Tag user experience

When a few hundred lines of javascript could equal $100 MM

If you click around the radio buttons above, the form resets. Orbitz does an AJAX call to reset the form with new HTML. I can select two cities, select my dates... and I just decide to click "Flight + Hotel", Orbitz blows away my form submissions (data loss!)  and replaces it with a blank form! Not only is this rude to the user, it's bad for business. 

This simple UX gaffe could be worth double digit percentage decrease in revenue for Orbitz over the course of a year. For a company that made over $700 MM, that's could easily be over 9 figures. 

This could be solved with an incredibly simple and tiny amount of javascript to remember selected airports and leave/return dates. It could be fixed in less than an hour by a halfways decent hacker.

It's things like this that make me thankful for Hipmunk.

Why the new task UI in Taskrabbit has great behavioral design

Taskrabbit is a cool service that helps people list local tasks that they'd like to hire people to do. It's also a great example of behavioral design-- helping users not just complete the task but want to do it as well. 

Here's the new task UI:

1) Great copy is great communication

Copy is UI, UI is copy. The only way you can explain what's happening on the screen is by the text and elements on the screen. They work together. You must explain what's going on, and what's next. Yes, you know what's happening, but you're the creator of the UI. Users have no such context.

Remember that as a designer, you must design with intention in mind, but evaluate what you create with beginner's eyes. Often in YC office hours, PG will point out glaring holes in people's designs -- but it is because he has honed this skill of viewing a web page with the eyes of a novice, even if you've been talking about the idea with him for hours.

Clear your mind, read what you've got, and if it doesn't make sense, then explain. Rinse, repeat.

2) Great use of contrast to determine what's important and what's more information 

You'll notice the darkest pieces of information (highest contrast) are the headers for the specific inputs. "Title of your Task" for instance. It's big, it's dark, and it commands the most initial attention. This establishes a visual hierarchy. All things below that title pertain to that particular input. There's proper padding between inputs so that the grouping is further reinforced. 

Some products mistake extreme brevity for being simple. Wrong. You should strive to have enough text to properly guide the user to their task. A long block of text that is undifferentiated won't be read, of course -- so your main tool here is to make the important stuff bolder, larger, and command more attention. Then write additional text in a smaller, lower contrast font.

If they care, they'll read it. If they don't, they won't. And that's just OK. The important part is that people complete the task. 

3) Show a lot of examples

It's the worst when UI doesn't show an example at all. It's the rudest experience. Imagine a brusque waiter, or a bank clerk who can't be bothered to help you with what you're trying to do. That's what you're doing when you don't show more examples. 

Yes, that even means helping people with writing titles.Notice how Taskrabbit drops a greyed-out tip right there in the textbox.

DO THIS. There's nothing that will orient a user more as to what they should put than text right there inside the textbox they're about to fill out. Don't forget to clear it when the textbox gets focus, though.

4) Progressive Disclosure

See those little links at the bottom? They're optional. And they don't take more space than they need. If someone wants it, they'll click. If someone doesn't want it, they won't. 

This is virtually your only tool to create things that are both powerful and simple. Use it everywhere and you too will be both easy to use and powerful. 

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Remember, UI is a conversation that you have with your users, hundreds if not thousands of times a day. But if you can make that conversation go well... it'll be a few million times a day soon enough. 

Again, props to Sarah Harrison, @sourjayne, Taskrabbit Director of UX. I am impressed. Two thumbs up, way up.

Like this article? PS, you can follow me on twitter here.

Facebook newsfeed rollups: Attention hoarding behavior

Noticed this on my minifeed recently: 

94 items from Twitter? This may well be an unintentional consequence of rolling up message updates per Facebook Application. Lord knows there are a lot of apps out there like Farmville that produce an incredible amount of noise. The natural way to limit the impact of other apps on the overall Facebook experience is to collapse these.

But at the same time, it is quite a profound way to greatly limit the effectiveness of other apps on the platform. 

Facebook is well within its rights to do this. It certainly isn't new, too. It is advantageous behavior. Facebook activity is regarded as premium and gets more attention. As Twitter consolidates power and cuts out third parties from the attention stream by telling people not to create twitter clients anymore, it makes total sense that Facebook incentivize use of its own authoring tools. 

Anytime attention is pooled together, there's value. Like water in a desert, creators of apps of all kinds will seek that attention anywhere it can get it. Whether it is after a Google Search or on a habitual reload of a StumbleUpon page, cmd-tab to Twitter App or dopamine-seeking Facebook visit.

It is a profound metaphor. As app creators, we seek this attention, and to pool it, to divert it, and to control it... Attention, like water, as life-giver. Attention, like water, as enabler. Attention allows us to create our cities and charge rent on the whole thing. 

It so happens that some of the nicest cities to spend time in are created out of the public good (Craigslist and Wikipedia), while others are twisted up corporatocracies (examples left as an exercise for the reader). 

iPhone 4 Antenna issues are a UX issue: What the user doesn't know makes them happy.

Apple this morning is reporting that they've figured out what is really going on with the iPhone 4 antenna. 

We have discovered the cause of this dramatic drop in bars, and it is both simple and surprising.

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. Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don’t know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars. Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place.

To fix this, we are adopting AT&T’s recently recommended formula for calculating how many bars to display for a given signal strength. The real signal strength remains the same, but the iPhone’s bars will report it far more accurately (ed: emphasis mine), providing users a much better indication of the reception they will get in a given area. We are also making bars 1, 2 and 3 a bit taller so they will be easier to see.

As Gruber reports, this is the best phone antenna ever created. All the lab tests show its amazing. So what's the cause? The antenna does get attenuated if you hold it a certain way, but in a less dramatic way than 4 bars dropping. Perhaps only 20-30%. Not worse than other phones at all. Turns out it is not an antenna issue, but a user experience issue. 

Mark Twain said if you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything. The pithy saying applies here. I can just imagine the wheels turning as Apple engineers and execs scramble to understand the situation. But it starts with a simple, pretty innocent idea: gosh, the bars look so low. AT&T reception is terrible. Lets just add a couple bars, and nobody will be the wiser. Years later, the issue is exposed in a public and grand fashion as a truly unintended consequence.

While truth will set you free, a little fib will make people happy...

When I was at Microsoft, we had a related UX problem with Microsoft ActiveSync. Customers would consistently complain about how awful ActiveSync was, even calling it ActiveStink. But after a pretty comprehensive review of feedback and failure rates, we figured out that ActiveSync wasn't that bad at all. For instance, we'd often show this error:

The server happened to be down at that very moment, but it would sync again and be fine. We put "Attention Required" and we'd call out that they hadn't synchronized against Exchange. 

What did Blackberry do? Nothing. It wouldn't tell you that the server couldn't be contacted. Users just kept thinking they were up to date. And if they weren't? Oh, it wasn't the Blackberry's fault. It was probably the server or the network or something. Everything is fine. They loved their Blackberries. Brand loyalty through the roof.

Is it important that I'm connected? Or that I FEEL connected?

When it comes to communication technologies, there's a unique UX force at work. There are few things more annoying than a communication device (that costs hundreds of dollars no less!) that makes me feel disconnected. So device makers are forced to think about ways to make people happier by hiding errors or pretending things are fine. There is a very real incentive for them to do so, as I saw first hand with the Blackberry vs ActiveSync status issue. Sometimes it can literally make your brand.

But in the case of Apple, sometimes the things you do to make your users happy can come back to haunt you.

Google finally nails Google Apps sharing settings

Finally, a sharing UI that makes sense. Previously, when using Google Apps for our posterous-inc.com company domain, we would *routinely* have problems where people wouldn't be able to see documents without a link because the item was 'shared with everyone' and everyone had 'access' but it didn't show up in their document list. There was a disconnect between whether it was 'in your list' and 'accessible.' Thankfully, these unnatural modes (modes are the enemy of understanding) have been removed.

The Google Apps team has nailed it by making the visibility options top-of-mind. They did this by flattening the option of 'in your list' vs 'accessible' into one set of choices.

They've also added visibility options prominently to the top bar. This is a good move that makes it a lot easier for people to immediately know what level of privacy they've chosen.

Note also how it contextually changes and becomes more useful depending on which setting is chosen. At a glance, this turns out to be incredibly valuable.

This is an example of really well done and well-thought-out UI. Kudos.