The pocket knife of the internet

Originally, my interest in user interface design came from the poor design of websites. Back then, websites had poor designs (even poorer than nowadays) and were hard to navigate. Every website has its own method to deal with the problems of limited screen real estate and too much functionality. A nice example of a good way to do this is Google. pocketknifeThe products and possibilities they offer keep growing, but the complexity of their products has been stripped down to a minimum. A nice example of this is their main page, where there are two buttons and a menu bar. The design of their menu bar has been based on a swiss army knife, take out what you need, everything opens in a new tab, and whenever you are done using it, put it back again. I think this is a good example of a design of a big complex website.

Don’t think about…

“Don’t think about pink elephants” – George Lakoff

This is something you probably have seen before, it’s called the Ironic Process theory. Tell someone to not think about something, and they will think about it. It is the basis of a lot of wrong behavior, like the “do not enter” sign on many doors, or the traffic sign telling you’re not allowed to drive down a certain road. Though it is often seen in small children (try to make them to not go somewhere) it is common in adults alike. And from it results a credo: if you don’t want someone to do something, make it impossible to do that, putting up a sign has contradictory effect, if the sign is read at all.

On the other hand, this theory could be of some use, from a marketing perspective for example. Apple is using this method widely in their marketing campaign, do not tell anything about your products and almost every tech magazine is talking about them, forbid users to jailbreak their iPhone and a lot of customers are trying.

Let the museum come to you

I admit, museums aren’t the most popular day activity. So a post about museums is a challenge, but I like a challenge.

Today I ran into this museum website: . It’s both a museum you can visit (located in california) as it is a website about the history of the thing you are reading this from – whether it is a computer, laptop, a handheld tablet/phone or something different entirely. Apart from being a very good example of a poor website design (I got lost in five minutes, try to stay on longer), it has a few online exhibits ranging from the marketing side of the computer to the technical details of a silicon chip. It’s worth checking out to find out where the thing you are holding actually came from, and you’re done browsing Wikipedia.

What you inherit from your previous owner is…

I think that a student room or studio is one of the biggest hand-me downs in The Netherlands. The many times such a room has been handed down from previous owners is uncountable – and I don’t want to know to be honest. So whenever you change something in your room, you might want to consider the next owners: is this of any use to them? Maybe consider the building owner or maintainer, is this something you could sell to them after your use, like a brand new wooden floor? In my girlfriend’s studio, I found something of which the use seems quite useless, two power plugs against the ceiling on places where I’d guess a previous owner saw the use of putting a power plug over there, but we keep guessing at the point of it. Got any ideas? The only idea i can think of is a light, but where would you put the lightswitch?Jump to the ceiling and put it on (or off)?

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The 10 nastiest feedback mistakes

I think it’s a part of every soft skill course, giving feedback. When something goes wrong or happens, your pc or gadget gives you feedback about what happened, but my oh my, those programmers could do with a decent course in soft skills.

10: Feedback is misspelled
Usually, this is the source for some humor, but it is simply ugly when there are spelling mistakes in your feedback.

9: Feedback is warning you for something that is a 1 in a million case
Ever unplugged a USB drive without unmounting it first? And, what happened? What is that warning for?

8: Feedback gives you the illusion of choice
A feedback window telling you that the download completed successfully, with both an “ok” and “cancel” button. What’s the difference?

7: Feedback is abundant
“Program closed successfully” or “goodbye” messages when you’re closing a program. I really detest the “are you sure?” message when I try to power-off my phone, sometimes it’s still there the next morning.

6: Feedback is not there though it should
Logical result of someone being to scared of number 7, oh you expected an e-mail that your order was received? To bad.

5: Feedback is unclear
Ever saw a 0x34669-something error? There you go, you don’t have a clue what to do with that.

4: Feedback is simply wrong
Ever saw the message “program closed successfully” after a dozen error messages? Been there, and it’s nasty. Ever installed a program and got the message “installation successful”? That’s where you have to be extra carefull.

3:Feedback is not configurable
I don’t want to hear all your mistakes or get notified every time I get a message. I want to be able to turn these off.

2: Feedback is to prominent
Your entire PC hangs because some weird program thinks it needs your attention. Let me decide that. Web pages in IE tend to jump to the front when the page is loaded. Incredibly annoying.

1: Feedback is not imminent
When you click a button, the click should be shown immediately, not hang the program for a minute. Ever tried to click a button a gazillion times because nothing happened? This is the cause. This is the most time-consuming and frustrating activity you can have on your computer. If something went wrong, I want to know it, and I want to know right now.

…and what your stopwatch should look like

Following up on this post about the poor design and functionality of watches, this is how an actual stopwatch should look like.


It’s the runmeter app on my iPhone, I can select a route and an activity, the start button is present and easy to reach, it changes into a stop button when I’m running, everything I need is just right there. With this app, comes a lot of additional features that ordinary stopwatches don’t have, like an extensive history calendar and the actual route of my run. This is a nice view of how technical developments enable us to make gadgets not only more user-friendly, but also have more functionality at the same time. From being a general watch which you had to wind up yourself and correct every few minutes, we definitely got a long way in a relatively short period of time. The speed of this development suggest that we’re in the midst of an information and technology revolution, where the possibilities are only limited by our imagination and resourcefulness.

New office chair!

Today I entered the office and found myself a very beautiful surprise: the office managers had replaced the office chairs with ones that closely resemble the previous ones, apart from the location and use of almost every dial and lever to adjust the chairs. They even came with a black and red A5 manual, which has page sized pictures showing what each thing does, and at least seven languages explanations of each adjustment.

I only wonder whether “trying to figure out this new office image of the new office chairchair” is actually a reason to declare the office hours and whether the buyers of these chairs actually considered the time to learn each option in their costs analysis. One thing is certain, they weren’t chosen for comfort, I still am equally uncomfortable in these chairs as I was in the previous ones.

Are you the expert?

A wise trainer once told me:

“It takes 10.000 hours to become an expert, on what subject would you like to spend 10.000 hours to become an expert?”

This is giving me a great deal of thought. What do I want to become an expert of? There are a lot of things I know a lot about, and even many more I’d like to know more about, but ten thousand hours seem like a lot. Maybe being an expert is not something you can become in these technology driven times, because more and more expert fields are being integrated. In order to be a good designer, you must be an expert at handling certain computer programs, in order to be a good mathematician, you need to be able to write at least some programs to confirm your theories. In order to be an expert in one field, you almost always need to be an expert in another field as well. Spending 10.000 hours on how to jailbreak or even figure every setting of your mobile phone seems a bit over the top – and in my opinion, a waste of time.

Would you like a cup of coffee?

You can get it for yourself, I think that my beautifully designed coffee machine requires no explanation. The four buttons to operate it are self explanatory, a single display, some levers to replace the coffee pad and a nice design. Philips’ Senseo coffee pad machine is a well thought of concept, I only had to look in the manual once (how to calc-clean my machine, which is maintanance done once every six months). I love coffee and unfortunately the coffee tastes awfull. Where this coffee machine was great back when I was a poor student, it simply had to be replaced by something better. Goodbye


The lightswitch

Norman wrote about the problems that arise by putting the three-dimensional world we live in onto the two-dimensional world of a wall, complicating something as simple as turning the lights on or off. The current office building I work has found a way to make it into a study. Every light (or group of lights) has a light switch like in the picture.20130204-091520.jpg

Apart from being aesthetically unpleasing, the light switch comes with an issue. One of those two buttons turns the light on, the other one turns the light off. Wich one it is, is different every time, so every time I enter an office room I have to figure out which button to press. Together with the fact that it takes several seconds after pressing the buttons until the lights respond, makes me push each button several times until the lights are on and stay on.

When I pointed this out to a co-worker, he told me there is a mnemonic for it, the one you pass first when entering is the one to turn the lights on, the one you pass first when exiting is the one to turn the lights off. I think that requiring mnemonics like this for something as simple as the lights is a very bad idea. The office maintenance team surely had a good reason to put the lights like this, but I doubt that the benefits surpass the costs.