Bad UX Roundup #4 — Fine details and crude products

I’ve found five little blunders that make a big difference. Would you have noticed?

Have you been biting your nails with anticipation over my next episode of Bad UX Roundup? I hope not, because what does that say about you? At least you’re here. So, let’s get to it.

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing you he doesn’t live in the details. User experience is the study of both grand schemes and piddling minutia. Your typical bargain basement UX designer — you know, the one with the oiled lumberjack beard who only avoids gluten in public — fantasizes about the grand schemes but doesn’t have a clue about those minutia. They’re, like, boring and stuff.

While the yupsters are squealing with excitement over how many layers of parallax they can add to the interface, the mundane details they scorn are conspiring to ruin the user’s day. Some of these seemingly minor UX blunders may only eat up a second or two of a user’s time, however we all spend so much time using technology that these seconds add up quickly. That doesn’t even account for the cognitive burden that constant minor annoyances, or the self-doubt that they engender. I have included five such examples today, however there are too many to count, and you will definitely run into dozens of them in a day.

Truly good UX design is not just about brilliant ideas, but about a craftsman-like pride in work, and a superhuman attention to detail. If you enjoy this episode, give recommends and leave comments, and I will write more like it in the future.

As usual, I have included important UX lessons to go with each blunder so that you may learn from someone else’s humiliation.

If you copy an e-mail address into Inbox with a typo, you can’t edit it.

Inbox has been boosted hard by Google since 2014, as a replacement for Gmail, but to date, it remains full of holes and omissions. Here’s one small, yet particularly galling, example. I tried copying an e-mail address into the receipient line, and because I accidentally included a hypen and a space, it marked the address as invalid. Fair enough, except that when I clicked the red pill to edit the address, it would not let me. It had fossilized the bad address permanently, forcing me to delete it, then re-copy it minus the hypen and space.

The only thing Inbox is currently fit to replace is your free time, as you waste precious seconds of your day picking up after Google.

Lesson to learn

  • Design anticipating the user’s mistakes.

Facebook won’t let you navigate between images in its content modal.

On Facebook, people can leave comments about image posts. These comments themselves can include images, and those image comments can be commented on, again with more images. For instance, take the example below. That is Maple the Pup, a border collie, golden retriever, sheltie mix, and minor Facebook celebrity. On pages with cute dogs, people usually post comments with their own dogs. Often those comments get replies where others post more dog pics.

When I click on one of Maple’s pictures on the desktop site, it opens up as a modal, and this is what I see.

Now, let’s say I were to click on that cute-looking dog in the comments. The modal would change to show the photo enlarged with any replies that might be left on it.

If I want to return to Maple’s pic, I can’t. There is no link to go back to the previous image. If I hit the back button, it simply closes the modal. Oftentimes, it is possible to click through several image comments down a rabbit hole of cuteness, but it is never possible to climb back up that rabbit hole. So if you want to look at those images again, you have to re-trace your steps through the comments, and as you know, Facebook comment navigation is also a joke.

This problem could be solved so easily by making the contant modal navigable. There is currently an X button that sits outside of the modal at the top-right, which closes it out. At the top left of the screen should be backward-forward buttons. Additionally, the browser’s native backward/forward controls should navigate through the content objects accessed in a modal instance.

Lesson to learn

  • Let the user navigate the content freely.

On the Medium stats page, there is no button to go back from your referrers. You have to use the back button.

Speaking of missing back buttons, here’s another.

If you’re a Medium writer, you’ll know that, on the Stats page, there is a way to see where your article views are coming from. You click the link “Referrers” (an extremely unpleasant to say word if you have a rhotic accent) on the story of your choice and a list appears. There’s just one problem: there’s no way to close that list out. You have to hit the back button.

This was not some oversight from a rushed launch. This omission has been in place for over a year. There’s no explanation for this other than half-assed product management.

Lessons to learn

  • Let the user navigate the content freely.
  • Never trap the user.

Adobe Ilustrator’s ratchet-ass stroke weight selector.

I am perpetually perplexed by Adobe’s perennial refusal to address this nugget of pure shod. When selecting stroke weight in Illustrator, there is a drop-down menu that includes preset stroke weights ranging from .25 point to 100 point. The user may also click up and down buttons to change the weight incrementally. The problem occurs when a user wants to switch incrementally to a size under 1 point.

If my stroke weight is 2 points and I click the down button once, it reduces it to 1 point. If I click again, it reduces it to zero, despite the menu of presets including .25, .5, and .75. Selecting a stroke weight of zero is an edge case. If someone wants no visible stroke, they will probably just delete it completely.

Clicking the up and down buttons of the stroke weight menu should toggle quarter-stroke increments just as the dropdown implies. This is a no-brainer, but Adobe are too busy adding masturbatory fluff features to address these day-to-day details that actually matter to users.

Lesson to learn

  • Design in accordance with the user’s mental model.

OSX Finder search defaults to searching your whole computer rather than the current folder.

As a general rule, most of my invective toward Apple is reserved for iOS and the toy-like products that run on it because that’s where the bulk of its most pin-headed design is found. After all, OSX largely works with tried-and-true patterns that were codified before the arrival of ironic mustaches to the tech world.

That said, OSX has a number of issues that vex me on a regular basis, and since I do all my serious work on Mac, they are all the more disruptive. One diabolical detail that has been on my shit list for some time is the window search field. Let’s say I want to search through a folder. I can start typing in the search bar in the upper right of the Finder window, or I can hit CMD-F. Unfortunately, the search defaults to searching the entire computer.

There are a number of problems with this design. The first is that we already have Spotlight for a quick global search of the computer, making it a redundant function while I lack a one-click local search. Second is the fact that CMD-F is a local search on basically every other program out there makes this disruption of the accepted pattern all the more jarring. What seems like a minuscule inconvnience is much more uncomfortable than it should be.

But the worst thing about this design is that there is no reason for it at all. It is as clear a sign as any that Apple thinks they can coast on their reputation alone. Just like the even more egregious iOS alarm gaffe — they refuse to copy a crucial and obvious feature from Android — they exhibit contempt for the user, knowing full well they’ll gladly pay the Apple Tax no matter how shoddy the product is.

It’s only a matter of time before people start to catch on.

Lesson to learn

  • Design in accordance with the user’s mental model.
  • Don’t waste a control on a function that already has its own control, while another function is missing one.

Did you find this helpful?

Be sure to recommend and comment! And don’t forget to send me more examples of bad UX design. I’ll be happy to give you a shoutout if I use your example.

Here are my other Bad UX Roundups:


Jason published this while listening to “For Those About to Fight for Metal” by Ensiferum.

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