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Usability making products unusable

In several of the recent software, an emphasis on too much "usability" whatever it is seems to be making the software hopeless to the point that it is unusable.

The most glaring example for this is microsoft menus in word and excel which can be put anywhere in the screen.
Toolbars can be dragged from their original position. to a software developer, it looks "cool". But ask my 60 year father who uses MS Word. If he accidentaly does something like this, he would need some others help before he can get started again. Take the toolbar thing for example. The handle to drag it is so small that is guarenteed that anyone with vision problems are going to have a terrible time. Also, if one toolbar accidentaly overlaps another, some buttons "go missing". its actually there, but you cant see it.!

I would argue that just from the usability point of view, word 95 is far better than Word XP. Do not think fromt he perspective of a software developer. Put yourself into the shoes of an 60 year old man who wants to type something.

Windows XP is another example. The start menu behaves real weird. It takes time to get adjusted to it. And even after getting adjusted, its still tough to use.

Macromedia Dreamweaver MX is another example. Ultradev 4.0 was so usable. Once a novice opens MS, he is likely to get intimidated by the sheer numbers of windows that popups. But i would reserve judgement on this

Is there a moral in this?. Leave something that WORKS ALONE!!!!

Usability question
Saturday, May 31, 2003

Features of a new commercial product are defined by product managers, not by the developers.

Obviously, the end goal of any software company is to sell software. But the new version of any software package competes with it's own previous version. How do you make customers to pay for upgrade? You just have to add something, otherwise you won't sell it. Sometimes adding new features correlates with improved usability. Sometimes it doesn't.

Saturday, May 31, 2003

I agree: most people out there will find the cool toolbars and other things a pain. Developers sometimes tend to forget people are not so friends to computers as they are.

The problem may be so easy to resolve like making the program would open (first time) in standard (novice) mode. Then, an experienced user would go to to Options->Interface->Coolness and would set the UI all the 'cool' he/she likes.

This way all the people would be happy.
Too easy?

PS. The problem is when OS standard UI controls don't help on setting 2 novice/advanced modes for UI (or other way of generating a good UI experience on all kind of users). That means that you, as a developer, would have to code (and innovate) it all.

Saturday, May 31, 2003

Dreamweaver is a developer's tool, and I like MX a lot. I don't see any reason MX's interface couldn't be cluttered.

MS Word is more of a laymans tool, and there should be an instant "return to standard interface" button in an obvious spot for the non power user.

MS Office has always been a kitchen sink application and probably always will be. The more cool things they can put in, the more difficult it is for other applications to catch up, the more businesses will adopt it because they think it will meet any need they can throw at it.
Saturday, May 31, 2003

Internet Explorer menu/toolbars and the Windows XP taskbar let you lock their position from the right click menu. This also hides the drag handle bars. I believe they both come this way by default.

Hopefully a future version of Office will do this too. I've had a number of users drag their menu and toobars somewhere weird and have no idea how they got there and how to get them back.

Once, the toolbar was in the dead center of the screen (Still can't understand the utter cluelessness of that one, I don't think they ever even asked for help. I had to point it out to them).

Thankfully this sliding "coolbar" thing that IE has didn't seem to catch on too widely in other software. As for detachable menu bars ... WTF? Tear off menus would have been at least useful to some (though I find those a PITA too), but I've never seen anyone who wanted their menubar anywhere but at the top of the window (or screen). Though there was this one 3D modeling program with an abomination of a UI that had menus at the bottom of the screen...


Chris Altmann
Saturday, May 31, 2003

In Opera and Dreamweaver I put the occasional thing at the bottom of the screen... Well, ok in Opera it's just the status bar, but in Dreamweaver it'st he whole proerpties window.

Maybe in non-western cultures people want things in the lower righthand corner?
Saturday, May 31, 2003

It should take a minute of thought, or a of moment testing, to see that the specific features you mention directly and negatively affect usability.

The problem here is not "Usability making products unusable", rather it is the design/procedure/management that allows this kind of feature to enter products.


Office is customisable - that's great - but the implementation is fundamentally flawed.  XP "Lock the Taskbar" (as default) is a solution.

Saturday, May 31, 2003

I don't think it's ever useful to reinforce a point by pointing to Microsoft, good or bad. Unfortuantely, Microsoft is an anomoly. Some of its good products fail and some of its bad products succeed. Many of the successful products are so because MS is everywhere. Some of its failures are due to general dislike of MS.

Saturday, May 31, 2003

The DENIM application

has implemented the toolbar as a circular popup pie menu which is accessible with a right click of the mouse or pen. It's nice and big and always right where the cursor is so it complies with Fitts' law very well.

Apparently, Bill Gates once said that to make software easier to use, you just have to stamp "User Friendly" on the box.

UI Designer
Saturday, May 31, 2003

Personaly, usually the first thing I do when I try a new piece of sofware is remove all the toolbars :-)

And I agree that the dockable menu bars and toolbars pretty useless. Cool, but useless, bar some, maybe.

Frederic Faure
Saturday, May 31, 2003

I have to agree with one anonymous poster above. What you're complaining about is not usability, but featuritis.

Usability principles would not dictate a feature like this unless the benefits well surpassed the flaws.

Saturday, May 31, 2003

office has always had configurable menus. was always a pain. that's what modes are for, lock is the right way to go!
i do know people who put menubars on the left of the screen. gives them much more space to read documents, since most screens are wider than they are tall.

Saturday, May 31, 2003

DENIM looks cool; pity the intelligence in the UI didn't go into the website - videos to show program functionality? What's wrong with screenshots?


Saturday, May 31, 2003

I think another good example of this is NN/g's website. I personally find it hard to locate things at a glance there. I suppose that the large fonts with the simple colors makes it easy to read each specific item, but when you're just scanning through the site looking for one thing, it doesn't really pop out at you.

Joel's sites, however, are much better at this. They follow just as many of the usability rules, but are much easier to grasp and work through.

Nielsen's book was much easier to read through, so I'm surprised their web site seems so cluttered to me.


P.S. I agree that the ability to move the menu bar is more confusing thatit's worth, but I think that like someone mentioned, if it was locked by default but could be unlocked, that would meet both camp's concerns.

Saturday, May 31, 2003

About a dozen years ago, I read an article in the New York Times about an exhibition of children's artwork. Fingerpaintings from a particular kindergarten class were prominent, which led many to draw the conclusion that the teacher of that class was brilliant. The teacher instantly gained this reputation and when interviewed by the Times about her techniques, she replied rather off-handedly that "I just take their pictures away before they ruin them."

Ever since then, this forms one of my fundamental views of software projects. Many projects should just stop and move on to something else. Many beginning and mid-level developers tend to concentrate on and overdo features they find fun, and will often make interfaces too complicated without good reason or spend time on things that have, at best, a marginal impact on project success. I find this particulalry true of the kind of developers who stagnate at mid-level without progressing; they just get too caught up in the "Gee-Whiz" factor of computing and never focus on utility. It becomes merely programming for programming's sake, and users suffer.

I've had some very frustrating moments as a manager where guys have spent entire weekends coding things like custom date-entry controls on projects that already had some schedule slip. What do you tell a guy who enthusiatically spends heaps of his own free time on something you view not only as useless but actually detrimental to a project?

Jim S.
Saturday, May 31, 2003


I use MX Developer Studio too.. Great isn't it?

Kent Design4Effect
Saturday, May 31, 2003


great quote!
Saturday, May 31, 2003

Who is stupider, the company that "upgrades" its products by obfuscating their interfaces, or the customers who buy said "upgrades?"

I like the "...before they ruin them" quote also :)

Dan Maas
Sunday, June 1, 2003

I tend to go for the tool that works the best for my needs no matter who makes it.

If I want to create a Word document, I use MS Word. If I want to create a spreadsheet, I use Excel. If I want to keep organized notes, I use Treepad ( ).

I tried Star Office and didn't like it. I never tried GoLive, but I've been using Dreamweaver for 4 years now. I use Fireworks cuz I know how it works, and I don't use Photoshop becuase I have no clue how it works.

I wonder if someone in Japan may want their menu bars on the bottom right.
Sunday, June 1, 2003

As for Japan wanting menu bars on the right, no they're quite happy with menu bars the way they are.

You have to bear in mind Windows default (even Japanese Windows) is everything at the top - it would be a usability break if the bars suddenly started to relocate to the right.

Also, Japanese computer users will type left-to-right most of the time. The vertical right-to-left form looks more formal and classical, but virtually every Japanese document I have encountered was written in the "Western" left-to-right top-to-bottom style.

Joel Goodwin
Sunday, June 1, 2003

To the topic originator:

The thing you mention, namely the "floating toolbars" has nothing to do with usability. You just operate with terms without knowing the exact meaning of them. "Floating toolbars" is a feature. Who ever said it is "usable"???

Monday, June 2, 2003

He did mention his 60 year old father accidentally moving one, thus making the application unusable.

I'm sure it happens all the time.
Monday, June 2, 2003

Yeah, it makes application unusable, but how it is related to the topic's caption "usability making products unusable"?
It is a totally wrong sentence!

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

If they added this feature thinking they were making the product more usable, and it ended up being less usable becuase of it, then it has everything to do with the post.
Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Products would be more usable if developers provided tech support.

I was trying to explain ease-of-use to a an employee (programmer) once by saying " imagine you had to explain this feature to 1,000 50 year-olds".  Now, what do you want to have to explain.

Likewise, in providing support myself, if found that our install aske a lot of questions to which I told user to "just keep pressing the enter key". AHA!  Changed the install, so that it offered "standard" and  "advance" install. But that wasn't enough.

Everyone wants to think they are advanced, so I changed it to "easy" and "Expert".  Perhaps even better might have been "easy" and "difficult".

REMEMBER the advice of Cooper (About Face):  Power users will FIND the power stuff. So, put the easy stuff up front for grandpa, and make joe-power-user search for the power feature.  It creates a natural filetering process.

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

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