Simon Willison’s Weblog

56 items tagged “usability”

Do I need to change something on my LIVE website to do Remote usability testing? Am I needed to create a duplicate copy of my website?

You should be able to run a working copy (potentially with fake data or a subset of your production data) on your laptop, for development purposes. You can use the same setup for usability testing new features.

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What activities, games or examples have you used to persuade developers that they are different from ’real’ users?

I doubt there’s anything as effective as getting them to watch a well-run usability test—either a video, a fancy one-way glass setup or just having them quietly observe a zero-budget testing session in a coffee shop.

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Why does Wolfram|Alpha present all search results as pictures rather than text?

Wolfram Alpha is essentially a web interface to Mathematica (plus a huge corpus of structured data). Mathematica has been around for decades, and has an extremely sophisticated visualisation engine (try typing “sin(x)/cos(x)” in to Wolfram Alpha and see what happens). It’s also very good at rendering mathematical formulae that would be very hard to represent in plain HTML (without using MathML, which isn’t supported by IE).

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Instapaper requiring email and passwords for new accounts. Instapaper are changing from their novel “enter a username or email address, only enter a password if you really want one” registration scheme to a more traditional email and password required model. Messing with registration forms is a risky business—in this case, the non-obvious support issues that resulted were a net negative. # 15th December 2010, 8:35 pm

To what extent is it still valid to assume that your web app users are stupid?

They’re not stupid, but they’re probably WAY less web literate than you might expect—unlike you, they haven’t spent their entire career learning how the web works. See the famous “What is a browser?” video the Google Chrome team released:

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Dark Patterns: Forced Continuity example, Audible.com. Dark Patterns are user interfaces that are designed to trick people. I just submitted Audible.com for their habit of signing up users for a $7.49 “gold membership” without making it clear on the checkout screens that this is a recurring monthly charge, not a one-off payment. # 12th October 2010, 10:55 am

Comet (long polling) for all browsers using ScriptCommunicator. More Comet from the Plurk team: 80 lines of dependency free JavaScript implementing long polling using script tags (hence working cross-domain) across IE6+, Firefox, WebKit and Opera. The clever bit is the code to detect loading errors. It doesn’t try to fix the infinite loading indicator problem—is that still a cromulent usability concern? # 3rd February 2010, 12:37 am

The making of the NYT’s Netflix graphic. A database dump from Netflix, some clever hackery in ArcView GIS, hpricot to scrape Metacritic and a lot of careful thought about the UI for navigating the data. # 25th January 2010, 1:11 pm

Fixing the Google Account problem. 3,000+ words explaining how to open a Google Doc invitation sent to an e-mail address that isn’t associated with your Google account. Worth reading just to get an idea for the enormous complexity involved in running a large scale identity system and designing an interface for managing aliases and multiple profiles. Google haven’t got it right yet—has anyone else? # 25th January 2010, 11:21 am

A piece with a lot of screenshots about the close tab behaviour in Google Chrome. If you click “close” with your mouse, Chrome doesn’t resize the remaining tabs until you mouse away from the area. This means you can click “close” multiple times without having to chase the close button. I hadn’t noticed this, partly because Chrome doesn’t do it if you hit Command-W. They even switch the position of the close button in RTL languages such as Arabic. # 11th December 2009, 9:19 am

Correct way to handle mobile browsers. If your site has an equivalent “mobile” version running on a different subdomain, how and when should you redirect mobile users to it and how should you let them opt in or opt out? # 10th November 2009, 8:57 am

breaking links. Mike complains about sites such as Twitter and WordPress.com which mess around with Ajax and links and hence breaks the ability to command-click to open a new tab in Safari (and Chrome). I just realised that I’ve subconsciously retrained myself to right click and select “open in new tab” to avoid that exact issue. # 8th October 2009, 8:26 am

Collection: Search Patterns. Peter Morville’s enormous collection of screenshots of search engine interfaces. # 30th July 2009, 12:35 pm

Solved: where the civil servant really wrote that message to Hazel Blears. There’s an interesting usability / understanding-of-technology story here. # 7th July 2009, 5:41 pm

Google asked people in Times Square:“What is a browser?”. Stuff like this makes me despair for creating a secure web—what chance do people have of surfing safely if they don’t understand browsers, web sites, operating systems, DNS, URLs, SSL, certificates... # 20th June 2009, 1:25 am

... Facebook will be hosting the second User Experience Summit for OpenID on February 10th. The goal is to convene some of the best designers that leading internet companies can muster, and bring them together to develop a series of guidelines, best practices, iterations, and interfaces for making OpenID not just suck less, but become a great experience

Chris Messina # 6th February 2009, 12:19 am

Adobe: Akamai Download Manager FAQ. Tip for Adobe: if the bizarre, buggy custom Java applet you force people to use to download your software requires an FAQ this long, maybe you should provide a “just do it the way everyone else does” option. # 16th December 2008, 10:13 am

Showers and UI design. UI issues aside, why is it so hard to build a shower where the settings for freezing cold and scaldingly hot are more than a couple of millimeters apart? # 14th December 2008, 8:21 am

Facebook’s new signup process. It looks like they’ve dropped the “enter your password twice” pattern. Is this really a good idea? I suppose if people mis-type it they can always use forgotten password to set a new one. # 12th December 2008, 11:43 am

I’ll put forth one central, overriding guideline for iPhone UI design: Figure out the absolute least you need to do to implement the idea, do just that, and then polish the hell out of the experience.

John Gruber # 4th November 2008, 12:02 am

Yahoo! Releases OpenID Research. Extremely valuable research, conducted with a group of typical Yahoo! users. OpenIDs usability remains bad, and if we don’t get it right soon something centralised like Facebook Connect will take over and the Web will stop being open. # 14th October 2008, 4:59 pm

Google’s Usability Research on Federated Login. Fascinating—suggests an approach to federated auth based on the Amazon.com “Yes, I have a password” login flow. Feels convoluted to me but apparently it tests really well against a mainstream audience. The more research shared around this stuff the better. # 22nd September 2008, 8:56 pm

Google Chrome, the comic book (via) Google have finally announced a browser project, though it’s currently vapourware (or rather comicware), existing only as a Scott McCloud comic. Still, it looks fascinating—entirely open source, WebKit with a brand new JavaScript VM, every tab running in a separate process for smarter memory usage and some new UI concepts and anti-pishing measures thrown in as well. # 1st September 2008, 7:45 pm

Reviews of the Pownce app on the iPhone app store on Flickr. I had to stitch together a screenshot because you can’t actually link to content in the App Store (unless you don’t care that people without iTunes won’t be able to follow your link). Three out of the four reviews complain about the OAuth browser authentication step, which is frustrating because Pownce have implemented it so well. # 12th August 2008, 11:05 am

Download size has been an issue in the past. [...] In the early days Macromedia did studies adding null kilobytes to Player downloads and measuring the dropoff rate in completed installations. The more time people have to hit that “Cancel Download” button, the more will do so.

John Dowdell # 8th August 2008, 3:51 pm

Silverback has launched! Clearleft’s “guerilla usability” software for OS X Tiger and Leopard—specialist screencasting software optimised for conducting usability tests. # 24th July 2008, 6:14 pm

The Truth about Web Navigation. Jeremy Zawodny on regular users understanding the browser address bar: “They don’t. And they never will.” Then they’re going to get phished, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do to help them. # 19th July 2008, 11:42 pm

He/She/They: Grammar and Facebook. Facebook are going to start requiring gender information because foreign language translations wind up being too confusing when that information is not available. Aside: I wish they’d implement proper title elements on their blog posts. # 27th June 2008, 9:06 am

Clickpass. Peter Nixey’s new OpenID startup has finally launched—does a great job of making OpenID more approachable with a clean, well designed UI and a neat orange button. # 11th March 2008, 4:47 pm

On the design of the first-run assistant. NetNewsWire’s Brent Simmons explains the in-depth thinking behind the new first-run assistant. # 29th January 2008, 12:16 pm