Turn left in 700m

My previous post pointing out unclear on-screen navigation instructions in KDE’s Marble application was criticized for not providing a better proposal on what an improved screen could look like. I’d like to follow up with this now.

In the first screenshot, I have added notes with recommendations as to how specific elements of the navigation instructions could be improved. In the second image, I have put together a mock-up of what I think an improved screen could look like.

Feel free to suggest further improvements in the comments below.

 

Right, right, or left?

Compared to Ubuntu’s usability advances, I sometimes wonder if the people working on KDE’s desktop and application suite shouldn’t implement some kind of mandatory usability testing process before any applications under their brand name are allowed to ship releases. I am writing this as I came across this screenshot advertising the availability of turn-by-turn navigation in KDE’s Marble application (which is similar to Google Earth):

Marble Turn-by-turn navigation

Marble Turn-by-turn navigation promotional screenshot

If you had just one instant to check which direction to turn to – a realistic assumption when driving a car – into which direction would you make your turn?

Slightly right, sharp right, or sharp left?

I cannot even imagine what the designer of this notification must have thought to justify that three arrows pointing in different directions were a good idea in this screen. For the next release, they should definitely use one single arrow only – pointing in the correct direction of course.

Getting rid of scrollbars (almost)

With every new release, the team behind Canonical’s increasingly popular Ubuntu Linux distribution appears to be stepping up the pace of becoming an innovator on the Linux user interface front.

The team observed that in the light of a rising number of tablets and other computing devices where indirect mouse cursor interaction is replaced by direct touch interaction, scrollbars in their traditional form should be removed from screens. Instead, this screen real estate should be freed up for displaying the actual content a user is interested in, aiding orientation and readability on the small screens typically found on touch interaction devices. However, on desktop computers equipped with a mouse and large screen, scrollbars need to continue to have their place given that countless legacy applications will not be compatible with other forms of direct interaction scrolling such as dragging screen content up and down.

In this context, I believe the team at Canonical has found an innovative approach to unify both scrolling concepts as shown in the video below. I am looking forward to using the final design when I upgrade my desktop’s Ubuntu installation to release 11 when it comes out end of April.

In-Flight Entertainment systems – Which one is easiest to use?

To the occasion of my move from the Mobile devices sector into the aerospace industry as of next month, I decided to revisit In-flight entertainment systems (IFE) one more time (even if my new job will not be related to IFEs).

There seem to be vast differences among airlines and plane models as to the quality of IFE systems offered. In particular, while some are quite responsive, intuitive and easy to use, others are slow, buggy, or confusing. I’ve compiled a few examples of IFE systems below but I’d like to hear from you, which IFE system of which airline you feel is the easiest to use?

Please leave a comment below (if possible, link to a photo or video so everyone can see why it is your favorite).

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Ambition and reality of consumer multi-touch computers

About three and a half years after Jeff Han’s inspiring demo of potential uses for multi-finger touch interaction displays (i.e. multi-touch), this is one example of what ended up in stores:

Not only is this a mediocre presentation but in my opinion the first 30 seconds clearly show yet another instance of a phenomenon often seen in the consumer IT industry: as soon as a new feature such as multi-touch has a first working mass-market implementation, a product is rushed out the door just so that the “supports feature XY” label can be slapped on it by the marketing department. What consumers end up with are unrefined products with features that cause users to make so many mistakes that it takes them much longer to do what they wanted to do, than if they had simply stuck with a traditional product.

Add to this an absolutely uninspired software package where one of the most valuable features seems to be that users can randomly flick around a total of 8 pictures on screen, one is left to wonder whether there are any potential buyers who don’t take their wallets and run away as fast as they can.

OpenOffice: Usability FAIL in spreadsheet component

I was just demonstrated a pretty hefty bug in OpenOffice’s spreadsheet component which a) completely violates the principle of predictability in user interfaces and b) makes this application absolutely unusable for many spreadsheet tasks.

Consider the following scenario: You have a large set of data points in a column and want to visually filter for all rows with a specific value and then overwrite these with a new value. Such filtering tasks are so common that there’s a dedicated command for them: the “AutoFilter”. To overwrite the filtered data, users then typically enter the target value in the first row they want to change and fill the succeeding rows by click-dragging the mouse from the first row downward.

As you’d expect, you have just updated all selected values in the filtered dataset. What you don’t expect: OpenOffice has also replaced all values in the invisible in-between rows which were intentionally hidden by the filter!

I’m sure you can immediately come up with a scenario where such unexpected application behavior can be disastrous in a business environment, especially since the outcome is not immediately visible in large data sets. What’s more, this defect has first been reported 8 years ago and is still not fixed!

Even though I am an advocate of Free and Open Source Software, I really think that the OpenOffice team needs to get their act together and better prioritize their tasks. Until this issue has been fixed I will no longer recommend OpenOffice to businesses.

Update 2010-11-10: Apparently this bug is finally fixed in OpenOffice 3.3. Phew, it only took 8½ years.

 

Microsoft Surface applied in a retail setting

Here are two nice practical applications of Microsoft Surface in retail stores of wireless carriers in North America (Wind Mobile and AT&T) where touchscreen and tangible input paradigms are used in combination. The phones are tagged with barcode stickers on the surface-facing side to enable the table to recognize the different models. Personally, I like Wind Mobile’s implementation in the first video a bit better because of their clean, no frills design but see for yourself:

Montreal Metro – Usability part 2

Last year I wrote about the insufficient affordances in the design of the emergency breaks in Montreal’s Metro trains. While the trains have been in operation for more than 40 years, it seems providing intuitive user interfaces is still not considered important to the STM (Montreal Transit Corporation) even today. Consider this panel found outside the elevators which were newly installed at some stations:

Elevator button panel

Elevator button panel (via fagstein.com)

Intuitively, which button would you press to call the elevator?

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