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Archive for the ‘Usability’ Category

My credit card provider, ICICI, redesigned its credit card statement recently. Typically, you find that redesigns make you unhappy because what was familair is not and what is unfamiliar is (usually) hard to find. Not so with this redesign, which is why I am giving ICICI some blog love.

The image below shows the main part of the statement with the numbers white-ed or grayed out, so you don’t focus on those parts.

Credit Card Statement Redesign

If you notice, the statement summary box and the your total amount due box are in a different colour and they stand out right away. Also, the Your Total Amount Due box is bigger than the rest, so you don’t have to search the statement to figure out the two most important things – how much you owe and when you need to pay.

It’s a nice way to present information and to highlight the most important information for the customer (and possibly the credit card company).

I find this statement far easier to read than their previous one, which wasn’t bad but required some scanning to figure out the relevant information. I can think of a couple of statements, that I currently receive, that could do with a similar redesign.

Well done ICICI for keeping the customer in mind.

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Easy-to-swallow pills (tablets)

In all the years that I’ve spent ingesting pills / tablets / capsules, I can’t recall coming across one that has been easy to swallow. Sure, the capsules are easier in that they’re smoother and won’t scratch your throat, but they’re not that much better than tablets. Yes, the alternative is a syrup type of concoction but they don’t have those for all medicines.

Some of the tablets (images here) are hard to swallow and that’s one reason that you need tricks like these.

I have heard about some companies making pills that are sugar-coated that children find easier to swallow because of the non-bitter taste but that’s one component, taste, and not texture. (I guess it doesn’t help that some people’s, particularly children’s, gag reflexes seem to be in overdrive at the prospect of taking a tablet.)

One way that companies seem to work around this is to make chewable tablets. I still remember the Vitamin C tablets we would sometimes get as children, they were like eating a sour-sweet candy.

It doesn’t answer the bigger question of how to make tablets easier to swallow and whether people have put their minds to solving this problem. I feel that the right combination of shape, texture, and taste can result in a winning solution. I wonder what would happen if we asked a firm like Ideo to design a pill. I’ll bet they’d come up with something good.

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I don’t know why people insist on sharing information using MS-Word documents. I’m not talking about documents where you need to collaborate on or edit or whatever else. No, this is about documents which contain information that is only for viewing.

For example, someone will send you an email with directions to their place, where the directions will be typed into a Word document and sent as an attachment to the email. That’ll need you to download the Word document, open it up in Word (or OpenOffice) and then read the information. Too much work. Here’s a tip: just type the directions in the body of the email and if there’s a map (image) to be attached, attach that to the email instead of pasting it into a Word document.

I’ve got nothing against Word; I’ve used it many times and will continue to use it. It just annoys me that people assume that everyone has Word installed on their computer. No, everyone doesn’t because it costs a bit if you want a licensed copy, not a pirated one.

If the information must be sent in a document form, especially stuff that doesn’t need formatting, plain text is a thing of beauty. Text files can be easily viewed on most operating systems and they’re so light, it’s like fat-free documents or something.

If you need to include formatting and / or graphics or need some sort of copy-protection (rolls eyes), you can use PDF. At least the viewer’s free and you can also print / convert PDFs for free. Also, you tend to find a PDF reader already installed on most computers now. It’s not the best format for the web (see my previous rant) but it’s better than a Word doc.

And, there’s always the option of using HTML (or derivatives thereof) when you’re sharing information on the web.

To sum up, Word is good for a lot of things — sharing information isn’t one of them.

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I’m a right-clicker. There, I said it. I like to right-click on links and open them in different tabs or windows in my browser, without leaving the page that I am currently browsing. For example, let’s say I’m reading something and want to open a link without interrupting my reading: right-click.

On some web pages though, this isn’t straight-forward because of the J in AJAX — JavaScript. When you right-click on a link that is using JavaScript, you’ll end up with a blank page with the URL of the page looking something like javascript: ….

One workaround for this is that you hover over a link and look in the browser’s status bar to see if the link is an http one or a JavaScript one. That’s tedious because, if you’re like me, you won’t remember to do this every single time you click a link.

Another workaround is that you can (regular) click a link and then use the browser’s Back button, which in some cases won’t work because a designer will decide to redirect you back to the same page.

Both workarounds aren’t optimal. So, what is a poor user to do? Maybe ask designers of web pages to let users know whether a specific link can be right-clicked or not. Different colour possibly? Or when a user hovers over a link, indicate that the link cannot be right-clicked. Just do something, anything.

With more websites going “Web 2.0”, you do encounter a lot more JavaScript than before, so I don’t think this problem is going to go away. What do you think should be done?

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There is no doubting that drop-down boxes are useful. However, when drop-down boxes provide only a single option, (and this can happen for different reasons) the need to select that option seems cumbersome. By definition, there should be at least two options when you pull-down a drop-down box. So, when a user is faced with a single option, it does seem pointless to ask the user to “select” that option. There is nothing to select.

There is a simple solution: automate the selection when the drop-down box has only one option. I don’t know how hard it would be to program but I can’t imagine that counting the number of options available in a drop-down and then doing a certain action if there’s only one option would be difficult. (Smart developer-person correct me if I am wrong.)

I’m writing about this because I’ve come across single option drop-down boxes a few times recently. I understand that this “state” (single option) can happen because of a particular choice made previously (in the user interface) or a combination of choices. What I’m hoping for is that someone will obviate the need for that extra pull-down and selection, essentially two actions.

What do you think: am I asking for too much?

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Dunk your splash page is a post explaining why you should not use Flash for your introduction pages.

I think it’s time we revisit an outdated practice—the dreaded splash page. You know, that Flash introduction page that displays before you can actually enter the site.

You probably remember these popping up on websites years ago by companies wanting to show off their design creds. Then people started talking about how annoying they were. Well, they’ve vanished from a lot of sites, and for good reason—they’re a real killer for user experience. But they’ve been popping up here and there, lately, and they put a real damper on an experience with a site.

I never wait for the flash introductions to load. I always, always look for the Skip intro button and navigate the hell away from that page. It’s so annoying that designers (or their clients) decide to put up these pages in the first place.

Read Dunk your splash page. (Helmet tip Matthew Stibbe)

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Gmail’s new additions

When I saw the new buttons in the latest version of Gmail (motto: we’re in beta, deal with it), I was pleasantly surprised.

Background story: I’m an archiver and an organizer and while I understand that searching email is easy and fast with Gmail, I still like some level of organization. So, archiving an email by marking it with a label and then clicking another button was cumbersome. The new buttons, as seen below, changed all that.

New Gmail Buttons

All I have to do now is to click Move to, select a label, and I’m done. This is so much better.

Next, I went into the Spam folder to check if any legitimate email was snagged there and clicked on one message. Here’s the warning I got.

Gmail spam warning

(I don’t think that the image capture is as clear as the original message.) The message immediately caught my attention (red probably does that to people) and the text alerted me to a possible problem. In short, the message did its job.

As far as design decisions go, these are not major ones. But, they’re really well done and deserve to be acknowledged thus. I love it when designers make changes that help users.

Thanks Gmail team. Now, if you could do something about that beta thing. Just kidding.

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