Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Citibank's Virtual Keyboard

If you go to the Citibank India website, and select the User Name (or Guest) option from the Login as drop-down box, you'll be taken to a new window, where you'll see a login page somewhat like this. In this page, you can enter your 16-digit credit card number using the keyboard, but to enter your Internet password, you have to use the virtual keyboard. Citibank's Virtual Keyboard Here are the reasons Citibank wants you to use the virtual keyboard.
The Virtual Keyboard is dynamic. The sequence in which the numbers appears will change every time, the page is refreshed. The Virtual Keyboard protects you from malicious 'Spy Ware' and 'Trojan Programs' designed to capture your keystrokes. The Virtual Keyboard eliminates this risk and makes your Citibank login that much safer and provides for a secure online banking experience
Does that provide for a better user experience? Nope. Since the sequence of numbers change every time you login, you have to look for every key in your password. This slows you down to a crawl. And yes, it's much safer, if there's nobody looking around. Otherwise, they possibly can see your monitor and figure out every key that you click, because now you've become so slow. You're driving at 10 kmph in a 50 kmph zone. When you try to click a key, the key is clickable only on the part that has the text, i.e. you can't click anywhere inside the square, you have to click on the text. This slows you down even further. Since you have to click on such a small area, you sometimes miss and the visual feedback (the asterisk (*) in the password text box) is to the left, so you can't be sure if the asterisk came up or not. God help you if you miss one or are not sure; clear the box and do it again. Fun. Then, if you're like me, you finally give up and click the hyperlink that allows you to login using the keyboard. Much better. Citibank should go back to that as the default. Here's one real-life situation where Citibank should've done some usability testing. It would've helped for sure. There's one question that bothers me still though. How come Citibank allows you to enter your user name (account number no less!) using the keyboard and doesn't protect that from spyware programs? Your account number doesn't need protection?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Tab sequences

One of the great keyboard "shortcuts" is the Tab key, which on a web page moves you from one action item to another. I say action item because you move to hyperlinks, input boxes, buttons, etc., where you can do something. Now-a-days, a simple login page for email (see Yahoo! or Gmail) you see hyperlinks for other stuff, which I am okay with. What I am not okay with is what happens when you press the Tab key. When I use Firefox, in the Yahoo! page, I am taken to the first hyperlink. In Gmail, the same thing happens. Okay, maybe because it's the first action item. However, is it the most frequently used one? Most users come to the login page to login and check their email. So, why not set the tab sequences or tab stops to the first text box (user name or login ID), then to the password text box, and then to the Login (or equivalent) button? Then you can have the tabs take you to the hyperlinks (I'm still not sold on that one). Why make it so hard for the user? Gmail has less hyperlinks in keeping with Google's stark (but functional) interfaces, Yahoo! is much worse. The funny thing is that when I use Opera the Tab sequence does not include the hyperlinks, so I am directly taken to the user name input box. Are tab sequences browser-based? I don't know. The thing is that I can't use Opera for these two sites because Gmail's full features aren't supported in Opera and Yahoo does some funny things with Opera. It's why I use Firefox for these two sites. Can someone please make my life simple? PS: I think the mouse is a neat invention but I try to minimise its use. You know, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, tendinitis, etc.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Keyboard shortcuts and the left hand

Why are all the common keyboard shortcuts are closer to the left-hand side of the keyboard? Here's seven that I use frequently.
  1. Ctrl+C (Copy in most applcations)
  2. Ctrl+V (Paste in most applcations)
  3. Ctrl+X (Cut in most applcations)
  4. Ctrl+Z (Undo in most Microsoft applcations)
  5. Ctrl+S (Save in most applications)
  6. Alt+Tab (Switch between windows)
  7. Ctrl+F (Find for most applications)
I'm right-handed and I use the mouse with my left-hand but that's for ergonomic reasons. All these keyboard shortcuts are extremely easy for me to use. I wonder about left-handed people though. Are keyboards (the normal ones at least) skewed for the right-handed folks? I find it difficult to use keyboard shortcuts that require me to use only my right hand. My experience is that I use my left hand to hold down the Ctrl key and my right hand for the second key. Case in point: Ctrl+P (print in most applications). Otherwise, I end up extending my left hand (pinky holds the Ctrl key) and pressing the second key required. Case in point: Ctrl+B. I'd be interested in talking to some left-handers out there, or even hearing from them. Psst! That means you. Comment.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Look and feel

Look and feel is what I always used to hear user interfaces (UIs) being described as before I learnt a little more about UIs. Now, I don't like the phrase anymore. To me, it implies that if something is pretty and feels good or maybe makes you feel good, then all your problems are solved. Yes, there is something called Emotional Design and I am aware of it. The thing is that when developers talked about UIs, look and feel was always about which font to use and which colour would be better looking. I think looks are important, to an extent. Just having a pretty UI though isn't going to help your users love your application. You've got to go deeper than that. Like they say, Beauty is only skin deep.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Laptop bias against left-handers?

I recently started using a Compaq laptop. It's pretty neat, except for one problem. Though I'm right-handed, I use my left-hand to navigate the mouse. I've never gotten used to that touch-pad thingy, so I like to plug in a mouse. The problem with this laptop is that there's a fan at the left-hand side of the laptop, about an inch from the joint where the laptop swivels. When I use the mouse, the hot air from the fan blows right into my hand. I would've loved the warm air, if it were winter and I was outdoors, but since it's summer and since I'm indoors, this isn't my idea of a good design. I wonder what reason the designer had for putting the outlet on the left-hand side. Why not the right? And why not at the back? I know that many people use the touch pad but some don't like to, so the designer should've thought about this. Hey, maybe that user testing that the usability people talk about would've helped. Either way, when I buy a laptop, this is one of the things I'll check for sure!