Muddling Through

Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug is a great introduction to thinking about problem-solving from a user experience perspective. It’s a quick read, with many “oh yeah, that makes sense” moments throughout.

One important point Krug makes is that users will muddle through a site to get the information they need. Once users find the desired information, they’ll likely repeat the same pattern to get back to it, instead of looking for an optimal route. I’m more likely to muddle through sites and applications that don’t meet the usability criteria Krug outlines in his book:

  • Useful: Does it do something people need done?
  • Learnable: Can people figure out how to use it?
  • Memorable: Do they have to relearn it each time they use it?
  • Effective: Does it get the job done?
  • Efficient: Does it do it with a reasonable amount of time and effort?
  • Desirable: Do people want it?
  • Delightful: Is using it enjoyable, or even fun?

To push myself further in understanding why users muddle through or not, I’m going to look at two applications I use daily, one I muddle through, the other I don’t.

App I muddle through: Workamajig

Our office utilizes Workamajig to handle a variety of tasks throughout all departments, from project management, traffic, billing, reporting, etc. As a designer, I know I’m only using a small percentage of what the application is made to do. However, because I only use a small portion of it’s capabilities, I muddle through to make it (kind of) work for me.

My main use for WMJ is to keep track of projects and meetings and log time for projects. I predominantly use the browser application, though I also use the mobile app to update meetings when I’m running behind. In this post I’ll only talk about the browser app.

My Workamajig configuration

I’d love to have my tasks sorted on a daily basis, showing what I need to work on for that day, as well as a priority ranking. Right now you can see my tasks don’t overlap, but I often am working on 2–5 projects at a time. It would be helpful to know if I should knock out a project spanning the full week early on, or work on it a little each day. As far as I can tell from my muddling, this is not possible.

I have a good grasp on the other widgets I use, though I’m not sure if there are other widgets I should be using. I login and visually scan through My Tasks for projects with timelines falling on today. I then assess which to work on first based on due dates. From there I look at my list of today’s meetings. If I have a lot of tasks for one day, I try to log time as I go. When I’m working on one project the entire day, I’ll usually log my time at the end of the day, including meetings and appointments. I occasionally check the company calendar if I need to talk with someone but can’t see them at their desk, or get them on chat. I’ll also look up a new project that’s been added to my tasks, to see if I can find more information before the scheduled kickoff.

It gets the job done, but I wish I had more flexibility in how to view and assess my tasks list.

Workamajig analysis:

  • Useful: Taking into consideration the bigger picture beyond my needs, I’d say yes, its useful. For my specific task tracking needs, not as much as I want it to be.
  • Learnable: Yes. The learning curve isn’t steep, but it’s also not intuitive.
  • Memorable: Yes, but out of frustration. I used Basecamp at a previous job, and I can’t help but compare the two. The simplicity, ease of use, and the ability to customize and collaborate effortlessly made Basecamp positively memorable. I’d love to see the same from Workamajig for project management needs.
  • Effective: No, not for my needs. Again it all comes down to the ability to have more control over viewing and sorting my tasks list. A calendar view for tasks would also be great! Holistically, it’s effective for a large group of users performing a variety of roles. I assume it works well for our traffic team. Perhaps some user research is in order….
  • Efficient: Yes. My office uses it for A LOT of things. It’s usually efficient to have one tool or platform to handle many different tasks.
  • Desirable: No, not for my needs.
  • Delightful: No. The browser app has responsive issues, such as when I make my screen smaller. The widgets don’t condense, so I have to scroll around with the scroll bar.
The refresh and settings icons appear on hover. Why not show them all the time?

Most of the icons are not intuitive, and I have to hover over them to figure out what they do. Some icons don’t appear until you hover over that particular widget, and will disappear randomly.

App I don’t muddle through: Mailbox

I initially switched over to Mailbox from Apple’s Mail app to try out the snooze feature. I like keeping my inbox cleared out, and with snooze, I can send emails away and return them whenever I think I’ll be better prepared to respond.

My snooze list!

Since I switched over, I’ve grown to love Mailbox. I recently tried out Inbox, but it was so different and too robust for my email needs, so I’m sticking with Mailbox. Mailbox integrates easily with Gmail (and multiple accounts), so I still use Gmail on my computer. I downloaded the desktop app for Mailbox, but it’s easier to deal with email in browser.

Delightful inbox zero. The image changes daily.

Mailbox analysis:

  • Useful: Absolutely! Email is a necessary part of life and I mostly use my phone to respond.
  • Learnable: The onboarding process for Mailbox is intuitive and simple. From there it just takes swiping around a few times to remember the patterns.
  • Memorable: Yes. It’s simple and beautiful.
  • Effective: Yes. It gets the (inbox zero) job done. It forces me to address emails, either unsubscribing, responding, or snoozing.
  • Efficient: YES! This app was made just for me. It doesn’t contain extraneous features, just the things I need and utilize on a day to day basis.
  • Desirable: Maybe no? Since I use it, I’m biased. I was sold right away after learning about the ability to snooze emails. Most of my coworkers and friends I’ve talked to about email apps aren’t as crazed about streamlining their process as I am.
  • Delightful: The app’s simplicity and ease of use make it delightful. Touches like the changing image inside the inbox (when you get down to zero) make it delightful to use.

I now know that there are overly complex applications that I muddle through every day. It’s safe to say most users are overwhelmed when given too many options. Combine this decision fatigue with an unintuitive interface and users will find a new solution (opting to use an app like Mailbox over the default system email application) or muddle through because it’s their only option.