Tag Archives: usability

PlentyofFish and Unusability

In an early 2009 profile of Markus Frind–the founder and CEO of the online dating website PlentyofFishInc. briefly touched on the topic of the site’s famously bad user interface, with Frind explaining why he believes that, sometimes, user experience should take a back seat as a better experience isn’t always linked to greater profits.

Plenty of Fish is a designer’s nightmare; at once minimalist and inelegant, it looks like something your nephew could have made in an afternoon. There’s the color scheme that seems cribbed from a high school yearbook and the curious fondness for bold text and CAPITAL LETTERS. When searching for a prospective mate, one is inundated with pictures that are not cropped or properly resized. Instead, headshots are either comically squished or creepily elongated, a carnivalesque effect that makes it difficult to quickly size up potential mates.

Frind is aware of his site’s flaws but isn’t eager to fix them. “There’s no point in making trivial adjustments,” he says. Frind’s approach — and the reason he spends so little time actually working — is to do no harm. This has two virtues: First, you can’t waste money if you are not doing anything. And second, on a site this big and this complex, it is impossible to predict how even the smallest changes might affect the bottom line. Fixing the wonky images, for instance, might actually hurt Plenty of Fish. Right now, users are compelled to click on people’s profiles in order to get to the next screen and view proper headshots. That causes people to view more profiles and allows Frind, who gets paid by the page view, to serve more ads.

This wonky rationalisation reminds me of Andrew Chen’s insightful reponse to the Quora question, How did MySpace, with a smart team of people, do such a bad UI/UX job with the new design?

The Three Design Principles and The Simplicity Myth

We are confusing usability with simplicity and capability with features. This is faulty logic, says usability and ‘cognitive design’ expert Don Norman, and our interpretation of our needs is mistaken: the goal is not simplicity; it is appropriateness, usability and enjoyability.

Suggesting that what consumers really want are frustration-free, capable devices that tame our complexity-rich lifestyles, Norman looks at how the ‘simplicity argument’ is not about simplicity, but poor usability and design.

Once we recognize that the real issue is to devise things that are understandable, we are halfway toward the solution. Good design can rescue us. How do we manage complexity? We use a number of simple design rules. For example, consider how three simple principles can transform an unruly cluster of confusing features into a structured, understandable experience: modularization, mapping, conceptual models. […]

Modularization means taking an activity and dividing it into small, manageable modules. That’s how well-designed multifunction printers, scanners, copiers, and fax machines do it: Each function is compartmentalized by grouping and graphics, so each is relatively simple. […] Learn to do one function, you then know how to do all of them.

Good mapping is essential to ensure that the relationship between actions and results is apparent.

But most important of all is to provide an understandable, cohesive conceptual model, so the person understands what is to be done, what is happening, and what is to be expected. This requires continual, informative feedback, which can also be done in such a way as to be pleasurable: see any Apple product.

Emotional design is critical to a person’s enjoyment of a product, the most critical variable here being the need to feel in control. This is especially important when things go wrong. The key is to design knowing that things go wrong, thereby ensuring that people will understand what is happening and know what to do about it.

The argument is not between adding features and simplicity, between adding capability and usability. The real issue is about design: designing things that have the power required for the job while maintaining understandability, the feeling of control, and the pleasure of accomplishment.

User Experience Design Tips

Inspired by Matthew Frederick’s enlightening book 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, Shane Morris and Matt Morphett started 101 Things I Learned in Interaction Design School.

After a promising start the site halted prematurely with a measly nineteen entries to it’s name. Those that do exist are not all fantastic, but there are some gems that are worth a browse, including:

I wait in hope of a revival.

via @zambonini

Text-Only Ads are the Most Effective

Advertisers are “often wrong about what attracts our attention” is the conclusion of a usability study looking at how users interact with online advertising.

The study, published in the report Eyetracking Web Usability by the Nielsen Norman Group (a usability consultancy firm from Jakob Nielsen and Kara Pernice), suggests that text-only advertising is the most effective advertising method for many websites.

Do you think you’re more likely to look at an online ad if it contains 1) a picture, 2) an animation or 3) just text? The answer: just text. […]

The headline result: simpler is better (not to mention probably cheaper to produce). Participants in the study looked at 52% of ads that contained only text, 52% of ads that had images and text separately and 51% of sponsored links on search-engine pages. Ads that got a lot less attention included those that imposed text on top of images (people looked at just 35% of those) and ones that included animation (it might seem movement is attention-grabbing, but only 29% of these ads garnered a look). […]

People in the study saw 36% of the ads on the pages they visited — not a bad hit rate. The average time a person spent looking at an ad, though, was brief — one-third of a second.

This is an evolution of what Nielsen called banner blindness, right?

via @contentini

Information Foraging and The Fold

Even though users are now accustomed to scrolling down web pages, we know that the fold still exists and is important–and how we can design to take advantage of it.

In light of this, Jakob Nielsen has conducted research to see what prompts users use to decide whether to scroll or not (the answer: the information scent).

The implications are clear: the material that’s the most important for the users’ goals or your business goals should be above the fold. Users do look below the fold, but not nearly as much as they look above the fold.

People will look very far down a page if (a) the layout encourages scanning, and (b) the initially viewable information makes them believe that it will be worth their time to scroll.

Finally, while placing the most important stuff on top, don’t forget to put a nice morsel at the very bottom.

via @zambonini