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8 posts from October 2004

Friday, 22 October 2004

radio buttons vs. checkboxes

great useit article on the correct usage of radio buttons and check boxes.

Ever since the first edition of Inside Macintosh in 1984, the rule has been the same for when to use checkboxes versus radio buttons. All subsequent GUI standards and the official W3C Web standards have included the same definition of these two controls:
  1. Radio buttons are used when there is a list of two or more options that are mutually exclusive and the user must select exactly one choice. In other words, clicking a non-selected radio button will deselect whatever other button was previously selected in the list.
  2. Checkboxes are used when there are lists of options and the user may select any number of choices, including zero, one, or several. In other words, each checkbox is independent of all other checkboxes in the list, so checking one box doesn't uncheck the others.
  3. A stand-alone checkbox is used for a single option that the user can turn on or off.

jakob adds 10 more guidelines such as visually group choices together with clear separation from other groups. and then goes on to make the case for interface standards:

Most important, following design standards enhances users' ability to predict what a control will do and how they'll operate it. When they see a list of checkboxes, users know that they can select multiple options. When they see a list of radio buttons, they know that they can only select one. (Of course, not every user knows this, but many do, especially since this has been a design standard since 1984.)

Thursday, 21 October 2004

usability of GNOME

GNOME 2.6 Usability Study and Review by Jonathan Turner

Summary: A usability overview of one of the larger open source software projects: the 2.6 version of the GNOME desktop and developer platform. We look at how well GNOME lives up to its challenge of being the desktop for the masses, including a lengthy survey of a group of new users and their reactions to the system.

one of their recommendations was to have links to applications for "common user tasks" such as checking email, surfing the web, and playing an mp3 be available from the deafult desktop and hiding other, less common apps such as terminal. see the full list of common user tasks.

(via infodesign)

css & ia

Nate Koechley and Christina Wodtke's IA and CSS presentation delivered at webvisions2004.

Tuesday, 12 October 2004

naked objects

Naked Objects Framework, available as an open or commercial license, is an approach to designing and developing business systems.

The 'naked objects approach' is a radical approach to the design and development of business systems, which yields four benefits (presented below). The 'objects' represent the domain entities of the business, such as Customer, Product and Order. In conventional approaches to business systems design (the left hand side of the graphic below), these business domain objects are masked from the user by two intervening layers: a 'presentation' layer that manages the user interface and a 'controller' or 'application' layer (sometimes also called the 'process' or 'task' layer) that defines all the possible user tasks and scripts the interaction between the user interface and the underlying objects. Below the domain layer is a persistence layer, which is most commonly based on a relational database. Writing a business application implies not only writing all four layers, but also translating the requirements from the user presentation into the different representations used in each layer. And the same effort is involved for each subsequent change in requirements.

Monday, 11 October 2004

design the vote

AIGA, IDSA, UPA and the University of Illinois at Chicago came together to create the non-profit Design for Democracy.

We approach election issues with a unique perspective: as designers. To do that, we have specialists in graphic design, industrial design, interface design, web site development, anthropology, and usability, all of whom understand the human factors involved in voting.

They are featured in the exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Hitsory:

Vote: The Machinery of Democracy explores how ballots and voting systems have evolved over the years as a response to political, social, and technological change, transforming the ways in which Americans vote.

Wednesday, 06 October 2004

make me think

andrei's latest thought excercise on usability's effect on design.

As an interface designer, I see my goal first to make a product work as efficiently as possible for the repeat, more experienced user, then for the novice and then finally for inexperienced or infrequent users. Many times though, I’m asked to reverse my approach, to make everything obvious so inexperienced users are appeased first. I find myself giving in to that request often, even though I feel it is the incorrect approach to designing products.
The usability culture could be considered equivalent to the fast food and junk food industry, which in satiating people’s desire to eat large amounts of processed, cheap food made in minutes instead of sitting down to the dinner table to eat well prepared meals slowly and with less stress, have contributed to the the obesity crisis occurring in the United States.

Everyone wants something two seconds ago, and most of us in the design field go out of our way to give people what they want.

comments I liked

keith robinson:

There are times when you may sacrifice features, for example, for useful simplicity. This could be, based on the audience and goals, ultimately counterproductive.

I really think it’s about balance. Design it to be as easy to use as possible, yet still meet the other goals (business, design, branding, advanced user, maintenance) and you’ll be fine.

Sacrificing the other goals for usability isn’t always the best way to go. So your process should be “reversed” only when the audience and goals warrant that.

dave heller:

The issue with interfaces is the number of choices. Much more than yes/no. This doesn’t mean that thinking needs to “increase” but that the interface has to be better at communicating ALL these decision points—some made by you, some made by the system—back to the user.

greg fahy:

When the target user is more clearly defined and the interaction is longer lived then I believe the focus shifts towards learnability leading to efficiency as Ben points out. Photoshop is a good example. When I bought my first scanner it came with a free copy of Photoshop LE. I jumped in and started learning, but getting things done was often slow. Over time I looked more and more for shortcuts, figured out layers and masks and how to combine filters to create certain effects to the point where I can now (having used Photoshop for a while) do the things I need to very quickly and accurately. At the same time, there is scope to learn more because the interface hasn’t been dumbed down for the people who get their first copy of PS for free with a scanner:-) So I say, let me get started and do a few simple things (and build satisfaction) but don’t limit me once I figure out Mode > Grayscale.

Tuesday, 05 October 2004

IA heuristics

Lou's favorite questions when evaluating a site's IA. They are categorized into the 5 areas user's most frequently interact with such as home page, search, site-wide navigation and contextual navigation.

Example question for the home page:

Does it highlight the best ways to reach content? (Supporting the few most useful ways of getting users to content is obviously more important and cost-effective than providing them with all possible ways.)

based on comments to this post Lou also posted a more extensive set of search heuristics.

test on info needs

a recent study found that seniors worked better with a hierarchical IA than a network IA. However, Lou Rosenfeld questions their approach to the test. In his view, we shouldn't be testing based on demographics such as age and gender but rather on user's information needs:

Information needs are difficult to determine, but have quite a lot to say about how our designs should support users at the very moment they're using our systems. For example, if known-item needs predominate, then perhaps the site's architecture should have an especially strong search system; if users are often exploring a subject, then a site map or other form of navigation might be worth investing in. it just seems to make sense that our behavior would be at least as likely to be influenced by the type of information we seek, such as an answer to a specific question or results that help us learn more about a topic, than by our age or gender.

Donna Maurer takes this even further and expresses concern over the lack of deeper testing - testing a user's understanding of the content once they have found it:

The finding of information is seen as the end of the process. Rarely have I heard about a test that explores whether people can understand the content once they have found it, whether they can use it to make good decisions or gain meaning from it.

I found this a bit scary in itself, realising that this type of usability testing is missing a major part of the information gathering journey.

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