A good programmer is a lazy programmer, because he writes minimum code.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

User Experience Lessons from My New Mobile

User Experience design was my favorite topic for a long time. I am not sure when I fall in love with this topic. During initial years of my career I got lot of chances to design screens for Windows Applications. I was just imitating Windows at that time, and believe me, I got lot of appreciation. But now I realize it was a mistake, because I was imitating even the bad things in Windows. Later I learnt User Experience (Ux) basics, learn to design better interfaces. I love to read articles and books on this topic, which made me an expert in Ux, even though I lack practical experience in this area.

Even though I consider myself as an expert, I learnt a few tips from the new touchscreen mobile phone I purchased. Read on.

Lesson 1

I was using an old basic mobile earlier. It was simple to use. I don't remember any learning curve, when I first used it. When a call comes, in screen it will Display, Reject and Silence at the bottom of screen. There are three buttons below the screen. So to answer the phone, you can press button below Answer. To reject the call you can press button below Reject. To stop ringing, you can press button below Silence. Simple, no? When I purchased an advanced mobile, I expected a more simple interface. It didn't take long to realize I was wrong.

The first call in my new mobile came when I was in the waiting room of a physician. It was rather quiet there. Suddenly my phone began to ring. The manufacures had set the loudest voice for the ringing tone as default. Every one in the waiting room began to stare at me. I desperately took the phone from its cover. Where is the answer button? I looked at the screen, but couldn't see the Answer (or even the reject caption). What to do now? There are three buttons below the touch screen. One has an image of inverted [. The other one an inverted [x. And the third one with no image or caption. Now I am under pressure, looked at the images. No clue. When your intuition didn't work, the only way left is trial-and-error. As the ringing tone in the otherwise silent room is intolerable, I pressed the button [x.Alas, it was to cancel the call. I missed the call.

Why did I make this mistake? In computer world, image of an x means don't. So, it was obvious the image with x was for canceling the call. Then why didn't I realize it then? The answer is I was desperate at that time. So, the first lesson from this one is Never assume your users are always in a think straight mode.

Lesson 2

After a few calls I learnt to answer and make calls. Then the second mistake happened after attending a call. In my previous mobile, when a call comes, it will unlock itself. When I disconnect, it will be locked again. But in my new phone, it will be unlocked when a call comes, but doesn't unlock again when the call is disconnected. So, after answering a call, I simply put the mobile in my pocket. As it was unlocked and the touchscreen is so sensitive to detect my body movements, it started to make calls itself. I only came to know about this when my friend called me and said "I got a call from you, and when I answered I heard all the discussions in that confidential meeting.". What to do?

What's the reason for this mistake? I was simply assuming the phone was smart enough to lock itself, after the call. In fact, it was not. Why did I make such an assumption? It was there in my old phone. So the lesson learnt is: Your users will expect at least the features in a basic model, however advanced your product is.

Lesson 3

My previous phone got a keypad. So to type a number, I can just press the numbers in the keypad. In the new one I need to tap a button, to get the touchscreen keypad. Make my life a littile difficult. But that's ok.

In my previous phone, to search for a contact in the address book, I can type character by character. For example, when I type a it will display names starting with a, like Ajayaghosh, Ajayakumar, etc. Then I can press n, so it will display names starting with an, like Anand, Anil, etc. Then I can type u so that it will type names starting with anu, like Anup. This is like an incremental search. Whenever I found the name I want, I can stop searching.

But in my new phone, searching is a horrible experience. To type first character you need to go another screen (The keypad screen). Then after typing a you can come back and see how many names are displayed. You can type as many characters as you want before coming back to search screen, but you are not sure when to stop. For example, if there is only one name starting with a, you need to type only a. If there are lot of names with a, you need to type a few characters. In the previous phone, I need to type only the characters I need to. You can type and search at the same time. Well, what's the lesson learnt here?

It is obvious as the phone got a touchscreen, the keypad is gone. So, you need to provide a soft keypad, instead of the hard keypad. It brings more work for the Ux designer. As the interface goes advanced, it brings more challenges. The Ux desinger needs more talent to overcome these challenges. So, the last lesson is If you don't have enough talent, don't do the Ux designing.

That's all guys. 

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