Trying to enforce meaningless rules in your UI: Bad


On, while trying to check out, I got to this UI for filling out my account information:


Guess what, folks... my first name is initials. The only place you'll see or hear "Kathryn" is when my mom is very angry at me, or on my driver's license.

It had no impact, either - the order went through just fine even though I (gasp!) used initials. What a waste of space to try to enforce such a rule in the UI.

Comments (10)

  1. Igor – I forwarded it along to the outlook team for consideration. For future reference you might want to keep the vitriol directed at the problems with the product and not those who developed it though 🙂 Everyone here certainly understands how frustrating software can be when it doesn’t work for your scenarios though.

  2. I say ‘your scenarios’ because you described them – it wasn’t a statement about how common they are at all. One of my scenarios is that I file mail into folders instead of flagging it, etc. Just a way of phrasing things to be user-centric.

  3. Anandi says:

    That is pretty sucky.  I always get this when entering my last name on forms – I have a space in my last name.  Which, I assume is not that uncommon in many parts of the world.  But there are several websites that yak on that, or squish it all together.  Which causes problems when buying airline tickets…

    Also, thanks for your 2004 posts on Outlook VBA Macros.  I used them today at work 😀

  4. Charlie on the PA Tpk says:

    You remind me of a promotional event Pepsi had some 25 years ago.

    Spell your name with the letters found under Pepsi bottle caps (one per cap) and you win a cash prize.   Contests like this one have the promoter required to place sufficient funds in escrow to pay off winners, and the promotions department figured however many names could be spelt with an abundance of consonants and very few vowels being distributed.

    Unfortunately, in areas with heavy Asian populations (NYC, for instance, where I lived at the time), the first name Ng was widely popular.

    Obviously, Pepsi didn’t go bust, but they did pay out a lot more than their escrow balance.  

    A pity you weren’t playing the game in those days!

  5. Igor Levicki says:

    When we are at the subject of enforcing meaningless UI rules I suggest you read my rant about (no less than two) Outlook UI blunders:

    I hope you won’t get offended though, because at one point I called the person who designed those rules a moron.

    Perhaps you could use my rant as a feedback and make someone fix it? That would be very nice.

  6. Igor Levicki says:

    Hey KC thanks!

    I am sorry about the acid part, will edit the article soon.

    However, you say "your scenarios", but I believe those two scenarios are common. Or you are trying to say that I must be the only person on the planet using Outlook and trying to filter outgoing mail and merge two .pst files?

  7. Igor Levicki says:

    Ok then, I just wanted to be sure 🙂

    I am curious though, has Outlook (or should I say Office) team given up on the ribbon idea yet?

    I tried Office 2007 for a brief period of time and went back to 2003. I found ribbons very hard to use. They scream "inaccessibility" from the top of their digital lungs.

    I am visually impaired and it has always been rather hard for me to spot the command I am looking for in that mess of colors and pictograms half of which I can’t guess what they should represent.

    Hope I am not boring you, I am trying to say that:

    1. Having so many rows and columns looks cramped

    2. Pictograms do not have universal meaning (for example, does an open envelope mean "Open the email to read it" or "You already opened this" or "Put something into this envelope to send it"?) — they are contextual, and change of context always means confusion when it comes to UI

    3. Too much pictograms and colors make it hard for the visually impaired, not to mention it is much harder if not almost impossible to use only keyboard and I can’t even imagine using Narrator with those awkward ribbons — it is like Microsoft doesn’t follow their own rules on accessibility

    4. Standard menu bar was something millions of people have been accustomed to over the last ~30 years. Taking it away meant tremendous loss of productivity for them (me included)

    Feel free to use this "input" any way you like.

  8. KC Lemson says:

    Igor – I don’t suppose you live in the seattle area? We’re actually in the process of starting to recruit for an upcoming study where we want to bring in visually impaired users to explore some of our designs for the next version of exchange.

    At any rate, I know there are many arguments for and against the ribbon, unrelated to accessibility. One thing I can tell you (for non-visually-impaired users, at least – i know nothing about the usability testing of the ribbon with users with impairments) is that there was definitely a learning curve, but that they did see improved productivity and usage of features after users became accustomed to the ribbon. I think the time window they looked at was about 6 weeks but again I was not involved directly so don’t take this as the authoritative answer.

    A good person to give your feedback to to about this is Jensen Harris, he lead part of the team that designed it –

  9. Igor Levicki says:

    You are right KC, I am not even in USA 🙂

    I am from Belgrade, Serbia (yeah, that problematic country you’ve been seeing all over the news lately (if you happen to watch those).

    Too bad it is not possible to participate over the Internet. Or is it?

    Anyway, one more piece of feedback from a visually impaired person (me)… Vista default color for Windows Explorer file/folder selection is so pale that for someone visually impaired it is barely noticeable. I even heard 20/20 vision people complaining on that one.

    Word of Wisdom:

    1. Chose your colors carefully. Visually impaired people perceive those differently.

    2. Tone down those blues and saturation, it hurts the eyes when one has to work for a few hours straight.

    3. Do not use only pictograms, leave the text at least as an option.

    4. Do not have toolbars or ribbons that stretch on several rows. It reduces the usable workspace and it is harder to locate a command because you have to scan left to right, top to bottom. That is also the reason why menus are superior, they take less space and divide the commands into groups. Once you learn that Save is in File menu, you don’t have to keep scanning the other menus.

    5. Do not put buttons for rarely used commands on the toolbar. Do not put buttons for the commands which are accessible by other (obvious) means. Let me make an example out of Outlook 2003 — what is that Help button doing on the toolbar when there is a Help menu visible all the time? Wasting space which some other less accessible command could use.

    As a general rule, do not strive towards making an UI which vastly differs from the operating system UI itself. Rationale: people get used to the operating system UI because they use it all the time. If your UI is similar, learning curve is dramatically reduced because when they see your application it will look familiar and entice them to explore it instead of scaring them away.

    That would be enough free consulting from me, I have to go back to redecorating my new room.

  10. Igor Levicki says:

    Oh and I forgot — stop using white background 🙂

    Why people use the white color for the background? Most obvious reasons are as follows:

    – It resembles paper

    – They believe it is elegant

    Truth is that:

    – With today’s screens white background resembles LIGHT BULB, not paper

    – White is as elegant as a roll of white toilet paper

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