Design principle: mapping

Please see this excellent illustration of mapping, a design principle you read about in Ch. 1 of “the Design of Everyday Things.”

Do you have other examples of mapping you can link to or provide on your blog?


How to assign severity ratings to usability issues

One of the tasks you will do for the next usability report is identify usability issues and assign them severity ratings. This blog post from Measuring Usability (a blog I recommend you follow) helps you learn how to assign severity ratings. Please read it and learn from it.

Interesting blog posts from students

I highly recommend that you read (closely) these two blog posts that illustrate principles we discussed in class recently:

I am learning A LOT by reading everyone’s posts and I urge you to read them, too. If email is unreliable, please subscribe to them using the WordPress reader or Feedly, an RSS feed reader (that’s what I use).

Class notes: Design guidelines firehose part 2

These are the most important ideas from today’s class along with the references where you can learn more about each of them.

  • Affordance – how an object communicates possible/available actions (Norman Design of Everyday Things Ch. 1)
  • Information scent – from Information Foraging Theory
  • Information architecture – see e.g. Pervasive Information Architecture: Designing Cross-Channel User Experiences
  • Mental Models (Cooper About Face 3 Ch. 2)
  • How to use Card Sorting to understand users’ mental models and build an information architecture (see Measuring the User Experience Ch. 9)
  • Controls – 4 types: Imperative, Selection, Entry, and Display. These can look and behave differently on different platforms. It is important to learn their grammar for each platform and not reinvent the wheel or make it square! (Cooper About Face 3 Ch. 21)
  • Excise – any work that the user does that is not task related; it is meant to serve the machine’s needs (Cooper About Face 3 Ch. 11)

The slides I used in class are below:

Please remember to write less on your blog this week and spend some time catching up with class mates’ blog posts.

For your class reflection, please consider what you will do with this information, and what is your plan for assimilating the firehose.

Reading for Oct. 23 – Wireframe and prototype resources

Please read the book chapter on Bb and review these online resources before class and, instead of several reading worksheets, take notes that answer the following questions:

  • what is the difference between sketches, wireframes, mockups and prototypes?
  • what is the utility of each one of these? when are they used in the UCD process and why?
  • what are some useful tools for creating wireframes, mockups and prototypes?

Bring these notes to class, printed out, just like usual. You need only ONE set of reading notes for all the readings and resources.

  1. Blog post showing you the  process from wireframing on.
  2. Class blog post for CGT 256.
  3. Tools and resources for wireframes, mockups, and prototypes – reviews from Cooper, UX Movement, and UX Mag, and my collections for this class.

We have Axure in one of the labs in Knoy – 316B, I think – if not, it is 316A (316A confirmed) and you each will receive an invitation to create a Balsamiq account. You can also try Fluid UI and/or InVision for mobile apps. Most online wireframing tools have free account options.

iOS7: Simple is not simplistic

This is a much overdue design critique of iOS7. Can’t do that without talking about flat design. The arguments for flat design are convincing:

  • it is a backlash against skeumorphism (which I dislike) and a move towards removing unnecessary ornamentation from the screen. But, in all honesty, Nielsen told us about removing unnecessary ornamentation a LONG time ago.
  • as users have gained interface literacy, we do not need to make items on screen look like things in real life in order to teach users what they are. This does not mean, however, doing away with clearly communicating affordances.

“The necessity for skeuomorphic cues to guide novice users into the new world of graphical user interfaces faded out as we absorbed more of these conceptual models, eventually rendering cues redundant,” Bruckhoff says. “Skeuomorphism became a differentiator and eye catcher, up to the point where it wasn’t anymore about guiding new users through familiar cues from the real world, but more about grabbing attentions and serving them with eye candy.” See also this explanation of flat design from Wired.

  • simplicity is also a major argument for flat design. It has always been an argument for good design and for reducing cognitive load. Keep in mind, however, that simple does not necessarily mean simplistic. It often takes a lot of detail and sophistication to achieve simplicity.

At the same time, it is worth noting that Tufte’s first chapter in his legendary book is titled Escaping Flatland:

“All the worlds (physical, biological, imaginary, human) that we seek to understand are inevitably and happily multivariate in nature,” he writes. “Not flatlands.” – Tufte

Tufte writes about escaping flatland as a way to overcome the limitation of 2 dimensions in order to communicate information more effectively. An obsession with flatness for the sake of flatness is not beneficial. We should instead be obsessed with whatever is useful and usable. However, this is not argument agains flat design. It is a commentary on how flat design is implemented in iOS7. I organize it around main issues in interface usability:


The most basic affordance on the screen is clickability. It should be clear what is and what is not clickable. Users should not have to think about that.

I remember coming across screens in iOS7 where it wasn’t entirely clear what is and what is not clickable. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a screenshot at the time and now I can’t remember what screen it was. I will update this post as soon as I come across it.


Reading is hard and unnatural. Shape recognition is much faster and efficient for the human mind than reading. iOS7 relies too much on reading. For example, when the timer is done (if it’s been running long enough for the screen to go to sleep) it shows the following screen:

Timer done screen

Operating it relies entirely on reading the blue text on black background. It is much more time consuming than recognizing a shape and the affordance it communicates (tapping or sliding). Also, it is hard to operate if you have removed your glasses!

The same applies to the “slide to unlock” text at the bottom of the screen. Without understanding the text, the affordance is not communicated clearly, like in the previous design, where the button showed an arrow for direction and the path it could slide on was visible.

The same issue appears in the phone answering screen, where the affordance suggested by the green shape (button: tapping) is in direct contradiction with the text instructions. Again, this cannot be operated if you do not understand the text. Of course, we learn after a while, but we have learned to put up with all sorts of horrible interfaces, so that is not the point.

I find it ironic (and sad) that for a company whose products where famous for the fact that you did not need instructions to use them, the current design relies so heavily on text instructions.

Phone answer screen


Learning is hard. If you make people learn something new, make sure you have a good solid reason for that. Changes should be revolutionary, or at least significant improvements, not just cosmetic. I see a lot of changes in iOS7 that are cosmetic, not revolutionary. One example is the sounds. Granted, the new sounds are more pleasant and communicate less urgency than the ones in previous versions. But, having been trained better than Pavlov’s dog to recognize calendar invites and alerts, it bugs me that now my phone makes a sound and I have no idea what it is. I know, this old dog will learn a new trick, but why make users learn if it’s not completely necessary? It is best to capitalize on things we have already learned – this is what makes interfaces appear “intuitive,” rather than make us learn again, unless there’s good reason for that.

Many changes are, I think, gimmicks, because they are not significant improvements of the interface. For example, swiping to delete items only works one way now, so the muscle memory we have is useless. Also, the cell signal bars are now bubbles – which can cause confusion with the bubbles at the bottom of the screen, the ones that tell you what screen you’re on. Why violate highly accepted and common standards of how to represent cell phone signal strength? Are bubbles really an improvement over bars?

I am not sure this belongs here, but why mess with a simple learned behavior like scrolling? I hate “natural scrolling” and I keep it off on my Mac, but now, when I scroll, I often open the command center by accident. All these accidents are signs of usability issues.


Following accepted standards and being consistent with them and within the design is one of Nielsen’s 10 heuristics. I mentioned above the cell signal bubbles. Here are some other examples:

Color inconsistency

The icons on the chrome in timer are red. On the phone, they are blue. We could argue that this serves the purpose of indicating where we are – phone, or timer? Given that there are already major differences between the two, it is not necessary to indicate place with color. Also, given that red is such an important color that communicates errors and urgency, this is not an efficient way of color coding to distinguish what iOS app we are in. Also, the calendar’s commands are red, too, so the hypothesis about location indicator breaks down.

Size inconsistency

Another inconsistency is that of size. Some characters are really large – such as the ones used in setting the alarm; but others are really small now – such as the ones used in setting the timer. I don’t have particularly large fingers, but I often make mistakes when using the redesigned scroll wheel control.

This is in direct violation of  Fitts’ law, which states that:

The time to acquire a target is a function of the distance to and size of the target.

Basically, if the target is too small, or too far away, it takes longer to reach it.


I believe the size of the rows for tapping on email accounts was also reduced, and I often encounter errors there, too (I tap a different account than I intended to). This didn’t happen before.

Email screen

Focus on content

One of Tufte’s main principles of visual information display is to focus on content and fade visual information (such as table lines) that are not related to content. Also, Tufte warns about the unintended patterns these other elements might create, which in turn obscure the meaning of content.

This is the principle that is violated by the phone pad. The circles around the numbers are so saturated that they compete for visual attention with the actual numbers.



Last but not least, aesthetics is a function of usability – and certainly of user experience. You could argue that this is a matter of taste, but there are also well-known guidelines related to proportion and the use of color that predict satisfaction with aesthetics.

If you know me, you know I love minimalism and modern designs (visit my living room if you have to!). However, simplicity is not the same thing as simplistic. Look at the commands below: They are very large, our of proportion with the rest of the screen, and they are simplistic, not simple. They must have taken all of 30 seconds to create. I am amazed that someone actually got PAID to create those, or the table headings on the calendar.


I am afraid that this tweet from Tog (who worked at Apple for a while, and who is an amazing mind – research and follow his writing online) sums up what has happened here:


Since I started working on this post Nielsen has come up with his review of iOS7. I haven’t read it yet, because I didn’t want it to influence this review. In fact, I intentionally have not read reviews of the iOS7 UI. Had I done so, I am sure this post would be more complete (and even longer!).  Can’t wait to see what others have to say!

Class notes: UI design principles

Tonight in class we went through the book Designing with the Mind in Mind. The book explains the human perception and psychology mechanisms that underlie many popular UI design principles.

I know it is a lot of information to process in a short amount of time. It is OK if you don’t feel you have really learned or can remember it all. My intention is to raise your awareness about these issues enough that you know that they exist and can search for more information when you need it. Also, keep the book.  You will refer to it often.

Please help each other further learn and remember these principles, by blogging about them and showing examples. They really are everywhere. Take a look at the screen shot of the WordPress dashboard below. I have circled some issues to get your attention – what principles from the book do you recognize there?

Click image to enlarge:

Screenshot 10:9:13 10:15 PM