Category Archives: User interface

Elevator Button Design

Elevator buttons are near the elevator doors. Everyone knows that.

Not at the Hyatt O’Hare! At least, not all of the buttons:

Some of the rooms at the Hyatt are tucked away so you have to walk down a couple of hallways and then take an elevator up. The elevators are down one of the hallways. Halfway down the hall is an elevator call button, perfectly calibrated, it seems, to give you just enough time to get down the hallway and walk into an elevator without breaking stride.


I’m sure it doesn’t always work perfectly, but when I was there, it seemed to work whether there was already an idle elevator already on that floor (where you’d walk into the elevator just before the doors closed) or whether one had to be summoned from another floor (where the doors would open just as you got there). Elegant design.


Don’t Remind Me Later

I’ve had a Yahoo! mail account for a long, long time. I’ve always used it as the address I can give to commercial websites, forum logins, etc.; anything that could generate spam. Works great. I check it daily either through the web interface or through the Gmail app on my phone.

The past few months, every time I visit through the web interface, several seconds into the visit I get the following pop up.


I believe this is because I also have Yahoo! mail hooked up to the Gmail app. I tried using the official Yahoo! app a few years ago, but it was a battery draining mess. It may be better now, but I’m not inclined to try again and it works fine through Gmail. So every single time I click “I understand the risks.” Of course, it often appears in the middle of doing something else like opening an email, which then falls, so I have to reopen that email. First world problems.

What bothers me is that there is no “Don’t show this again” checkbox. This means Yahoo!’s strategy is to annoy me into doing what it wants. That’s no way to treat users. If they just want to disallow third party logins, fine, go ahead. If on the other hand this is a courtesy warning to help me, great, then leave me alone once I’ve confirmed I understand the risks.

I see this a lot in UI design, usually in the form of the interface asking me to do something and giving two choices: OK and Remind Me Later. There are certainly instances where this is the appropriate set of choices, such as if you are using a trial version of a piece of software. But usually this sort of thing is used to try and force me into doing things that they want me to do, like rate their app, rather than being reserved for things I logically need to do.

It takes a special disrespect for users to try and annoy then into doing what you want them to do. Take a stand, UI designers; the choices should be OK, Remind Me Later, and No.

Stealing the Focus

Adobe Photoshop is a big, heavy program with a large legacy codebase and thus it takes significantly longer than any other program on my laptop to load. It’s a useful, flexible, and stable program, so I don’t begrudge it the slow start. We can’t all be morning people.

My one gripe with the start up time is that Photoshop keeps grabbing the focus in Windows. That means if I start Photoshop and try to click back over to Firefox and finish reading an article while I wait, I’m out of luck because Photoshop keeps jumping to the top.

User experience lesson: software, like people, shouldn’t be self-centered.

Accelerated Mobile Pages

I enjoy complaining about how modern webpages actively interfere with reading comprehension and with the user’s experience. This used to be easy to avoid just by blocking Flash and pop-ups, but with the rise of HTML 5, it’s gotten to the point where I find myself leaving some websites before they are even loaded when it becomes clear they are going to do everything in their power to distract me from the content. Ad-blocking is the only thing that seems to help.

One interesting and welcome development over the past year has been the rise of accelerated mobile pages (AMPs). Denoted by this symbol in the search engine (at least on mobile browsers):

AMPs load nearly instantly and don’t appear to let the page jump around after you start reading. Nice! I’m happy that user experience has some wins now and again.

(Speaking of user experience, props to Google for their Android keyboard. It learns. The first time I typed AMPs, above, it naturally assumed I wanted “amps,” but once I corrected it to what I wanted, every subsequent time it has given me AMPs. Nice.)

Ad Blocking

Well, I finally installed ad blocking software in my primary browser. I did it for two reasons. One, ads are a vector for malware. Two, ads seem to have an increasingly adversarial relationship with content. Ads on the web don’t sit quietly next to the article so you can scan them when you are done reading like in the days of print media. They interrupt. They flash in the corner of your eye (or pop up right in front of your eye). They play audio. They cause the webpage to jump around. They significantly increase load times.

Of course, ads also pay for the content.

Thus, I’m approaching this two ways. One, where possible, I’m paying for content directly. I went to all the websites that I enjoy and either subscribed or clicked on the donate button. Two, I’m using Adblock Plus, which has a feature that allows ads pre-determined to be well-behaved (no sound, no movement, no malware) through the blocker. Some folks see this as selling out, but I love the idea. Perhaps more ad blockers will adopt a philosophy of not trying to block ads per se, but focus on blocking intrusive ones.


I noticed that with version 10, Windows had started referring to itself as “we,” as in “Hi. We’ve updated your PC.”

This presumably is meant to condition us to think of our computers not as ours, but as the front end to a cloud where a team is working tirelessly to fix problems and craft the best possible user experience for us. A place where we don’t own our copy of the OS; we rent access to it.

Windows should just refer to itself as “Windows.” “Windows needs to reboot.” “Windows needs to display endless pop-up messages informing you that your copy of Office is not the newest version.”*

Anthropluralizing the interface feels a little creepy–Windows by its nature needs to see everything I do on my computer, but it feels strange when some ambiguous “we” is watching me. Best to stay out of the uncanny valley in any case. Maybe more importantly I enjoy the fiction that my computer is mine and does what I tell it to do, not what the OS maker tells it to do.

*Yes, I’m aware that this pop-up is from an Office Update app (now uninstalled) and not from Windows. However, “we” installed the app without asking “me,” further eroding the fiction that I’m in charge of my own machine.

Users Don’t Read Directions

This week I attended an internal webcast. At the top of the invitation was this message:

Which can be roughly translated as, “Hey, dummy, we know you’re used to doing things a certain way, but this time is different and we know that unless we put this message in big bold text with a big yellow backlight you won’t read it.”

Naturally, I scrolled right past the big, backlit message without really processing it and entered the webcast the way I always do. Which of course didn’t work, and which took me a couple of minutes to troubleshoot.

Thing is, a substantial portion of the audience did the exact same thing.

It was very disruptive to the beginning of the webcast. To be sure, the message could have been better written–it could have started for instance with language like, “Do not join the audio of this call like you normally would…” or it could have made the “Do not use the call-in information listed below” message more prominent–but the reality is that users can’t be counted on to read instructions, particularly when the instructions tell them to do things at odds with how they are used to things working.

If I’d looked at this invitation before it went out, I probably would have agreed that the message was sufficiently dramatic to draw attention. Even so, I was one of “those people” who couldn’t be bothered to read the directions; it was a nice reminder that real world users have lots on their brains and will miss written directions not for malicious reasons nor laziness and not because they don’t care. They miss things because there is so much competition for their conscious attention that our beautiful directions don’t always win out.

Better if at all possible, once users are used to doing things a certain way, to avoid exceptions.