Archive for September, 2010

User Experience Begins at Step One

Monday, September 27th, 2010

For this week’s post, I decided I would play around with the Internet Explorer 9 beta and post some initial thoughts. I’m a bit of a browser geek, and as I mentioned back in April, I’m excited about IE9. I imagined I’d have a great time exploring the support for HTML5 and CSS3, and playing around with new features like SVG and GPU-acceleration.

As it turns out, I didn’t get that far. Why, you ask? Two reasons:

Reason #1: It has never taken me as long to download a browser as it took me to download IE9.

Seriously. I opened a text file to log my initial impressions, and thought it would be fun to start taking notes right from my search to download the beta. I ended up saving my text file, happy with my outline, after only completing the install. Briefly, here’s what I noted:

Downloading the installer feels like work. The top hit on Google for Internet Explorer 9 is the old platform preview page from April, still with the same title. I initially skipped over it, thinking that I already have the preview and that’s not what I’m looking for. The next few results were all sketchy, unofficial mirrors. Eventually I crawled back to the preview page, which had a link to “Get the Beta”.

This led to a completely different-looking page (neither were particularly well designed, they were both quite startling in their mediocrity). Here I immediately saw a link called “Get it Now”, which I followed to a third page, that had not one but almost forty buttons labeled “Download”.

Yes, forty.

This is because Microsoft decided to list all languages IE9 is available in, each with its own download link. And to choose your preferred language, you don’t click on the language or a checkbox or anything, you highlight your OS version from the accompanying drop-down list. Are you kidding me? Who designed this? That’s five clicks now, for those of you who are counting, across three pages, with two different types of controls, and I had to parse my language out of a giant list.

Downloading a browser shouldn’t feel like a chore!

Think about the last browser you downloaded. Was it Chrome? Then you probably don’t remember downloading it at all, because it takes about 10 seconds. The download page can be found in an instant, and you click one button to download the installer. ONE. From one page, that you found really easily.

Maybe your last download was Firefox. In that case you probably remember it a little better. The procedure was smooth and enjoyable; branding was consistent and the sequence of clicks and navigation was concise and straightforward. You probably noticed how beautifully designed Mozilla’s website is.

If Microsoft is expecting IE9 to compete with the other major players in the browser market, they have to streamline the downloading process. Google and Mozilla go out of their way to make sure their browsers are easy to find, and simple/enjoyable to download. Finding and downloading IE9 is currently a hassle.

Reason #2: Installing IE9 is about as modern as debugging IE6.

I’m serious. The installer for IE9 looks and feels like it was built in about 1997. It’s a standard dialog box with a progress bar. No decoration of any kind, and no branding. No “Thanks for participating in our beta!” or “Here are some of our new features…”. Just the bare minimum; something no other browser maker would dare do these days.

And how long it took! I’m pretty sure I could have installed FF, Chrome, Safari and Opera in less than the amount of time it took to run the installer for IE9. Of course, Microsoft was kind enough to provide me with a couple of helpful progress messages explaining what was taking so long:

  • “Installing required updates.”
  • “Installing.”

That’s it. Two extremely vague statements with no way to gain further information. And just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse, I completed the install only to find a pop-up telling me to restart my PC. I almost fainted. Why on earth would installing a browser require a system restart? This is unheard of.

Is this really the best Microsoft could do?

Where were the interaction experts that put together the interface for Windows Phone 7 or Windows Live? When will Microsoft figure out that it’s no longer acceptable to phone in their UX? That it’s not okay for even trivial interactions with a new product to be poorly designed?

The web crowd is not known for its patience, and I wonder how much longer it will persevere.

Productivity Hack: Find Yourself a Canary

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Back when mining was in its heyday, workers would bring a canary down into the mine with them. They did this because air quality within the mine could degrade and become poisonous, and this was an obvious risk to the health of the workers. So the canary was brought down to breath that same possibly-pernicious air, and if the canary ever died, that was a sign that the workers had to instantly drop everything and get out of the mine.

At work, I sit next to Seb. While the hours I work vary slightly from one day to the next, Seb always works the same general shift and leaves the office shortly after 4pm every day. While I’m not as consistent in my hours, I always work until at least 5pm and often an hour or two later than that. So, Seb always leaves the office when I have an hour or three left in my day. Do you see where this is going?

Seb is my canary.

When Seb leaves for the day, that’s a reminder that my day is coming to a close. If I wanted to get four things done today and I’m only on my second task, it’s a reminder that I have to drop everything and sort out the rest of my todo-list. And much like the workers rushing to grab their belongings and get out of the mine, if I’m really far behind I really have to get my ass in gear.

I’ve had decent results with this so far. I’ve only been sitting next to Seb for a month or so, and it took a little while for me to catch on that when he leaves is a good time to review my day’s tasks. But I’ve already had a couple of days where I probably would have forgotten about a task, or at least not recalled it in time to get it done, were it not for my canary reminding me that I was running out of clean air time.

Find your canary.

You may not sit next to a coworker with a fixed schedule, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a canary for yourself. Try setting a daily reminder on your phone or calendar software that will ping you when you have a couple of hours left in your day (I’ve started doing this when Seb works from home or takes a day off). Even if this doesn’t help you remember a task you would have otherwise forgotten, it saves you the trouble of keeping your eye on the clock to see how much time is left in your day.

And best of all, since this isn’t very intrusive or difficult to maintain, what do you have to lose?

What Strippers can Teach us About Transparency

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Recently, I spent a few fun days in Las Vegas. Since I’ve been back, many people have asked me what I thought of Vegas as a city, often with leading questions like:

  • “Didn’t you find it kinda shady?”
  • “Wasn’t it really gross?”
  • “Isn’t everything there so fake?”

The first two are rather boring; I had a great time and don’t really have anything bad to say about a pretty unique city. That last query is an interesting one though, and from day one I’ve been answering it the same way:

Las Vegas isn’t fake at all — in fact, it’s completely transparent.

Before we get to Vegas, let’s start with your hometown or a nearby city. When you walk down a major street where you live, what sort of things do you see? Here in Ottawa, I see a lot of two things:

  1. Quirky shops with witty names.
  2. Crowds of people that I know nothing about.

There’s nothing wrong with this (I love my city) but when you contrast it with Las Vegas, doesn’t it seem kind of muddled? If I didn’t already know what places like Zone, Foundation, and Atelier were all about, it wouldn’t be easy to guess just by the sign out front. And while we get the odd eccentric downtown, most people here in Ottawa are a lot like me; pretty nondescript.

Now let’s think of Vegas. First of all, every building in Vegas has a nice, big, blinking sign outside telling you exactly what you’ll find indoors. Is it a hotel? A casino? A gentleman’s club? You can always tell right away, the second you look at it. It’s almost like being completely honest about what your establishment contains is a part of Las Vegas culture. Every business owner in Vegas believes that being loudly and overtly transparent about what you do is the best way to go.

Second, there’s the people you find in Las Vegas. That wholesome-looking guy with a camera? A tourist. That group of girls with goofy tiaras and matching shirts? A bachelorette party. That guy handing out cards for call-girls? Well, you can call him what you want, but you know exactly what he does. Really, you can pick out just about anyone walking down the street and take a pretty good stab at what their night will consist of. Why? Because people in Vegas are transparent about their intentions. They’re obvious.

This is why I find it so strange to be asked if I thought Vegas was “fake”. Not one time did I ever feel cheated or confused or like I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into. Everything in Las Vegas is crystal clear, which was incredibly convenient for me as a visitor. Even though it was only a few days I felt like I knew my way around the city, knew some great places to go and a few to avoid, and knew who to talk to and who to stay away from. The level of transparency throughout the city was remarkable.

Do you need a little more Vegas?

Is there anything you could be more transparent about? I know that this blog, for example, could use a tagline that better describes the types of posts one might find here. I’m not being as transparent as I should be about my blog’s content. Is this true for anything you’re responsible for?

What Happens in Vegas…

Friday, September 10th, 2010

…Stays there for a reason.



(click image to enlarge)