People who read TamsPalm for quite some time know that I hate annoying alert dialogs. Anyways, Michael L Perry posted an interesting post about how iTunes has a very annoying alert dialog.

The problem with the alert dialog is that it pops up in the middle of a long process where the user usually is not close to the machine. So, it has the potential to cost the user loads and loads of time…but enough said, visit him here:
http://www.adventuresinsoftware.com/blog/?p=39

When betatesting applications, many UI quirks tend to repeat themselves over and over again – it looks like Marx was right after all(history repeats itself). Anyways, look at the screenshot below:
 On affording clicks

The texts in the red circle(I drew that in btw) are clickable in order to change options – if you can find them.

Every platform has established “platform UI guidelines” – those become patterns and burn into user’s minds. Palm OS users assume that things with a frame around them are clickable – and since these labels dont have a frame, their chance on getting a click is low. One could say that they don’t afford clicking.

Today’s UI hint is short and sweet: If you want users to click on something, make it look clickable. Ah, and I cant repeat it often enough – keep to the platform standards!

Sometimes, I wonder why PalmSource had to make FrmAlert and FrmCustomAlert so easy to use and call – if they wouldnt be so easy to do, the Palm OS world could just be a better place.

Deleting a file in a popular PalmOS image viewer first pops up this(useful) conformation dialog:
 Annoying alert dialogs   Part 255k25

When the delete process is completed, however, the program proceeds to tell me how it just deleted x images successfully from my handheld:
 Annoying alert dialogs   Part 255k25

When doing alerts, you should be very careful not to slow users down. If you feel that a dialog could be annoying, either leave it out or add a ‘Don’t show again checkbox’. Your users will love you for it!

Jeff Atwoods of CodingHorror recently wrote about IDE color schemes. He looked at black background-white text schemes – and IMHO forgot one of the biggest problems: reflections.

Both CRT monitors(I love my Siemens tube…its my central heating) and consumer notebooks(Acer Aspire 5622 WLMI) have reflective screens – and the blacker the background becomes, the more reflections you see.

Here are a few comparison shots(at the same ambient and screen brightness levels):
whitebgt Why I want a white screen background backbgt Why I want a white screen background

How is your UI set up?

I recently changed my office suite as I swapped over to the Treo 600. The new office suite has a funky spellcheck – funky until you try to get suggestions:
 Breaking a UI pattern is a bad idea

Most people(including me) assume that one can click into rectangles to execute the action contained within. But not so in this example – you need to click onto the words…

Once a user has understood and accepted a pattern, unlearning it is very hard. Forcing your user to unlearn makes the UI less usable – if there is no real speed benefit, it usually isn’t worth it!

I use foo for sorting/renaming photos in ‘bulk’ on my Palm Tungsten T3 after loading them off my digital camera. One of the things that make this process annoying and slow is this dialog:
A very annoying dialog - ui designers should avoid this

After an image has been renamed successfully(!!!), this dialog pops up. This is annoying and takes an extra tap to dismiss – but it gets even better.

When renaming fails, a dialog that looks very similar to this one pops up. But since users are trained to dismiss all foo dialogs automatically, they will probably ignore it and wonder about what happened.

The moral of today’s story is simple: users don’t like reading – so keep the hard work for the times its really needed!

BTW, on futile prohibitions covered a similar problem… . Ah, and there is another example right here.

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I am sorry, but I have to share this because its so hilarious. Translated, it says as much as:

An unknown error has occurred. Please try again a little later.

 The dumbest error message of the world

Woo-hoo. As if this message would help anyone or anything. Why can’t they simply say system not available, please try again later?

You should choose the wording of your error messages wisely; they can say a lot about your company sometimes…

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UI design is a topic that many programmers are afraid of. It is perceived to be similar to graphics design, a work that is said to be very difficult for the average programmer. Anyways, Joel Spolsky (he is the guy behind Joel on Software) wrote a tutorial on UI design a few years ago (available online) and Apress published it as book.
front UI design for programmers review back UI design for programmers review
UI Design for Programmers is divided into 18 little chapters and looks at the usability side of things. Each of the chapters is a few pages long at best, however, reading the book from cover to cover usually is the best approach!

Joel Spolsky has a few basic theories, and about half of the book goes around them. UI should make people happy, usability and learnability are different, users can’t read, users can’t use the mouse and so on. While I didn’t agree to every point made, most of the concrete hints given here are very useful.

The second big topic of the book is usability testing. Joel Spolsky has probably experienced more usability tests that most others (at various companies), and the first conclusion that he pulls is: you need no lab! After that, he covers the amount of needed users (no more than 6) and the difference between usability and usability success rate.

The text is written very well, and the images included simplify understanding. Reading the book is no problem for a non-native speaker like me, and reading it before falling asleep is no problem either, as there are no really difficult words.

Overall, this book gives you a great overview of the “people related” things in UI design. It may not teach you about using specific UI elements, but rather tries to give you a big picture of what the phenomenon User Interface is trying to accomplish and how it can screw up. Read it together with O’Reilly’s UI Design Patterns, and your UI design skills will receive a big boost!

User choices and complexity usually are a dipole. You can have many features, but your program will be difficult to use. You can have few functions, and the program wil be easy to use.

Every model has ‘flaws’-and sometimes, designer ‘smartness’ can reduce features without increasing usability. This color selector dialog is a classic example:
 Restricting users for no reason
 Restricting users for no reason
The user is artificially limited to a few ugly color choices instead of beeing allowed to select his ‘own’ color. OK, giving users RGB sliders isn’t exactly wise-but the Palm OS contains a color selector that everyone understands.

So, compare this to BinaryClock’s color selector:
 Restricting users for no reason
 Restricting users for no reason
The user now needs three clicks-but he immediately gets feedback about the chosen color. And last but not least…255 colors ought to be enough for anyone=).

Overall, don’t mess with patterns-ever! If everyone understands a language and it works well, why invent a new one…

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