Tag Archives: Usability

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Redesigning my home page, what do you think?

A while back I wrote some early thoughts about redesigning my blog for usability. I haven’t had much time to work on my blog since then, but to be honest my homepage was in even more dire need of attention.

The design considerations for my home page are a little different from my blog – I don’t expect anyone to come back to my homepage again and again, looking for informative articles or useful info. The use case for the home page can be stated pretty succinctly: “who is this guy, and what does he do?”

I’m also operating under the design constraint of what I can get done while our 8-month-old is napping. This means a very simple layout – it takes time to come up with lickable web2.0 buttons and reflections. I’d like the page to be visually interesting, though, which is why I decided to use a big freaking photo in the background.

Normally I would try to avoid such a bandwidth-sucking design but bandwidth doesn’t seem to be the problem it used to be. I have some ideas on how to trim down the image size without impacting the design too much that I’ll share once I’ve got it up.

Here’s a screenshot of the first draft:


And here’s what it looks like, as of this post:


What do you think? I’m specifically wondering:

  • Should I put a photo of myself on my homepage?
  • Any typography ideas? Right now everything is Helvetica (or Arial, if Helvetica isn’t installed).
  • The content boxes are floats, and they change position depending on the window size. Should I lock them down?

I Can Actually Understand This! Contract and Legal Document Usability

How many times a week do you agree to some endless block of legal terms and conditions in order to access a website or install some software? How often does your phone company, stock broker, or credit card company send you changes to some contract in the mail?

Of those, what percentage of the time do you actually read and understand the blobs of tiny print?

I logged in to iStockPhoto for the first time in a while and was confronted by a change to the artists’ agreement. I was shocked, absolutely flabbergasted, to find the document clear and easy to read. I’m not sure this has ever happened before. I actually understood what they were talking about. Here’s a screenshot:


A few pointers on how to construct a similarly user-friendly legal document:

  • Put a quick, “plain language” description at the top.
  • Highlight text changes by coloring the new sections and visibly crossing out the removed text.
  • Include convenient contact information at the bottom for further help and information. By convenient, I mean convenient for the reader, not convenient for your company.

Legal document usability is so bad at this point that I would advocate changing the law so that any terms document that didn’t meet the three point above would be automatically null and void. Kudos to iStockPhoto for getting it right.

User interfaces should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler

When designing a user interface or doing a usability review of an existing website, simplicity is an extremely important goal. When I get to your interface, don’t force me to spend time thinking. Make it easy for me to do what I want to do.

Here’s a perfect example: ever wish you had remote controls that looked like this?

simple remote control

Like anything else, though, don’t take the drive for simplicity and turn it into an inflexible dogma. Make sure your UI simplification efforts stop before your interface is:

… so simple it doesn’t give users any cues. This is a classic Web2.0 sandtrap – yes, your site looks very modern and clean with one giant button, but what does the button do?

… so simple it doesn’t do what the user wants. Here’s a great example of oversimplification from Tim and Eric Awesome Show:

It’s great – users have expressed frustration in getting calls when they’re at dinner or trying to enjoy a relaxing round of golf – so they’ve taken away the ability to get incoming call. Problem solved.

… so simple that important efficiency gains are lost, requiring users to expend repetitive manual effort. The Cinco Fone example above fits this one as well, but here’s another fun satire from the Onion News Network about the Macbook Wheel:

I’d love to hear any example of websites that you think might be committing one of the three sins of over-simplicity, please add a comment below.

Also, ff the title of this post is familiar, it’s because it’s based on a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein. The actual quote is:

It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.