UI&us is about User Interface Design, User Experience design and the cognitive psychology behind design in general. It's written by Keith Lang, co-founder of Skitch; now a part of Evernote.  His views and opinions are his own and do not represent in any way the views or opinions of any company. 

External Articles


Insight: Color Perception

As part of an ongoing series, I'm highlighting a series of insights I discovered in Information Visualization, Second Edition: Perception for Design

To paraphrase page 98–99: 10% of men are color blind, 1% of women. It might be the need to find colored berries amongst the green leaves that meant color was more important, evolutionarily, to women.  
  • Chickens have 12 color receptors as opposed to humans' three
  • Pure yellow is the one pure color all humans consistently agree on
  • Peripheral vision is color blind. (Page 361)
  • There are actually two types of red-green color receptors. And perhaps this is why we can't agree on turquoise being, in essence green, or blue

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Screen Patterns — Gold

Finally someone has done it. From the as-yet unreleased book Designing Web Interfaces comes an archetypal set of 12 Screen Patterns. These 'blueprints' for application layout include 100 screenshots of real software which fits each layout type. There is even a link to a PDF download. It's FREE. :-) Gold. (via the consistenly-good Functioning Form)

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GUIrl Power

From the excellent Sensory Metrics comes an article on the financial merits of being a User Experience designer.

The Information Architecture Institute recently released the results of its annual salary survey. Despite a global economic pandemic, UX salaries rose about 10% over 2007 (mean - $96,800 USD). It’s interesting that UX women earned a mean salary of $97,500, while UX men trailed at $96,200.
User Experince Design must be one of the few professions where women earn more than men on average. 

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Real Reasons Why PC Folks Don't Buy Macs

  UPDATE: Goodness knows, the last thing the interwebatron needs is another Mac vs PC crusade. The list I present below is stated from my own professional perspective and was a response to a computing culture which polarizes issues, rather than seeing a mix or another set of possibilities. Of course I'd love to hear any considered anecdotes or thoughts either way.  I'll also happily save you some time spent writing a 'you're anti-mac!' statement by letting you know I'm one of the guys behind the Mac applications Comic Life and Skitch.   Sensory Metrics is a great blog. Mitch lists some reasons why 'PC people' don't switch to a Mac. The reason for the article is Belkin's Switch-to-Mac hardware/software product, which I've never used, but suspect is a good honest attempt to make the 'switch' easier. It was the slightly snide list which struck a chord. Mitch has inspired me to make my own list.

Real Reasons Why PC Folks Don't Buy Macs

  1. They just learnt how to use Windows, and don't want to spend a whole bunch more time learning something else
  2. Cost. You can buy a PC for dirt cheap, even if it is sub-par
  3. They can't get community support from the majority of computer users around them with a Mac
  4. Some of the experience is better on a PC:
    • Getting to the Desktop is easier
    • Managing Windows is easier
      • Toggle window visibility with the Taskbar
      • Every Document has a window
      • You can Command+Tab through ALL windows easily
      • The minimize buttons work as predicted
  5. There are usually more USB ports on the laptops
  6. Replacement parts like power adaptors are cheaper
  7. Microsoft Office is usually bundled
  8. Games work out of the box, no fiddling around
  9. You can find more software choice at your local store (quality not withstanding)
  10. You don't want to be associated with snide fanboys and elitists
  One more thing… 11. You can find the on/off switch on your desktop machine and don't give up in vain (true story)   Oh, I forgot the Apple Mouse and the loss of contextual menus. The average PC user seems pretty comfy with right-clicking for contextual menus. On the Mac, you either use a "weird" modifier key, set up your trackpad for two-finger click (I see lots of accidental triggerings), or set your Apple mouse to allow for the right click. The right click on the Apple Mighty Mouse causes lots of accidental right-clicks, from my experience. I've no experience with the new trackpads which offer an 'invisible' right click area. Can you think of any other common reasons I've missed?

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Some Good Reading

  A quick note to let you know I've put together a list of some great reading. If you're a UI designer, an interaction/experience designer, or just interested in the interesting edges around the nitty-gritty that is UI design, then you may enjoy some of these. I'll keep adding to the list, with more technical books to come. Get yourself some good reading  I've also made a in-progress page for videos which have broadened my perspective on computing and design. I'm sure you'll enjoy them too! As always, I'd love to hear your comments and recommendations.

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An Unusual and True Story

Sally swore. Loudly. The cat, which had been sleeping in the corner, hastily scampered out of the the kitchen. Last time this ended badly.  Sally wanted to bake a cake to take into work to share with for her friend's birthday. But apparently, the office had done some crazy deal with the 'Oft Wares' company which required that you could only bring in food to share that was made with Oft Wares equipment. Sally sighed, and resigned herself to getting an Oft Wares branded mixer. She headed over to the store, plonked down her credit card and asked for their cake mixer. They had quite an unusual design. The usual beaters, in a bowl designed to slowly rotate. But over the top of it all was a lid that closed, and prevented you seeing inside the bowl while mixing. "It's to prevent accidental splashes" said the sales guy. "Seems odd, I'll have no idea what's happening inside the bowl." bemoaned Sally. "Ok, I'll take it." Image credit: wikipedia The smartly-dressed sales person smiled and asked what voltage she had. "Same as everyone else?" replied Sally. "Yes, but what *exact* voltage do you have? Our mixers require 110.2 volts to run". Sally knew how this went. She'd done it once before. Didn't make it any easier though. She called her husband, who was strangely interested in the electricity grid, and he confirmed, yes they had 110.2 volts. Sally paid and took the box home. So good so far… Once in the kitchen, Sally opened the shiny looking box. A note sat on the top. It said she needed to get an installer to install her new mixer. "Arg!" She never liked those guys, they always seem to be going into rooms and she suspected they looked through her personal stuff. But apparently it was the only way. So the installer arrived and starting doing whatever those guys do. Sally sat on the lounge and tried to get some reading done. But that guy! Every minute he came over and asked her some incredibly complex question which she really didn't understand. She just went with what he suggested, and she wished that he would just make the decisions and get the job done without continually bothering her! The installer proudly announced that he was done, and she heard his van drive off. Sally went to the kitchen but couldn't find the mixer. Then she looked in the living room, the hallway and finally found it in the garage. "What?!" AND he left the boxes behind. What a mess! Sally moved the cake mixer into the kitchen and switched it on. No sound. It didn't work! And the installer had already left. Sally called up Oft Wares again. They asked her if she had any unusual things installed recently. She said her husband had installed some garden lighting last week.  "Ah, that'll be it. You need to switch that off. Theres a problem with our mixer and garden lighting".  Sally switched off the garden lighting, and tried the mixer. It came to life, and then requested she type in a 14 letter code printed on the back of the box. Aftter that, the lid on the mixer magically opened. Great! Now she can start work on her cake. There was a knock at the door. "I wonder who that is?". Sally peered through the blinds. It was the installer again. "I wonder why he's back?" She opened the door. The installer perkily asked her if she'd like to upgrade her mixer. She happily waved "No thanks! I just got it!". A bit perplexed she headed back to the kitchen and got to work. Collecting all the ingredients and measuring. It was quite a complex recipe she was trying, and spent some time combining all the ingredients and mixing. Finally the cake mixture was looking good. It just needed one more final mix. She put the lid on, and then set the speed to '7' and pressed start. BANG!  Something had obviously gone wrong. Sally called Oft Wares again. "Ahh yeah, that's a known problem with the mixer. If you put the lid on, and then set to level 7, it'll break.". The voice on the phone continued politely, if not a little insanely, "You need to set the level first, then close the lid. Or use a mixing speed level other than 7." Sally listened carefull to this obscure situation. "Either way, need to call the installer again and upgrade your mixer to get it working again". While on the phone, Sally reached over to the mixer, and opened the lid. Her cake mixture had dissapeared! All those hours of work! Gone! "Ah yeah luv, you need to press the 'keep mixture' button every once in a while to make sure that doesn't happen". Sally raised her eyebrow and gently hung up. Sally called the installer back, and after arriving he took a look. "How long will it take?" He said "I estimate about 10 minutes". Sally got back to  work measuring ingredients again. When the installer was done, he left. Sally got to mixing and everything went well. Her mixture turned out nicely, although continously pressing the "keep mixture" button was annoying. She treated the delicate machine very timidly, not wanting it to break again. Some of the controls were very fiddly, and she wondered if the people at Oft Wares did much baking themselves.  The cake did turn out well though, and mostly everyone at work enjoyed it, except for those who she wasn't allowed  share it with because they didn't own any Oft Wares products. The next week her husband agreed to let the installer from the electric grid upgrade their power to 110.3 volts and, as a result,  Sally's cake mixer stopped working. She tried to take it back, but they didn't accept it. Apparently just by opening the box, she had agreed that she couldn't return it even if it didn't do what they claimed it would.  Sally got out of baking and found a new more sensible hobby in astrophysics.   Surely this story is not true?

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Facetted Browsing with 'Seek'

Seek 1.0 extension to Mozilla Thunderbird from David Huynh on Vimeo. This video is a good example of the power of facetted search. It shows the  email client Thunderbird plugin, Simile Seek. Put simply, facets let you find what you're looking for by continually adding, and refining what your know about a file, bookmark, email until you find it.     

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Your Brain Uses 10 Watts

TEDster Kwabena Boahen Explains how the Blue Gene supercomputer is approaching the processing power of the human brain. It's a different type of computation of course. Of interest, according to Kwabena, Blue Gene takes the power of 1,200 households. Your brain uses 10 watts. An as a result, your brain uses about the same amount of power as laptop computer but has the power of a supercomputer.

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The Speed of 'False Memory'

A great article in Scientific American on how fast we remember things differently to reality.

"This study, published in the November 2008 issue of the journal Psychological Science, asked how quickly this boundary extension happens. The researchers showed subjects a picture, erased it for a very short period of time by overlaying a new image, and then showed a new picture that was either the same as the first image or a slightly zoomed-out view of the same place. They found that when people saw the exact same picture again, they thought the second picture was more zoomed-in than the first one they had seen. When they saw a slightly zoomed-out version of the picture they had seen before, however, they thought this picture matched the first one. This experience is the classic boundary extension effect. So what was the shocking part? The gap between the first and second picture was less than 1/20th of a second. In less than the blink of an eye, people remembered a systematically modified version of pictures they had seen. This modification is, by far, the fastest 'false memory' ever found."
My own visual explanation:

  Amazing eh? We misremember certain things basically as soon as we see them. What are some personal anecdotes or research you've seen that shows how people misremember or systematically forget stuff?   UPDATE: The always-knowledgeable Aza Raskin pointed me towards the work of Elizabeth Loftus who has a series of articles on the malleability of memory. Thanks Aza.

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Seeing the Orchard for the Trees

Image credit: wikipedia This blog doesn't usually cover general tech 'news'. And the story of Steve Jobs' poor health requiring him to take 6 months off has been all doom and gloom. But I see a silver lining… Let me backtrack a bit. I recently spoke with Jared and Brian of User Interface Engineering and Robert of Miskeeto for their upcoming 'Userability' podcast. I asked "What are the things we take for granted that the 'average computer user' still has difficulty with?"

  • People misunderstanding, misremembering, or panicking when dialogue boxes appear
  • Not understanding what an email address is, what it isn't (for example it's not just a username)
  • Understanding URLs and working with them
  • Knowing what, and how to drag elements around the screen
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. And I think this is the problem all of us face — we have logged 10,000's of hours using this weird device called a computer, and naturally stop questioning the difficult and arbitrary things about computing. What we forget is how many people  struggle with technology. It's only natural that we can't see the UI forest for the trees we live amongst. For the first time in years, Steve might have the opportunity to notice those things which he, and the people he's worked with day-in-day-out, have lost awareness of. Away from the trees, he'll see the forest. On the Mac, I notice On/off switches on the back of computers being overlooked and 'buttonless' mice resulting in continual accidental right-clicks. But in a broader sense, here is my list of average computer-user ongoing battles:
  • Managing windows of many applications
  • Moving files + contents between applications
  • Saving and sharing files with others
  • Working with text formatting, not knowing how to remove formatting from pasted text
  • Arranging windows on the screen
  • Emailing huge, or non-server-friendly named files
  • Accidently erasing, or losing work
  • Managing, and having secure passwords
  • Managing downloads, still
  • Modifier Keys (Shift, Command) and keyboard shortcuts
  • Viruses and password security
  • The clipboard
  • System privileges
  • Having a 'sense' of the reason for system slow-downs
What 'computer stuff' have you seen people struggle with? How do they cope? What in computing do you think needs a step back, a fresh approach?     

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