Friday, January 28, 2005

The man in the mirror--closer than you think

Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. Ever notice this on mirrors in cars? I've been seeing this "instruction" for quite a while now, but I never paid too much attention to it, till about a couple of days ago. I wonder if drivers, who suddenly see a vehicle appearing in the mirror wonder, "Hey, this thing is closer than it appears." Does anyone even read the notice? Wouldn't you think that this notice is like the confirmation messages that software applications are so notorious at throwing up? Do you really really want to delete this file? Nobody pays attention to those, you just hit a button automatically and the message goes away. What if people don't really pay attention to what is written on the mirror? Doesn't that defeat the purpose of the instruction? And who reads the fantastic manuals anyway? Why not just design a mirror that eliminates the need for this instruction?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Searching on

I love but I have a problem the way their search is structured. I actually didn't want to post this; I wanted to send SourceForge an email. But, I tried finding their email address, I couldn't, and I gave up. Note to SourceForge: Make it easy for users to give you feedback. When you type the SourceForge URL ( and go to the home page, the search text box and options show up in the left side of the page. Here's a screenshot. Let's say you have a search string that has more than one word (mailing lists). I assume, since I'm used to Google, that the search engine would throw up results which include all the words in the string. Maybe that's a wrong assumption and I'm okay if it doesn't do what I think it's going to. It's a Yahoo! powered search anyway. What I am not okay with is what happens next. You're taken to a results page, where the search results are displayed. At the top of this page, where the search fields are present, you find a "new" check box with the text Require All Words, as in, require all the words to be present in the search results. Here's a screenshot. So, if I want to include all the words in my search, I have to select this check box. Why didn't they put this in the home page? It would've saved some trouble. Why should I type the search string, click the Search button, and then go to another page where they give me a "new" option. It'll help me if you put it on the main page, and it won't hurt me. I can always ignore the option, if I don't want to use it. Or, change the default, so that when you type a search string with multiple words, it'll include all the words in the search. Then, when you go to the next page, the check box can be selected. Just make my life a little simpler.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Working days not regular days

I called the call centre for my credit card agency yesterday. Turns out my card's due to expire soon and I've not been sent a replacement. The call centre agent was courteous, he checked the information and told me that the card was ready and that the new card would reach me in seven working days. I thanked him and hung up. After hanging up, which is when I get all the insights, I wondered, What does the phrase "working days" mean? Working days for the credit card company? Working days for the government? My company's working days? Why can't they give me the number in regular days, calender days? We'll send you a card in 10 days. Why this unnecessary term which doesn't have a clear meaning? Do you expect me to keep track of the holidays for the bank? Some companies use the phrase "business days". Right. That makes it simpler for the customer. Simplify, people. Use regular days. Do the hard work and give me a number I can understand. Psst -- John Maeda, a professor at MIT, has a wonderful blog on simplicity, Maeda's Simplicity.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Inconsistent shortcuts in browsers

I've been using Mozilla's Firefox instead of IE and so far I love it. I'm still sticking with Opera because I love being able to turn off the image loading in individual pages, among other things. The problem is that I use keyboard shortcuts a lot. I find it easier to memorize a shortcut than to keep using the mouse. In Opera, if you want to open a new tab (within a browser window), you press Ctrl+N. In Firefox, if you want to open a new tab, you press Ctrl+T. Ctrl+N in Firefox opens a new window, which is the convention that IE also follows. Ctrl+N also brings up a new document (in a new window if one is already open) in Microsoft Word. When I want to open a tabbed window in Mozilla, most of the time I press Ctrl+N (because I'm a long-time Opera user) and then close the new window and press Ctrl+T. Sometimes, I catch myself but mostly I follow this roundabout method. I don't know who's going to change their convention or if someone will. That's not the issue. The issue is that inconsistencies across applications on common tasks inconvenience the user. There are some applications that won't follow the Ctrl+C, Ctrl+X, Ctrl+V convention for copy, cut, and paste. They confuse the hell out of you, because a command that you're used to will no longer do what you think it's going to do. Prior experience and perception, they're big parts of the user experience. It's something worth remembering.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Glue in band aid and tapes

Would it be too much to ask for the glue in band aid or the (medical) tape we use to dress wounds to do the following?
  • Not rip out hair from half-way inside your skin.
  • Not leave a sticky residue on your skin after you pull out the band-aid/tape.
  • Manage to stick even on slighlty wet skin.
  • Keep a wound dry when some water falls on it. Would that be too much to ask you think? Maybe 3M can come up with a new kind of glue and material.

  • Thursday, January 13, 2005

    Disclaimers in emails

    Have you ever received an email with a footer about a mile long, with text like this?
    Disclaimer: This message and any attachment(s) contained here are information that is confidential, proprietary to Company and its customers. Contents may be privileged or otherwise protected by law. And so on...
    Here are some of my favourite parts.
    The information is solely intended for the individual or the entity it is addressed to.
    Yeah, but if it didn't reach them, then you screwed up.
    If you are not the intended recipient of this message, you're not authorized to read, forward, print, retain, copy or disseminate this message or any part of it.
    But, this information is at the bottom of your email. This means that I have to read the email first and then get to the footer to read this part of the disclaimer. Maybe you should have put this in the beginning of the email.
    If you have received this e-mail in error, please notify the sender immediately by return e-mail and delete it from your computer.
    So, you want me to send an email to a person that might have sent me an email by mistake. Really, I have nothing better to do, so I'll do what you ask. Especially since you're admitting that it's your mistake. Does anyone like receiving an email with text like this? Is this ever going to prevent people from reading the email? What's the point? You want to satisfy some lawyer? Corporate policy? How about a message with a footer that simply says:
    If you received this email as a result of an error, we are sorry. Can you do us a favour so that this doesn't happen again? Please click here and we'll ensure that it doesn't happen again.
    It's no Pulitzer Prize winning entry but it's so much shorter and simpler. And, at least I might be willing to do something to help, if you admit it's your mistake.

    Wednesday, January 12, 2005

    Another blog about the same thing?

    Yeah, I've been thinking about blogging on this topic, but I kept putting it off till I read John Rhodes's interview by Matthew Oliphant of Business Logs (John Rhodes is that WebWord guy) in the Oristus newsletter yesterday, which inspired me to go ahead. Thanks John.

    Computer on/off switches

    Remember the time when computer switches were somewhat like regular switches? A bit clunky, but you could tell which position was On and which one was Off. Then, these switches got replaced by elliptical ones (I have this one on my work computer) and they look real cool, but they lost the important visual feedback--that on/off thingy. Both on and off positions look the same. My computer at home has a circular switch now. Looks real nice. Press and release for switching on. Simple enough, I can learn that. When the computer hangs though, how do I switch it off? Well, press the On/Off switch for a few seconds and keep depressed. This tells the computer to switch off. How do I find out if the computer has switched off. Well, if the monitor goes off, then I know. Oh okay, that I can somehow figure out. RTFM I guess. I'll agree that nice looking things are cool (sample PDF chapter from Don Norman's book Emotional Design), but not at the expense of making them difficult to use. What is this? Rocket science?