On cats and usability….

Yesterday someone posted this picture in a chat:

I laughed and then I posted this reply:

That’s the whole problem with usability in a nutshell. What developers THINK is intuitive is not the same as what users perceive as intuitive. It’s not the developer that decides what is intuitive, it’s the user.

What followed was a good humored banter between me (playing users advocate) and a bunch of hardcore developers. With replies like:

“does that mean that we have to cater to the 10% of users that still doubleclick on everything? and confuse the internet with the internet explorer? :D”

“I think we’ll have to do a cat satisfaction survey”


“the satisfactions is measured in ppm (purrs per minute) ;)”

So all in good fun but usability really is a hot topic for me. Only last week I was pointed at a feature in Cisco Jabber by someone which was “obvious, right?!?”. When I asked what the action meant though, I was baffled to learn it had a totally different meaning and function from what, not just I, expected but also all others in the room.  It wasn’t obvious at all to us.

I started out doing usability in 2009 and it is a topic very close to my heart. Back then it was a particular example that immediately triggered me and which I described in a blog already back in 2010 (I will link it below). Curious to see if it’s just me being over-sensitive of these things or if others would pick up on that example too, I recreated a mockup of it and asked a couple of people  to take a look and tell me what was wrong with it….


Surprisingly, out of three people I asked only one saw it, but after about two minutes of me prodding, one really had no clue and one overlooked it. Explaining to me later: “you see it and you expect it there so you don’t really register it’s wrong…

No clue yet? Here is how I would expect it to be….

Most of the elements are just decoys as I didn’t want to make it too obvious right away. One person pointed out correctly that No/Yes is usually ordered the other way round (Yes/No) and I agree (I put it in as a kind of trick test) but that order also depends on the question being asked so is not necessarily wrong in this context (although there is a lot to say about correct formulating of questions & answers too!). The main thing here though for me, are the Previous/Next buttons in the bottom.

As Previous/Next imply a directional relation as in <- Back / Forward ->, our brains associate  a spatial order/location with the actions. Most of us don’t even read what’s on the buttons anymore and simply press the button that makes sense for us in terms of where we would expect the Previous/Next action to be.

So…. did you see it? I’m curious to hear!

The 2010 blogpost I did on this topic:….Usability

IBM Connections Activities – Implicit versus Explicit expectations

In IBM Connections one of the most used options is Activities. A great way to manage and organize information and to do’s around a common task. Especially when using in combination with the Kudos Boards Add-in from ISW which makes it one of the strongest and most used features of IBM Connections (yep a shameless plug, but seriously, it IS the best Add-in for IBM Connections and if your organization isn’t using it you should definitely take a look at it) .

However, Activities also has it’s challenges…

Working for a customer on creating some documentation I found the following.

In Community Activities you have the option to limit what community members can do and you can even assign specific rights to specific community members. Great! But…

Continue reading IBM Connections Activities – Implicit versus Explicit expectations


Wikipedia has a nice definition when it comes to ‘usability’ in relation to computer science:

“the elegance and clarity with which the interaction with a computer program or a web site is designed”

A very, very important part of designing applications and websites and at the same time also one of the most difficult things to achieve. People often think that coming up with the technical stuff, the way things work, is what makes designing so difficult. Partly it is, but I think the real hard work is in making things work in a way that is both logical and intuitive to the user as well as technically advanced. Face it, the best applications aren’t necessarily the ones that are technically the most advanced or best looking. No, the real winners are those that the user likes to use, and what a user likes to use is often something simple. Something he can understand.

So why is it so hard? Well because developers like to be advanced, they like to offer everything they’ve got and most importantly they think differently. A developer is used to solving puzzles all day long. “How am going to do that while x and y and z……..” or “Mmm….changing this influences v which in turn causes w“. They’ve got complicated Functional Designs to adhere too and existing code that needs to be incorporated and they are used to working in lots of different environments. In doing so they quickly learn not to think ‘ordinary’. In fact the best trade a good developer could have is to think ‘outside-the-box’!

The problem is that normal users are not trained like that. For them an application sometimes is nothing more than a brightly coloured screen with lots of information and buttons. Understanding what that information is there for and how clicking the buttons will cause the application to work, is often a big mystery to them. Especially users that are not used to working with computers.

Most users tend to think in very distinct patterns. They like actions and buttons they recognize from other applications or settings and expect them to do more or less the same. So clicking the “Exit” button should result in closing the application, stopping any actions going on and maybe saving anything still open. If an “Exit” button starts doing other things, like showing the user a popup congratulating him with his birthday, you would get really confused users and they would lose trust in your application pretty soon.

Sounds logical you think? Well you’d say so…..

About a year ago I was in session where a developer of a large International company presented a prototype of some new functionality in an application. While going through a Wizzard like set of screens I suddenly noticed something. At the bottom of the screen two buttons were located. “PREVIOUS” and “NEXT”. Nothing wrong there you think?

You don’t see it?
Let me explain with a second picture:

Do you see it now? 
Now this example is an obvious one but building a usable and intuitive application is really hard work. A great book on website usability is “Don’t make me think” by Steve Krug. Not only is it really informative it’s also really funny if you’re a developer yourself. You’ll start recognizing the pitfalls you’ve stepped in yourself (Yes, I’m absolutely talking about myself here). Check it out, it’s certainly worth it!

p.s. By looking up his site for this post I found out Steve Krug wrote a second one called “rocket surgery made easy” on how to do usability testing yourself. I ordered it immediatly!