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Blaming poor UI on user ignorance.

I have a theory that if user can't figure out how to perform a task in a system, they blame themselves rather than the software or UI designer.  That pops in my mind whenever I struggle with the UI of the POS system at my local Safeway.  But recently I rationalized that I obviously know something about software, and maybe the fact that can't tell the system that I have a credit card without a struggle reflects on the system and not me...

Anyways I wrote a description of the problem at:

http://www.baus.net/archives/000025.html

christopher baus (www.baus.net)
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Donald Norman posited this in The Design of Everyday Things.

www.MarkTAW.com
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Hmm interesting.  I never read that book.  I'm not a UI person at all.  Like I said usability is command completion at the Unix prompt.

christopher baus (www.baus.net)
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

lol.

Yes, users blame themselves for not understanding poor UI. Just think of your mother thinking she's too stupid to program the VCR or check her email.

Put two verbose & logically twisted options in front of someone and when they have a hard time understanding, they'll assume it's because they're not as smart as the person who designed the system... After all, they must be smart, they designed the system.

www.MarkTAW.com
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

I concur: your theory is exactly what Norman's book is about. Users generally blame themselves if they mess up, even when the system is wrong. Almost all problems users are experiencing with software, their video recorder, telephone system or door are due to design bugs.

As most software has some interaction with a user, any programmer that wishes to stand out from the crowd should read GUI books, including the Design of Everyday Things. Many user interfaces suck, because they are build by programmers. You can make a difference by making sure you become both a programmer  and a GUI Designer. I never understood why people think programmers can't be designers. Just try. Personally, I liked GUI Bloopers by Johnsen too.

Jan Derk
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

It's not as simple as this. Lots of users blame either Microsoft or programmers in general whenever they're frustrated, which can arise because:

a) they're new users and the designers deliberately chose to favour experienced users over new users

b) they're less intelligent than general or have unusually poor visual intelligence

c) they're not accustomed to UI's (see a).

UI's are often poorly designed, but this isn't usually the case in the type of high visibility applications or situations that are typically the subject of such complaints.

Use the aeroplane analogy. If someone sits in a 747 cockpit and can't understand it, they don't automatically condemn Boeing for poor UI design.

Must be a Manager
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

That brings up another point.  One UI fits all.  Does anyone here think that there should be different UIs for different user classes?  I think this is were Windows Server really goes wrong.  There doesn't seem to be a recognition that what is good for Grandma's emails might not be appropriate for a 24x7 data center. 

Some say Unix is not user friendly, and I'll agree. Until you master it.  Then it because quick and easy to manipulate the system.  Unix is expert friendly as it has been said. 

christopher baus (www.baus.net)
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

I've been kind of convinced that Baus is correct for some time.  Users build into their memory a "method of madness" so that they can circumvent potential catastrophic situations or just know how to navigate the UI.  The most common of these is the rule "save early, save often".  Because if you don't you're asking for trouble when the OS or application dies.

I'm convinced this sort of adaptive learning occurs with even reasonably experienced users.  People learn early that "doing X will incur the wrath of Y".  They learn cause and effect, and what not to do.  The people who haven't figured this out yet are considered computer newbies - or worse.

I think that another good example of UI madness is MS Word.  Somewhere around Office 97, Word was very predictable - and while not perfect, with a little experimentation and experience, a user could almost always obtain the desired effect (like proper margins, how to link an object, a master document, how templates worked, etc.).

The problem with later versions of Office is that the UI keeps changing, and all that learning becomes for not.  Where features are hiding in the menu heirarchy, the formatting tricks you once knew don't work any longer.

Who can be blamed for degenerating back to text files and command lines?  All of a sudden, you're getting work done again...

hoser
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Out of interest, why ask the user at all.  Surely a machine can tell if something is a visa or master card based on the format of the number:
see http://www.erikandanna.com/Business/CreditCards/credit_card_authorization.htm

Surely American banks aren't stupid enough to use numbers that are the same as these well known numbers?

Han Solo
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

I think the problem might be the cards that can be used as credit or debit. 

christopher baus (www.baus.net)
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Hey hoser.  (funny I just typed hey hoser.)

It is interesting that you point out the UI inconsistencies in Word.  I've been evaulating different text style implementations in different word processors and it turns out Word's implementation is the least consistent.  Don't believe me? 

Try cutting and pasting text from one document into another.  Then try the same thing Open Office Writer.  In my opinion Writer does has the correct behavior, but I'm afraid since our customers are more familiar with Word that I might be forced to implement the functionality in a similar manner as word.

christopher baus (www.baus.net)
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Interesting that Mr. Baus starts yet another thread seemingly unrelated to Micro$osft's evil empire at first - which really made me wonder - but then manages to drop two notes why Micro$oft Server and Micro$oft Word fail in one or the other way.

---

Yesterday my car broke while I was on the freeway. It came to a halt just before one huge Micro$oft Office 2003 billboard. There must be a connection between my car's failure and Office 2003's failure to deliver proper XML documents.

Slashbot
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

You're right, some users will blame Microsoft or Programmers. Others will blame themselves. There is no universal rule that applies in all situations.

Airplanes are different, they're designed for someone who has hundreds of hours of training.

Whenever I get the chance, I use He and She for different situations. Whenever there are two actors I arbitrarily choose one as He and one as She, and I try to go for the opposite of what other people would choose.

The CEO called customer service. She inquired about the Mile High Start bar. The customer service representative responded that he would talk to Bill Gate about it.

www.MarkTAW.com
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Ok, X fails horribly because back in the day it was thought that allowing a flexible look and feel would be a benefit and not a drawback.  The problems with X probably gave Microsoft a bigger advantage than any other single piece of technology.

Also ask Steve Jobs about UI flexibility.  He'd make the same argument about skins.  Certainly early this was obvious since xlib, motif, OpenLook, apps all behave differently.  Today it still a problem with KDE vs Gnome.  So it is pretty obvious that the X Window System has more usability problems than Windows or OSX. 

The X Window Systems is so horribly bad, it isn't even worth using it as a basis of a discussion regarding UI design.

Truth be told I haven't read slashdot in over 4 years. 

Does that make you feel better?

Also I happen to be a server admin, and dissecting various Text Style implementations, so it is what I know.

christopher baus (www.baus.net)
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Micro$oft is evil. I know it because I happen to be a catholic.

Slashbot
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Christopher,

I'm as frustrated by OpenOffice as I am MS Office.  Heck, I cannot even figure out how to create a new template.  Ackk.

I kind of gave up on WYSIWYG editors for some time, and then some heavy weight docs need writing, and some nice state diagrams and block diagrams would really help - and now here I am looking like a perfect idiot.  Like a hoser that I am.

Whilst I get up to speed, I drew everthing in text and ascii art (ascii art, can you believe it??) and told our PM and tech writer they could do real artwork and word docs, or wait for me to get word literate again...

hoser
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

I'm not claiming that Open Office is better than Word or MS Office.  It is not (although it is cheaper).  I just happened to be looking a one specific feature.  Text (or Paragraph) Styles.  In that case I believe Open Office's implemenation is more consistent. 

The cut and paste functionality in Word changes the copied styles upon pasting.  I find this disconcerting.

christopher baus (www.baus.net)
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

>> Word changes the copied styles upon pasting

Oh- that is so true.  I had forgotten all about that.  You take text from a web page or document, and it pastes it into your document with the source's fonts.  Who would think that was normal? 

hoser
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

hoser -
large docs? they're the domain of TeX and friends. All text-driven. Though Word does a decent job on them and takes fewer years to learn.

Back to user interface, um, yeah, this sounds like a classic 'the implementation is the spec' issue. After all, the last version worked like that.

Around here, supermarkets usually have either a credit/debit button, or the cashier asks and pushes the right button.

Gas station self-pay pumps have advanced a lot. The latest ones I've seen say "push here for debit", and otherwise assume credit--no buttons need be pressed at all.

mb
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

ok slashbot...  Pull off the mask and explain your catholic comment.  I don't appreciate it.  Let me make my point clear.  While I am no fan of Microsoft, I will give credit where credit is due.  Windows is far more usable on the Desktop than any commericial Unix type offering based on X Windows. 

I also have a lot of respect for David Cutler and I cut my teeth on his previous baby, VMS.  VMS was probably the most advanced OS of its day.  David Cutler has been the ONLY software architect that has had the ability to go head to head with the Unix community since as long as go as the 70s.  VMS ruled its day, and now WinNT variants rule again. 

If you want to make a personal attack, then I suggest you take it off line.  You can email me at chris_baus@yahoo.com...

christopher baus
Thursday, November 20, 2003

If you wanted to look like a complete idiot, then I'd say you succeeded.

Slashbot
Thursday, November 20, 2003

Whatever.  This forum has gotten as lame as the rest. 

christopher baus
Thursday, November 20, 2003

It not just that people do it to themselves.

I think that some people like software to be complicated because there mastery of it seems to give them a feeling of power and superiority.

Consider some of the comments made when the UI failings of Word were discussed before:

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/JoelOnSoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=80530&ixReplies=38

From DJ:
"What a bunch of whiners - either learn how Word works or go back to notepad. "

From SomeBody:
"The problem isn't that Word or Word's options have gotten too complicated.  It's that people don't bother to look for them for some reason.  Most of the stuff on this thread could've been easily found by typing a few keywords into the help box (it's part of the menu bar in Office XP apps).  "



I also hate people who reduce this to a for/against Microsoft thing.
   
Microsoft produce excellent software.

Microsoft make mistakes.

Live with it.
   

Ged Byrne
Thursday, November 20, 2003

Christopher,

You think this forum is Lame.

How can you say that the Internet is a bad thing!

Thinking that the sky is purple with yellow dots is just ridiculous.

Do you think Slashbot really is a bot, designed to emulate Slash dot posters?  This will explain why his comments are apparantly random.

Ged Byrne
Thursday, November 20, 2003

Yeah Chris - don't let old slashbot trouble you. He's just an ugly AI-troll developed by some undergraduates at MIT in the spirit of Eliza. Smile! You're on candid trollbridge!

Undergrad having some fun
Thursday, November 20, 2003

*** STOP: 0x000000 (0x802aa502, 0x000002, 0x000000, 0xFA84001C) IQ_LESS_OR_EQUAL *** Address fa84001c has base at fa840000 - jostrll.SYS

Restart and set the recovery options in the system control panel or the /CRASHDEBUG system start option. If this message reappears, contact your system administrator or technical support group.

Slashbot
Thursday, November 20, 2003

>>Also ask Steve Jobs about UI flexibility. He'd make the same argument about skins.

Actually, skins is fabulous issue, as you are taking the EXACT same functionality and changing how it works. This is different then change the functions, or even HOW THE software works. I other words, there is a user model of how the software works, and then also a user model for the UI.

Just yesterday I was download some skins for my mp3 player on my palm T3.

Take a look at the following web page, and ask yourself which skin is the best?

http://www.aerodrome.us/aeroplayer/skins.html

I certainly like:
Silverline by Michael Fine

The reason for this is that things like the volume control, and the balance control are CLEARLY marked. I would even placed the text below each button as to their function (play, stop etc). The clone of the windows media player is also quite good because of previous exposure.

In all other cases, the designers just assume that some slider will be the volume control, and the user will figure this out (that is a bad assumption). So, you want both a tasteful design, but also one that communicates what the function of the control does.

Looking at different skins for the same piece of software is a very interesting question of:

    How can I improve the existing UI...but not have to change the software?

Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada
kallal@msn.com
http://www.attcanada.net/~kallal.msn

Albert D. Kallal
Thursday, November 20, 2003

The original poster talked about the POS system at Safeway and how he was having a hard time figuring out how to get it to do credit.

THIS IS BY DESIGN.  Many stores are doing this now.

You see, the retailers give up a % of their profits to the CC companies when you use credit, but they only pay a flat transaction fee for ATM transactions.  Therefore, they prefer ATM transactions.  The particularly unscrupulous(sp?) merchants charge you an additional fee on top of anything your bank charges you and them.

So you use a VISA Check Card.  They ask you for your PIN.  You have to hit Cancel and then choose Credit for it to use the VISA part instead of your ATM.  It's intentionally unintuitive and IMHO downright unethical.

Richard Ponton
Thursday, November 20, 2003

Do you have a reference to this practice?  I'd be interested in seeing it, although I don't doubt it.  Actually that seems totally logical. 

christopher baus (www.baus.net)
Thursday, November 20, 2003

I have no problem believing that it's intentional, I just have a problem with believing that it's unethical.

What _is_ unethical is that Visa (Mastercard and Amex) were charging merchants the higher credit card processing rates even for PIN transactions ($1.50 for each $100 of a transaction versus $.10 per $100) if the debit card was branded by the credit card company. An article about the settlement of the anti-trust suit is at http://www.finextra.com/fullstory.asp?id=8724

This settlement is also why Visa is running promotions/contests that are eligable only to people who sign their name when using their debit card - for an extra $1.40 per $100, it's well worth the expense!

Since the signature option is _much_ more expensive for the retailer, I don't blame them for making it harder to get to.

RocketJeff
Friday, November 21, 2003

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