Feedback to "So This Button Must ..."- Murphy's Law,
Read the original artilce at So
This Button Must...
return to Murphy's Law
Bill Schmitt writes:
I'm betting you are getting an avalanche on this subject.
More often than not user interfaces on complex consumer products
are either obscure or crippled.
The Ford radio in my 10-year-old Town Car remembers its volume
setting if you turn it off while the ignition is still on, but
if you just turn off the ignition, the radio comes on at the default
volume setting. Go figure - they built in a memory and then
defeated it under a common pattern of use. And yes, the
keep-alive power is connected. A power-sequencing device
to defeat this "feature" is on my to-do list. And for some reason,
the up/down tuning buttons are always in scan mode, so to tune
you have to push a mode button first and tune quickly, because
the radio quickly pops back into scan mode.
The same car and many others has the great/annoying feature
of locking all the doors whenever you put it in gear. Great
for high-crime areas or a carload of rugrats, but endlessly annoying
for the rest of us, because when you leave the car, all the doors
except the driver's remain locked. It took an electrical manual
and some time to find the right wire to cut. .........................................................................
Good points, though in fairness to Ford, they have put very
simple radios in many of their new models, with just a few big
buttons. They probably realised that most people just want to
listen to a few channels, and those looking for loads of bells
and whistles can go and buy a fancy one if they want. Apparently
Ford have been paying attention to the large number of drivers
who are over retirement age and are not as nimble fingered as
the younger generation.
Spencer Shanson writes
Everything you said in this article is true. But just as you
should be able to cut-and-paste text from a dialog window, you
should never need to have to cut and paste a URL from a web page
into a browser - it should always be a link. I'm talking about
the reference to www.baddesigns.com
in your article. I'll assume it was a typo :-)
As someone who had to ship a product with
UI features I wasn't happy with, I can only tell you what I know.
Mostly, these decisions are made by middle managers who are more
concerned about missing their deadlines than in the later cost
incurred in extra customer support or returned units. ie don't
fret about the future dollars you can't see, but think about saving
the pennies you can today. Stupid and short sighted in my opinion,
and it always comes back to bite you.
Fair point about the www.baddesigns.com
link - I do not actually create the web page what becomes the
article, though I thought that the ESP guys usually did put links
in as appropriate.
As for the short sighted decisions, I am
afraid you are not the only one who has seen these kind of problems.
There are whole books written on cost-justifying usability work.
I market a usability course to companies i the embedded area,
and it generally gets zero interest, since companies simply do
not see it as a priority
Thad Smith writes:
Last night I read you article (rant?) on
user interfaces in ESP, describing the oven controls and the car
radio. Yes, I agree! One of the step backwards when
I got a newer car was the buttons-only interface, which is inferior
to the volume and tuning knobs of the older model. Recently
my wife talked to our son, Joel, who is in college out of town,
asking about using the cell phone which he left behind.
She was planning on using it, but didn't know how to answer a
call when it rang! She had been using an older analog cell
phone for years. I agree with your point -- let's keep the
simple functions simple and obvious.
Your common sense articles remind me of Donald
Norman's books of a few years ago. Are you familiar with
him? He wrote similar stories about good and bad interfaces
and designing for ease of use in general.
Keep spreading the word. :-)
Thad Smith T3 Systems
Rich Cabot writes:
Great column on poor user interfaces in embedded systems.
A few points you may find useful.
A great book on your topic is called "the design of everyday
A notably bad human interface was the Ford Taurus radio/air
conditioning/defroster/ and a few other things panel of a couple
years ago. It was oval shaped with all the buttons the same
shape and placed in some indecipherable pattern. Impossible
to run without reading the labels every time. I began refusing
rental cars when they were Taurus's. They changed it after
Your reported problem of having to type in error messages.
Try CNTRL-C to copy the text and CNTRL-V to paste. It works
an amazing amount of the time, even when the software does not
appear to allow copy and paste.
Richard C. Cabot, PhD Lake Oswego, OR
Danial Singer writes:
I enjoyed your oven comments - the mixed mode dial really does
simplify the interface in an elegant way.
Presuming there are mechanisms which prevent the user from selecting
between 200 and 0 and between Fan and 50, there is one character
which makes your new dial misleading: the zero. When you set the
oven at zero, it probably does not become a freezer. Some other
symbol for "off" would be appropriate, as the zero has meaning
in the thermal context but that is not how it is used in this
case. Perhaps the international "no" -- the circle with slash
-- or a simple X.
DBS --- Daniel B. Singer Nova Biomedical, Inc.
Thanks for your comments - I had assumes that the dial clicked
from place to place between fan and 50 - though I had not really
considered between 0 and 200- but a click would be appropriate
to stop someone thinking they could use the position in between
to mean 100 or some thing silly like that.
Very good point about the 0. I realised that it was a little
confusing, but I did not stop to think of an alternative symbol.
"Off" would work fine in English, but the point of that part of
the article was that the manufacturer had international needs
and had to use an icon. O is often used for off and 1 for on,
but if you also have a numerical range it becomes a mess - especially
when the minimum value is not actually 0. Maybe a big dot would
work for off - I think I have seen that on some dials.
Scott Neugroschl writes:
Then there's the applications that error, put up a dialog informing
you of the fact, and then when you clear the dialog, immediately
fault again, and put up the same dialog...
I once saw a "guideline for systems programmers" that read "Never
test for an error condition you don't know how to handle."
Yes, it's funny, but there's a nugget of truth in there.
Do you tell the user, who probably has absolutely no idea of what
to do about it? Do you reboot/halt/panic? Do you silently
ignore it (usually a bad idea)?
I think that many design errors fall into that category.
In addition, others fall along the lines of your stereo TUN
button. People design for themselves. In our industry,
many things started out as, "I really need this for me," and others
people see it and use it. Sooner or later, someone without
the requisite background will get confused.
Even Microsoft, with their vaunted usability labs has fallen
prey to this sort of syndrome. I mean, does it really make sense
to hit the "Start" button to shut down your system?
Short of mandating HCI classes for all computer science graduates
(which won't work, as many developers don't have CS degrees!),
I don't know what can be done about the state of affairs.
My opinions are my own and do not purport to reflect those of
Troika Networks, Inc
Dave Muller writes
I enjoyed your column on user interface blunders ("So This Button
Must...") and thought I'd pass along my pet peeve. As a
programmer for 25 years I've gotten pretty good at typing, so
I can cruise along pretty well, usually looking at either a book
or the keyboard. And I can't begin to count how many times
I've looked up to find that my last two sentences have been swallowed
up by a pop-up window for a (usually trivial) error of some sort.
It annoys me immensely anytime the system steals the focus away
from the program I'm using.
As for icons, I have long complained about the fact that instead
of using an English word that some users will understand, companies
now substitute an icon that no one can understand. I've
never been able to see that as progress.
Keep up the good work!
--Dave Muller Comtech EF Data
Couldn't agree with
you more regarding not being able to cut and paste text from windows
error dialogs. (I'd paste in the exact relevant text but CMP's
web interface prevents me from cutting and pasting text!)
Fair point CPM's
rendering mechanism is certianly not user-friendly in this sense,
but I suspect that this is a deliberate attempt to avoid piracy
of their product. Security and usability are rarely easy bedfellows-
just consider how un-user friendly it is to have to enter passwords,
thanks for the feedback,