Debating the basics

13 Sep

Usability heuristics are each hailed as irrefutably true. They function our shared vocabulary for expressing why an interface is sweet or bad, and as an efficient tool for teaching people about interactive design. In isolation, each heuristic presents an obvious path towards creating an optimal design. Showing feedback is healthier than not showing feedback, providing access to assist is best than not providing access to help, and preventing an error is best than not preventing an error.

On the surface, usability heuristics provide an easy checklist for making any interface perfect. But what’s fascinating about them is the level to which all the heuristics at the moment are in direct opposition to every other, the level to which they’re geographic and temporal, and the level to which they expose the designer’s underlying affairs of state (no less than within the domain of items digital). Usability heuristics present a zero-sum game with inherent tradeoffs, and it’s simply impossible to succeed in the entire heuristics simultaneously.

The debates between specific usability heuristics will come to shape your career as a designer. While every interface has a unique purpose and context, I FEEL the underlying debates ultimately remain the similar. And identical to all great human debates, these are shaped by geography, time, and politics.

Geography: Simplicity Versus Complexity

Perhaps essentially the most immediately obvious contention in Nielsen’s usability heuristics is that simplicity carries different connotations in numerous geographic regions. In Western cultures, simplicity has an excessively positive connotation: an easy object is viewed as being elegant and sleek. However, in Eastern cultures this emotional affiliation is reversed: complexity has a favorable connotation that ends up in thoughts of an object being powerful and functional.

Simple vs. complex remote controls

This effect doesn’t just apply to industrial design, but to software in addition. Firefox’s localization in China doesn’t just translate the language of the interface, but additionally the interactive design. Unlike Western localizations of Firefox, the Chinese localization features a plethora of extra functionality. The interface incorporates a window with constantly updating contextual information in response to the tips you’ve selected. It’s designed for browsing the internet while simultaneously streaming television and music within the background. It has a button for quickly launching a calculator. While a Western user might see these extra features as unnecessary and cluttered, users in China appreciate them.

The Chinese localization of Firefox

Time: Recognition Versus Recall

One of the heuristics that drives increased complexity in graphical interfaces (which isn’t always bad) asserts that recognition is healthier than recall (which isn’t always true).

While recognition (seeing something) is often considered superior to recall (remembering something), there is a caveat. If the user already remembers what he wants, showing him additional options may slow him down as he considers a number of the alternative options. Recognition wins on the subject of users eventually finding something, nevertheless it loses relating to creating the fastest and best interface.

Google’s homepage is the epitome of both simplicity and efficiency: a blank white page with a single field. While you focus the field, there’s just a flashing cursor. You’re alone along with your thoughts; there are not any distractions. In contrast, Bing provides a regular image with explorable regions containing factoids. While you click within the search field, it provides suggestions according to what persons are searching on now, including pop culture entertainment news like “Lady Gaga Howard Stern” and “Julianne Hough.” Which interface is best? It relies on how bored the user is. However it also is determined by how bored you need the user to be. Would you like the user to be curious or passive? If the user already knows what she desires to search for, most of these alternative targets will likely slow her down.

Google and Bing's search interfaces

Another consideration is efficiency. Users selecting their intention with a mouse are considerably slower than users entering their intention with a keyboard. That is as a result of physical constraints of the input devices, the cognitive load being put on users when presented with options they do not actually want, and the relative search spaces of graphical objects at the screen versus any sequence of characters. With regards to efficiency, recognition isn’t always better than recall. Consider the interfaces getting used by ticket agents in airports. Within the 1980s, they were fast, textual, and keyboard-based. Modern replacements are more often than not slow, graphical, and mouse-based. Watch your ticket agent’s eyes narrow slightly in frustration as he reaches for the mouse.

Time: Consistency Versus New

If recognition versus recall is a tradeoff in small amounts of time (seconds per interaction), then consistency is a trad…

Source: UX Magazine

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Posted by on September 13, 2011 in Magazine


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