Sunday, 23 September 2007

Bad Interface Design

Apple Computers are reknown for some of the best user interfaces. Like everybody else, they can occasionally get it wrong. I just had an amusing example of this. If you go to the HSBC web site and download any of their PDF documents such as their terms and conditions, you will notice that there is a slight bug that adds ;jsessionid= followed by a lot of gobbledygook at the end of the file name, after the extension, thus producing a file with an unusually long extension that OS-X doesn't recognise. So the first thing you'd want to do is change that file name and remove all the jsessionid malarkey at the end of the file name. When you do that, OS-X thinks you want to change the extension and are in risk of ending up with a file name it can't handle automatically. So it warns you and asks if you really want to do this, assuming you don't, as shown below:

Error dialogue with inaccessible button

Error dialogue with inaccessible button

In this example, you can just about see the other button pushed all the way left and therefore click on it as you really, really want to change that extension. But if you had just one more letter or if you changed the j in the ID for an M, the right button would be that little bit much wider and the left button would completely disappear. As you can't change the dialogue window's size, you're stuffed and you have no choice but to click on the highlighted button and leave your file name as is. The only way I found around this is to open the terminal and use the command line to change the name. That's one thing that OS-X has going for it: as it's UNIX underneath, you can always bypass the user interface when it gets in the way. On the other hand, that's not something that is very accessible to the average user.

There are a couple of solutions that Apple could apply to their dialogue boxes when such a problem occurs:

  • make the dialogue window's resizable and/or scrollable;
  • extend the window accordingly, although you'd get the same problem if you got to stupid extension lengths as long as the width of the screen;
  • make the buttons stack up and extend the window vertically.

The moral of the story is: when designing user interfaces, test them with very stupid values that make it break. Someone is bound to use such values one day or another, if only by accident.

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