Flat Bottle Caps Are a Product-Design Improvement of the Decade

One of my favorite product-design improvements of the last decade comes from the widespread adoption of flat caps on bottles of shampoo, face wash and other liquid toiletries. To be able to use all the contents of a bottle, we up-end them to let their contents drain down towards the cap. Thick liquids like shampoo take time to drain, so we leave shampoo bottles upside down until we finish their contents. We have to hack solutions to rounded bottle caps, such as balancing up-ended bottles against the bathroom wall or storing up-ended bottles in a glass. Manufacturers have realized that their bottles spend at least part of their life upside down. Designing a product for all the ways users interact with it always makes life easier, which is the purpose of good design.

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Maintaining Document Mental Models by Reorganizing Document Files

In The Myth of the Paperless Office, Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper explore why paper use is increasing despite the predictions of its demise at the hands of the electronic office. One key advantage of paper documents over electronic documents is the way paper documents enable us to deal with corrupted or missing pages. For example, if my printer runs out of toner after printing the first ten pages of a fifty page document, I can read the ten pages I do have; I don’t have to wait for the remaining forty pages to print before starting to read the document. However, if the transfer of an electronic document is interrupted, my word processor cannot read the part of the document file that has been transferred successfully because current software needs the complete file. Similarly, paper documents corrupted with dirt and coffee stains are still readable whereas corrupted document files are not. Paper documents can tolerate errors when electronic documents cannot because each page of a paper document is a complete unit. In contrast, the location of the content of each electronic-document page depends on the organization of the file.

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Spelling Suggestions Are Essential for Usability

Any regular Google user will be familiar with its spelling suggestions. Google’s Did you mean feature enables users to rapidly correct typing and spelling mistakes with a single click. Spelling suggestions also solve a more difficult problem for users: how to spell a word, phrase or name that they don’t know how to spell at all, especially when those words, phrases and names are in foreign languages. Users can start with their best guess and let Google match their attempt with the correct spelling. The correct spelling is usually found in one or two search iterations.

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How to Internationalize Software With Placeholders

Presenting software in the language of the country in which it’s used is a good way to improve its usability. Localization is the process of translating software into a local language. Most of the time, localizing software involves a straightforward translation of the words, phrases and sentences in one language to the corresponding words, phrases and sentences in another language. However, localizing phrases and sentences into which variable values must be inserted is not so straightforward.

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Scratch Makes the Cover of CACM

This month's Communications of the ACM features the article Scratch: Programming for All. Scratch is the visual programming environment I wrote about a while ago in my post Scratching a Visual Programming Itch. Read more...

How to Display Lightbox 2 Image Captions Correctly in the iNove WordPress Theme

When I installed the Lightbox 2 plugin on an iNove-themed WordPress website, I found that Lightbox 2 didn't display its image captions correctly. Instead of placing the caption below the image, Lightbox 2 replaced the website's title and tagline with the caption. After some investigation, I found that Lightbox 2 adds a <div> tag to the end of the page to display the image and caption. However, the ID of this r<div> tag is caption, which is the same as the ID of the <div> tag used by the iNove theme to display the website's title and slogan—hence the replacement. Read more...

When Double-Sided Signs Have Single-Sided Meanings

On a recent visit to my local supermarket, I selected a few items and approached the till. A sign at one end of the queue partition read Queue Here so I waited there for the customer in front to finish their purchase. When I moved towards the till, the server informed me that there was a queue and I should join the end. I pointed out the sign but was met with a blank look from the server and some not-so-blank looks from the other customers. In fact, these other customers did form a queue. What went wrong with such a simple interaction?

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How to Make an iNove-Themed 404 Error Page

The iNove WordPress theme doesn't have a 404 error page that fits in with the rest of the theme. However, making an iNove-themed 404 error page is really easy. In this post, I'll show you how change your default iNove 404 page to an iNove-themed 404 page. Read more...

Mac OS Applications Should Lose Focus After Closing Their Last Window

Since moving to Mac OS from Windows, only one usability problem continually trips me up. This problem is caused by the different ways in which Windows and Mac OS applications behave when their last open window is closed. When the last open window of a Windows application is closed, the application closes. In contrast, when the last open window of a Mac OS application is closed, the application stays open.

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How to Protect Your WordPress Website With Two Simple Clicks

Making regular backups of your WordPress website is the best way to protect your hard work. Fortunately, backing-up is one of the easiest WordPress tasks—it requires only two clicks from your WordPress Dashboard. Unfortunately, those two clicks aren’t obvious.

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