On Usability

Some of my most popular blog posts have been rants on poor usability. That such rants from a layman are popular and accurate reflects poorly on the current state of product and software design. It’s as if consumer electronics and software were astronaut tools, designed by earthbound marketroids with no knowledge of microgravity.

Yet usability is not astroscience.

I wouldn’t call myself a usability professional, but I’m happy to take on the mantle of usability expert. As should you. In my mind, all users are usability experts, and have a duty to speak out against poor usability and product design. After all, what is usability if not the ability for casual consumers to get the most from a product? And who better to decide the success of that product’s design than the casual user?

Instead, we’ve fallen into a lazy, disinterested mode of consumption. We put up with crap design and poor usability in exchange for ubiquity and “innovative consumer-driven synergistic marketing opportunities” – products and designs foisted on us because we fall into some definition of a particular market segment. It’s an extension of what Paul Lukas calls inconspicuous consumption:
[quote]It’s about deconstructing the details of consumer culture — details that are either so weird or obscure that we’d never see them, or so ubiquitous that we’ve essentially stopped seeing them. This can mean anything from a bizarre canned good, like sauerkraut juice, to a beautifully designed light-industrial object that we’ve always taken for granted, like the Brannock Device (that gizmo they use to measure your shoe size).[/quote]
Poor Bathroom DesignIn the same way, we’ve stopped caring about the way our products are designed. We assume that modern shampoo bottles have to be aerodynamic, and that electronic volume controls have to be buttons. We take it as given that registration is required on many websites, and that every software package must have a hundreds of different “options” in the preferences pane. Continue reading “On Usability”

Navman MY500XT: Bouquets and Brickbats

It’s no secret that I found the Navman S200 appallingly irritating. So you can imagine my trepidation when I was accosted by a charming PR person (do they come in other flavours?), bubbling about the new Navman range, now with integrated traffic information for New Zealand. Casting aside my black mood towards GPS units, I grudgingly accepted the offer of a review unit.

Navman MY500XT intro stickerFirst big change: the unit comes with a giant sticker over the screen, advertising the solution to one of the more irritating UI issues: lack of responsiveness. You can see the sticker at right. It informs you that you can either use the slidey-glidey menus, or turn on the more basic “tap-touch”. The ironic thing is that the screen on the MY500XT is massively more responsive than the S200, so the slidey-glidey menus actually work quite well. Bouquets! Having said that, I can see that the tap-touch menus would work better when on the move (not that anyone uses a GPS device when on the move, right?).

Navman have also removed the inane and utterly pointless “don’t click there, click here!” video on startup. It has been replaced by a nice clear tutorial, with a big “never, ever show me this tutorial again” option on the first page. Bouquets!

The map display in general appears to be tidied up. Road names appear clearly and almost all upcoming roads are named. This is important when you’re running in non-routing mode and looking for an upcoming side road. I loved the way TomTom did this, but Garmin do it very, very badly. Navman’s new software is right up there with TomTom. Bouquets!

I’ve yet to have a proper play with the traffic options in anger, but I’ve seen a demo and I’m impressed. All the bits and bobs are there, including options to route around bad traffic or road closures. The traffic data itself is of cours sourced from Geosmart and completely out of Navman’s control, but the display and layout of traffic info is done well. Bouquets!

Now the big, aching brickbat. Whoever designed the mounting bracket and power plug arrangement on this device is an intellectual dwarf of the lowest order. They should be locked in a padded cell covered with Navman mounting brackets and forced to plug and unplug MY500XTs continuously for the rest of their living days.

Navman mounting 1Navman mounting 2Navman mounting 3

Look closely. There is no possible way to plug the Navman in before mounting it on the bracket. None. Am I being picky? How about you sit in your car with the MY500XT on its bracket on the window, where you can’t see the mini-USB socket on its underside, and try plugging it in. Do that every. single. time. you hop in your car. 👿 👿 👿

Navman, please, if you are reading this: open every single MY500XT box you have in your warehouse, remove the power cable, and replace it with one that bends the other way. It’s a simple fix. I’m begging you.

Conclusion: lovely device software. Pity about the lack of attention to detail.