I have worked in UX for over a year now, and nearly every single day, I learn something new from my team or from work we’re doing about how to improve the user experience.
One of the general principles we try to operate on is of course the classic “K.I.S.S.”: Keep It Simple, Stupid… unfortunately I often see us or other applications ignoring this rule in one of the seemingly simplest parts of our UI: strings. Just changing a word or two or cutting a sentence can sometimes have a vast improvement in the usability of the app.
Speaking as someone from an engineering background, I know first-hand how difficult it is to take off your geek hat when you’re designing software for non-geek users. Coming up with good strings is sometimes straightforward, but often not – it takes just as good of an understanding of your user, their mental models and how they think in order to come up with good strings/text as it does to come up with good UI. I was just in a UI spec review today where an editor was sounding the ‘geeky alarm’ every five minutes.
Take, for example, this authentication dialog from the SSH client I use:
Pretty simple dialog, really. I use this client several times a week (and have for years) and I’m so used to the omnipresent user/pass combination of fields that I literally didn’t even read the strings until today. And when I did actually read them today, a few thoughts immediately came to mind:
#1: Why bother telling me “Authentication required.”? It’s pretty obvious what the user needs to do from the existence of the two input fields, ubiquitous in any e-commerce site or email client, etc. The more visual clutter on the screen, the more likely I am to tune things out or wildly start guessing what I’m supposed to do. The simpler the UI, the more Zen I feel, the more likely I am to take a patient approach.
#2: “Passphrase”, seriously? Assuming that’s not a cultural thing (e.g. perhaps that’s the phrase for ‘password’ that’s used in England and this app was developed there), “password” is a better word. [update: see comment thread for a further discussion of this, i’d forgotten about this term when I first wrote this post]
#3: “Remember password on memory” – geek alert! Would you really tell your parents to remember their passwords on memory? How about just, oh I don’t know… “Remember password”?
Every simplification we make in our strings also has an added benefit in that when the strings are localized, it’s more likely the translation will be accurate and succinct (and fit in the space allotted, we usually allow about 140% width of the english string).
Now if only I were good about being succinct in my own blog posts…