Thursday, December 27, 2007

Three Unforgivable Usability Sins

The sins we see ...

"Awful as they are, these application design errors — all the fault of lazy developers — are entirely too common.

... Making the User Do Something the Computer's Better At

It's happened at least a half-dozen times in the last week. I go to join an online community, or I make an online purchase, or I login to a financial site. I'm asked to type in my SSN, or my phone number, or a credit card number. But the site doesn't accept my input if my SSN has dashes, if the phone number includes parentheses, if the credit card number has spaces. Why? Why? Typing in one long string of numbers, sans spaces, is error-prone for any user and even harder to read back; why make him try? When the computer is far better at tasks like this?

It's because a developer got lazy. The algorithms to strip out formatting codes have been around since the days when COBOL dominated the earth. All it takes for a program to evaluate a credit card data entry field is to strip out anything that isn't numeric digits, make sure it has the proper number of characters, and... well, that's all there is to it. This is only a few lines of code.

Sure, developers don't want to write any more code than they have to, because it has to be debugged, tested and supported. Yet, like the people queued up in Bucky's bank example, the programming team's momentary time-savings has a long-term cost in user time and frustration.

Losing Context

This one is a little harder to explain, because by definition it's about optimizing a user task that has several steps.

Let's say that you're cleaning out or organizing a database. It doesn't matter what: it could be a list of the hundreds of books in inventory, or blog comments, or a to-do list shared by a collaborative team, whatever. It's long, so the data is presented in several sections.You scroll through pages of item lists, and select one item for particular attention. Click on that item (say, to mark the blog entry as spam), fiddle with it as appropriate, choose "Save changes," and — the system goes back to page one. It doesn't return to the page you were looking at, from which you chose the last item."    (Continued via CIO)    [Usability Resources]

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