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Posts from the ‘User Experience’ Category


The Tenth Heuristic

Jakob Nielsen’s usability heuristics are probably the most-used heuristics for user interface design. These are ten well known principles, but I want to concentrate on just one of them.

Help and documentation
Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user’s task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.

It is the last general principle of the “decalogue”. Probably the least important because it’s preferable that a system is so easy to use that no further help is needed to supplement the user interface itself. But this goal cannot always be met. Some users will want to become “experts” rather than casual users, and some intermediate users need reminding to perform their objectives.

It’s important to highlight that:

  • help is not a replacement for a bad design, the presence of help and documentation doesn’t reduce the usability requirements,
  • a help system must be well designed as well.

There are various types of help systems you can provide, but it is always better to use minimal instructions. Nobody read the manual. The help will only be used when the user are in some kind of difficulty, in need of immediate help.

What should not be done (especially in a mobile app)

  • A single very long file that lumps everything together. Users will lose focus by scrolling up and down (especially on a mobile device).
  • Don’t provide too much information. Users who come to help pages are usually already confused, so they aren’t inclined to read long blocks of text.
  • As an embedded web page. It is a common temptation. It takes 5 minutes to place a web view that loads a HTML file. And it also allows to provide a fast text formatting.

I know something about it, here’s how the help section on FreakyAlarm looked like:


The correct way

  • Task-oriented help. A minimal manual focused on real tasks to get started doing real work.
  • Gather the right questions and write clear topics that answer users’ questions.
  • Good scanning aids (such as bolding keywords) to increase readability.
  • Good user experience with native user interfaces, easy to navigate, easy to read.

For example, as in the last update 1.7:


Don’t Hide Features in the Settings

Nerdy users see settings everywhere.
Users never look in the settings.

Problem 1
Software is designed and implemented by nerds, so they have an innate tendency to put settings anywhere. And even if they try to fight their nature, they are also often surrounded by nerdy friends and colleagues that encourage them to add more settings.
Close encounters with members of the second category are very rare. Usability testing is often neglected due to its relatively high demand in time and resources, and the user experience is often evaluated by nerdy friends and colleagues.

Problem 2
Software engineers live in a statistically not significant sample set that doesn’t reflect the actual distribution of world population.
Nerdy users: ~0.1%
Users: ~99.9%

Don’t hide features in the settings. People should be able to find all the available features in your app1. Avoid providing access to features only in toolbars or under separate tabs. Features should be zero configuration out of the box. Avoid enabling features only via configuration options or switches. Features should always be available within two-three taps. Do not be surprised if you receive a feature request to add a new functionality that you’ve already implemented in the settings. People never look in the settings section, they see it as an engine room that says “do not touch”.

Don’t hide features in the settings. Provide “under the hood” options for advanced users, and they all lived happily ever after.


iOS 5 Tech Talk World Tour in Rome

On October 20, Apple announced the dates and cities for its iOS 5 Tech Talk World Tour 2011, giving developers from around the world the opportunity to speak with and learn from Apple’s own engineers in nine cities on three continents. The nine cities include Berlin, London, Rome, Beijing, Seoul, São Paulo, New York City, Seattle, and Austin. iOS Developer Program members only and limited to those who got a confirmation from Apple.

Read moreRead more


Steve Jobs’ legacy

Thanks Steve for teaching us…

  • …the difference between ‘good enough’ and better
  • …that people are at the centre of technology
  • …to think first about what is desirable to users and then to consider what’s possible with technology
  • …to focus on what truly matters and to keep it simple
  • …we can’t connect the dots forward, only backward
  • …the difference between a leader and a follower
  • …to believe in ourselves and push our life forward
  • …to think that we can change the world
  • …that “innovation is not about saying yes to everything, it’s about saying NO to all but the most crucial features”
  • …that design is not just “how it looks like and feels like, design is how it works”
  • …not to waste our time living someone else’s life
  • …the importance of quality and attention to detail
  • …that our imagination can become real through passion and determination
  • …to “keep looking, don’t settle”
  • …that compromise is a choice, not a requirement
  • …to see things differently

We’ll miss you.


The Perfect User

Since Skynet hasn’t yet become self-aware, since the human race hasn’t yet been exterminated by artificially intelligent machines, since end-users are still largely human beings, the technological progress now stands at a crossroads: reengineering all the software or eugenically engineering the human evolution?

This all stems from the fact that almost all existing software is designed for end-users with these requirements:

  • Memory of an elephant
  • Dexterity of a monkey
  • Visual acuity of an eagle
  • Navigation skills of a bat
  • Stamina of a camel

So at least in the future, as William Hudson says, does not fall prey to the temptation to believe that users

  • are working in a quiet, ordered environment with no interruptions or distractions;
  • will remember everything they have ever done on a device;
  • are motivated to solve any problems that come up without regard to their mental well-being;
  • have no need for breaks, meals or sleep;
  • only make mistakes through spitefulness;
  • understand the internal workings of the system just as its designers do.

The mythological perfect user is only a product of a bad design, so, once in a while let’s take a break and tell ourselves that the user is not stupid, it’s our design that’s wrong!


Simplicity vs. Customization vs. Empathy

The term “customization” is used to mean you are what you say you are
The term “simplicity” is used to mean what you are

Customization gives explicit user control
Simplicity gives explicit features

Customization is based on users preferences
Simplicity is based on users needs

Customization generates complexity
Simplicity always wins over complexity

Customization is a geek
Simplicity is a friend

Customization requires assistance
Simplicity is self-explanatory

Customization affects some demanding users
Simplicity affects all users

Customization is a calculator
Simplicity is a metaphor

Customization is a gear in the black box
Simplicity is an abstraction

Customization is a spaghetti condiment
Simplicity is an elegant suit

Customization can become the bad way to apply Personalization
Simplicity can become the bad way to apply Usability Read moreRead more

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