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

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RAA 4: The Use of Guidelines in Menu Interface Design

Souza, F., & Bevan, N. (1990). The use of guidelines in menu interface design: Evaluation of a draft standard. Proceedings of the IFIP TC13 Third International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, 435-440. Retrieved from http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=725751

Purpose
This article reported that only few designers religiously follow design guidelines. For this reason, the authors evaluated the extent that designers are able to use such guidelines to offer new improvements in clarity and efficiency.

By developing the guidelines further, it would help improve accuracy and present information in a way that makes them more usable. However, refinement doesn’t mean that designers would necessarily use them in their interface design processes.

Methods
Three interface designers were given a set of 87 guidelines in which they marked any difficulties or terms they found unclear. Later, they were observed during a study in which they were to identify and redesign problems using a whiteboard, but were encouraged to use the guidelines. At first they were not obligated to follow them, but were asked to think aloud their reasoning. Afterwards, they were told to change the new interface by applying all the guidelines one by one.

Main Findings
91% of guidelines resulted in errors with at least one designer, however only 11% of the guidelines were actually violated by their new design. The authors found that the designers tended to misinterpret the guidelines and mainly focus on prior designer experience. Examples the paper provided show lack of clarity for conditions and nature of guidelines and difficulties with certain terms.

Analysis
As a designer the results were not surprising. Personally, I often rely on past experiences rather than the clarity of guidelines. I also think that guidelines are just that– guidelines: encouraged to be followed but you should know when they can and should be broken.

The difficulties the designers had were also relatable. For example, reading about the design process for class and applying them later in class is a completely different matter. I often find myself not knowing how to effectively apply a process until experiencing it firsthand.

I would say that clarifying guidelines is a good proactive and should be done, but this study revealed that following them isn’t completely necessary to make an exceptional design.

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.

Interesting Blog 5: Boxes and Arrows

boxes and arrows

Boxes and Arrows is an online journal filled with peer-written design articles by contributors that tend to have experience in the industry. Anyone can suggest a topic, and readers can comment on it or even write an article on what was suggested. That being said, Boxes and Arrows has many pieces worth reading. There is a lot of information to be absorbed from this site: articles, stories, case studies, ideas, and more. I especially enjoyed the article Are your users S.T.U.P.I.D? where the author provides acronyms to help designers consider their audience and design. Pretty creative, if you ask me.

boxes and arrows homepage

I have yet to fully explore this blog seeing as there is so much to read, but thankfully it is well organized. If you have any questions on design, be it graphic design to information design, it looks like this is the site to go to!

Good/Bad Design 5: Hipmunk

Last week I posted a link to a design blog by Sacha Grief (Attack of Design), but today I would like to draw attention to a website he mentioned on his blog: Hipmunk

Hipmunk Start

Hipmunk is a travel start-up much like Travelocity or Kayak, however it focuses much more on data visualization. From the get-go, users are introduced to a large, simple interface. After inputting details on your trip, you get to see your results in a colorful, organized timeline that allows you to visualize a lot if data at once. I would say this differs from the many travel sites that give you text-based results.

Hipmunk

Hipmunk allows for a lot of options while remaining visually appealing. Not only can you sort by different options such as prince, duration, arrival, but you can narrow your search down to specific airlines, start a parallel search on the same page, and talk to live help, if available.

Aside from the functionality of the site, there are several principles that help this succeed. For one, the obvious use of a grid helps align this information to give users a better sense of the timeline. The menu is also well done and simplified, where drop downs are for secondary functions that might not be used right away. Certain data is also noticeably clickable (buttons) as they give the affordance of being pushed.

Overall, I would just say that Hipmunk, Inc. did a notable job in displaying such a large amount of information in a very simple matter. Compared to other travel sites, it really does succeed in helping users visualize, however, it goes without saying that there is always room for improvement. In fact, I discovered later that Sacha Grief had several ideas on this: Hipmunk Redesign

Interesting Blog 2: Attack of Design

Attack of Design

Attack of Design is written by Sacha Greif, a 25 year old user interface designer from France.

His posts are very insightful and offer great design tips with relatable examples, including some of the work he’s done. Looking briefly at some of his posts, he offers a lot of food for thought, and I would encourage you to take a look. Also, follow Sacha Greif on Twitter. 🙂

Reading Reflection 4

Nielsen, J. (1999). Designing Web usability.

In summary, a home page should offer three features: a directory of the site’s main content areas (navigation), a summary of the most important news or promotions, and a search feature (p. 168).

I thought this chapter provided good tips concerning what is important for users to see when first looking at a site, and how to emphasize that information. There were a few examples of metaphors used in websites, where some succeed but most don’t. Also, I learned about the term “deep linking”. In addition, some of the tips on navigation I remember being mentioned in class. That is, you’re users should always be able to answer these questions: Where am I? Where have I been? Where can I go? However, I think color conventions of links have changed with changes on the Web. I don’t expect links to be underlined, blue, or purple, as Nielsen recommends. Instead, I merely look for some sort of difference or emphasis on the words.

Neilsen also goes in depth about tips for efficient search features. One concept that stood out to me was the fact that users are less likely to input more words when the search box is smaller. Funny how we restrict ourselves.

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 2

Gibson, J. (1998). A theory of direct visual perception.

I found this reading slightly difficult to follow and grasp the concepts that were being explained. Top-down and bottom-up processing seem very simple in theory, but this reading seemed to focus on information and perceiving that information. From what I took away from the reading was that there are principles of optics, and that we must sample and piece together information to form an environment because we cannot view everything at once. Another theory that stood out to me was the concept of depth perception. Gibson claims that it is not perceiving a third dimension but instead perceiving the layout of an environment.

Overall, Gibson had innovative ways of perceiving perception and how we process information. I thought the reading was a little hard to follow because the way it was written (why were so many word italicized?), but was still enlightening.

Chang, D., Dooley, L., & Tuovinen, J. Gestalt theory in visual screen design – A new look at an old subject.

This article was a good overview of the Gestalt principles, most of which I have already learned in another class at one point or another. I think they explained them well, with decent examples for visualization. I doubt this article was chosen for the findings because it seemed that all they did was reinforce the fact that Gestalt principles work.

El-Nasr, M., & Yan, S. Visual attention in 3D video games.

I thought this article was interesting in that they used eye tracking during gameplay to discover which type of processing was being used and had decent results to base their conclusions on. However, I do think it could be taken further due to their limitations.

I did notice that when they mentioned that only a couple of participants would notice items from the start, they did not say which category of gamer the player fell in. While I would assume the more experienced gamer would be more prone to find the exit sooner, I wonder if this was the case in their study. I think the result could give their conclusion a little more merit (but then again, only 6 participants were used).