Good/Bad Design 7: Instructions

I spoke to two of my friends today and asked them what they thought was an example of good or bad design; things they would use everyday and possibly either get frustrated with or say, “Huh, that’s convenient.”

Their answers were mostly focused on bad designs as they spouted heated indignations about many things. These ideas strangely ranged from technology in general and how it makes us lazy, to the design of strapless bras. (Don’t ask me how we ended up on that subject because I’m not so sure I even know.)

crib instructions

Regardless, one large tangent we traversed was the poor design of instructions. Paper instructions, specifically. My friends had recently encountered the problem of trying to put together a baby crib and could not understand how it was so difficult to “put together four posts of wood.” They said they felt that the instructions were impossible to follow and had several opinions on the matter:

  • Picture instructions are good, except when the images are so difficult to decipher that you have no clue what you’re looking at.
  • It helps when different angles are portrayed.
  • Some people need textual instructions and therefore it should always be included.
  • It helps when the size of small parts, like screws, in the instructions match the ones in real life.
  • Descriptions need to be simplified and made easier to understand.

All very good points. This is obviously a list of frustrations, of which can be easily broken down into usability heuristics:

  • Picture instructions are good, except when the images are so difficult to decipher that you have no clue what you’re looking at.
    Match between system and real world: Create a clear connection between the system (instructions) and what the user understands and knows (or in this case, has to work with).
  • It helps when different angles are portrayed.
    Flexibility and efficiency of use: Different angles could help accelerate the amount of time this task requires by providing this information.
  • Some people need textual instructions and therefore it should always be included.
    Help: Even when a system is better without documentation, you should still provide that information to help those that need it.
  • It helps when the size of small parts, like screws, in the instructions match the ones in real life.
    Recognition: The system should use concepts familiar to the user and make objects, actions, and options visible to minimize the user’s memory load.
  • Descriptions need to be simplified and made easier to understand.
    Match between system and real world: The system should use words and phrases that make sense and are natural to the user.

Of this list, not every one of Jakob Nielsen’s usability heuristics are touched on, but I would definitely say they still apply.


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.

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.

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: