Good/Bad Design 10: MAMP

Last night, I wasted 4 hours trying to figure out how to connect to mySQLServer.

I recently downloaded MAMP, which is Apache, MySQL, PHP for Mac. Everything worked fine and dandy – I had green lights for both servers:

MAMP - Green Light

But on the start page, whenever I clicked on “myPHPAdmin”, I was given an error that said it couldn’t connect. I then googled for hours – many people have had the same problem, but solutions that I actually understood didn’t work. After about four hours, I had my roommate look at it. We deleted the program (for the second time), reinstalled it, but no results.

Finally, my roommate happened to click on this little number:

MAMP myPHPAdmin

And for some reason, it worked. I don’t know why that link overcame a faulty connection to the mySQL server, but it did. It frustrates me that I wasted four hours clicking the main link above it and racking my brain when the solution was just a few pixels below. Well, I certainly feel dumb.

I don’t know much about programming, but it’s certainly poor usability when similar links work in different ways. Also, what was that popular design saying by Krug? Oh right, “Don’t make me think!”

Good/Bad Design 9: AmazonLocal

If you don’t know what AmazonLocal is, the easiest way to describe it would probably be to relate it to services like Groupon or LivingSocial. Basically, you can sign up to get notifications on deals in your area, and “save up to 75% on local restaurants, spas, entertainment, and more.”

I sometimes get these emails, although I’m not sure why because I don’t ever recall signing up for it. I didn’t bother unsubscribing though; I usually just ignore and delete them. What I found interesting was that apparently Amazon noticed! One day I received this in an email:

AmazonLocal Notification

I’m pretty sure my eyebrows rose upon reading this. They’ll stop sending me emails on their own accord? That’s the first I’ve seen a company do so.

Anyway, perhaps this is a better example of good public relations than design, but the fact that AmazonLocal was realizing that their emails didn’t interest me and acted accordingly made me want to applaud them a bit. Definitely increased my user experience due to their attention to my needs and wants. Nice.

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

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.

Interesting Blog 4: Usability Blog

UsabilityBlog

Usability Blog is written by Paul Sherman, founder of a user experience consulting firm, ShermanUX. Sherman has been in the usability industry for the past 12 years and fills his blog with numerous posts of good and bad design examples. They include snapshots of various websites, objects, infographics, and more, along with a brief blurb on his opinion.

I suggest my classmates to take a look at this blog for not only design tips but to get some ideas for Good/Bad Design examples to post. He touches on a few things I never really thought about, like repetitive “My”s in a menu or physical obtrusion to an interface. Maybe something mentioned in Sherman’s blog will remind you of another site that fails or succeeds in the same thing.

On another note, be sue to look at Sherman’s explanation of severity ratings. I think this applies to us all very well, since we have a few more usability reports coming up.

Thoughts 1

Last week in class, we talked about main ideas from our readings and tried to make sense of all the terms thrown at us such as usability, user experience design, and so on. Many of the terms I have already come across before, but discussion did prove to organize them in a better way.

When told to group the terms ourselves, I tried to look at all the terms we had and group them in some way or another before putting it into any sort of hierarchy. I noticed that we had a lot of principles listed such as visibility, mapping, feedback, etc. We also had specific metrics that could be measured, and different types of design listed that could be seen as different approaches. But left were other items such as user research and personas, that really seem to be part of the design process than anything else.

Before we grouped items together, I had thought that “usability” was the over arching topic. I figured that all these design approaches, metrics, principles were about making a product easy to learn and easy to use. But after grouping, usability ended up being a part of user-centered design (along with other items), which ended up being under design as a whole. My partner and I almost took the entire hirarchy as a process, where UxD was a small branch of design, that led to usability testing, where the final product was a user interface/product. I’m sure there are many other ways to look at it but here is the web my partner and I concocted:

UxD Web

I thought Dr. V really explained it best:
– Goal-directed design is an approach: it is a philosophy and way of viewing the world.
– Design is a process, a recipe. It has certain steps you take.
– User-centered design has a set of principles.

RAA 1: The Inference of Perceived Usability From Beauty

Hassenzahl, M., & Monk, A. (2010). The inference of perceived usability from beauty. Human-Computer Interaction. doi:10.1080/073700242010500139

Purpose
The purpose of the study was to re-examine the relationship between beauty and usability, since a review of papers showed high variation in results. The authors assumed it was due to inconsistent methodologies, so they wanted to take another look at the implication that “what is beautiful is usable”.

Methods
The authors created a questionnaire that had participants rate websites in terms of beauty and goodness. Four studies were constructed. (1) 60 participants received a random list of 10 E-commerce websites and were told to browse each home page briefly before rating them on their “first impressions”. (2) 10 female students rated all 60 websites that were chosen for the study, which took around two hours. (3) 57 students were given only 30 seconds to get an overall feel for 30 different websites before rating them. (4) 430 participants took a questionnaire about 21 different websites.

Main Findings
Six parallel analyses on the data showed a similar conclusion: that the pragmatic and hedonistic qualities of websites are related. The article concludes that their explicit model presents a correlation between the two, allowing for a better understanding of the relationship between beauty and usability.

Analysis
I’ve previously looked into articles about accessibility and aesthetics, however they were not empirical. This article gives some real data about the relationship between usability and aesthetics that relates to my interest in interaction design. Possible concerns would be that websites in study 4 had to be translated from German to English. While content may not noticeably alter the look and feel of a site, I would indeed say that is would affect the usability of it.