Tag

Usability

Skeuomorphism

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I hold a few different sometimes conflicting feelings on Skeuomorphism as it relates to User Interface Design. I see people go back and forth on the debate itself. I don’t feel that Skeuomorphic Design is necessarily right or wrong; I have seen some good examples however they are few and far between.

I think it is important to understand what adding analog metaphors within a digital device means and whether or not it is used effectively.

What does the term mean? / Where did it come from? The way the term itself is used today is incorrect. A skeuomorph is an physical ornament on an object. For example; wood paneling on cars. How is it being used today? We use it to describe analog solution on digital interfaces. For example a; leather with stitched binding with paper on a digital calendar.

So then the question should be asked; what do you define as a good/bad example?

Good examples are things that can help someone to understand interactions. For example: Pressing a button should behave realistically. Textures should make elements appear more tactile for touch interaction. Animations or transitions can help to keep a user oriented. The layout of object should should be familiar.

Form without function makes for bad Skeuomorphic Designs, especially if that it behaves unrealistically. Things that appear stitched to other objects but behave independently. Light sources that appear to be coming from nowhere. Mixing to many different material analogies. Impossible Physics.

Skeuomorphism can potentially be a good thing if it’s used in moderation in order to communicate function, however if it is being used merely as an arbitrary pattern, it becomes kitsch or gimmicky.

Simplicity vs Usability

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I keep going back and forth on my thoughts of form field labels and usability. I have read and understand the arguments against it, however I have yet to see what I feel are definitive metrics on form field labels being inside or outside of the text box. Here is my general philosophy on the subject. If you are going to use inline form field labels, use them correctly. When I design forms, I employ a hybrid approach that takes into account the context of the page and content. There need to be labels other than the ghosted text and the best place for these labels is above the form fields, however every single individual field does not need an outside label. It’s overkill.

The first thing to think of is how an individual text input functions. A label should disappear when you being typing in that form field, not when the user first clicks on them, and if you clear out the text box then the label needs to re-appear.

form-feild-example-email

form-feild-example-email-selected

form-feild-example-email-entered

Authentication is key to good form usability. If you are using inline labels make sure that have a complete solution for authentication. If there is an error, make sure it is worded very simply and should usually try and re-state the field label itself. Errors should always appear before submit, preferably as soon as the user stops typing, and it needs to appear next to the field that it is referencing.

form-feild-example-authentication

If you have a lot of information then keep it contextual; group together fields that make sense and in that circumstance definitely label those groups. Make sure to keep information in a format that makes sense to a user. If it is an address, make sure it looks like an address.

form-feild-example-address

There needs to be clear visual cues to the user which field they currently have selected. Labels need to be large, easy to read, and there needs to be a difference between the text the user has entered and the ghosted text. Iconography can help this, however only on small form fields, otherwise you run the risk of being distracting. Only use one column layouts for forms – this gives the user a flow that they can read and comprehend, there are too many different ways for a user to interoperate multiple columned forms. Fields that are not required should not even be shown.

I contemplated not writing anything on this subject. The articles I have read that make the arguments against inline form labels are logical, well thought out, and correctly researched, with fantastic examples. My post has none of those qualities. It is merely an observation based on my own studies, experiments, and experience. The one problem that I have is that people make the statement that designers generally just make assumptions, which in and of itself is a very large and often times incorrect assumption. When I take a risk on a design, I get feedback from peers, and test and research it throughly before implementation. Then once completed I take a look at the metrics and search for user feedback.

I will be the first to agree that a common mistake I see from junior designers is making complicated forms inline without thinking. However another mistake I commonly see among seasoned usability experts is over explaining simple concepts. In fear of confusing the user, you often times end up confusing them more by giving them too much information. To be fair, this is of course a huge assumption on my part as well. However, a wider range of people are using modern technology than they were even three or four years ago, and I believe that in part we have some of these simplified interface elements to thank for this.

Ragequit Widgets

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This is a follow up to my last article, going along with both dashboards and sidebars, I feel that widgets have become extremely antiquated. Originally widgets were a very novel concept, however over time they have been downgraded to the level of a buzzword to be mentioned as a bullet point on a Power Point presentation.

I feel like we have missed the point of a widget is supposed to be; a small but complete all-in-one product in itself. A good widget should be both self-contained and complete. The original meaning of the word is supposed to refer to an abstract unit of production. Ultimately the functionality of a widget is castrated until it becomes a static read-only representation of a real product; a fancy bookmark.

I believe that a widget should hold a function. Unlike some of my other editorials this isn’t a call to stop making widgets. We need to stop making crappy widgets.

Ragequit The Dashboard

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This is another editorial where I challenge myself to think of a better way of handling what I feel are problems in User Experience. During my career I have designed dozens upon dozens of product dashboards ranging from consumer portals, to customer control panels, with widgets, gadgets, gizmos, etc. The concept of a dashboard is both solid and sound; a central portal where a user can get a snapshot of everything related to them.

Ultimately I feel that they end up being a barrier of entry to most users; everything is present, but nothing is useful. It ends up being an extra step; a hoop the user must jump through to get where they need to go.

The purpose of the dashboard is to show the user as much information as possible, however this ends up looking convoluted, confusing, and often times the average user suffers from information overload and ignores everything on the screen.

I still think product dashboards serve a purpose in some traditional business applications. I do, however, think we need to start auditing their use more much more closely, as oppose to using them as a product crutch.

Processing Simplicity

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I have been in my career on and off again for nearly a decade now. I started by making games for cable TV set top boxes, creating countless versions and variations of checkers, chess, trivia, backgammon, and mini-golf, sudoku, etc. most of which never saw the light of day. When I first started, I didn’t quite realize that what I doing was anything more than just Visual Design.

I had given up a while ago on trying to describe what I do to people that I know, ultimately their eyes glaze over as they stair off into the distance. At this point I usually simplify my answer to “I make things pretty” because this is something that people can understand without boring them to death. Every time this happens I feel like I demeaned not only myself, but my career, and my industry.

What I have started telling people, is that as a Designer it is my job to make things that are complicated to build, easy to use.