Thursday, March 24, 2005

Improved usability and a small glitch

If you selected multiple slides in Microsoft PowerPoint and tried saving them as image files, in a previous version (2000, I think), you'd get the following dialog box. (Sorry, the image's not too clear.) Read the message again and you'll see why this is confusing. Do the same thing in a later version of PowerPoint (2002 is what I tried with), and you'll get the following dialog box. Simple, elegant, and easy to figure out what to do. I'm glad someone is thinking about making life easier for the user. Except for one small thing. PowerPoint doesn't let you save multiple slides as images--it's either all slides or just one slide. Now, if they can fix that too, I'd be deliriously happy. --- Updated on 24 Mar 2005 at 15.55 -- Argh! I didn't capture the second image (which isn't as clear) in the proper size, so when I published it as a post, it ended up overlapping the hyperlinks under Previous Posts. I ended up trying to fix it a couple of times and this is the best I could come up with. I didn't notice this during the preview, otherwise I would've fixed it. Double argh! The second dialog box is supposed to read as follows:Do you want to export every slide in the presentation or only the current slide? The buttons are Every Slide, Current Slide, and Cancel.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Reversing your car

I was watching a lady reverse her car the other day. She struggled to figure out how much further she could go (before she fell into a ditch) and her husband was sitting on a bike, shouting out instructions. (We all know how helpful THAT can be.) It got me thinking about something Ricardo Semler talked about in The Seven Day Weekend. He mentioned that in so many years, there has been no technological advance in making parallel parking easier. He even suggests a method in the book, but I am not going to get into that. It struck me watching that lady reverse (and in general watching people reverse) that reversing is a huge deal for most people. Most people don't know how fast to go, where to look, what to look for, and end up doing it by trial and error. You'd think that some brilliant guy would've figured this as a way to sell cars.
Reversing as easy as ...
Any takers?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Process orientation

In most reviews that I've been a part of, I often find myself telling the developer how to make a "process" better. When I use the word process, it could be used to mean the flow of information, or the underlying method used to accomplish a task, or the logic of why a certain (screen) navigation sequence is used. Sometimes, deciding this comes down to thinking clearly, or to figuring out how many people are likely to use a certain scenario that a developer has coded for (you need user input for this, I'll admit). While earlier I used to attack the UI and restricted myself to the screens, now I ask the Why questions. "Why are you doing it this way and not that?" "Why does this screen need to come up first?" I think that asking those questions has made for a much better overall user experience. Developers too are able to appreciate the importance of the "process". However, while it's good that usability (I use this word in the broadest sense possible) persons look at the process, it's also important to educate developers on the importance of looking at the underlying assumptions rather than only the UI. That's where usability training could help get the developers take some of the responsibility for the user experience. Teach them to fish, instead of giving them a fish. What say?

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Gmail on alternate browsers

I'd complained earlier about the fact that you couldn't use Gmail with Opera. Now, you can. (No, I had nothing to do with it.) It's not the fully-featured version, but it works and I'm happy. Here's what the technical writers at Google say:
If you sign in to Gmail using a browser that isn't fully supported, you'll automatically be directed to a basic HTML view of our service. To make sure that you can always access your mail, we’ve developed this basic HTML view that is compatible with almost any browser.
Good job Google.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Steve Krug on Usability

If you're interested in web usability, please read a sample chapter of Don't Make Me Think, Steve Krug's book. He's a smart chap, calls his consulting firm Advanced Common Sense. Don't take my word for it (a good name for a book!), read his interview here (thanks again John for the link) After reading the interview and sample chapter, I almost went out and bought the book, except that you don't get these books easily in India. Yeah, yeah, I know about I'm just not rich enough to pay for the shipping yet. But, I've not lost hope yet, the book's on my wish list. No, not that virtual thingy.