Good/Bad Design 8: Apple Help Menu

I was working in inDesign the other day when I needed to use Spell Check on my work, yet didn’t know where to find it. Rather than hunting aimlessly through the menu structure, I went to the Help menu to type in my search. Using the Help menu is an action I rarely do; I usually know what I’m looking for or don’t trust the application to give me a straight answer. A reasonable reaction, I think. After all, Cooper says that Help menus are more often created poorly and historically known to not be very helpful.

But what I found through my search was that the menu not only changed results according to my input, but it would highlight and point to the menu item I was looking for. I thought it might have been an Adobe feature, but later I discovered that it was just my iMac. 😛

Help Menu

So from a usability standpoint, the Help menu not only helps users find what they’re looking for, but also shows them where it is by highlighting it and providing a blue arrow that moves slightly to catch your attention. Cooper states that Help menus should aid the user in understanding the program, and I would certainly say that this does a good job of that.

Help Menu 2

Reading Reflection 7

Cooper. (2007). About Face 3.
Chapter 7

In Chapter 7 of his book, Cooper talks about taking the requirements from scenarios and using them to design. The designer needs to decide on what form the design will take, how it will be used, the input methods of the users, and elements and functions that are to be included. This is done by using information from previous stages and applying design principles to create low-fidelity models. It makes sense that detailed designs are to be avoided at this time, and I liked Cooper’s suggestion of using whiteboards to sketch and cameras to capture ideas for reference.

In general, the Framework phase is about defining the tone and types of interactions that will be in the design. The line between what you should focus on and the detail you should not include was different from what I had guessed, but Cooper does a decent job of defining it. I had thought something such as “visual language studies” would be saved for the refinement phase, but if this phase is focusing on the overall tone, then I suppose it would be included.

Sharp, Rogers, & Preece. (2007). Interaction Design.
Chapter 11: Design, prototyping, and construction

Other than the overall topic, this reading was similar to Coopers in various ways. They both discussed speaking with stakeholders about your ideas, understanding the interactions and functions you will include before designing, and considering interfaces to set the tone and suggest possible behaviors. One similarity that really stood out to me was the advantage of using low-fidelity prototypes – it not only is cost efficient and quick, but causes the designer to focus more on functions and user goals than pixels and widget design.

The chapter described low-fidelity prototypes as representations that doesn’t use any of the actual materials that would be on the final product. This reminded me of the Art and Design course I took last year where my partner and I made a prototype washing machine built from cardboard, Styrofoam, paper, tape, and a yoga ball. It was not at all what we intended the product to be, but it allowed us to test the dimensions of our design with actual people and target problems with it.

Reading Reflection 5

Brinck, T., Gergle, D., & Wood, S.D. (2002). Designing Web Sites That Work: Usability for the Web. Morgan Kaufman.

The chapter we had to read introduced the Pervasive Design Process:

Pervasive Design Process

I thought it seemed like a good basis for any project and very much relates to the Production Pipeline (CGT 581) course I’m currently taking. It also reminds me of Cooper’s similar (yet clearly different) Goal-Directed Design Process, which consists of six phases: Research, Modeling, Requirements, Framework Refinement, and Support.

There are definite overlaps in the two, such as speaking with your stakeholders or creating a requirements definition. I guess the major difference would be the introduction of personas in Cooper’s process. Brinck et al. also go more into detail on Resources (like budget and staff) than I recall Cooper doing.

This reading has some good advice; I especially appreciated the insight on how to decide on what method to use. It should prove useful to my own study.

Interesting Blog 3:


I don’t know if anyone from class has yet to mention this blog, but I wanted to bring attention to the online journal on Yes, it is from the design firm of Alan Cooper himself!

While several of the posts seem less relevant to design, such as an entry on their Dodgeball Tournament, others are inspiring and provide great insights to what it is like to work for a design firm. (Or at least for Cooper.)

I absolutely love the use of photos in their posts; they really help provide the imagery of all that is Cooper and design. For example, take a look at “Good design is only half the story”, where you can briefly see how designers and non-designers can come together in a collaborative process.

I also recommend looking at the post, “What marketing executives should know about user experience”. It’s one of their longer ones, but really hits some key points as to what user experience design can do for a company.

Good/Bad Design 4:

I decided to jump on WordPress tonight to submit another Good/Bad design post, but after signing in from the main page, I was lost for a few seconds. What happened to the button to go to my blog?

No Blog Link Visible

Do you see it? Because I don't.

Then I realized, Oh, they changed it. Now, I’m usually an open minded person when it comes to changes; I usually take these things in stride. So when I saw my name in the upper right-hand corner instead of the left, I clicked it without much thought and was taken to my Public Profile. Okay, a link with my name and picture on it takes me to my profile; it makes sense. However, it wasn’t what I expected, nor my intention. I’m still lost.

After a little more investigating, I rediscovered how to create a New Post! But I’m a little disappointed that it is no longer a single stride and click of my mouse. Instead, I have to navigate through a list.

Wordpress Menu

Oh, THERE it is!

Yea, kind of a bummer. I really did like having the New Post button immediately at the top. After all, this is a blog, isn’t it? Isn’t writing a new post an important action that I should be able to access easiest?

Anyway, I guess this would be another case of not keeping the user’s goal in mind. And as we learned in class recently, users will satisfice because we are too lazy to move our mouse that few extra pixels. Well, WordPress is making us do just that. Not a huge change, but it still makes a difference. I do wish that there had been a notification that they moved things around though. No offense to WordPress (because honestly, I love how easy and sleek the WordPress UI is), but at least Facebook notifies me of changes with little pop-ups that grab my attention, instead of making me ogle idly at the screen, wondering if that New Post button just never loaded.

Edit: 9/25/2011 9:39PM
After reading Cooper’s Chapter 22 on menus, I felt the need to add this bit of information. Cooper states, “Cascading menus make it difficult for users to find and browse the command set, but they do allow menus to usefully contain much larger command sets” (p. 486). So by Cooper’s standards, I would say that WordPress could have done without a cascading menu, considering the command set is miniscule.

Reading Reflection 3

Cooper, A., Reimann, R., & Cronin, D. (2007). Implementation models and mental models, About face: The essentials of interaction design (27-40). Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, Inc.

In Chapter 2, Cooper (2007) identifies the difference between an Implementation Model and a Mental Model. However, for designers there is another model called the Represented Model, where they must choose how to represent the working program. Cooper says that, “One of the most important goals of the designer should be to make the represented model match the mental model of users as closely as possible” (p. 30). Following other principles I’ve learned in design classes, it makes sense. After all, as a designer, you should design for your audience. If the mental model represents the user’s vision, then designers should create representations closer to that vision.

Cooper also talks about Mechanical-Age and Information-Age objects, where interfaces are sometimes limited by what we know and expect from the past. He suggests that any Mechanical-Age representations be improved on with Information-Age enhancements. It hadn’t really occurred to me, but I can see how designers can easily restrict themselves with what is already known. It seems that Information-Age enhancements need a little bit of thinking outside the box and innovation.

Fu, W., & Pirolli, P. (2007). SNIF-ACT: A cognitive model of user navigation on the World Wide Web. Human-Computer Interaction, 22, 355-412.

The authors that wrote this paper created a model aimed to predict user navigation on the Web and to understand the cognitive approach of users when navigating. They discovered that information scent cues (which is related to the relevance of link texts to user information goals) was a better predictor of navigation than position. Because their first model was based solely on information scent cues, they created a second one that took position into account, which ended up being a better predictor than the others.

The greatest concept I took from this was that users tend to “satisfice” when navigating. That is, after a brief time scanning a page, users will choose the link with the greatest information scent from only the select few that have been evaluated, rather than putting extra effort into finding the best link on the whole page.

I had known about satisfying before, but I think this was a good example of the concept, and that the authors’ findings really put it into perspective.

Nielsen, J. (2005). Jakob Nielsen’s online writings on heuristic evaluation. Retrieved from

Nielsen covers several points on usability testing, namely focusing on Heuristic Evaluation and User Testing. Heuristic evaluation involves a small set of evaluators to examine an interface in terms of usability (3-5 people recommended). User testing involves an observer/experimenter that interprets user actions related to usability issues. He suggests using both since some problems can only be identified by one of them.

Nielsen also mentions severity of usability problems, which he defines as a combination of frequency, impact, and persistence. I didn’t know about severity ratings before reading this, but he suggests that all problems should be found first, then evaluators should rate them in terms of severity before scored are averaged.

The webpage also included an article on Technology Transfer that looked at the usability of usability methods. Nielsen found that user testing and heuristic evaluations were rated most useful because of that quality of data they generated. Newer methods also tended to be rated lower. Aside from the findings, I was glad to see mentioned that companies realize the need for increased usability.

Vorvoreanu, M. (2010). Understanding NSF investments: Heuristic evaluation.

The evaluation gave a great example of what Nielsen explained on his page, including usability principles and severity ratings. I personally haven’t seen any other heuristic evaluation reports, but this looked well organized and it was easy for me to follow along, especially with the snapshots. I noticed Dr. V went with her signature colors for the layout, too. 😉

Questions I have: Is this report what you show to clients? Or was this assembled for our class or a portfolio of some sort? I’m curious how the evaluation is used or what process you go through once the report is completed.

Good/Bad Design 2: Ceiling Fan

Ceiling Fan
Ceiling fans. Two chains: one for the light, the other for the fan. I’m pretty sure at one time or another, we’ve all wondered, “Which chain do I pull?” The fact that we have to think about it demonstrates it’s poor design.

When designing controls, the controls should differentiate from one another in some way. Not only should they look different, but they should reflect their function. As we just learned from Cooper (2007), designers should design to represent the mental model or vision of the user. There may only be two controls, but it doesn’t mean that product designers should just assume that users will remember the function of each. Perhaps one should end with a light and the other with a fan, to reflect their uses.

Reading Reflection 1

Nielsen, J. (2000). Designing Web usability.

Nielsen provides a strong argument for the importance of web usability: That “users experience usability first and pay later” (Nielsen, 2000, p. 11). If they decide a website doesn’t instantly satisfy them, they’ll leave. Simple enough. Nielsen also makes a point from an engineering perspective that the main goal of creating a website is to make it easy for users to perform tasks. I wholeheartedly agree with his statements, and must say that it seems like a useful book to own, even having only read the first chapter. In only three pages he has given the reader several pointers in designing a web project, along with examples in which they can relate.

Tullis, T. & Albert, B. (2008). Measuring the user experience.

I had never heard the term “usability metrics” before this reading, however, (before I read the excerpt) I would have assumed it would be measurements taken to assess the usability of a product. This book seems to offer a lot in the way of what to measure, how, and what to do with the results, which should prove useful to my thesis.

There was also mention of formulas (which someone discourages me), although the book claims there are few. Although when I think about it, it is somewhat amazing that there even is such a formula to help identify if something can be regarded as “usable”. Or that usability can even be measured. It almost seems to be a subjective concept.

Other parts of the reading I found enlightening were the three definitions of usability. I would say I agree most with the ISO’s definition, however Krug seems to informally outline the very basis of usability. I also haven’t thought about the difference between “usability” and “user experience” before, but would agree that there is a line of separation between the two. Lastly, I had no idea how extensive was the importance of usability metrics. After all, “Without usability metrics, the magnitude of the problem is just a guess” (Tullis & Albert, 2008, p. 9).

Cooper, A., Reimann, R., & Cronin, D. (2007). About face: The essentials of interaction design.

Cooper brings up the point that digital products frequently interrogate users with demeaning questions. Perhaps this doesn’t occur as tactfully as it could, but at least the product is allowing for human error. After all, we make mistakes; I think that notifications like such give us room to correct them (when they are, indeed, our fault).

The first chapter seemed to be somewhat repetitive to me, but I would say it’s main points were the following:
– That a production team should consist of a person in each field who will complete a specific task (designers, managers, programmers, marketers, etc.). Communication between these members is important.
– Designs nowadays focus more on tasks of a user, instead of the overarching goals of a user.

Norman, D. The design of everyday things.

I really enjoyed this reading because of the numerous examples of good and bad design in everyday things. I thought it was easy to understand and presented good design principles such as visibilty, feedback, mapping, and the aspect of affordances. Indeed, many devices make us look stupid when lacking these qualities! Specifically, the trouble with opening doors reminded me of a surprising video: