Thursday, August 25, 2005

Annoying clicks

I have never been able to verify its authenticity, but my favorite Dell tech support interaction goes something like this (circa 1990):

    Customer: I just set up my new PC, but the foot pedal is not working.
    Tech support: The foot pedal?
    Customer: Yeah, I keep stepping on it, but the computer won't turn on.
    Tech support: Sir, the on/off switch is the orange button located in the middle of the front of the computer case. Try that.
    Customer: Oh, okay (presses button). Yes, that worked. My computer is finally on, but now what do I do with the foot pedal.
    (After a few minutes, the tech support rep figured out that the customer had mistaken the mouse -- then a new PC accessory with the first pre-installed shipments of Windows-386 -- for a foot pedal.)

I recount this mix-up because most of my favorite software operates just as well with my mouse out of reach on the floor. Every required click is often a waste of time. It is so much easier for an experienced user to press a key or two (or even three or four) then to transition a hand from the keyboard to the mouse, line-up the pointer, and click away.

Still, almost 15 years after Windows usurped DOS as the primary PC OS, many software developers don't get it.

I love My Yahoo, I have it carefully customized, and (for the foreseeable future) it is my homepage. Yet I manually navigate to Google every time I want to do a web search (ALT-D, google, CTRL-enter is faster/easier than clicking in the My Yahoo search box). It baffles me that the Yahoo web developers haven't designed the My Yahoo page to load with the search box in focus. I wonder how many people with mouse allergies like mine use similar workarounds to avoid the extra clicks.

My Yahoo is just one example. What I'd really like to see is an evolution of web UI standards to facilitate better keyboard navigation. It is possible to tab through all the links on a page and navigate to the one in focus by pressing enter. But many pages have enough links to make tabbing impractical. I can think of a few potential solutions, but I'm hoping the clever Firefox UI designers (or plug-in authors) will come up with something great.

These little things really do matter. For example, I think Firefox's real "advantages" over IE are just an amalgamation of subtle usability improvements. Similarly, Skype's dominance of PC VoIP is driven by its slick software that gets every little feature just right. Getting the little things right often leads to fantastic user adoption.

But based on the rarity of truly elegant software UIs, sweating the small stuff is no easy task. I sure wish more developers did it well.

      12 comments:

      Anonymous said...

      There are web standards defined for better accessibility (aka navigation via keyboard instead of mouse). Check http://www.alistapart.com/articles/accesskeys/.

      The support on the various browsers is different. See http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/forms/accesskey.html for more info.

      There is also greasemonkey script that actually shows the access keys at the bottom on FireFox. http://diveintomark.org/projects/greasemonkey/accessibility/accessbar.user.js

      Jeremy said...

      Thanks. Seems that my blog is as effective as Google Answers (and cheaper, to boot)!

      David Cowan said...

      I find it's helpful to add a Google link to My Yahoo page.

      Anonymous said...

      On an unrelated note, loading up your blog in IE always gives a javascript error possible related to

      Error: drawTREmbed is not defined
      Source File: http://technorati.com/embed/c6ecmh2jd5.js
      Line: 2

      Thought you may like to know....

      Jeremy said...

      Regarding the html error:
      Error: drawTREmbed is not defined
      Source File: http://technorati.com/embed/c6ecmh2jd5.js
      Line: 2

      How are you accessing the blog? I do not get any such errors when I visit nothingventurednothinggained.bloigspot.com using IE6 on any of 3 different machines.

      Thanks

      Anonymous said...

      You probably have

      Anonymous said...

      You probably have script debugging turned off in the IE Options>> Advanced. Somehow I have it switched on my browser.

      If you go firefox and go to the blog and type javascript: on the location bar it will display you this error.

      David Cowan said...

      Anonymous: maybe instead of Jeremy turning on Javascript debugging, you ought to turn yours off.

      Jeremy said...

      Per anonymous' suggestion, I turned on javascript debugging in IE6. Most of web sites I have since browsed (including Yahoo) have javascript errors. I will try to fix the error on my blog, but until I do, at least I'm in good company.

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      Anonymous said...

      Jeremy,

      the answer to your "no-mouse" prayer is www.activewords.com.

      Bill