The usability of coffee measuring spoons

31.08.2010 | Author: Eric Reiss
The discussion at FatDUX this morning focused on Nescafé. And which spoons each of us used to make coffee (note to self: we have a perfectly good, very expensive coffee maker. Why are folks drinking this instant crap?)

It seems that coffee measures are not standardized. They're not even close. In various drawers, I found no fewer than six different measuring "instruments". And their capacities ranged from less than 1 gram to over 10 grams. No wonder our morning coffee ranges from dishwater to mud.

Here's what we have:


From left to right, we have a very expensive coffee spoon from Georg Jensen designed by Arne Jacobsen, followed by a more traditional silver teaspoon. Next, we have a miniature scoop. The wire-handled measuring spoon is an Ole Palsby design from his Eva Trio series of kitchen utensils. Finally, there is a black plastic scoop that came with a bag of coffee, and a smaller, white plastic scoop that came with some tea.

Let's see what they can hold (the first number is heaping, the second is level), measured with real, ground coffee, not the instant crap.

Jacobsen      <1 gram (<1 gram)
Traditional      3 grams (1 gram)
Scoop            4 grams (3 grams)
Palsby            9 grams (8 grams)
Black plastic  10 grams (7 grams)
White plastic   4 grams (< 1 gram)

The directions on our instant coffee suggest "one heaping spoonful per cup".

Hmm. How many different cup sizes do we have...?

How this relates to interaction design
In the field of interaction design, we know that standardization often improves usability, although it can stifle creativity and innovation in the hands of pedantic rule-followers. Could it be that we should be chosing our standards with greater care? That there are some generic patterns that benefit from standardization and "best practice" whereas there are others areas that should be avoided if they impinge on artistic value?

Take for example, the Ole Palsby measuring spoon above. It holds more coffee than almost all the other devices. In terms of volume, it doesn't equate to any of my standardized cooking measuring spoons (teaspoon, tablespoon etc.). So where did this design originate? Did Palsby pull the size out of thin air? In truth, he could have chosen a more reasonable size without compromising his design. I wish he had - my wife insists on using one scoop per cup, plus "one for the pot".  When made with this scoop, her coffee can be used to patch bicycle tires.

On the other hand, Arne Jacobsen's spoon was designed for stirring, not measuring. To change this design would also mean changing its basic function, which would be wrong from an artistic point of view (and a usability POV as well).

So, what do YOU think should be standardized? And why? Does anyone have standardized rules for standardization? If so, I hope you'll share them here.

A biased comparison of HTC Desire and iPhone

02.07.2010 | Author: Frederik Myhr
I’m not going to lie. I am an iPhone user, and I do love it. So why bother to hobnob with the enemy? Two reasons:

1. My boss was pulling his hair trying to fix his voicemail, so he left the phone on my desk.

2. Well – how can you truly appreciate what you have, before knowing if something better is out there?


iPhone and HTC Desire side by side

First glance
HTC Desire’s interface fades in comparison to the extremely intuitive and user-friendly one of the iPhone. iPhone does everything you’d expect it to do, and has only one main navigational button. Desire has several buttons with various and unclear functions.

Already after trying to accomplish just a few fairly simple tasks, I felt a bit stupid. I’m sure that a lot of well-meaning developers have spent a lot of time making this a user-friendly phone, but it’s like they had a big bucket of logic and just stuffed it in there, hoping for the best.

I did manage to complete the tasks I had in mind, but I didn’t quite understand the process until it was actually done.

Logic should be conceived before, and not after completing a task!

A tailored suit
HTC Desire provides a lot of opportunities for personalization, and this will definitely increase the ease of use, in the long run for the individual user. This is one of the major downsides to the iPhone; the degree to which you can customize it. HTC Desire (and other Android phones) are different.

Whereas iPhone is the Swiss knife - a slick multi-tool with great and diverse functionality – HTC Desire is a whole toolbox. You get to decide exactly which tools you carry and exactly how big your hammer is. It might be a big mess in there, but you can always find a screwdriver bit that fits if you look hard enough.

I see this as a huge advantage for the power user, but probably more of a distraction to the user who just wants to make calls, browse and listen to music.

Although logic may not be Desire’s trademark, I stumbled across one thing that it does way better than the iPhone; the browser automatically re-shapes text, according to the width, when zooming. This means that you only have to scroll one way while reading. This is very valuable, since browsing is one of the core features of these kinds of phones.
I probably wouldn’t even have noticed this, if it wasn’t because I’m used to the double-scrolling on my iPhone. And this is what great usability is all about; making things so easy that you wouldn’t even consider it to be “a solved issue”.

By default, HTC Desire comes with seven different home scenes. Seven! Quite intimidating when you’re first trying to figure out what’s going on. I like iPhone’s approach better, where you create screens as you go along.

As I mentioned in the beginning, Desire has several navigational buttons – real physical buttons outside the screen. In my opinion this creates more confusion than value to the user. One of the things I love about touch-screen phones is that the navigation is contextual. This creates instant comprehension of your options because buttons are labeled exactly to the given situation, and not with a generic icon. Introducing five permanent buttons like HTC has done with Desire, simply breaks this great convention.

A specific example of where this can end wrong is when you have to scroll down to find the button you’re looking for. You might not even get to the scrolling part because you are unaware of the fact that the screen holds more information. Left with a bunch of buttons to push, you might end up loosing all the info you’ve just typed in, because you choose to push the button with the sweet little icon, which is actually the home button. By keeping the navigation strictly on-screen and strictly contextual, this will never occur.

Much like iPhone’s Spotlight, Desire has an internal search function as well. To me, Spotlight has proven to be one of the most powerful and fast ways to navigate. By typing just a few characters, you are able to find contacts, emails, songs, calendar posts and much more. Desire has extended their search function to include suggested web searches. In my opinion, this decreases the efficiency because it broadens the search so much that you have to type at least twice the amount of characters to find what you’re looking for.

With a great name comes great responsibility
As stated in the dictionary: ”Android = a robot resembling a human being”.

We can all agree that even the most advanced cell phone on the market is far from being human. Nonetheless, Google has chosen to name their mobile operating system as if it is exactly this. Overkill? I actually think Android is quite a clever name. It passes through the message well, that this system has more to it than just standard cell phone capabilities.

The problem is, that if I should put a head on the human being, whom the system resembles, and hence HTC Desire, it would be a software developer. Considering it is in direct competition with the iPhone, a slightly broader target group seems appropriate.

There’s no real right and wrong here. It all breaks down to your specific needs. A good example is the way it works together with Google. If you are a Google user, you will benefit greatly from the integrated synchronization features, if you’re not, it’s just more noise on the line.

I think HTC Desire is a great phone, and I would recommend it anytime – but only to the right persons.

Personally I’m going to stick with my iPhone. It has the functionality I need, and it lets me access it quick and easy. And it still is, the sweetest piece of eye candy out there.

Five myths about user experience

23.06.2010 | Author: Eric Reiss
My two cents...

1. “There is no definition, so we can make up our own.”
No. The definitions are there, although the details may differ. User experience (UX) deals with how people interact with stuff – it represents the sum of their reactions and subjective perceptions. So, don’t go off on your own until you’ve bothered to do a simple search on Google. If nothing else, it will keep you from making a complete fool of yourself by confusing UX with usability.

2. “If the experts disagree, then the discipline isn’t really mature.”
No. Experts disagree in all fields. Doctors argue about the best treatments. So do designers. If you’re looking for a “mature” field, stick to horseback riding, which hasn’t changed much the past couple of hundred years. Instead, consider that most fields are “evolving”. User experience is one of these.

3. “User experience is only about computers and stuff.”
No. User experience is all around us. Eat a freshly picked strawberry. That’s a user experience, too. The problem seems to stem from the word “user”, which turns up in “user-friendly” and other computer-worldly clichés. But until we find a better word, it will have to do.

4. “If it’s on a screen, it must have something to do with IT.”
No. Just because a book is printed on paper, it doesn’t mean Tolstoy was working for the lumber industry. Granted, computers may be involved. But in the online world, UX focuses on what goes on the screen and less on how it got there.

5. “User experience is a subset of [some other discipline]”
No. User experience is the umbrella under which many other highly structured activities take place – from information architecture to service management to graphic design to usability evaluation. If you put UX on equal (or lessor) footing with other disciplines, it’s easy to ignore it in favour of something more tangible – yet the forest continues to exist even if you only focus on the trees. And like a real umbrella, you'll first notice you’ve lost UX when it starts to rain.

Got a myth to add to the list? Post a comment - the floor is yours.

Fad, fashion, and fact in web design

08.12.2008 | Author: Eric Reiss
Information architect Polina Tarnopolsky recently asked on LinkedIn:

"Do you find some things to be really annoying in regards to technology? Whether that’s a buzz-word like “web 2.0”, or endless expert advice on usability tips, or when every graphical element these days just seems to have rounded corners and gradient…

"Don’t get me wrong I’m not complaining about these things I’m just trying to gather information on what people find to be somewhat overdone, over-discussed or just simply too much of it – in regards to technology today."

Here's my answer - which also hints at new FatDUX web development products and services.

There are three sides to this issue: fashion, fad, and fact. Most people don't differentiate.

Web 2.0 is nothing particularly new. I was doing AJAXy sites long before Jesse James Garrett came up with the acronym. And eBay is the quintessential user-defined content site. And that's from 1996. So clearly, buzzwords and buzzwordy concepts (like Tim O'Reilly's Web 2.0) get to be a little much at times. Let's be honest, not every site needs a blog, wiki, or social networking component. Maybe some better owner-generated content is what's really needed.

So much for fad.

Rounded corners on buttons are fashion. Just like the current web-style, which consists of a row of tabs, a big useless picture, and three other text block/links below this. Honestly, if you like this design, you can download a skin from Dotster for about 60 dollars. Why pay an expensive designer for eye candy? Unless you think that design might consist of something more...:)

So much for fashion.

I was recently interviewed by a Danish journalist who told me, "All that usability crap. That's such old news. Don't you have anything new to say?" The fact is, most sites are still pretty atrocious and could use a kick in the pants from the usability crowd.

Sad fact of life - fashion and fad are much more interesting than web stats, server logs, conversion rates, or customer satisfaction. I for one, am looking forward to the economic downturn so that people start thinking about issues that are really important and questioning some of the overblown solutions that are being sold to them.

Let me really stick my neck out...

I just saw the slides for an information-architecture presentation held by a leading purveyor of courses and workshops. Yikes. I didn't understand half of it. And the half I did understand clearly wasn't going to make much business difference in the long run. Just a lot of curious ways to play with data. But like monkeys who play with their own feces, we clearly love our data - we pooped it out so it must be valuable.

I honestly believe that some of the fancy tools we know and love (content models and personas just to mention two), are going to be reborn in a simpler, more streamlined, less expensive forms as clients insist on seeing return on investment - not from a project in total, but from the value of the individual tools.

Here's a simple analogy: I need to hang a picture on my wall. I could use a hammer and nail, but my local hardware store has talked me into drywall plugs, brass screws, and a cordless drill that will help me make the hole I need.

My point is that there is nothing wrong with any of these tools. However, the second solution is much more expensive, though without adding any perceivable value to my project.

I say, put your money where you get the most bang for the buck.


Voting in Florida - revisited

29.10.2008 | Author: Eric Reiss
Voting in Florida is always a challenge - just ask anybody who fought with the butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County back in 2000. This year, Miami-Dade County, my county of residence, forgot to send me an absentee ballot, even though I had sent in the paperwork back in September.

Today, getting nervous as election day approached, I spent 25 minutes on hold before an actual human confirmed my worst fear, "We have no record of your request." Luckily, today was the last day to register for an absentee ballot, so I jumped through the hoops again.

And this time it got through. Here's the mail receipt I just received:


E-mail received on Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Anyone else notice something odd about this message? Ah, Florida. How can we trust our officials to count our votes correctly when they cannot even figure out days of the week?


Usability Banzai Case #14

01.10.2008 | Author: Andrea Resmini
Let's get banzai on this. This is a plain sandwich package served to passengers by KLM. It's a decently tasting line of sandwiches, and they even manage to have a fair turn-around, but that's not the point. Let's take a look at the packaging.

Sandwich package, closed

It's actually a rather neat package, airline-wise, as it allows easy and space-savvy stacking in the tight, space-hungry aircraft environment. It might be not entirely environment-friendly, but it sure helps storing and handling. And it looks stylish, Italian name and all (What? On KLM flights? Never mind).

Sandwich package, stacked

Anyway, the usual scenario goes like this. Just when you are about to fall asleep you receive your sandwich package from the friendly flight assistant, so you fumble to open up your small tray table, you mumble a 'mmthnkya', and you get ready to eat your share of global food. The package looks friendly and easy enough. That little extra plastic jutting out on the left corner says 'pull me' in a soft soothing voice. It's aligned with the way we are supposed to scan the package, in a left-to-right fashion reinforced by the writing and the labeling. This is also consistent, ergonomically, with the majority of us being right-handed. Opening it up in your tight little personal bubble doesn't feel too constrained or cumbersome. Cool. You do it.

Sandwich package, being opened

The foils comes away easily, the package deflates in that reassuring way that drives away all fears of botolinum and you smile that 'see, it was the altitude, I told you' kind of smile. And obviously, since the package peels from left to right, you tend to eat the sandwiches on the left first. You may even consider not stripping away the protective plastic foil at once, as you never know what to do with it then. And here disaster strikes.

Sandwich package, miserably falling on one side

The package falls miserably to the right as it gets unbalanced. And if it was too close to the tray edge, it is probably already resting on your dress, suit or shoes. Well, you say, after all it's just a plastic sandwich package for airline use, for heaven's sake. Mh. I beg to differ. First, that's precisely the situation where you do not want this kind of things to happen, since you may spill pesto sauce or chili dip on your lap quite easily and do not get to have extra clean pants for nightclubbing until you are back from Hong Kong, which kinds of spoil the fun. Second, the package actually can stand even while you are eating away. Check this:

Sandwich package, proudly standing

No tricks. In this picture it's just that the sandwich on the right was the first to go. In terms of user experience, the only real issue is the peeling: it should go from right to left, and not left to right. A rather trivial change at basically no added cost can make a great difference as far as your social life on the plane and in Hong Kong is concerned.

And for the sake of being picky, it would require just a little extra to make it even more visible and affordable with a little color, to win over that extra-resistance to actually open it up with your left hand. And finally, the plastic foil could be glued in the middle as well, where the package is split in two, to state the idea of 'eat these first' even more. Honest to God I'll stop falling for it and would not need a stain remover from the flight assistant ever again.