HF/Usability Potpourri returns with two recent items.
iPhone Reception Display
Reports from some sites suggest that at least some of the cellular reception issues of the new iPhone 4 are due to improper display of signal strength. This is a neat HF issue because it involves user’s trust in automation (the display of reception bars is actually a computed value, not a raw meter of actual signal strength), the design of information displays, and properly informing the user so they can set expectations. Apple is planning to tweak the way in which those bars get calculated (presumably to be less optimistic) to bring user expectations in-line with reality.
From an Apple press release:
Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong. Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength. For example, we sometimes display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars.
Mozilla Browser Visualization
Next, Mozilla, creators of Firefox, present some interesting visualizations of what users are clicking in Firefox. As expected, the back button is one of the most frequently clicked items (93% of all users).
Interestingly, the RSS icon in the location bar (the orange square icon used to subscribe to blogs) showed some operating system differences. Five percent of PC/Windows users clicked it, 11% of Mac users, and about 14% of Linux users. Indicative of experiential differences? PC users less aware of blogs/blog readers?
Our own analytics show that the vast majority of our readers visit from PC-based Firefox installations. As a service to our readers, here is the subscribe link to our blog 🙂
Sadly, more and more products seem set to suffer the same fate, as many of the objects we use daily are “replaced” by digital touch screens. Think of the iPhone, which fulfills the functions of a watch, phone, camera, clock, DVD and CD player, barometer, and so on. The skills of their U.I. designers will be just as important in determining how pleasurable — or otherwise — it will be to use them, as old-fashioned considerations, like how they look. And it’s those same designers that we’re counting on to save us from the curse of over-complicated design.
James Rubinstein sends along a this post about a 32 inch LCD TV presumably designed for older users. It has features such as a dramatically simplified remote control, fewer wires, and a shut-off timer. [Engadget]
In the “why didn’t they do this sooner” category is an Ethnography application for the iPhone called Everyday Lives (warning, link opens iTunes). It lets you record audio, video, images and other data in the field (via UXforward).
Rocker Lou Reed (of the Velvet Underground) designs an iPhone app for near-sighted users. It basically increases the font size in the contacts application. It appears that Mr. Reed has common ground with older users? (OK, lame attempt to insert the Reed song, “Good evening Mr. Waldheim”). [Wired]
When minimalism in user interfaces is too much (UXforward)
Perhaps confirming what we suspected, visual alerts are more disruptive than auditory alerts (LiveScience).
Lifehacker has an interesting discussion of the merits of multiple-monitors or single big ones as well as a list of useful utilities (I prefer multiple versus a single big one; use 2-24 inches).
The HF/usability company HumanCentric held an internal competition to design a handset. I’d love more information on the rationale for the specific design choices. The winning design is at the top of this post.
The Economist wonders if navigation systems are becoming too complex/dangerous. (via Slashdot).
The end of the academic semester is upon us in the U.S. so we’re backed up with deadlines which is why we’re having Potpourri again for lunch. But tasty potpourri:
First, a curmudgeonly three-part series on things that give too little feedback or have too few buttons:
I just got an iPod Shuffle which uses a system of taps on an in-line remote to control music navigation. I got used to it (see instructional graphic below) quicker than I thought. But the problem is that when I jog, the remote (which is located near the right ear piece) shorts-out as I sweat. My solution: move the controls (for an extra $25…*shakes fist at apple*).
iPod Shuffle controls are on the earphone wire
Tapstick "case" with integrated controls
I just purchased a lithium battery pack that can recharge USB devices when I’m away from a power source. It has a single button, a blinking blue light, and a confused user. The button controls which direction power flows and the pattern of lights is supposed to tell you status (full, recharging, discharging, error).
Charger (my finger is covering button)
My mouse battery died (yes, THAT mouse) because I left it on and it jiggled around in my bag (I thought I turned it off).
I must have missed the feedback that I turned it off!
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, from around the web:
Don Norman has a new, provocatively titled article on design research (via Touch Usability). (Funny side note; I met Don Norman almost a decade ago and we were complaining about the interface and controls on my digital camera)