Thursday, May 15, 2008

Highway On-ramps

One of the most important factors in UI design is consistency. Consistency within a single product/object and consistency between various product lines or objects built by the same company.

All of us have been in a two-lane turn onto an on-ramp, in which after you get onto the ramp, one of the two lanes ends. The problem is - you never know which one of those lanes is actually going to end, and this results in a little bit of confusion when everyone finally realizes which lane does in fact come to an end on the ramp.

Here is an example of two lanes of traffic turning left onto the on-ramp from South Saunders Street in Raleigh, NC, merging onto the inner beltline of I-440. If you look closely you can see that the right lane ends.

And here is an example of two lanes of traffic turning left onto the on-ramp from 15-501 in Chapel Hill, NC, merging onto I-40 West. Here you can see that it is the left lane that ends:

All multi-lane on-ramps (at least within the same state) that cut down into a single lane should do so in the same fashion. Either always end the lanes on the left or always end the lanes on the right. Alternatively, always end the lane farthest from the road you're merging onto.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Cell Phone Menu Traversal

When looking for my new phone, I selected the Motorola i880 because I previously owned the Motorola i760 and had a good experience with it, the reception was excellent and the phone was sturdy. This one appears to be a descendant, and it has a 2 megapixel digital camera and audio player which sound useful and fun.

While exploring the new features, I discovered that traversing the menu in the i880 phone is aggravatingly slow. Menu items with multiple choices do not provide a numbered list! This means that if I am presented a list of 20 things, and I want to choose number 13, I must arrow down 12 times instead of just typing "12". Twelve keystrokes versus two is a big deal, especially if you are performing a repetitive task. This is the kind of small but important feature that separates professional from amateur.

A good menu system should allow the user to traverse the available options with as much ease and speed as possible, meaning arrow keys, numbers, or maybe even letters (5 could be 5, or 5 could be "jkl").

Monday, May 5, 2008

Motorola i880: What Time is it?

Over the weekend some friends and I went to South Mountains State Park. A beautiful place, back country camping next to the Jacob's Fork River, mountain biking trails, hiking up to the 80 foot High Shoals Falls water fall and back down along the river path. But one day our group split up into mountain bikers and hikers. With the understanding that we'd all meet again at 1pm, I grabbed my trusty new Motorola i880 cell phone to carry with me so I could keep track of the time. Sadly, I later discovered that the clock on the phone would not work unless the phone had a signal! So because we were in the middle of the mountains and I couldn't make a phone call, I also couldn't tell what time it was. Abso. Lutely. Ridiculous.

Any cell phone should always show the time on the "start" screen, whether connected or not. The same thing is true for all other core GUI elements like signal strength, messages waiting, menu choices, etc.