Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Is it just me or have there been a lot of blog posts lately in response to Grant Skinner's post about the memory leak in Flash Player? Now I don't mean to say that, this isn't a problem. But posts like this or this are a bit over the top. The problem doesn't mean that applications can't be built with AIR or Flex. Grant Skinner's description describes the problem pretty accurately which to me sounds like they would never affect many applications.

In the first link above, Jim Robson title's his post "Time to switch to Ajax?" which I find a little humorous since Internet Explorer has some serious memory issues of its own which make AJAX apps just a susceptible to memory issues.

I, like everyone else, hope that Adobe makes this problem easier to deal with, but I don't think we should all run for cover just yet.

Monday, April 14, 2008

MXNA is down. What do I do?

That title isn't meant to be rhetorical. I really don't know where to go for my daily news. I guess I didn't realize how much I rely on it. It is a good reminder of how what we think and what is true are not always the same. If you asked me, I probably would have said that I use it sometimes but it isn't essential to my daily life. The reality is that it truly is essential.

I have to pack some kind of User Experience lesson in here, so here goes. Don't trust what user's tell you. They become so unaware of the things that use all the time that they take them for granted. Anyone who looked over my should on any given day, they would probably notice that every time I am doing a build (which takes a couple of minutes), I switch over to my browser window which always has the first tab open to http://thoughtfaqtory.com/flex/mxnaviewer/.

So keep that in mind when you want to find out how users actually use the software you build. Just remember to ignore what they tell you and pay attention to what they show you.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Worst UI Ever - Progressive Disclosure

So here is a little example of what not to do. Before I go any further, let just say that Progressive Disclosure itself is not bad. In fact it is a very useful tool in many situations where you need so show more options as a result of some previous option being selected. It is just this use of it that doesn't work.

I am in the market for a minivan so I head over to the Toyota site to see what it would cost for the one I am looking for. The site is looks very nice, however I ran into this little problem. The dropdown shown below has a clearly labeled link called "Build Your Sienna" as shown below.

When clicking it, the problem is obvious

I actually had expected to be taken to the "Build Your Sienna" screen rather than have this mysterious little form pop up. In fact, for a second or two I didn't even notice it. When I did notice it, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. So I just clicked "Build Your Sienna" again. While my mouse button was held down, the words "Zip code" were displayed in the form field. When I released the button, it went away again.

Since I didn't think my zip code was relevant, I just clicked on "Go" and was met with this:

Apparently, a zip code is required in order for me to build my vehicle.

First of all, the if the zip code field was going to be there it should be labeled initially. This could just be a bug due to me using Firefox. Perhaps the site wasn't tested enough.

In my opinion though, if a zip code is a required part of building my vehicle then it should be part of the vehicle building process rather than this unlabeled popup. The reason for the zip code is probably due to changing costs based on geographical location. They may not want to say that on the site, but they could have said something like "Your zip code is used to find dealers near you that might have the vehicle you build in stock" This would do two things, give the user a reason why the zip code is needed and also benefit the customer since there is a good chance that a potential buyer might want to actually go test drive the vehicle at a local dealership.

While it might seem cool to add the little form using Progressive Disclosure, this is not an appropriate place for it. "How" we put stuff on screen is only part of the equation. The "Why" and "What" are usually far more important.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Microsoft makes good - A User Experience Story

So I started my day today by firing up my XBox 360 only to find 3 red blinking lights in the Ring of Light". Now, hardware is not my specialty, but I immediately knew this couldn't be a good sign. And, since I had my original XBox suffer a similar fate I was fairly irritated all day. Since I didn't have time to call customer support this morning, I had to wait til 10:45 at night to call about it. Of course I know it is a year and a half old so I am probably out of luck, but why not give it a shot?

So after a 10 minute phone call with an unusually helpful customer support tech, I was told that it is most likely a hardware failure but Microsoft is extending the warranty and fixing this kind of thing for free.

You could argue that, the thing shouldn't have broken in the first place and I would agree. But this post is more about how a user's perception of a product and a company can be influenced by all aspects of the user experience, not just the product itself. It isn't only about how easy it is to accomplish a task. It is about fulfilling users' needs. Usually these needs can easily be described as goals, such as "I want to play a game" or "I want to watch a DVD". However, there is another type of goal which is often forgotten since it isn't related to the task at hand. Regardless of the product in question, it is always a user goal to "not feel stupid". This type of "feeling" goal is important. In the case of Microsoft's XBox support "product", it is very important that the user not feel stupid or not feel unimportant.

If I look back at my experience, I very quickly went from feeling irritated and angry (when I thought I was gonna be screwed) to feeling very satisfied, despite the fact that I can't play my XBox for probably a couple of weeks.

So, kudos to Microsoft in this case... but don't think I'm not keeping an eye on you

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Free 42 inch flat panel tv... for real.

I had to take some time off from Klok development to work on a client's website. So I will be getting back on track. Along with the new site, is a promotion in which you can get some free stuff. If you are in the market for a home theater or media room, check out the site and free offer.

Hopefull this will make up for that fact that I haven't spent more than 5 minutes on Klok in the last week.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Moonwalking bears and RIAs - The effects of change blindness

Change blindness is a phenomenon where humans fail to see major changes within the visual field regardless of how significant the change is. For a fun example of this effect, take a look at this. Or check out Wikipedia's page on the subject.

If you are wondering what this has to do with RIAs, lets think back to the web 1.0 days. In most applications the only way to see changes in data was to refresh the entire screen which resulted in a brief loss of focus followed by an attempt to regain focus once the page was refreshed. Usually the new page was different enough to make you briefly rescan the entire screen.

Now fast forward a few years and we are in Web 2.0 land with all the RIA goodness thanks to AJAX, Flex, Flash, etc. With these new technologies has come the ability to refresh only the data of the screen which, on one hand, is much better since you don't have to reacquaint yourself with the screen after every change. However, on the other hand, without page refreshes it may become difficult for users to actually notice that a particular portion of the screen has changed. For example, if I add an item to my shopping cart, I could miss the fact that my total or estimated delivery date has changed.

Keep in mind that if it is important that the user notices a change, then we must make it obvious (with a non-modal) notification.

I refuse to blog today

Today I will not be blogging anything (except this and my earlier post :-) because I fear that nothing is taken seriously today. Instead here are some links to other April fools day posts to keep you entertained. Feel free to add some in your comments.

Google - Time travel
Flash on the iPhone finally
Microsoft will own us all eventually
Now this is just crazy talk

Klok update - bugs fixed

A couple of serious bugs have been fixed in this update of Klok. Visit the official Klok site for details