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Little UI details: Twitter iPhone app’s clever solution to Reply / Reply All

The Twitter iPhone app is getting a world of criticism right now, and I have to say I agree with most of it (for an excellent overview and analysis of one of the main issues, see Why the Quick Bar is still so offensive). But let’s also give credit where credit is due. As Little Big Details has shown us – sometimes small UI touches can take a user experience from “meh” to “awesome” pretty quickly. And I think the Twitter iPhone app’s implementation of replying to a tweet with multiple users in it does just that.

If you respond to a tweet with two or more usernames in it, you technically need two options: Reply (to reply just to the person who wrote the tweet) or Reply All (to mention everyone that’s mentioned in the tweet). So, two buttons needed, right? Not in the Twitter app. There is just one icon to reply to such a tweet, and the screen you get then looks like this:

The screen automatically selects all users that appear directly after the user who wrote the original tweet. So in essence the reply button gives you three options:
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Improving usability with the visual design principle of Proximity

One of the most often violated principles of visual design is, ironically, also its simplest — the principle of proximity:

Put things that are related close together, and space things that need to be seen as separate

One of the more extreme and frustrating examples of this can be found on the online banking site for ABSA (a South African bank):

The problem here is that if I select a beneficiary from the list I have to click the “Next” button that is at the bottom of the screen — far removed from the action I took in the dropdown. Instead, the “Add new” button, used to create a brand new beneficiary, is in close proximity to the dropdown, and therefore gives the sense that the dropdown and the “Add new” buttons are grouped together. The solution to this problem is so incredibly simple: just switch the buttons around.

Another example I came across recently lives in Outlook for Mac 2011. Let me first say that as much as I’m not a fan of Microsoft, Outlook for Mac is still so much better than any version of Entourage, so for that I am eternally grateful. But the implementation of email search really needs some work.

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Proving the value of user experience design to organizations and clients

This is a question that doesn’t seem to go away: “How do I convince my company that good design is worth investing in?” It’s frustrating to work in an industry where you have to spend so much time showing the value of what you do.

At first I placed all the blame on (big) companies who are too cheap to pay for good design because they don’t think it’s necessary. But then I started to wonder… maybe some of it is our own fault? Maybe we just haven’t yet proven, within our industry and the companies we work at, that good design will result in positive ROI?

If I remember one thing from Marketing 101, it’s this obvious (but often forgotten) truth: Businesses exist to make money. Companies work so hard to make us happy for one reason only: so that we will buy more of their stuff. This seems obvious, but it’s important to remember. Because when you talk to the management teams of your organization/clients, telling them how beautiful their site will be once you’re done with it is just not going to cut it.

To prove the value of user experience design, you have to prove that by investing in it, the business will make more money. It’s as simple as that. Well, the concept is simple. The execution is… complicated. In this post I’d like to propose some ways to help us prove the value of design, so that we can spend more of our time building great experiences and less time telling people why they should build great experiences.
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The KFM Website Redesign Project, or What’s Wrong With Our Industry

I just found out about the redesign “project” (not sure what to call it) that South African radio station KFM is kicking off (thanks for the heads-up @1rene, @kerry_anne, @allankent, @wendyrobb, and many others). Here is the ad for it:

I’ll stay away from the cheap shots you could take on the ad itself, because granted, they’re admitting they need a designer. Instead, I’d like to focus on two major problems with the idea itself, and what that means for the web design industry.
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Best practices for user onboarding on mobile touchscreen applications

As the UX field grows and more companies start taking user-centered design seriously, we need to start thinking about how we’re going to rescue all those stray sheep of the UX world — those areas that are getting left behind because we’re (understandably) focusing on the obvious, most important things. Two of these “stray sheep” issues come to mind immediately.

One is bad error messages, which is the subject of a whole other rant, so I won’t go into that now (I’ve started a Flickr group to collect examples – come join and contribute!). The second is user onboarding, which Whitney Hess defines as follows:

Onboarding is the process by which you can help users overcome the cold-start problem””a blank profile, an unfamiliar interface, a general feeling of “what the heck do I do next?”

And that’s what I’d like to address in this post.
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Design is about meeting business goals, not making you feel good

In this post I make the argument that companies should hire designers that have a strong foundation in psychology and design theory. I further make the case that when Product Managers and other UX practitioners give feedback on designs, they should move away from their personal visual preferences and instead focus on feedback that relates to the user and business goals they are trying to meet.

I recently had a discussion with an Interaction Designer friend of mine about the perils of Design by Committee.  His take on it was, in essence, as follows (paraphrased a little bit):

The problem is that everyone thinks they’re a designer. Not everyone can code, so they don’t go to developers telling them their markup needs to be more semantic or more valid. But everyone has a gut feel about design – they like certain colors or certain styles, and some people just really hate yellow. So since everyone has an emotional response to a design, and “it’s just like art,” they think they know enough about design to turn those personal preferences into feedback.

It is a real shame that we have come to this point where design just means “making things pretty” for some. Even among people who do understand it’s about more than that, there is sometimes this misconception that there is so much personal taste involved that “your guess is as good as mine.” And to add insult to injury, they way that feedback is given to the designer is often more destructive than helpful. Look, I’m not against design feedback at all – it’s an essential part of the process. But if you’re going to give feedback, do it right. More on that a little later.

The truth is that design is science. Yes, of course it’s a creative discipline, and every designer has a style they like, and strong ideas on aesthetics.  But it is important to understand that aesthetics is the last mile of design. Before that (if you do it right) comes hours and hours of analysis and thinking, resulting in solutions that are built on very real psychological principles, easily proven using the user experience validation stack.

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Inspiration for designers stuck in the ‘sheer undiluted slog’

I recently read two book excerpts, both about art and the creative process, that I think are extremely relevant to web design, so I wanted to share it here. The first is from the book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, and it tells the story of a ceramics teacher on his first day of instruction:

A ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of the work they produced. All those on the right would be graded solely on their works’ quality.

His procedure was simple: On the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the quantity group; 50 pound of pots rated an A, 40 pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on quality, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an A. At grading time, the works with the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.

It seems that while the quantity group was busily churning out piles of work — and learning from their mistakes — the quality group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of clay.

The second is from Absolute Truths, where a character in Susan Howatch’s novel talks about the struggles she encounters as a sculpter:
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Plaxo registration and the benefits of good microcopy

Remember Plaxo? I do too, but up to now I remembered them like I remember MySpace: “That site that used to be popular for something-or-other.” But recently a bunch of people I used to work with moved to Plaxo, and they’re colleagues I respect, so I thought I’d check it out again. You know, one day. But to his credit, Preston‘s incessant tweeting about how awesome Plaxo is finally got me off my procrastinating butt to sign up for the thing.

And I am impressed.

I only signed up this morning so this isn’t really a review of the service, but I did want to make a couple of points about the sign-up process and some very effective use of microcopy. UX designer Joshua Porter has written extensively about the value of good microcopy, and so have the folks at Polon. To quote from Joshua’s post:

Microcopy is small yet powerful copy. It’s fast, light, and deadly. It’s a short sentence, a phrase, a few words. A single word. It’s the small copy that has the biggest impact. Don’t judge it on its size”¦judge it on its effectiveness.

Below is the first screen in the Plaxo registration flow. I’ve circled the microcopy on the form:
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