Monday, December 27, 2004

Not a Drop to Drink, Pt. 1

No rest for the weary or the professional nitpicker. My xmas break afforded me a number of examples of either bad UI or dodgy instructional procedures for toys.

Perhaps my favorite occurred at a neighbor’s party, when I attempted to get a glass of water. Someone directed me to the refrigerator, one of those newer models that provides filtered drinking water to thirsty homeowners. There was indeed an obvious port in the door, topped by what amounted to a toolbar of icons for different services. After a brief attempt at deciphering them, I was directed to the one on the left which was supposed to symbolize water.

I placed my cup under the icon…nothing. I pushed on the cup. Nothing. I pushed the icon, thinking it might be a button even though it didn’t really look pushable. Nothing. Someone had to walk me through what should have been a completely intuitive and easy process. The nozzle for the water was not actually under the icon, although it was indeed to the left of the services port.

I had the rare experience of feeling like an idiot and simultaneously a pretentious nerd when I turned, slightly red-faced, to the gaggle of amused onlookers and said, “Bad interface.”

A number of lessons here: Make sure your icons are understandable at a glance; if you want people to push a button, make it look pushable, and if not, don’t (i.e. is it a button or just an icon?); and make sure your controls are placed as close to the object they affect (like my cup) as possible.

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