Use Animation to Help Users Notice User Interface Changes

This post explains why you should use animation to help users notice changes in your user interface. When interacting with software, users focus on the task they want to perform, not on the software itself. As a result, some users just don’t notice UI changes that occur in one descrete step, even if they caused those changes. For example, I’ve been at usability tests where users didn’t realise that a sidebar pane was opening or closing even when those users repeatedly clicked on the toggle button to open and close the pane.

The Hidden Functionality of Elevator Toggle Buttons

It’s always nice to discover new functionality in interactive systems, especially when watching people use such systems in the wild. When travelling in an elevator, I recently saw a nice solution to the main problem with elevator user interfaces: how to deselect a mistakenly pressed floor button.

Learning Through Natural Feedback on the London Underground

One of the best ways of teaching users how a software or physical product works is through feedback. Some types of feedback are explicit, such as a well-placed error message presented when we fill out an online form field incorrectly, or a supportive tick when we fill out the field correctly. Other types of feedback are implicit and require us to learn a connection between the feedback and the correct way to use an object or system. Regardless of type, the best feedback occurs naturally and at just the right time.

Poorly-Written Error Messages Trump Crashes

The quality of an application’s error messages comes under close scrutiny during an expert usability review. Well-written error messages inform users about the steps they should take next to move on with their task. Many poorly-written error messages simply report the internal state of the application in the unrealistic hope that users will understand the problem and therefore be able to correct it. However, detecting that an error has occurred and presenting some warning to users is far better than simply crashing.

As operating system and application quality improves, outright crashes happen less often. Unfortunately, applications do still crash without warning and these are the most challenging error scenarios to diagnose. I recently had to diagnose such a scenario when connecting the MySQL relational database with the SPSS statistical analysis package. SPSS was able to import data from every table except three. Importing data from these three tables caused SPSS to crash with no preceding error message. Even looking at the names of the columns in the table crashed SPSS.

Timetables Are Best For Browsing, Not Searching

Timetables are a familiar and, if well designed, easy-to-use way to find the times of regularly occurring events such as films, public transport and museum tours. The interaction is simple: the timetable presents the time of each event in a grid indexed horizontally and vertically by time and date. Timetables on paper work well because they enable us to browse the complete set of available information. We can see at a glance on which days a particular film is showing, the intervals between buses, or the time of the last museum tour of the day.

Timetables presented on websites often lose their power in the translation onto computer. Computerised timetables often begin not with browsing but with search. Search is a natural interface for any data set because it’s very easy to implement. However, search interfaces tend to be data-centred rather than user-centred. For example, websites that present bus timetables often focus on how the bus company thinks about buses, which is, naturally, in terms of bus routes. Passengers must select a route before being shown the timetable for the route. This model quickly breaks down when passengers are not familiar with the routes offered by the bus company.

Guidelines for Chaining iOS Apps

A long-standing design goal for iPhone apps is that they support a very specific style of interaction: users take out their device, open an app, perform a task quickly and then they’re done—either because they take an incoming call or because they pocket their device to get on with other things. To enable this get-in-get-out interaction style, every app must have a well-defined purpose. App developers are encouraged to implement only the functionality required to perform the purpose of their apps. This development style pares down apps to keep them focused and avoids featuritis.

Match User Interface Terminology With Tasks, Not User Ability

It’s not often that I’m stopped in my tracks by a user interface element in Mac OS X, which is the reason for this post. I was using the Activity Monitor application to show which processes were consuming the most memory when I spotted HPShortcutManager, the process highlighted in the following screenshot.

How to Measure Website Performance with Three Free Tools

Everyone prefers websites that download quickly. As a result, we're likely to move on to other, competing websites if a website downloads slowly. For example, Nielsen's rule of thumb is that websites should download in ten seconds or less. To reflect our desire for faster websites, and to improve our overall web user experience, Google now includes download speed in its calculation of a website's placement in its search results; Google rewards faster websites with a higher placement. This post describes three free tools for measuring the performance of your website.

How to Automatically Reveal Mac OS X Screenshot File Extensions

By default, Max OS X hides the .png file extension of screenshots it saves to the desktop. However, I prefer to see the extensions of the files I’m working with. So after continually revealing the extension of every screenshot file manually, I decided to find a permanent solution.

To manually reveal the extension of a file, first select the file in the Finder and display the file’s Info window by typing command-I or by selecting Get Info from the File menu. Next, uncheck the Hide extension setting in the Name & Extension section. That’s it. If you apply this technique to a screenshot file on the desktop, Mac OS X reveals the file’s .png extension. The following image shows the Info window for a screenshot file. The unchecked Hide extension setting is highlighted.

QR Codes Make Grabbing Information Easy

Quick Response (QR) codes have been around since 1994, the explosion of camera-enabled mobile devices makes QR codes a quick and easy way to grab all sorts of information, including URLs, phone numbers, email addresses and text. For example, the image on the left is the QR code for the Usability, etc. website. Reading this code with a mobile device opens Usability, etc. in the device's web browser.