Writings

New Users be Damned!

Two unrelated incidents got me thinking how common is our apathy towards new users or those users who use a product in the way it is expected to be used…

The first one was about my local bank branch’s faulty ATM machine. The machine had been faulty for the past one year. I say faulty because, to do a transaction in that machine, it requires the user to insert the card in a peculiar way, like slowly pulling it out after inserting it or some kind of deft sleight-of-hand action that seems to me only the guard stationed there has mastered. Despite my repeated complaints, first, to the guard, then to any of the poor soul coming out of the bank, who I remotely identified as the bank’s employee, the machine was not fixed. Later it struck me that despite multiple complaints from me and perhaps some other new user, no action was taken, because a) the employee and the other more skilful customers seemed to have mastered that art of using the ATM in that peculiar way, or b) this was the advice that came from the branch manager herself, was to skip the faulty machine and use the other one. So their indirect message was that, as long as you are able to get their work done, why to bother to fix it.

The second incident happened at home. I was having difficulty for quite some time to put the latch on our bathroom door, because it misaligned with the metal loop, into which it was supposed to hook on to. I asked my mother why she didn’t call the carpenter to fix it. Her curt reply was no one in the family is having a problem with it, so why should it be fixed. Out of frustration, I took her to the bathroom to show her why it was a problem. She said let me show you how to use it… Instead of closing the door entirely shut like how it is supposed to, she kept it slightly ajar before putting the latch. Lo and behold, it latched on perfectly. Again here, it had seemed like the since the rest of the family, but I also had found a workaround, so they never bothered to fix it too.


Well, you can say, that in both the cases I should have just figured out the workaround and moved on. That’s where the problem lies. Most of us are just too engaged with our daily lives that the moment we find a workaround to a problem we just don’t try to fix it once and for all so that other new users don’t face that same issue also. This leads to all the new user facing the same issue at least once, and God helps them if they are not able to find that secret fix. This attitude also permeates to our other areas of life. The moment we find a workaround to the bug in the application we are using, we don’t file a complaint with the company that developed the application or when we narrowly avert a pothole or some obstacle that lie in the middle of the road, we just make a mental note to ourselves, to keep it in mind the next time we crossed the same road, let the other riders or driver figure it out themselves too, why to bother? How many of us would stop and remove the obstacle or at least stop by a police booth, should that be on the way and register a complaint? Again this is because we by nature lack empathy for strangers or users even if they are on the same difficulty as us.

If we do need to make products or services better, we should make an effort to fix or at least complain about the products or services we are using when it doesn’t work as expected, even if we did manage to find the secret key to make it work. That way each of us can play a small part in making users and people around us happier.

ICICI Bank ATM Machine: A Usability nightmare

ATM Machines are supposed to be made as user-friendly as it can be. But is it?

ATM Machines are supposed to be made as user-friendly as it can be, considering the following factors:

  • It is to be self-operated, with no help around what so ever in case if you need one. In any case, since this relates to your own money, the last thing you would like to do is seek help from a stranger to operate your own Debit card.
  • It concerns the operation of one own’s finances, one mistake and the user may just end up panicking.
  • Because of the nature of the transaction, it’s supposed to be made as quick and smooth as possible.

I have found there are many issues that plague the ICICI Bank ATM machines in my city, Kolkata, INDIA, please note since I have my account there, so I end up mostly accessing the ICICI Bank ATM Machines, am sure some of these “dis” features is present in other ATM machines as well:

  • The machine that Supports Decimal Places: This is one of the most irritating and actually ridiculous features of some of the ATM machines. They force the user to enter the extra “00” after the decimal. So when we want to withdraw Rs. 4,000, if we are not careful we may just key in “4000” we end up withdrawing Rs. 40/- (40.00)!!! Absolutely ridiculous! Who came up with a system like this!? and even more surprising is there are still quite a few ATM machine that continues to operate this way.
  • Dip Machine Access Status: This is an issue with ATM machine that operates by inserting the card momentarily and taking it out. The problem is there are no defined time or any status messages that let us know if our card has been read correctly before we remove it. So sometimes we end up removing it too soon and sometime too late.
    The Solution: Once we insert our card there should be a status message on the screen that says, “Reading Card…” then “Card Read, You may now remove the Card”. It will leave the unpredictability out of this whole process.
  • The Misalignment of Screen element with the real buttons outside the screens: The is a very common issue, especially with the older machines, the screen elements just somehow doesn’t line up with the actual buttons outside the screens. So sometimes you end up pressing the wrong option, or no options at all. Eg. suppose you want to “Withdraw Cash” and you will find the “Withdraw Cash” Option arrow pointing somewhere between two actual buttons… You sometimes have to make a guess on which button to press.
    Solution: Am not sure if this is Practical, but to Banish the real buttons altogether. Some ATM Machines actually operates that way.
  • The Timeout feature: This problem is faced acutely by new ATM users or the elderly users who take some time to read and comprehend the next action. By the time they have understood the message and make a choice they receive a “Time Out” message.
    Solution: A) The timeout should definitely be increased in some of the machines. And maybe a 10-second countdown timer should be shown once the timeout reaches less than 10 seconds. For those fearing that the longer session period might be misused by other users, my suggestions is a “Log Out” or “End Transaction” option. This brings me to my next suggestion.
  • Log Out Option: How often have we waited for the ATM screen to return to the initial state screen, to ensure that we have safely logged out. I feel after each transaction is complete, we should be given an option to “Log Out” or “End Transaction” so that we do not even have to wait for it to auto logout. For those who may forget to press the log out button, there could be a countdown timer status that shows “This transaction will log out in XXX seconds”
  • Auto-Detecting Savings/Current Account: This is a minor suggestion, but I think anything that will help save the user a step, it would be really helpful. Unless one Debit card can hold two accounts, why do we need to always select which account (ie. Savings or Current) we are operating. It should auto detect which account we are accessing and help us skip one extra step.

I wouldn’t have noticed some of the usability issues, had I not accompany my mum, who like most of the people in their generation isn’t very tech savvy and requires some time to read through and comprehend instructions. Think about it, many of the parents who have children working abroad and not many people around, when they receive money into their account they would never dare to venture into an ATM alone just thinking about the complexity they would have to encounter there.

 

How can one become a web designer?

This was an interesting question I had always wanted to answer. Finally did just that on Quora… Here was my reply. Hope this helps others here.

Let me start with an analogy, designing a website is akin to designing a car. In the case of car design, you will need to equip yourself with knowledge of Design (Of course!), Human Ergonomics (in case of Web Design, it’s Usability) and lastly have a good technical understanding of how the car actually works (in case of Web Design, it would be a general understanding the working of the web). So here you go:

Design:

Familiarize yourself with basic principal of design. There are plenty of resources online for you to start with Smashing Magazine: Design Principles: Visual Perception

Follow and study the works of designers from all field and not just web designers. Here is a good list to start with – Announcing The Winner Of Co.Design Bracket Madness!

If it’s not too late, get a formal degree in design.

And yes last but not the least, practice, practice, practice. If not anything else, recreate designs you like. You will end up learning a lot from it when you get into the mind of the designer.

Theory:

Since Web Design is not only about design and not art, your work has to be understood and usable. Get yourself acquainted with theories of Usability and User Experience. You can start from here Usability.gov, Human-Centered Design: an Introduction or perhaps get a copy of Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (3rd Edition) (Voices That Matter): Steve Krug

Tools of the Trade:

  • Software
    Using Photoshop should become second nature. It should become so effortless that you are not even aware you are using it and you are just focused on your design, that requires constant practice. Supplement your Photoshop skill with a Vector Editing tool, like Illustrator or CorelDraw. There is just something that a vector editing tool does better.
  • Coding
    This area is one which is a weak point for most people from pure Art or Design Background, but then if you want to design a better car it sure helps to know how the engine works. Some of the best web designers code themselves as well. Grab books on HTML, CSS and Javascript. These are the building blocks of Front-End Design. I have always advised others, who wanted to learn a new language, to learn from books rather than just grabbing bits and pieces from the net. Books are written for the purpose of walking the learner end to end. So by the time you are through with it, you would have an overall knowledge of the language. HTML & CSS are not programming languages, it’s easy and fun to learn as well. Nothing delight a designer better than to build their creation on their own and see it come to life.

You will always have a more liking for one the three area, you can then focus on that and spend more time studying and practising that.

Motorola Charger Jack. Simple yet extremely usable.

How many times have you found yourself fiddling in the dark to plug the charger jack into your mobile, not sure if the jack should be faced up or down?

moto-charger

Seems like the industrial designers at Motorola Mobility found a solution to this. At least I found it to be pretty effective myself. The body of the jack is curved down in the middle ever so slightly to naturally match the curve of your thumb as you hold it, this gives you a good feel of the orientation of the jack just by holding it without even looking at it.

Yes other mobile companies, including Apple before they came up with the bi-directional jack, did provide a small etched marking on the top side of the jack to indicate that it had to face that way. But neither our fingers are sensitive enough to feel the mark when we are not looking at it, nor our eyes are good enough to see it in the dark.

Some of you may argue that Apple provides the best solution with its bi-directional jack, which can be plugged in either way. Well, no doubt about it. It’s actually an inspired piece of engineering. But then how many of us would wish to trade the use of that jack with our freedom to use other devices as well as our own older devices adapters to charge or to transfer files? Oh heck, forget other devices, I now have to carry two cables for my two Apple devices, one for the older iPod and one for my iPad Mini! So till the day Apple is generous enough (trust me that day will never come) to open their bi-directional jack technology to all, I feel Motorola’s simple little tweak in the adapter design will remain as the most usable and cost-effective solution.

 

Learning UX

There are two ways to go about learning about UX Design. One is to get Educated and the other is two get Qualified. Now let me explain the difference between the two. To get educated means to gain knowledge, with or without a certification to prove so. This requires more discipline and research but is generally more affordable. The second is by enrolling in some UX courses and getting certified.

My suggestion is if you are a beginner, you start with a basic certification program, which I will cover later, to quickly get an overview of the profession and also get connected to others in the similar field. Then later on if you are still interested, get yourself educated and make sure you practice a lot. And finally, if you are still interested and would like to take your UX career to the next level, do a Premium Certification course.

So quickly listing them in here:

Getting Educated:

Free Ones

Moderately Charged

Mobile App Designing

Getting Qualified:

Premium Classroom Courses

Designer and UX Gurus to Follow:

Video Collections:

Blogs

One-off videos:

Free E-Books:

 

Delhi Belly, my thought

One word of advice before you read any further, it would be great if you could watch the movie before reading further….

Here is why, firstly,  I myself generally avoid reading a detailed review of a movie (that too by me, a first timer) till  I have already watched the movie for first, this way I don’t go into a hall with someone else’s opinion on my mind.  Secondly, I have also made direct references to scenes or characters in the movie that you may not be able to relate to unless you have seen the film and yes, also since this is the first time I am writing about a film, so I might unwittingly throw up some spoilers.

Well, now we have the little disclaimer out of the way… Let’s get started.

Delhi Belly can be viewed in two different angle… at one angle, an absolutely mindless comedy filled with slangs, cuss words and dirty jokes thrown in to attract the yuppie crowd. I for one, am not the type of person who would enjoy a movie like this, so I am not going to dwell into that angle too much. Well, I chose to look at it from another angle, I have thoroughly enjoyed it doing so, here is why…

  1. The Story-telling Skill
    I loved the sheer edge of the seat story-telling skill of Akshat Verma that keeps you guessing what’s going to happen next,  the cleverly introduced sub-plots, which are  seamlessly interwoven into the movie. How seemingly unrelated events (the annoying kathak practice sessions or Vir Das’s “Delhi Belly”, which by the way were funny on their account) adds a new twists to the story.
  2. The attention to minor characters
    The attention given in sketching out the minor characters in the movie was laudable, Arup’s (the graphic designer) Boss who keep pestering him with ‘minor’ changes to his Banana character… “7% more smile please…”, being graphic designer  myself (coming from a world where “Red can be a bit more Redder and blue a bit more bluer”, “the composition looks better if it is shifted 5 pixels to the left… or… well maybe to the right!”). I fully empathise with Arup’s character.  Then there is the freebie grabber, Vijay “gangster” Raaz’s henchman who, while going about doing his business doesn’t miss an opportunity to grab free meals, or towards the end free goods, Imran “Tashi”s sunglasses (this my friend pointed out to me) .
  3. The subtle comedy
    Unlike other in-your-face comedies, I found the funniest lines in Delhi Belly are not the loudest or the most visually most animated ones. They were subtle, and delivered with a straight face. Here is a sampler…, right in a middle of  a ‘life and dead’ situation…Nitin “the photographer”, just realized that his room mate, Arup had gone bald… he ask him… “…usey (the gangsters) tujhe faansi pe latkane se pehle tera mundan kiya tha kya????” trust me  there are plenty like this in the film that will have you in splits.
  4. The Cinematography
    The cinematography, that set the tone of the movie right at the beginning was absolutely brilliant, each frames of the opening credits could as well have been frozen and framed on the wall, they were inspirations and a lesson in photography itself. Sadly though I couldn’t find much about the cinematographer, Jason West, would have love to check out his photography. The only thing that I found out was that he was also the man behind the lens for “Rock On!” another one of my favourite.
If there is one complain I have is… the two over the top song, “Jaa Chudail” and I Love you, like I hate you “in brackets” featuring Amir Khan. The first song was still understandable, but the second one (I know some of you would hate me for saying this…)  I feel was totally irrelevant and unnecessary. I wish Aamir had a bit more faith on the director and the script and had not try to add his own weight “and appearance” in the movie to ensure an additional crowd pull. That song could still have worked for me had it featured the three protagonist instead of Aamir Khan himself.
All in all I would end by saying it was a good watch, and a weekend well spent 🙂

A curse, a recommendation, and a heartfelt appreciation.

Curse to Sector V authority for not doing anything about the drainage system… This place is a hell hole during rainy season!!!

Recommendation, Honda Activa..  4 years and it still manages to pull me through knee deep water!

And a heartfelt appreciation to the two strangers who stopped on their way to push my scooter out when I got stuck bang in the middle of the road… its because of them and the countless other Calcuttans who has helped me at some point or other, that  I have the courage to venture out alone.