My focus is on making software, coaching Agile/Scrum teams, and being a husband and father--definitely not on blogging--so please do not expect very frequent posts here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The cracked gasoline dispenser cradle - UX in the wild

Jakob’s Law of Web User Experience states that “users spend most of their time on other web sites.”  This can be generalized to the general: users spend most of their time on other systems.  Take the gasoline.  What do you usually do when you lift the gasoline pump handle off its cradle?  Activate the ability to start dispensing fuel by raising the start lever to cover part of the cradle, right?  Well, not on all pumps:
This looks a lot like a lever that one should pull up, but it isn’t.  You actually have to push a start button that is above and well to the left of where you lifted the pump handle.
If you look closely, the upper right of the cradle is cracked pretty badly.  Clearly, others had the same intuition I had: to yank up on this unyielding cradle.  Why? Because I use all other fuel pumps more than this one.
gasIf you are going to make a gas pump cradle with a separate start button, at least make the cradle look nothing like the ones that you pull up! Here’s one.
Better yet, put the start lever on the bottom cradle—like most other gas pumps.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The biggest software conference in the world: Dreamforce closing thoughts

I’ve been at Dreamforce 2014, the yearly conference for, all week.  With over 120,000 attendees, I’ve never seen an event like this.  Just some quick thoughts on Dreamforce:
  • Thanks to all the sponsors, vendors, and partners for doing a good job selling to me without overwhelming me.  The conference was already overwhelming; I didn’t need some vendor’s rep I’ve never heard of before giving me some hard sell.  Thanks for the t-shirts, USB drives, and most of all, the explanations.
  • Bringing in Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Adams, Arianna Huffington, Eckhart Tolle, Neil Young, the Beach Boys, Bruno Mars, and Cake was way over the top and not all that relevant.  The Hawaiian greeting was ridiculous.
  • Also, all the appeals for charity were over the top as well.  I could criticize their approach, but I will let Davis Guggenheim and Robert D. Lupton do that; besides, I am all in favor of private companies donating in whatever way they choose.
  • The session speakers, with two exceptions, were excellent and really knew their stuff.  A few of the sessions were a bit too basic, which was surprising given how little I know of
  • Much thanks to Salesforce for hiring ample staff.  I never was at a loss of where to go or what to do, and there were plenty of people in the sessions, handing out food at meals, and in every other way imaginable.
  • Also, the check-in system worked great.  The staff knew just what to do whenever someone couldn’t get in.
  • The conference’s size is a weakness. Sessions were a half-mile apart, the keynotes were full a half-hour early, the vendor/partner areas were massive, and the opportunity for personal connections with speakers was limited. 
  • The Dreamforce/Salesforce Success web site works great.
  • The official WiFi was surprisingly good everywhere—it almost always worked.  I can’t imagine the work that goes into such a IT effort.
  • There needs to be a better way to choose sessions.  The Agenda Builder online lets me filter and search, but that doesn’t do me much good when I am browsing and really have no idea what to pick.  Maybe a system with a bit more guidance and direction is in order?
All in all, it is impressive that can pull off such a large conference. Overall, if you are into, this conference really does a good job in a lot of ways—including its value for the price.  If you are learning Salesforce from scratch, the online tutorials are a better place to start.  There are many; here’s one.
I don’t expect to go back to Dreamforce—but I am curious as to how big it can get!

Shower control: whatever you try first is always wrong - UX in the wild

Here’s the shower control at my hotel in San Francisco.  What would you say is the state of the water flow at this setting?

Did you say “somewhat warm”?  That’s what it looks like, right?  After all, the long pointer of the control is halfway in between HOT and COLD.

Or perhaps you thought, “there’s no way to tell without being there.”  That’s the answer you’ll give if you have been in several hotel showers.  Usually the labels can only tell you that the shower is capable of giving you both hot and cold water; after that, you are on your own.

The image above, surprisingly, is the “off” position.  Here’s the position when the shower is at a comfortable “warm” temperature:


This caused no shortage of confusion while vulnerable in the shower.  Say I want it warmer; I turn it toward the “hot” label.  If you have any experience with hotel showers, you aren’t surprised at the result: it gets colder, so I turn it back to where it was so I can contemplate my next move.  With a little experience, you know that you don’t want to turn it toward the label itself, but in the circular direction indicated by the arrow near the label.  Here, hot is counter-clockwise.  If you want it hotter, forget the label and turn it counter-clockwise.

However, when we see a label and a control, we don’t think in terms of circular direction, but it terms of absolute direction.  The confusion means that this and every hotel shower will give you at least five seconds of brutally cold or stinging hot water every time you shower.

Furthermore, when I went to turn off the water altogether, I instinctively tried to turn the handle to off in the shortest way possible, which was in the hot direction.  That made the water as hot as possible—the exact opposite of what I wanted it to do, and potentially dangerous to me.

But only when I contemplated writing this blog post did the real answer hit me: the short “hand” of the control is the actual indicator.

The neglected principle here is: the mental correspondence model is important. I had a dial and a label, but my intuition on how to make them correspond was wrong. This would fix it for me:

Bonus:  From the same shower, here is the real UX defect.  I hate it when that happens:

Look, it’s all over my bullets and everything. Notice the downward sloping top of the tub? How much maintenance has this hotel had to do to repair water-damaged ceilings and floors?  You’d think we’d understand the direction of gravity by now, eh?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Vending Machine Lottery – UX in the wild

Compared to the vending machine in my last post, this machine is a relative paradise.
I really like this design. Presented to me are 45 choices of what to buy, and I see the actual product that I will be buying.  Each one is labeled with a very clear number, which is placed in a location which makes it absolutely clear which choice it refers to. 
I also imagine this machine is rather efficient, as each of the 45 choices can have a quantity of up to 10 to 11 items behind them, for a total capacity of nearly 500 bottles.  
This design has the added benefit of needing no labels or product specific programming.  The bottles advertise themselves; if the vendor wants to change the offering, all they need do is put the new items on the machine and be done with it.

Still, I have two small quibbles from a UX perspective. First, why do I need to enter a three-digit number when there are only 45 choices?  Each row has choices 01 through 09, and the rows are numbered 1xx through 5xx. The middle digit is always zero, so why not drop it? Presumably there are larger machines that offer more than ten choices per row--but not this one.  Even if only 1% of users mistype their choice, wouldn't it pay to make it just a bit simpler? I'm reminded of the famous quote by Antoine de Saint ExupĂ©ry: “It seems that perfection is attained, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away.”

More significantly, if each bottle isn't aligned right, the user may not be able to tell what the choice is.  For common choices like Coca-Cola, users won't have any trouble, but take the case of Honest Tea:
What flavor teas can I get? One of them is clearly peach, but is it a black or a green tea? Is it diet, low sugar, full sugar, or unsweetened? There is no way to tell. One bottle had the nutrition facts visible, which told me that it was a low sugar tea-but I didn't know what flavor that one was.  I wanted the peach, but I couldn't see how much sugar was in that one.   
Presumably, the onus is on the vendor to ensure the bottles are stocked with their fronts facing the user, but this adds time to every machine load.  Is this little concern worth all the other benefits of this design? Either way, the key concept here is don’t make your users guess, even if you think it is a reasonably easy guess.
I bought it, feeling like I was playing the iced tea lottery.
IMG_20141012_133206Ah, it's a low sugar peach white tea.  I would have preferred black, but still very good.

And it’s the only lottery I ever won.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Vending Machine Madness – UX in the wild

I’m flying today to San Francisco to attend a conference. I was thristy, so I sought out the beverage vending machines In the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.  I was taken aback to see this.
Now, I am not disturbed that I had nothing but a four-foot touchscreen with which to interact.  Truthfully, I didn’t mind that.  It was how the items were on the screen that was troubling.  The bottles of pop (“soda” for you coasterners) spiraled around in a helix in a way that I am sure they thought was visually appealing and eye-catching.  However, at any given time, half the bottles were not discernable to the user.  To make this worse, the helix had no beginning or end, and the bottles just continued to sprial into infinity off the screen.  I could not figure out where the list started and ended.
Now, my ability to read the designers’ minds told me that choices weren’t really off the screen—that the list loops around, and at some point, the helix just starts over near the bottom with the same choices as on top.  So, I figured that I could just find the first repeated bottle and look at everything in between them.  Now, 90% of users wouldn’t think of doing this, thus they are left in a morass of confusion as to whether they have seen the whole list.  But I am a power user, right?  The black Coke Zero bottle was particularly eye-catching, so I located two of these and focused on all the bottles in between. I had to wait a bit for the unreadable bottles “in the back” to cycle to to the front.  Also, the labels on the bottles were so small that I had to get pretty close to the screen and study them intently. There were 16 choices in between the two Coke Zeroes, which seemed like a lot, so I probably saw them all, right?
Wrong.  Between the two Coke Zero bottles were no Pepsi bottles, but near the bottom I spotted a Pepsi that didn’t appear before!  Really?  So now I have no earthly idea how many varieties of pop this machine offered.  For all I know, I might stand there for ten minutes before the rare choices appear!  (I hope I can get a Surge or an OK!)
So I watched a bit more, when suddenly…a Mary Sue full-screen ad appears!
Really?  I was trying to figure out what $3 pop to buy—an activity that directly leads me to giving Theisen Vending some money--and they take away my only interface to the system I have?
This illustrates a still-too-often ignored principle of UX: Your graphic design and aesthetics should help the user complete their desired action.  Above all, the aesthetics should not hinder them. Seems pretty basic, right?  Sadly, many still get this wrong.
Theisen, hire a UX expert for a few hours and let them tweak your touchscreens (or make your software vendor do it).  You’ll sell more pop.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Collaborator vs. TFS code reviews

I've been using SmartBear Software's Collaborator (formerly Code Collaborator) at work for some time now.  I looked for any info out there on how it compares to TFS code reviews, which happen in Visual Studio.  I couldn't find any, so here is my first shot at a comparison:

Collaborator possible advantages
  • Can add updates to a code review after it has started (as well as any other new files as desired) 
  • Real-time chat/updates 
  • Takes place in a separate tool to provide a different mental context for reviews; does not affect changesets, code, etc. directly
  • Allows for over-under diff view and many other view configuration
  • Allows for flexible workflow - imposes a minimum amount of process 
  • Can create reviews from arbitrary files (not limited to version-controlled files) 
  • Can be used by users that don't have TFS or don't want to open Visual Studio 
  • More full-featured in general (small features too numerous to list) 
  • In active development (Microsoft isn't often adding features to TFS Code Review)
 TFS Code Review possible advantages
  • Takes place in the same tool as development (Visual Studio)
  • Automatically creates TFS work items 
  • Insists on one certain workflow for doing code reviews 
  • Can create reviews from TFS: pending changes, changesets, or shelvesets 
The bolded item is particularly compelling, in my opinion. What other advantages to either can you see?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Announcing PubCleaner for Kindle

I hope to work here and there on my own projects more often, and actually get them released to the world. So here is the first. PubCleaner is a tiny Windows app that very simply deletes all *.pobi periodicals from your Kindle except the most recent one of each publication. Warning: it is very early in development!
PubCleaner project page on GitHub