a little while now.  A couple weeks ago we started working on something that we think could help this situation we have with them.

  1. History is valuable.  You keep doing the same things over and over again on your computer, especially in your web browser.  Why isn’t that part front and center?
  2. Bookmarks are a management task.  Bookmarks have a tendency to become stale over time and end up as clutter unless you careful prune and manage them like it was your garden.  At the same time the sites you bookmark are probably the ones you go to most often, then what did you need to bookmark them?
  3. A Homepage is usually a waste of time.  Went through the specifics in my last post, but a homepage just isn’t all that useful.  With all the amazing ideas listed above we have an excellent base to make something little bit more useful for all of us collectively.

So we created something we called the Firefox Journal.  It only works with Firefox 3 right now, but we’re working on that.  Here’s the point of it, in bullet format.

  • Show the Places You Visit Most
  • Auto-Clean up and tidy the display of your Recent History
  • Allow quick Searching of your History and Bookmarks
  • Help to perform Alternative Searches

So try it out!  It won’t take much time to get it up and running so you can see what we’re up to.  It’s dead simple to hack on this (i’m doing some of the hacking) and improve it.  We need help with the HTML layout and the Querying of the places.

I’m also working on a “live” history system that pulls RSS feeds from the sites you travel to down into your history view such that we can say:  Colin Walters – LiveJournal (2 Posts since your last visit) instead of just the URL.  Cool stuff!

Stay Within the Lines

I wasn’t there, but read the slides from Dan Benjamin’s Railsconf 2007 presentation. In his slides he takes some time to talk about The Fold. This is a really important element in designing interfaces, it’s been a part of newspaper layout forever and often web designers don’t include this aspect in their designs.

The lines are our friends

As an interaction designer I worry about people finding the right things and being able to progress from one area to the next. The Fold is important in your layout because it allows you to lead people into more content which helps them find what they are looking for.

Either your site is going to fit within the fold and look like a flyer or postcard, this is most often the cast with a flash only site where it sits in the center of the page and the flash animation controls all the navigation. Or your site is going to have scrolling and you’ll need to be aware of your fold and how it’s going to be presented.

Generic Site Layout Verify Your Site Layout (thumbnail)
A Generic Site Layout An Example Site with Layout Applied

So I create this generic site layout that’s variable to how the site it’s self should be defined. But what I keep consistent in the layout is the use of the The Fold and the classic Z Read Order.

But Z Dagger?

Of course the read order could be F shaped, it could be in a random blob shape, it doesn’t really matter the exact shape. What really matters is that you plan for how you want them to scan your site and know they aren’t going to read your content. White space, headlines and clear, concise sections are what you need to create your scan layout, the Z and the Fold are just guides.

What Space?

               White  Space


Check out the Away with Applications: The Death of the Desktop video. The first slide shows the simple and yet mighty power of white space and text.

Iterating Web Mockups

I really like using firebug for iterating web mockup ideas. I’m not developing HTML or CSS, but if I want to try out adding something here or there to mugshot I can just open up firebug on it, inspect the element I want to look at, then edit the area. You’ll get all the Javascript and CSS loading properly and you don’t have to save the web page locally and find the files to edit. It really saves me a lot of time.

Firebug Editor

After you’re done editing and you like what you see you can take a screenshot of it and copy / paste the HTML to pass along.

The Untrusted Certificate Dialog

Lots of good comments on my post about informed choices and real security, it would be nice to see some good open source solutions out there. And I’m glad I didn’t bump into david on the street that day, he has more good ideas about the issues of phishing and SSL certs.

To follow up a bit more I spent a little time examining this crazy dialog. I’m not trying to pick on firefox, but it’s an excellent example of where things can go wrong. And in a lot of places they go right, we definitely aren’t at this point.

I couldn’t find a site right away that brings up this issue even though I feel like it happens somewhat often. So I grabbed a screenshot I found and changed the URL, but here’s how the dialog would look if you just found an issue with www.URL.com.

Firefox Certificate Dialog

Because I’m like the Lorax who speaks for the users I’ve translated the options available in the dialog so they can be read from the point of view of someone who doesn’t understand the underlying technology. I also added what is a little bit of reality as well.

Firefox Certificate Dialog Breakdown

1Unable to verify the identity of www.url.com as a trusted site
The website you’re looking at is not configured correctly. This error is not your fault.

2Possible reasons for this error
We used this dialog for a couple awkward reasons, but this error has nothing to do with anything you did

  • A. Your browser does not recognize the Certificate Authority…
    Something could be wrong with the browser software. Odds are you can’t fix this. It might be nice if the browser software could check for an update right now or allow you do make it check.
  • B. The site’s certificate is incomplete due to a server misconfiguration
    The web site maintainer has made an all too common mistake. There’s really, really, pretty much nothing you can do about this error. Thanks for reading it!
  • C. You are connected to a site pretending to be www.url.com …
    Something evil could be going on! Someone might be trying to trick you! Though odds are this isn’t true, it’s likely that guilt or the legal department required us to put this dialog up just for this case.

3Please notify the site’s webmaster about this problem
Contact the person who runs the web site. You know who that person is, right? You know how to contact them? It might be nice to offer a mailto webmaster@url.com address? Maybe not.

4Before accepting this certificate, you should examine the site’s certificate carefully…
Here is a foreign language you never studied in your life, please read it’s message carefully and pick out any grammar errors. Severe grammar errors could indicate a problem, simple grammar errors could just mean it’s a simple mistake. Remember, read carefully!! Fun Fun Fun!

5Accept this certificate… [in a number of different ways with different consequences]
After carefully examining and understanding the certificate you should choose the correct option to proceed safely.

6Help!
If you’re having trouble with what to do click here. Oh, gotcha! This help is about the dialog, it has no advice for the site itself!

7Cancel
Don’t go to the site you wanted to go to

8OK
Go to the site you wanted to go to, but risk losing your soul!

And with all that dialog you still haven’t seen the site itself because the browser blocks the loading, however the blocking is probably for security sake and might be hard to work around. One might find a way to use services like Snap which offer screen captures of sites for free at least then you’d know what you are about to look at.

So the real issue here is that this dialog doesn’t help most people to advance, it is merely an idiot light in car speak. We could say The terrorist threat of this web site is at Yellow, do you wish to proceed? and it would be about as helpful. To protect people from phishing you need a more complete solution, and phishing is a serious problem. Warnings about errors in a site configuration could just be done as subtle warnings such that people interested can take notice while others are able to continue without the dialog litter.

Other Fun Dialogs and Stuff

Alex Faaborg has some good slides from his Web 2.0 Expo Presentation where I got these other screenshots of interesting dialogs that provide choices, but maybe not in the way we want. The POSTDATA dialog is a tough one to fix and I don’t think I have any real ways to improve that, but boy does it suck.

Firefox POSTDATA Dialog Firefox POSTDATA Dialog is Not Human Readable

Informed choices and real security

David makes an excellent point about choices in a user interface. What David assumes in his post is that I think people shouldn’t be able to make informed choices in their Desktop interface. Well that’s not true, what’s missing my my previous post is that I don’t want to take away peoples ability to make informed choices, however I do want to stop the computer from forcing people into making uninformed guesses.

People who understand SSL and Certificates need to be notified if a site is incorrectly using them so they can choose to discontinue using that site if the situation merits that. Most of the time the issue with these is just a misconfiguration, and for someone who understands those technologies it’s not hard to spot. However most people don’t understand those technologies.

The decision is more complicated than this, but when building a web browser there are a couple paths the creators could take related to handling certificates.

  • Deny people from browsing to sites that don’t have correctly signed certificates, no choices (security for all)
  • Ignore certificates completely (no security for anyone)
  • Ask every person using the web browser to examine bad certificates for validity (security for few)
  • Or a New Solution (security for most)

My assumption is that most people don’t understand SSL and Certificates. I think that’s a pretty solid assumption so lets put a number on it, like 90% of people don’t understand the technology; seems a fair number. The assumption of the web browser is that if the certificate is bad ask the user if it’s ok to continue. That means the creators of the web browser have to hope for only a 10% chance of getting the right answer from the user. Those are really bad odds.

There are lots of other people talking about usability and security and several papers like Are Usability and Security Two Opposite Directions in Computer Systems? [pdf] and Usability of Security: A Case Study [pdf] on the topic. My Summary: If you want most people who use your software to have a secure experience you can’t ignore their inability to make certain choices about security. This doesn’t mean taking away the choice from them or from you, this means providing methods for them to be informed enough to make a decent choice. Those methods might also save a person in the know some extra time.

Just as an idea point for a new solution. Digg and other sites like it usually have a very low number of key people who push out most of the news that really gets dugg high. You might speculate that it’s a similar ratio to the number of people who understand SSL and Certificates and if a site is safe or not. So if people in the know about safety of a site could “Digg” it such that others would be informed that a “High number of people believe this to be safe” they could make some kind of informed decision about continuing to use the site.

And remember! Safety is no accident

Don’t Do What I Want

I get tired of these dialogs. I see them as the point at which the development crew just gave up on me and their application.

End These Dialogs

Make a decision in your software! Be Bold! Be Brave! Don’t lay the impetus on me (the user) to understand certificates, SSL, file version incompatibilities, and other computer bull shit.

Sure the solutions to these dialogs are not always easy or obvious, but that’s where all the innovation lies. There are startups out there right now trying to glue together social solutions to these issues. GNOME is People! People are social! GNOME should have a solution here!

I am Jack’s Web 2.0 Blogger

I recently switched over to wordpress, as much as I loved pybloxsom I wanted blog comments and web access to writing new entries. I could have done that all with pybloxsom, but I was moving hosting providers and I’m lazy and knew that wordpress has those things in by default. Sorry Will!

So I’ve been in the process of getting my blog into shape for this brave new world of blogging. Going over each of the Twenty Usability Tips for Your Blog and trying to make sure that I have them covered in mine. I covered the sections that apply to my blog interface and not really my blogging style.

1. Topic

Interaction Design, though I don’t actually do much blogging about the topic in the general sense as much as I blog about the experiences and designs I’m working on. Perhaps my topic should be My Interaction Design…

Screenshot of Bryan Clark blog title

2. Encourage Comments

I spent a good part of last night getting my comments system up to spec. I have the math plugin and the subscribe to comments plugin enabled. Most of the time spent adding these things is actually spent mucking with your theme afterward. Why aren’t these themes incorporating these kinds of plugins?

My Blog Comments


All that time spent and it still doesn’t look good.

3. Easy to Subscribe

I personally doubt that adding the RSS button to my page will make it easier for anyone to subscribe to my blog. I think anyone who wants to subscribe to blogs needs to use an application that knows how to find the RSS links in the blog page.

RSS Icon My RSS Feeds Links

4. Include an About Page

I don’t have an about page yet, but I’m working on that. I’m probably just going to finish up my portfolio and use that as an about page since I don’t think I could find enough interesting stuff to say about myself that would fill a whole page.

10. Archive By Topic

I’ve got Categories and a Date Archive, a bit of a cop out but I think they both have their uses. I made sure my categories are listed above the date archive.

My Current Blog Categories

11. Include a List of Related Posts

The related posts plugin is a little too manual for me, but at least it does a nice job of adding in related blog entries near the bottom of each entry. I’m not looking forward to going back and adding keywords to all of my posts though, perhaps this will be a thing I do from here on out.

Related Posts List

12. Allow People to Contact you Offline

Adding an “Email Me” blurb to the sidebar is a really simple way to solve this, though I think my future About Me / Portfolio page should have the contact information instead of cluttering up the sidebar with it.

bclark email address

15. Include a Top Posts Section

I like the WP-PostViews plugin for listing my most popular articles. Though since I haven’t been running it for very long it doesn’t really reflect the actual popularity of the articles.

Popular Articles

16. Provide an Index

I’m not sold on the Index page, a classic feature where I don’t have a strong objection. But just because I don’t feel like it will hurt doesn’t mean it won’t have a positive effect; my gut says the likely effect would be clutter.

18. Recent Posts Section in Your Sidebar

I don’t really understand the point of adding a list of recent posts to my main blog page. It seems that if my main blog page is showing all my most recent posts that displaying just their titles in the sidebar would be superfluous. I did want to add this element to the single post view sidebar. My thinking is that if you’ve arrived at an individual entry in my blog you might be interested in the latest entry as well. I found a recent posts plugin from the wordpress plugin repository.

Related, Recent, and Popular Articles

Usamagility

Now that I think I’ve improved the blog reader experience for my site it’s probably time to do some testing of all my assumptions. In the mean time I’m looking at Luis’ post on codes of conduct and trying to keep up with that.

Lifestyle Design


Sales are in a slump at the clarkbw cafepress store so I’ve been looking into how I can improve the current markets that I’m in or expand into new market segments.

Let’s examine the product breakdown first, currently we’re mostly a custom t-shirt with some other novelty gifts.

Targeted Marketing

In order to boost sales I’ve decided to take a targeted marketing aproach, it seems that the most sales of the Pennington t-shirt go directly to members of the Pennington family. This could indicate that if I expand the product line to include “I Know Havoc Pennington” mugs and magnets customers would have more choices of where to display their pennington knowledge. On the other hand my time might be more worthwhile sending targeted advertisements directly to family members who I know haven’t purchased a t-shirt that prooves they actually know the man. Even with these plans in mind I think I’ve come up with a better strategy.

In thinking about this last night it reminded me of the discussion on p.g.o about iPod design. Since it follows some stuff that I’ve been looking into I thought I’d post something as well. From my perspective I think much of Apple’s iPod success can be attributed to (successful use of) what I’ve been calling Lifestyle Design. The same design and marketing strategy I’m going to employ for my cafepress store.

Lifestyle Design


Apple’s marketing isn’t really about the money they throw at it. Although now that their stock is floating into the high 60s I’m sure they have money to just throw that way. Their marketing is part of the overall design of the iPod, it’s not necessarily more targeted or better phrased than others. What I see Apple doing extremely well is how they use their marketing as a piece of the overall ‘Lifestyle Design’ of the iPod.

This is something I’ve been researching more and more lately as my interest in creating consumer products has peaked. I’ve found that when you’re making something for people ‘to consume’ the one thing that most companies forget in their product design is this idea of Lifestyle Design.

I see this all the time with new products, be it the new web 2.0 style software apps like Pluck, ringo, friendster or combinations of software and hardware like the MP3 players. All of those products, are really just products in the end and the software or hardware pieces are just ways of conveiying the product message.

The problem with the messages they use isn’t that they communicate easily to Venture Capitalists what you’re trying to do; no that’s the only thing that’s good about them. The real problem is that the people creating them seem to think I (and others) will associate with those catch phrases. When I go to any of the myriad of Web 2.0 $single_or_combination_of_catchy_word(s).com sites I immediately look for their VC catch phrase. These are phrases like: “Connect with friends”, “Subscribe, download, listen”, and on and on.

What they really need to do, and what successful products like the iPod and even MySpace do is give me an understanding of how this product fits into my life and make me want to have the life where this product fits in it. I think those successful product strategies come from a deep understanding of people and how they work. I heard this at a seminar I went to once, they said, “People want to look good, and avoid looking bad”. Which while brief really does sum up a lot of why we do the things we do.

Take for example Gather, which seems like a ghost town of social network sites when you join. Gather doesn’t make me want to post things or join things because I always tend to stand out when I do that, when you’re the first one to post something to a forum that you just joined you can be worried that it’s the wrong place to post it to or that no one will answer and you message will sit there forever unanswered with spelling and grammar mistakes. The GNOME Mailing lists have this property as well.

iPod

When I look at the ads for itunes and ipod I see Apple showing people how the iPod and iTunes fits into their life and at the same time makes them want it to it into their life. Those other MP3 players are having a hard time making me want to fit into the “Solid State Life“, when I don’t really care about that. The iPod marketing is centered around making me look good when I have an iPod, the obvious white headphones and white player are jamming in the ads, same headphones and player I see from a distance on 7 out of 10 people walking in Cambridge.


MySpace

MySpace is a huge success, there are $580 million reasons why that’s true. A design success seems debated because they don’t look all web 2.0, which means it’s lacking usability.

Despite the fact that everyone seems to think that MySpace is a horrible web site were they can’t figure what you’re supposed to do. It’s actually pretty obvious even from the front page. They don’t need the catchy VC headlines like the others, “Connect with People”, “Get Photos From Friends”, those things are a dime a dozen. So the question of how does MySpace fit into my life is answered by: “MySpace is the best place to waste time”, it might be wasting time checking out peoples profiles and weird bands but it’s really great for that.

The way MySpace seemed to do this wasn’t the way that most people who are riding this new wave of venture capitalism are approaching the same problem. MySpace used a great ‘lead by example’ approach to helping people understand how MySpace fits into their life. In the stories that I’ve read of MySpace marketing they put a huge emphasis on getting people to post photos of themselves in their profiles. Girls and guys are putting up photos that try as hard as possible to make them look good. By defining that as the norm early on it acted as the sticky begining flakes of this snowball effect which rolled MySpace to where it is now, a huge gallery of everyone trying to look sexy. There aren’t many better places to waste your time!!

Another aspect of MySpace leading the way is how they give you a friend “Tom” to start out with. It’s not much, but it’s better than the other sites where you join and you have nothing. At least you can see the millions of friends that Tom has. And when you do that, you’ll also see the hundreds of posts to Tom’s page, this creates a “norm” for people around MySpace behavior. They see lots of posts and feel it’s cool to post lots of things to their friends pages.

My Store

So if I can get some time on my hands my next goal is to create this “I Know Havoc Pennington” lifestyle. I’m could follow him around a lot wearing my t-shirt, but that wouldn’t really create the lifestyle someone wants. Instead if I show videos of people meeting him, then immediately going to the store and buying the t-shirt. This should convey how you only need to have just met the man before you can claim you know him by buying the t-shirt. Maybe I should make up storylines of just seeing his hacker head and buying the t-shirt, that would certainly broaden the userbase.

images from the library of congress

The First Rule of GNOME Design Team

Is we don’t talk about GNOME Design Team

(johnny asked about GDT yesterday and I don’t want to have to repeat myself :-) )

Consistency[*] vs. Design

I posted this to the usability list

I was about to reply to a bug [1] regarding this, but it doesn’t make
sense to keep it in a bug comment compared to actually responding to
this thread.

First I want to say that I think these toolbar grips are a pretty lousy
idea for most things. In my view they were put into toolkits as a fudge
layer over the fact that many applications have excessive amounts of
toolbars and toolbar buttons. I’d actually rather GTK didn’t provide
these things and forced application designers to not have a million
toolbars and buttons, but create a application more focused on what
their user is really trying to do.

Application design is the full vision of a persons experience
interacting with the software. Application consistency is mainly for
ensuring that a person can have some kind of transferable knowledge from
one application to another. Consistency holds an important place in the
creation of Desktop applications, however consistency should never trump
good design. This is because good design doesn’t necessitate
consistency, good design can have consistency but can still be
compelling enough without it.

Think of all the web sites on the internet. If you were to write an
Internet HIG with which you required all web sites big and small to
conform to there is a chance to see some real value in this. People
would always know where the site navigation bar is or where the link to
the site map is located. This kind of consistency could provide a
cleaner experience for web sites that sucked before, however the sites
that were really designed well would be taking a huge step backwards in
terms of human experience. Well designed sites already allow the person
to get what they want out of the site and hopefully enjoy getting it.

The slippery slope of this consistency leads to a bland and boring
internet, where all pages look the same and are so locked into this
consistent view that the content providers cannot have a more compelling
manner in which to relay their information. You can insert the argument
that the content is the important thing and not the way it’s displayed,
however that is false.

The content and the manner in which the content is provided are so
intertwined that we constantly run into this problem. This is a
fundamental problem with the .desktop file GenericName vs. ProjectName
issue.

Great restaurants are just as much if not more about the atmosphere and
a chefs individual presentation of the food as they are about the food
quality. Food quality is actually the assumed part and everything else
is what people are really looking for. This is a somewhat contentious
issue for some people who don’t care at all about what food looks like
and just want it to taste good and fill them up. *shrug* Eat a
McDonalds hamburger, then spend 4 days walking in the Sahara desert with
no food come back and eat that same burger; it will be the best burger
you’ve ever tasted in your life. Context is everything.

What does this all lead to?

In terms of Evince, we only have one toolbar and we’ve designed it to
work at it’s best right where it is. I don’t see any reason people need
to move it around to some other location which isn’t better. If for
some reason the other location actually is better be it because of
circumstances of the person or not then that is a bug and we should look
into it.

In terms of everyone else, if you have multiple toolbars then having
grips for them might be a good idea if your application is designed for
the user to need to move the toolbars around. To me that sounds like a
bad design, but maybe it’s not. The Evince design does not include the
user ever needing to move the toolbar around, so we don’t need a gripper
for it.

The HIG are just guidelines and we follow them when they align with the
design of the application. The design is always right (not necessarily
your design), the HIG is always there and both are always changing. I’d
suggest this same thing to any other application designer.


[*] Consistency can also be thought of as “Usability” and this argument
has been going on for a long time.

[1] http://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=172120

aboot

This is the blog personality of Bryan Clark. I'm a designer in a world of open source. This blog reflects mostly writing about Design, Open Source, Economics, Beer, Wine, and Dogs. There's more information about me on this site or you can contact me directly at clarkbw@gmail.com.

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