Friday, September 20, 2013

User Interfaces I Plan to Focus On

For the time being I am focusing my energies on user interfaces (UI) that fit into at least one of these categories:
  • UI that are already driving me crazy because I use them regularly. This will mean I will probably focus on web applications (primarily using the Chrome browser unless I am curious how it behaves on other browsers), Android applications (for Nexus 4 or Nexus 7 tablet), the Windows 8 operating system, and other applications that run on Windows 8.
  • UI that make a product or feature so unusable that they caused me or someone I know to give up or switch to a different product.
  • UI that are examples of UI trends that I hate, especially when I find websites that praise them as examples of innovative user-centered design.
  • UI that involve more than one product and I can't figure out which program is to blame or how to fix it. If you have ever felt like a ping pong ball between customer support for two different products pointing fingers at each other you'll understand how frustrating this is. Maybe someone out there will help me figure out what the heck is going on and how to fix it.
  • UI that are "optimized for mobile" but end up making my mobile experience worse.

I'm not going to worry about:
  • looking foolish for saying that an application/website's UI confused me. If I can't figure out how to use a UI on my first try I am going to assume that many other users have the same problem and that something should be changed. I don't intend to redesign the UI for most applications from scratch (except as a fun exercise if I'm in the mood). I am going to try to focus on changes that many not require substantial work but would make a huge change for the user.
  • companies that I assume are creating difficult UI on purpose so that you will accidentally click on advertising. There is no way I want to increase traffic to those sites by linking to them.
  • doing a level of testing that I would feel necessary if I was actually a developer on the application.
  • perfect spelling, grammar, etc. unless it is causing confusion. I have worked professionally as a technical writer and feel a slight twinge every time I use a contraction or make cultural references. However, I need to be less formal here or it will severely limit my output and/or put my readers to sleep. Writing a blog confuses the heck out me as it is -- I am constantly fighting analysis paralysis. (Who the heck is my audience? What references do I assume they already know? Am I going into too much detail or too little? Argh!) My natural writing voice is not unlike how I talk, so speaking in my own voice while playing the part of the unsatisfied customer seems appropriate.
When there is a UI that has some part of it that is unarguably broken (I recently came across a drop-down list where it was impossible to select anything except the first few items) I will blog about the issue and also try to inform the application developers directly about the problem.

I will probably have occasional moments of being snarky, but I actually want to convince companies to fix their UI and make it more user-friendly. If comments are getting really off-topic (unless they are highly amusing and don't derail the discussion) or devolve into unhelpful company-bashing I will delete them. There are a lot of really smart, talented people out there that work on software that know that the UI for their software is confusing and desperately wish it would get changed (at the very least, so they can stop doing tech support for everyone in their extended family).  Many of them have probably feel just as powerless as you do and have some great ideas I would like to hear. I would like to be involved in more UI design reviews and beta tests to help improve UI out there before users have to suffer through it. As much as I approach breaking UI in the spirit of an evil scientist (I aim to misbehave), making cool things is even better.

The kind of testing I intend to do is explained in this post: Exploring, Problem-Solving, and Looking for Trouble.