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