Checkbox fail

Apologies if this is a repeat grumble, but every time I export an EAR file from RSA the dialog box annoys me. Well, that’s a bit unfair, it’s not the whole dialog box, just one very pointless checkbox on it…

So the first time I attempt to export to a destination which already exists, I get a helpful error preventing me doing something potentially stupid. When I know that I’m just re-exporting the same EAR and I’m happy to just overwrite the old one (which probably wasn’t working because I forgot to include something important) I just need to check the “Overwrite existing file” box to make the error go away and I can hit finish. Lovely… except that the dialog remembers this option next time I come to do an export! Basically it may as well not exist after the first export.

It’s actually a bit of a love hate relationship with this little checkbox though, because if it always defaulted to unchecked I think I’d much prefer it to having a dialog popping up asking whether I want to overwrite an existing file. Oh well, almost useful.

Anyway, it’s Friday and time to go home; check.


Nobody deliberately builds a product that’s hard to use

There are undoubtedly some pretty hard to use products about. Computers seem particularly troublesome when it comes to making things easy to use, whether a desktop PC or in the guise of some consumer electronics like a PVR. There might actually be people deliberately designing products that are difficult to use (don’t ever hire me to write software to control lifts because impatient button pressing would definitely be taken in to account… mwahahaha!) but the reality is that it’s tough to make something easy to use. It’s even harder to modify or extend an existing product consistently.

Visual design can actually be a distraction when it comes to making a system easy to use. Pixel perfect placement of a button might make a big difference to the look of a product, but it’s how the button fits with your conceptual model of that product that will dictate how easy it is to use. (The Psychology of Everyday Things has a wonderful description of a set of doors that look great, but are difficult to use. You wouldn’t think it would be so hard to get doors right!) User modeling can help by focusing the design on the needs of users, rather than letting the design be dictated by the underlaying technology.

I’ve been having a go at creating a few simple user models since starting my new job and I’m starting to get the hang of it. Luckily help is at hand in the form of a user modeling series on developerWorks:

Is this the beginning of the end for products that are hard to use?

The perfect door

The Psychology of Everyday Things had a great description of being trapped by poorly designed doors (pretty sure that’s where I read it anyway). While getting trapped by doors is probably fairly unusual*, most doors are less than helpful:

  • Doors that open in one direction with a push plate on one side and a pull handle on the other – it’s hard to pull the door open when carrying something and, no matter how many signs there are, I will occasionally try and push from the wrong side! Doh!
  • Doors that open in both directions with push plates on both sides – better, but difficult to open the door to let someone through (yes it does happen. In fact I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who opened doors for others in New York last year).
  • Automatic doors – difficult to open without a soul, yet they will open for anyone walking past outside to let an icy blast of wind through.
  • Revolving doors – fun, but not exactly practical!

So, here is the perfect solution (can we have more like this please):

  • Doors that open in both directions with pull handles on both sides – you can’t go wrong! Obvious which side of the door opens and you can push through from either side, or pull, with no chance of looking like you just escaped from the school for the gifted! Easy to hold open from either direction, or get through while carrying things.

Okay, so nothing is perfect, but I think that’s the best option until someone invents a replacement for the door!

* except for my house, where someone did once get trapped in my porch for an hour! Sorry Ian!!

Update: I’m pleased to discover that I’m not the only one seeking a better door. Nick has two fine examples of door disasters on his enjoyably ranty Usability Hell blog. (13 May 2010)