Difficulties while using User Interfaces

I was at home with my parents and it was that time when they had pending questions about how-do-I on their smart phones. (They both have a Moto e2 phone with Android Lollipop on it.)

I really like these interactions because it gives me aha moments about users responding to UIs differently than how we intend to design them. I’ll list down few of their questions:

  1. “How do I compose an email? I had seen the compose icon on this page but I do not see it now.” Now, my Mom had earlier composed emails on her phone and was searching for the “floating button” — “compose icon” again. The catch was that she was searching for the icon on the Search Results Page (SRP) rather on the Inbox Page. In the current Gmail UI, the button hides on the SRP, perhaps assuming that the user will only open any of the prior emails and reply to one of those email threads. Here, my Mom’s use case was to search emails from a particular email id and then compose a new one to that email id.
  2. “If I dismiss all notifications, how do I visit these tweets?” Now, I was trying to over-inform my Mom that she could possibly dismiss all her notifications from the Notification center and remove the clutter that’s there (although it was not annoying her). However, her concern was genuine. She receives notifications for tweets posted by a particular handle that she likes to read. She knows to visit these tweets only from the Notification center and has not established the connection where she could open Twitter App then type in the handle whose tweets she is interested in and scan to see all of them.
  3. “How do I upload a profile picture on my WhatsApp profile?” While this one remained unresolved as we could not come up with a photo that my Father would have liked to be his profile picture. However, if we had accomplished this goal involving 9-clicks, opening the WhatsApp Settings and the Gallery on the phone, he would have envied those WhatsApp users who rely on muscle memory and change their profile picture every so often!
  4. “I keep receiving a notification about low storage space. What should I do?” Now, I did back up the photos onto Google Photos App and freed up the internal storage space. However, there are times when they look for photos from their WhatsApp chats and are unable to find them as they’re no more in the local Gallery.

My parents have graduated from Nokia 3310 and similar feature phones and are accustomed to the idea:

  1. A single hard button (e.g. Menu) can have multiple functions depending on the context (current screen).
  2. A screen can have longer pages and needs to be scrolled to view more than what the screen is currently showing

However, extending the idea to:

  1. Navigate more than one application (Google Photos, Settings) to accomplish a goal (e.g. Freeing space on phone) is complex.
  2. Fetch for functions while they appear/disappear on the screen based on change of context (e.g. certain actions hide or fade away while the user hasn’t interacted for a couple of seconds) could be boggling.