Interface Design Blog: the good, the bad, and the utterly unusable...

Online Project Management Tool: unProducteev details make the registration process tiring

Posted on | September 21, 2010 | No Comments

One of my clients has switched to using Producteev (www.producteev.com) for its project management tasks.  So I had to set it up as well.

Over the time, I’ve used many online project management tools – including such popular ones as 37 Signal’s Basecamp and Pivotal Tracker.  But for some reason, none of them seemed to fit the bill entirely.  Pivotal, for example,  is an overkill for most tasks of a small multifunctional team.  It is designed to fit development tasks best.  And I could never get over the “story” metaphor – just doesn’t click with me.

I am just setting it up, so not too many comments on the overall usability, but the interface looks simple (yesss!) and clean enough.  I didn’t have to learn any new words yet, and things seem to be clearly labeled.  So far so good, though that can change once I actually use the tool.

However, when registering, I ended up spending a few minutes looking, of all things, for my Time Zone!  There is no indication whether any fields are required (which, IMHO, is an oversight), but either way, I didn’t want to skip this field because for a project management tool a correct timestamp is actually important.  So I click on the time zone field, and get this endless list:

Producteev - Where is my time zone?!

Producteev - Where is my time zone?!

After spending a few minutes trying to find San Francisco, I pretty much gave up and treated myself to a quick geography lesson:  looking up the exotic sounding names on the world map and dreaming up my next vacation (Rarotonga!  Pago Pago!  And I had no idea there was a place named Fakaofo!).

What’s most confusing is not just the sheer number of items on this list – but the selection.  Names of islands are mixed in with city names, time zones, and I think even some country names.  List organization by GMT plus or minus so many hours doesn’t really work.  There is seemingly no order to anything.  I first looked for San Francisco (the city), then PST (time zone), and finally, mostly by accident, found Pacific Time stuck somewhere between Gambier and Pitcairn.  I hope it’s the ‘right’ Pacific Time because there are different ones listed as well (for Tijuana, Vancouver, etc – although it’s still the same time zone).

Despite the frustrating user experience here, I would like to thank the team of Producteev for expanding my geographic horizons.  Though it does make me wonder – how often is Producteev tool used in Rarotonga?  Wouldn’t it be better to prioritize the places that are likely to have more Producteev users?

Informational Icon Overload

Posted on | September 9, 2010 | No Comments

Traveling through countless world airports, it’s interesting to see how directional signs are used.  International airports rely heavily on iconography because of the language variable.  Airport’s target users – the passengers –  may not speak the language of the country of any given airport (whether they are visitors or are in transit).  Basic English signs such as Exit, No Exit, Baggage, etc. are well-recognized, but should a sign get more specific, there is still a chance that even an English word won’t be understood.

So using clear directional and informational icons is really really important in places like that.

Just this past July, while at the Ferihegy International Airport in Budapest, I found myself creating a bottleneck at the escalator, trying to understand all the warning icons posted right at the entrance:

Informational Icons - Ferihegy Int'l Airport Budapest

Informational Icons - Ferihegy Int'l Airport Budapest. What dangers await the passengers on this escalator journey??

I did ride that escalator twice but both times didn’t get enough time to digest even a third of these icons. All kinds of terrible dangers were waiting for me on this short escalator ride, and I may have broken a few escalator laws – I will never know.

This experience was a reminder that icons should be used sparingly, only when needed, and unless an icon’s meaning is absolutely clear to the test audience, a text label should accompany it.  This applies not just to the airports and other physical environments, but websites, mobile devices and applications.

Gmail keeps getting smarter

Posted on | May 6, 2010 | 1 Comment

I love Gmail.  I love that it keeps all my emails INDEFINITELY.  I love that I can find any email from 5 years ago just by typing in a keyword.  I especially love that all these features allow me, a dumb forgetful attention-challenged user, to not bother with folders.

My love suffered a minor blow a few months ago with Gmail introduced Buzz.  Much is said about Buzz, most people I polled don’t use it and generally find it annoying, even if mildly so.  So that was a bit cooling.  For a moment there I wondered where Gmail was headed.

But today my love has been re-ignited in a major way:  Gmail is even smarter that I suspected!  I wrote in my email that I am attaching a file, then wrote a few more paragraphs, forgot all about the file, and clicked “Send”.  And this is what I saw:

Gmail detects the words 'attachment', 'attaching' in your emails

Gmail detects the words 'attachment', 'attaching' in your emails and warns you if you forgot to add the attachment

I am truly impressed by this.  It’s a great example of a system helping the user where it matters – safeguarding us where our fickle human memory fails.

Designers Needed

Posted on | May 1, 2010 | No Comments

I went to the first TEDx at Berkeley last weekend.  It was an exciting and well organized event, very “Berkeley” in spirit, as my former coworker at Life360 (a Berkeley Incubator startup), and a Berkeley graduate, described it.  The event brought people of various disciplines together, but the underlying theme that united all speakers was ‘Doing the unprecedented’.  Speakers ranged from underwater photography guru Eric Cheng (www.wetpixel.com) to UC Berkley Men’s Octet… Very fun.

One talk that stood out for myself was Fred Dust’s (Partner at IDEO) discussion titled “Designers Needed”.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the presentation anywhere online to repost, but the idea was simple:  much design improvement can be done in all areas of our lives, and there aren’t enough designers to take on these jobs.  Solution:  by applying a few most important design principles, anyone can make good design decisions.

I cannot agree more.

Many developers and early stage entrepreneurs, given the lack of funding, take the first stab at design of their websites and apps.  Later on, they often bring in professional designers who end up taking apart V1 and redoing everything entirely.  A lot of time and money could be saved by applying a few basic principles of good design at the beginning.  Putting effort into understanding what drives your users, practicing empathy for your company’s customers really pays off in the end.

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