Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The Embarrassment of Insufficient UI Text

I discovered the following user-interface at my local Jewish deli.  Each booth has a little Windows touch screen, from which you can perform various tasks while awaiting your meal, including viewing their menu and, for those with no inner resources, as John Berryman would say, playing video games.  

One of the games offered seemed just too intriguing (especially in the context of a family restaurant!) to resist: it was called “Dress the Waitress.”

To begin with, the screen did not respond very well to my taps and presses.  But more importantly, the UI text (or lack thereof) deserves our attention.

Upon my tapping the “Dress the Waitress” menu icon, a picture of a waitress appeared, shown wearing a standard black “waitress” outfit, and carrying a tray of cocktails in each hand.

Strangely, the title of the game now appeared as “Dress the Doll.” Anyway, large magenta buttons on the right side of the screen let me know I could change such attributes as her skin color, eyes, hair, blouse, skirt, stockings, and shoes.

I tapped “Blouse”: accordingly, a sort of dialog box opened on the left side of the screen, displaying a variety of tops.  Assuming since it was a touch screen that I should tap an item to select it, I tapped a modest blue top. 

Instantly the pigeon-toed waitress's was stripped down to her red underwear. 

Hmm. I tapped the blouse again, to no avail.  I double tapped.  I tapped some other blouses.  I tried dragging a blouse into the figure.  Nothing.

I tapped Cancel – at least THAT worked! – and then tried putting stockings, and then trousers on her ... again, neither tapping nor dragging achieved anything.  So I knew that it wasn’t just a glitch in the Blouses dialog box.

But, I thought, was I doing something wrong? Was the touch screen broken? Was the game broken? Was my finger insufficiently electrostatic?  I had tried tapping with several fingers, with both tips and pads... nothing restored her outfit. 

There were no instructions on the screen, no error messages or prompts. 

What seemed by all appearances to be a fairly clear interaction (assuming the user has used a touch screen before) not only produced an unexpected and undesired result, but refused to be further amended except by cancelling altogether.


Please forgive the dreadful photo, I had only my cellphone camera at hand. 

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