Michael Gaigg: Über UI/UX Design

14Jul0

Redundancy is NOT bad!

Posted by Michael Gaigg

Traffic light hell

Traffic light hell


The original motivation for this article stems from a recent discussion with a customer who argued that UI elements must not be redundant, i.e. there must not be two links on any single page pointing to the same target.

His argument was that the link to the contact form - which was embedded in the content - already exists in the header, thus replicating the other link.

To me it seemed clear that this "redundancy is bad" theorem doesn't make sense. But how could I argue the opposite?

Be aware of the "Rule"

Over the time I've seen many so-called "rules" appear, most of them are really hard to counter and battle or even detect in the first place. Remember the "Everything-needs-to-be-reached-within-three-clicks" rule? Says who? Why? So the user can reach any target without dropping off? It's not about the amount, it's about the motivation to get there, it's like a bicyclist that needs more strokes uphill but still has enough motivation to get there.

I call those rules Lazy-Designer rule, or should I say, don't know better designer?

What is Redundancy?

Redundancy is the amount of information used to transmit a message minus the amount of information of the actual message. One might call this "wasted space" or "overhead".

Unwanted Redundancy

In information theory the amount of information is described in number of bits and data compression is used to reduce or eliminate unwanted redundancy.

Desired Redundancy

But communication over noisy channels with limited capacity pose possibilities of data loss and that's why checksums are added for the purpose of error detection.

Error Detection

Simply put, the basis of communication is sending and receiving a message from a sender over a channel to a recipient. Error detection is the detection of errors caused by noise or other impairments during transmission from the transmitter to the receiver.

Error Correction

Error correction is the detection of errors and reconstruction of the original data. This reconstruction can happen in either of two ways:

  • Automatic repeat request (ARQ), sometimes also referred to as backward error correction, basically a request for retransmission of data until the correct receipt can be verified.
  • Forward error correction (FEC), where the additional data (redundant data) that was added is used by the receiver to reconstruct the original information.

Translation into UI Design

The objective of user interface design (=sender) is to communicate a message via the internet (=channel) to the user (=recipient).

Importance of the Message

Without going into details of quantity (information theory and entropy) or quality (importance of a message) it can be said in general that the better message (=content) follows the lesser is more and more precise is better recommendations.

Methods of Error Detection

But how can one assure that the message has actually arrived? That the user found what the designer has intended to present? Or in other words, how can I (=designer) detect that a user has NOT received the message (=error detection) and what can be done to correct (=error correction) it?

  • Traffic Log Analysis can help finding patterns in user behavior purely based on click-through rates and times.
  • User Testing helps finding qualitative answers.
  • A/B Tests compare alternative design choices and their effectiveness.

Methods of Error Correction

More important is how the UI can handle errors in data reception, i.e. the user "didn't get it".

  • ARQ is almost impossible to implement. How would I know that the user missed our message? Maybe he/she simply wasn't interested (e.g. in clicking the 'contact us' link).
  • FEC on the other hand seems to be a real alternative. Adding redundancy may help the recipient to overcome the missed message and despite having noise (ads, other UI elements, etc.) being able to continue the task in the most likely way the designer had intended to.

Right Balance

Like mentioned above, it seems natural to enhance the quality of content and balance the quantity between removing content (=data compression or unwanted redundancy) and adding content (=desired redundancy). It's like an intersection having two or more traffic lights (desired redundancy) but surely not traffic light hell like on the satiric image.

On a personal note

I wish Directv would ship all their receiver units with two remote controls. You can't imagine the sudden peace in our house since we ordered a second one. "Babe, where is f...in remote again?", "Will you finally shut down the volume honey?", "Come on, skip the commercials, or are you sleeping already?"

10Apr0

Design Guidelines: Error Messages

Posted by Michael Gaigg

Just some weeks ago I wrote about Design Guidelines for 404 Pages. Closely related are Error Messages in general, and believe me, they will save your life. That's why you need to get them right!

Why bad error message can hurt your company

Error messages are like saying "You are stupid", or "Come on old fart, you still don't get it?" - and that's bad, it's almost like constantly telling your kid "No, no, no". Be preventive, defensive and avoid Design Bloopers like the the one at Cingular: Having tried to log into my account the following error message appears "My Account is Currently Closed". Can you imagine the horror that bubbles up and the thoughts of who to call (but how?)? As it turns out Cingular was just maintaining their server and the only flawed thing was the error message. Is it possible to measure how much this little flaw will hurt the company?

Misleading and almost terrifying error message at Cingular

Misleading and almost terrifying error message at Cingular

Defensive Web Design

Prevent error messages whenever possible; e.g. "did you mean" at google.com

The beauty of usability design is to think of ways to prevent showing error messages at the first place. The most prominent example is probably Google. Have you ever seen an error message on Google? How great is the "Did you mean:" function... I even use it day by day as a spell checker, like I use google images to visualize words I didn't know (do you know what a vicuna is?).

Design Guidelines: Error Messages

  1. Avoid error messages if possible.
  2. Explicit indication that something has gone wrong
  3. Human-readable language
  4. Polite phrasing without blaming the user or imply that user is stupid or is doing something wrong
  5. Precise descriptions of exact problems
  6. Constructive advice on how to fix the problem
  7. Visible and highly noticeable, both in terms of message itself and how it indicates which dialogue element users must repair
  8. Preserve as much of the user’s work as possible
  9. Reduce the work of correcting the error (e.g. list of possibilities)
  10. Hypertext links may be used to connect a concise error message to a page with additional background information or explanation of the problem.

Did you ever encounter a 'special' error message?

Send me a screenshot and/or tell me the story behind it.

Suggested reading:
9Mar0

Design Guidelines: 404 Error Pages

Posted by Michael Gaigg

404 error

404 error

The 404 or Not Found error message is an HTTP standard response code indicating that the client was able to communicate with the server but either the server could not find what was requested, or it was configured not to fulfill the request and did not reveal the reason why.

Possible Reasons

Possible reasons for 404 error pages can be

  • click on a broken link
  • the page has been deleted
  • mistyped URL

Depending on your internet service provider (ISP) the standard 404 page can vary greatly in terms of visual display and information on the error itself. In order to not loose visitors it's strongly suggested to create a custom 404 page. A good custom 404 page will help people find the information they're looking for, as well as providing other helpful content and encouraging them to explore your site further.

Design Guidelines for 404 Pages

A good 404 error page conveys a right message and leads the visitor to where he intends to go:

  1. Tell visitors clearly that the page they're looking for can't be found.
  2. Use language that is easy to understand, non-technical, friendly and inviting.
  3. Display an error message that explains what could have gone wrong.
  4. Offer means to recover (e.g. list site's naming conventions, spell check functionality, most common problems).
  5. Offer links to other important links of the site (e.g. most popular, homepage, FAQ).
  6. Provide a way for users to report a broken link (easy form, email the webmaster).
  7. Do not display ads.
  8. Avoid redirection of 301 and 302.

Other Considerations

No matter how beautiful and useful your custom 404 page, you probably don't want it to appear in Google search results. In order to prevent 404 pages from being indexed by Google and other search engines, make sure that your webserver returns an actual 404 HTTP status code when a missing page is requested.

Got a nice 404 page?

Send me screenshots of your 404 error pages - I'd love to see them!

Thx to Claude Betancourt who sent me this 404 page (Figure 1) of Dow Jones Indexes telling me that "behind the scenes we capture all CGI and request scope variables, log it and email the admins to correct the error if necessary." Nicely done!

Sample 404 page from Dow Jones Indexes

Figure 1: Sample 404 page from Dow Jones Indexes

Another nice one with a funny little video:

Uh-oh, you hit a 404

Uh-oh, you hit a 404

References