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Interaction Design

Interaction Design

UI Pattern Libraries for the Enterprise- What. Why. How & the Difference From a Style Guide

Status: Work in progress [what is this?]

What is a UI pattern?

If you break a website or application down from a user interface perspective, you will end up with a bunch of user interface components that are used again and again throughout it. A user interface pattern is called so because that pattern can be used repeatedly to solve a particular design problem.

Examples of UI patterns

  1. Accordion- An accordion can be used to display information when there are too many items to fit in a limited space without overwhelming the user.
  2. Step indicator- A step indicator is used in screen flows to inform users of the number of steps in multi-screen process.
  3. Progress indicator- A progress indicator is used to shows actual progress of a task being done by something or someone.

What is a UI pattern library?

A UI pattern library is a collection of user interface design patterns. The UI pattern library documents these UI patterns and defines how they should look, behave and often how they should be coded too. It can also provide specifications on templates, flows, and general heuristics.

How can a UI pattern library help an organization?

UI patterns help an organization ensure a consistent user experience across a suite of websites and applications- in terms of how they look and how they behave, application flow and pages layouts. The greater the number of applications, the greater its use.

The difference between a Style Guide and a UI Pattern Library

We will restrict the scope of a style guide to the online channel for this explanation and refer to it as the Web Style Guide. The real difference between a web style guide and a UI pattern library can be explained through what each of them specifically address, and thus their audience which governs the way they are structured.

Both strive for consistency in visual design and interaction covering interactive forms to typography. A style guide’s primary purpose is to ensure that branding is correctly applied to maintain the organizations identity across different websites and applications. On the other hand, A UI pattern library’s primary purpose is to present a set of solutions that address unique design problems. For example, how do you address session timeout frustration for users? How do you address application errors so users are not left disoriented and confused? How do you prevent users from accidentally exiting long forms if they’ve filled them half way through? Since these solutions address design problems, they can increase the efficiency of website and application development with increased usability.

Think of it as extending the value of a style guide rather than a replacement. The style guide’s primary audience is the designer who will refer to it to ensure that the visual design is correctly implemented. The UI pattern library’s audience is the Business analyst, developer and QA (Quality Assurance). Business Analysts and developers, with little or no help of the Usability team (depending upon the importance of the project, availability of usability resources and timelines) can use the style guide to work on the flow and user interface for an application. Even better, developers can pick code samples (HTML, CSS, Java script) to implement the UI pattern. Last but not the least, QA (Quality assurance/ testing team) can use it to verify the correctness of user interface implementation.

The structure of a UI pattern

A UI pattern can include the following sections:

1. Name of pattern

2. Example image

3. When to use it (description of the specific problem it addresses)

4. When not to use it

5. Similar UI patterns

6. Pattern success notes in different applications

7. Specifications (platform specific CSS, HTML, Java script)

8. Accessibility

9. Attachments (e.g.- icons accordion states)

Extending a Style Guide to a UI Pattern Library

A style guide can be extended by adding the categories from the structure above that are not a part of the style guide.

The UI pattern library as a web app rather than a document

The advantage of having a UI pattern library as a web app rather than a document is:

1. Lets you look at the UI patterns from different views. For example- organize by looking for a design problem. Organize alphabetically. Organize by layout section.

2. UI patterns should be updated, added and retired. A web app makes it easier to do so than a document.

Great Examples of UI pattern libraries

1. https://ux.mailchimp.com/patterns – A great example for a company specific UI pattern library

2. https://developer.yahoo.com/ypatterns/ – A generic UI pattern library but with examples from only Yahoo properties.

 

A List of UI Components for a UI Pattern Library for Web Apps and Websites

  1. Accordion
  2. Vertical tabs
  3. Horizontal tabs
  4. Step indicator
  5. Horizontal navigation
  6. Horizontal navigation (Two level)
  7. Horizontal Mega dropdown menu
  8. Vertical navigation
  9. Vertical navigation (Two level)
  10. Links (with default, hover, on-click and visited states)
  11. Form components (with default, hover, focus, on-click states for controls)
    1. Name lookup
    2. Combo box
    3. Multi-select combo box
    4. Text box
    5. Form text value
    6. Label
    7. Checkbox
    8. Radio button
    9. Primary button big
    10. Primary button medium
    11. Primary button small
    12. Secondary button big
    13. Secondary button medium
    14. Secondary button small
    15. Inline edit
    16. Form layout
    17. Form sub-headings
    18. Form groups
    19. Hint text
    20. Instructional text
    21. Help text
  12. A modular grid based layout addressing several possibilities of standard web applications and websites layouts
  13. Messaging
    1. Success message page level
    2. Success message inline
    3. Error message page level
    4. Error message inline
  14. Tables
    1. Data table with

i. Pagination

ii. Filter

iii. Sorting

  1. Processing indicator
  2. Progress indicator
  3. Login box
  4. Modal layer small
  5. Modal layer medium
  6. Modal layer large
  7. Tooltip
  8. Typography
    1. Headings- H1 (Page title) to H6
  9. Notification badge
  10. Breadcrumbs
  11. Facetted search
  12. Header compact
  13. Header regular
  14. Footer compact
  15. Thumbnails small
  16. Thumbnails medium
  17. Thumbnails big
  18. Video player small
  19. Video player medium
  20. Video player big
  21. Fat footer
  22. Auto complete
  23. Carousel
  24. User card

Runne(a)r phones- if you run, you need one (earphone mounted rotary knob volume control)

Summary
This is a product idea I have submitted on Quirky targeted at runners.
Changing the music volume (because of traffic, changing environmental noise) while running is always a hassle. Well, not any more, Runne(a)rphone’s here.
Vote here: http://www.quirky.com/ideations/224692 (if you like it, and tell your friends about it too)

Runner earphones- with a rotary dial to solve volume changing woes Runner earphones- with a rotary dial to solve volume changing woes Runner earphones- with a rotary dial to solve volume changing woes Runner earphones- with a rotary dial to solve volume changing woes

The Problem

This product is a solution to a very specific problem- changing the volume of your music device while running.

When running, we often have to change the volume over the course of the run, especially if we’re running in the city. We come across different volumes of environmental noise (running by a busy road, passing by a construction site, what have you). This means we need to turn the music volume up and down quite a few times throughout the run.

Now changing the volume can be a pain, depending on where we’ve placed our music device. If we’re not using a remote control earphone, then we need to take it out of the pocket and change it, which means slowing down and distracting ourselves from simply enjoying our run. Even using an armband requires us to slow down or bit, or stop moving the arm its on to change the volume… not something we like to do when all we want to do is zone out.

A remote controlled earphone is no better (something I personally use) because we still need to temporarily slow our speed down and get hold of the volume control on the earphone wire. I certainly don’t enjoy it, and believe you don’t too.

The Solution

My solution to the volume changing hassle is an easy, ‘don’t make me think’ one. It is an earphone for runners, where the volume is controlled through the earphone itself rather than the music device.
The difference is that the volume is controlled through a rotary knob (just like those on the old television sets) and this knob is placed on the earphones itself (as you can see in the picture I’ve attached- the extruded portion is supposed to be the rotary knob).

Changing volume is as easy as rotating the knob on either headphone. This means we no longer have to slow down while running. We no longer have to get distracted from having to cumbersomely change the volume. It’s as simple as volume changing should be while running.

Key Features

The product is an earphone targeted at runners and joggers. It solves the specific issue of the cumbersome process of changing the volume of music over the course of a run. It is special because I believe there is no other solution out there which makes it as easy as the this product.

Product Comparison

I am aware of none at the moment

The best of Cone Trees for 2011

2011 has ended and has been a rather good year for me. I know I have not been writing this year, but work has kept me very occupied, and happy.

I left Delhi and moved to Singapore early in the year to join PebbleRoad and have since then had a great time working on a whole lot of digital strategy, user research, information architecture, mobile and social interaction design, usability testing and competitive evaluations for websites and intranets for both the government and corporations such as IE Singapore, Tourism Australia, Visa, SMU, Guiness, Singtel, DHL and more. And the projects went well, nothing like getting repeat proejcts from happy clients. Great team, great fun.

I plan to get back to writing again this year, so you can expect more articles on ConeTrees this year. It’s February already and it is a little late for new year greetings, none the less, I hope you have a wonderful 2012.

Most viewed

The UX Bookmark- the best UX links for the smartest User Experience practitioners
Videos from UX Week 2011
UX Quotes- Quotes on User Experience

Suggested viewing

A Quick Look into IDEO’s Design Process- Designing a Shopping Cart in 5 days
Alan Siegel on simplifying legal jargon (simple language)
Alexis Lloyd on new interactions with news

The best content at Cone Trees for 2010

2010 has been a good year. Besides improving products through usability testing and user research at work, I gave an expert tutorial at The India HCI/ IDID 2010 conference at IIT IDC, Mumbai in March and the book I contributed to, UX Storytellers: Connecting the dots was published in November.

Most viewed content

From the Downloads section- The Usability Testing Process (diagram)
From the (new) UX Glossary section- Post-Study System Usability Questionnaire (PSSUQ)
From the Quick Posts section- Rohan Shravan on the Adam tablet featuring tech specs better than the iPad

Suggested reading

From the Blog section- My chapter in the book: UX Storytellers – Connecting the Dots
From the (new) Tutorials section- How to create active and inactive tabs in Axure
From the Blog section- The official definition(s) of Usability

The best content at Cone Trees for 2009

Summary
Out of the near 50 posts that were made at Cone Trees in 2009, here is a compilation of what was most popular with you, dear readers. You will also find my list of suggested readings for each section (except for the articles section, where there were only three posts I made in the year).

Top 3 Articles

Most popular

  1. Tips for effective DIY Participant Recruitment for Usability Testing
  2. Increase Conversions in Long Web Forms by Resolving the Accidental Back Button Activation Issue
  3. Guidelines for conducting Effective and Efficient Meetings

Top 3 Blog Posts

Most popular

  1. jQuery Masked Input Plugin- Increase usability, input masks for text fields
  2. A Review of the Balsamiq Mockups wireframing application
  3. Usability spotter #5- HP laptop touch pads with scroll zones- absence of tactile cue

Suggested reading

  1. Usability Spotter #6- The Twitter login page password revelation issue
  2. Web Accessibility- our responsibility as Web Industry Professionals
  3. Usability Spotter #4: A Usability issue- Google Chrome Tab selection through the mouse

Top 3 Downloads

Most popular

  1. Download Axure ‘Clear input field value on focus’ prototype/ widget library
  2. Download Axure Touch Screen Hand Gestures Stencils
  3. 15 Tips for Effective Usability Testing in India

Suggested Downloads

  1. SEO through Accessibility- How designing accessible websites leads to automatic SEO
  2. A free Minutes of Meeting (MOM) template
  3. Cone Trees Wallpaper #2- Regenerate

Top 3 ‘News & Resources’

Most popular

  1. Pranav Mistry’s “Sixth Sense”, game-changing wearable technology- a talk by Patties Maes
  2. Web Accessibility- our responsibility as Web Industry Professionals
  3. Dan Roam on “The Way of the Whiteboard: Persuading with Pictures”

Suggested Viewing

  1. Don Norman on the three ways that good design makes you happy
  2. Kim Goodwin on designing a Unified User Experience- integrating Interaction, Visual & Industrial design
  3. Barry Schwartz talks about “The Paradox of Choice- Why Less is More”

Usability Spotter #6- The Twitter login page password revelation issue

Summary
On its login page, Twitter uses JavaScript to set focus on the user name text field so the user can sign in to the account with least effort possible.

However, due to the incompleteness and the placement of the JavaScript, there is a possibility that the user’s password may get revealed (in the user name text field of the login form) if the user attempts to enter their account details before the login page completely loads. The description of the usability issue and solution are discussed ahead.

Update (Jan 20, 2010): I informed Twitter about it and Anamitra Banerji from Twitter product got back letting me know he has someone working on fixing it.

Update (Mar 28, 2010): I noticed today that they (finally, one and a half months later) fixed up the issue.

The Issue

Setting focus on text field to increase usability

In order to make the login form easy to use, the technical team at Twitter uses JavaScript to set focus on the user name text field upon loading of the login page. The user is saved time and effort of either:

  1. Having to tab through elements on the page (using the keyboard) in order to set focus upon the ‘username’ input field.
  2. Or moving the mouse to position it over the user name text field and clicking upon it in order to begin entering account details.

Placing JavaScript at the bottom to decrease page loading speed

The team also chose to place this ‘text field focus’ JavaScript at the bottom of the page code right before the closing tag. This makes sense since placing JavaScript at the bottom of the page helps decrease page loading time.

This is because when scripts download, nothing else can be downloaded along with it in parallel (in contrast, multiple images could have come through at the same time). So that is why moving them to the bottom gives a chance for the rest of the page to load up faster.

The above two combined form the issue

The ‘text field focus’ JavaScript, as discusses above, is a good idea, but would however only be effective if the JavaScript loads and sets focus upon the input field before the user manually does so.

And in the case of slower internet connections, since the JavaScript code is placed at the bottom of the page, there is a high possibility that the user may begin to enter their account details before the page fully loads and as a consequence, their password could gets partially or completely revealed.

So lets look at three cases- one where the JavaScript loads on time (before the user manually sets focus on the ‘username’ text field) and the other two, where the JavaScript does not load on time.

1. JavaScript loads before user manually sets focus on the ‘username’ text field and begins typing username

Twitter login form
Everything is fine and as intended. Focus is set on ‘username’ text field. The user can proceed to typing in credentials.

2. JavaScript loads after user manually sets focus on the ‘username’ text field and user is about to begin typing or is already typing in the user name.

If the user is typing in username when JavaScipt loads, there are no problems

The script does not achieve its goal since it failed at setting focus on the ‘username’ text field for the user who had to do so manually. Before the user begins to type in the user name or during the process of doing so, the JavaScript sets focus on an already focused ‘username’ text field. This does not affect the user in any way who can type in the user name without any issues.

3. JavaScript loads after user sets focus manually on the ‘username’ text field, completes typing in username, and now sets focus on the ‘password’ text field, and is either:

  1. Beginning to type in the password
    In the lesser probable case of the two, if the JavaScript loads just when the user is about to begin typing in the password, the JavaScript will shift focus to the ‘username’ field and the while the user begins entering the password, the password will get revealed in the ‘username’ text field since the focus has shifted to it.
    If the JavaScript loads when the user is just beginning to typing in the password, then there is a big issue
    But won’t users notice their password appearing in the username text field? Most probably not until most of or the complete password has been revealed- novice to intermediate computer users will look at the keyboard while typing in the password. Expert users may not have to do so, but since there is also a possibility that expert users will choose complex passwords as compared to novice users, it is probable that they will look at the keyboard too while they type in the password too.
  2. Already typing in password

    If the JavaScript loads when the user is typing in the password, there is a problem
    If the JavaScript loads while the user is already typing in the password in the ‘password’ field, then the focus will shift to the ‘username’ field in between and the password will partially be revealed in the ‘username’ text field as illustrated in the example below.

Severity of the issue

This could be labeled as a usability issue medium to high error severity since the issue translates to a security concern.

Having the password reveal itself without the wishes of the user is bad usability because the application is not behaving as the user expects it to. When a user enters data in a text box, the user expects the data being filled to appear in the text box- either masked or as is depending on whether it is a password text field or not. What the user does not expect is to see the focus of the text box change to another and their password get revealed.

Of equally serious concern is the consequence of the issue- the user’s password is partially or completely revealed, without their intentions of the user wanting to do so. This password may be observed by a passerby who the user does or does not notice, who may then go on to compromise the account.

The Solution

This issue is certainly something Twitter should fix immediately considering low level of effort (LOE) required to plug it up. There are two solutions to the issue, both very simple both with their pros and cons.

Solution 1

By shifting the code and placing it above the ‘username’ field of the login form, it is guaranteed that the script will load before the form loads. And thus, the focus will always be set on the ‘username’ text field.

Pro: Focus will always set on ‘username’ field before the user can attempt to do so
Con: Page loading speed may however be compromised.

Solution 2

This solution mitigates the issue in a different sense. It does not ensure that the goal of the text field focus’ JavaScript is met (which is to manage to always set focus upon the ‘username’ text field before the user can attempt to do so) but ensures that the unintended consequence of password revelation will never occur.

The solution is to modify the code logic and keep it at the position it is currently at- so page loading speed is uncompromised and the issue is not caused either.

Currently, the script simply sets focus on the username text field when the script loads. The script may be modified to set up a condition where the script first checks if the focus is already set on either the ‘username’ or ‘password’ text field of the login form. If so, we do nothing since we can assume that the user is busy entering account details. But if the focus is not set upon either of the fields, then we can, as the script, earlier did, set focus upon the ‘username’ text field.

The advantage here is that we do not compromise page loading speed. We also ensure that the user’s password does not accidentally get revealed. What we don’t ensure is the fact that the user may set focus manually upon the ‘username’ text field before the script does so.

Pro: Page loading speed remains uncompromised and the unintended consequence of password revelation can never occur.
Con: The goal of the ‘text field focus’ solution which was to always set focus on ‘username’ before user can attempt to do so is not met.

Your thoughts?

Here’s hoping to see Twitter patch this up as soon as possible. What are your thoughts?

A Review of the Balsamiq Mockups wireframing application

Summary
Balsamiq Mockups is an reasonably priced application for creating wireframes that is easy to learn and use suitable for smaller projects. Creating interactive prototypes out of Balsamiq wireframes is now possible with the release of another application called Napkee. This review talks talks about:

  • Balsamiq Mockup specifications
  • Balsamiq’s distinct visual character and how it work both in favor and against Balsamiq being adopted by users
  • Pros and cons of the application
  • A conclusion with a recommendation on who should use and what to use Balsamiq Mockups for

Note

This review is based upon the latest Balsamiq Mockups available at the moment- version 1.6.25. Line-throughs (like this) indicate notes about the earlier version.

Specifications

Balsamiq Website: Balsamiq Mockups
How much does it cost? $ 79
Number of controls in UI library: 66 73
Download user contributed Balsamiq UI components: Mockups To Go
Application: Available as an installable. A web application is in the works. Also available as a plugin for Confluence, JIRA, XWiki & FogBugz.
Platforms: An Adobe Air application, hence runs on currently Windows, Macintosh and Linux. Balsamiq Mockups will be cross platform once the web application version is out.

Characteristically Balsamiq

Lets first talk about Balsamiq’s distinctive hand drawn style that makes it look like a scanned paper prototype. What can be seen as Balsamiq’s defining characteristic that differentiates it from other wireframe and prototyping applications- the unconventional hand drawn style and the character of the application, works both as an advantage and disadvantage for it.

1. Unconventional style as an advantage

1.1 Balsamiq- The Visceral aspect

Balsamiq Mockups installationBalsamiq Mockups icons
What strikes many immediately about Balsamiq Mockups is its (well implemented) sketchy hand drawn styling and its cheery character. It is the visceral aspect where Balsamiq Mockups scores, allowing it to make a good quick first impression with many a user, who do not mind trying it out with a positive mind or spreading the word on it. It is a popular application talked about and recommended in the interaction design community, despite (as I discuss ahead) the fact that it does not possess (a deliberate decision I would think) the features that would make it an efficient tool to use for the more seasoned interaction designer or information architect.

1.2 Discussion stays at blueprint level without detracting to styling of elements

A wireframe is used to communicate the basic structure (layout and interactions, flow, not content) and working of a product before heading on (optionally but ideally) to higher fidelity prototypes, visual design and subsequently to the development of the product itself. The wireframe is discussed with various stakeholders and constantly refined till it reaches a stable state where the basic structure can be frozen and the team can move ahead to a lower level of detail.

This process can be time consuming and while the scope of discussion of the wireframe should be limited to what wireframes are designed to communicate- the basic structure, in reality, this is not the case. Almost all wireframe and prototyping applications allow for the possibility of moving the wireframe from a basic structural indicator towards a graphically stylized mockup (whether or not it is intended to indicate the visual design of the product). As a result, it is not uncommon to find that time and again stakeholders stray from discussion on basic structure and comment about graphic design which the wireframe is concerned with at this stage.

This is where Balsamiq scores again. Creating a wireframe to move beyond basic structural indication in Balsamiq is practically out of scope (unless you want to load up a hundred images). This ensures that the wireframe is taken and discussed as a wireframe, and there is no possibility of critique on look and feel. In Balsamiq, the only style here is the hand drawn style and there is literally no possibility of stakeholders confusing it for the actual design of the product.

2. Unconventional style as a disadvantage

In his session for MIX ’09, Dan Roam, (author of the book- The back of the Napkin) says “I do not know the cognitive reasons behind this, but I have never seen this not be true. The more human your picture, the more human will be the response”.

While this may be the case, enjoying the benefit of encouraged participation in wireframe discussions can occur only once the application is adopted by the user. Prior to this, a decision has to be made on whether to adopt the application or not, and in Balsamiq’s case, just as the visceral aspect works in its favor, the same sketchy rendering and cheery character could lead to Balsamiq being rejected by users.

In a consultancy, one may consider whether all clients would prefer being presenting with wireframes rendered in a sketchy hand drawn style in comparison to the standard lines and boxes that they are used to seeing. Based upon the unconventionally light natured visual character of the application, a client may view the consultancy as not being as professional or capable as they otherwise took it to be.

Similarly, for internal use in a product based company, especially those at or below stage four of Nielsen’s Corporate Usability Maturity model, where a considerably stable usability group is yet to emerge, usability practitioners will want the company to take usability as seriously as can be taken. In such a scenario, using a tool to create wireframes (in a hand drawn style using a presentation feature with a big cartoon like pointer) that will be discussed by stakeholders beyond the user experience department brings the concern of other departments not taking the usability group seriously enough.

Since the problem is with perception here, you should find it helpful to convince them by letting them know that a giant like Microsoft also chooses to use a similar hand drawn sketchy style in SketchFlow which is a as part of their Expression Blend product.

Balsamiq Mockups- Pros and Cons

While there are many other points that I can add to both lists, these are the ones that I feel are at the major ones.

Pros

Easy to use and a low learning curve
Balsamiq has been kept fairly simple and has a low learning curve and it is easy to get considerably productive right away.
It’s widget library
Balsamiq Mockups provides a fairly well stocked UI control library that will let you wireframe with ease. You will find iPhone controls present as well.
Community shared controls
Mockups To Go is a user-contributed collection of ready-to-use UI components and design patterns built using Balsamiq Mockups. This is handy in helping you speed up work since there is always a possibility of finding a part or whole of the wireframe you need to build already available for you to download and customize.
Reasonably priced
At $ 79, the price is good for everybody, there is nothing more to say.
Responsive customer support
While I have not required required any customer support or requested for any new features, customer service is an aspect that Balsamiq is known to perform well in. I have heard users rave about the fact that Balsamiq is extremely responsive to its users, always hearing what they want and responding to their needs and issues.
‘Quick add’ is useful
Quick add is a useful feature that lets you find the widget by typing in its name instead of having to go through the various categories of controls that exist. Of course, the labels given to controls may differ from the ones you use and this may limit its effectiveness but this continually reduces with time spent on the application

Balsamiq mockups auto suggest

Presentation Mode
This is useful when presenting the wireframe to stakeholders, especially with the newly introduced ability to toggle annotations in presentation mode.
Interactive Prototypes through Balsamiq
This is in the works and yet to be released. With the release of the third party tool called Napkee, users will be able to use Balsamiq to create interactive prototypes.

Cons

Absence of the ability to Zoom and Pan, create custom controls, no concept of masters or backgrounds and multiple pages
Besides other features required by more experienced interaction designers and information architects to execute and manage their their work both quickly and efficiently, the absence of these features slows work down and makes it unideal for large-sized projects.
Memory usage over time shoots up
In all fairness, this is an issue Adobe needs to address in the Air Application and there is nothing Balsamiq can really do about this.

The Balsamiq Mockups user interface

Notepad Background image stretch
The background image vertically stretches if you increase the height of the mockup instead of simply vertically tiling a seamless pattern to make the notebook background. Adding a seamless tile vertically would have made much more sense. Replaced by a neat and clean grid now.

Conclusion- Who should use it, what to use it for and when to use it

Balsamiq Mockups is a reasonably priced, easy to learn and use wireframing tool that comes with limited features. Based upon these simple facts, I wrap up saying:

  1. Since Balsamiq Mockups application has been kept simple and is extremely easy to learn and use, I would recommend it for use in startups or any organization where there is a single or a few interaction designers who are relatively new to wireframing but are required to get productive right away. I would also suggest Balsamiq Mockups to be used by interaction designers of higher expertise levels give it a hand for smaller projects and personal projects and see whether it fits their needs or not.
  2. For the same reason as above, I would recommend Balsamiq Mockups to all those who are not interaction designers and information architects- for use by the technical team to brainstorm UI in organizations or smaller projects that do not have the luxury of having an interaction designer or team on board.
  3. I would not recommend it for large-sized projects where wireframe creation speed and management is crucial, when you are creating a large number of wireframes for a project and linking them together carefully so every one of them stays current through minimum effort when you are required to update common components.
  4. I think it would be interesting (and this I will try as I plan and execute usability tests every month of the year) to use Balsamiq Mockups to quickly recreate paper prototypes in Balsamiq Mockups and print them out for testing instead of the paper prototype itself, for a bit of neatness and order.
  5. Hand drawn style that makes it look like a trace of a paper prototype may or may not work for your organization or client. So if you decide to use it, make sure your stakeholders- whether internal or external are comfortable with a sketchy rendering instead of the conventional lines and boxes.

Usability spotter #5- HP laptop touch pads with scroll zones- absence of tactile cue

Summary
The issue with HP laptops that have a touch pad with a scroll zone contained it (as shown in image A) is that they do not provide a tactile cue for the user to help interpret what section of the touch pad the finger is positioned at. In the absence of a tactile cue, it is difficult for the user to determine whether the finger is on touch pad or the scroll zone without looking at it, resulting in the accidental scrolling on the screen when actually the user simply wants to move the cursor. The issue and multiple solutions are discussed ahead.

The issue with HP laptop touchpads with scoll zones- Absence of a tactile cue

HP laptop touch pad with scroll zone
(Image A)

To be more precise, the issue described in this post refers to HP laptops and all other laptops that have touch pads with ‘scroll zones’ similar to the image (of the HP 6510B model) above.

Illustrating the usability issue with HP laptop touch pad with scroll zone

In the above illustration of the touch pad, you can see that the top view provides the user a visual cue to differentiate the mouse area and scroll zone. The side view however, illustrates the absence of relief to translate the visual cue to a tactile cue.

The users will receive the same consistent tactile feedback whether the finger is on the mouse area or the scroll zone. It is this absence of a tactile cue that reduces chances of error free operation of the touch pad without the aid of visual feedback (the user looking at the touch pad).

While the user can estimate the position of their finger in the touch pad’s horizontal space by either orienting through visual feedback or by tactile feedback alone (by feeling the edges of the sunken touch pad to get an idea of the width of the entire touch pad), relying upon the user to do so correctly in all situations is a design compromise. Especially when the user is working in a hurry or busy, there is not much attention the user can allocate to such a task when concentrating on accomplishing an important goal. Error in touch pad operation at this time will understandably be more frustrating for the user.

Error criticality in this case might not be significant but frequency of the issue definitely is. Considering that Image A is a picture of an HP business laptop (6510B), and the fact that business laptops are all about increasing productivity, this should be a valid case for HP to work upon the stated touch pad usability issue.

Solution- Introduction of a tactile cue in the touch pad

A logical solution to the issue is to providing a tactile cue will allow the user to operate the touch pad in an error free manner with the tactile cue acting as an effective indicator of the different sections contained in the touch pad. This will allow the user to only rely on their finger to determine accurately where the finger is on the touch pad without having to resort to utilizing to their sense of sight which should be focussed towards the monitor.

What would be an effective tactile cue? The solutions described below describe two different concepts to building a tactile cue in with the common goal of helping the user effectively determine which section is the finger placed upon. through tactile feedback alone.

1. Using a tactile cue to notifying the user of zone boundaries

Illustrating solution three of the usability issue with HP laptop touch pad with scroll zone

The above illustration elevated the surface along a line to create a ridge to serve as a demarcation. This ridge acts as an effective tactile cue for the user to interpret whether the finger is upon the mouse area or scroll zone.

2. Tactile differentiation

Tactile patterns can be used to provide differentiated tactile feedback for the different touch pad sections.

2.1 Tactile differentiation through utilization of a horizontal line tactile pattern

Illustrating solution one of the usability issue with HP laptop touch pad with scroll zone

This solution uses the visual marking (see Image A) to form a tactile cue. The visual cue (horizontal lines) is converted to a tactile cue, that is- the horizontal lines are converted to low relief. This might be done by using an ink that creates a low relief when printing the horizontal lines. It is important that the relief be extremely low and just enough for the user to sense differentiation in texture from the smooth mouse area.

2.2 Tactile differentiation through application of a solid-rough tactile pattern

Illustrating solution three of the usability issue with HP laptop touch pad with scroll zone

A solid-rough tactile pattern or otherwise may be used to create extremely low relief on the existing touch pad surface that will allow the user to differentiate the scroll zone from the mouse area’s smooth surface.

Your thoughts?

What are your thoughts on such touch pads without tactile cues? Have you used a laptop with such a touch pad? Was it easy to use, tough or frustrating? I would like to know.

Axure widgets for the user interface pattern- Clear input field value on focus

Summary
If you’ve been looking for them, here they are: Two Axure widgets (clear text on focus of text field & clear text on focus of text area) for the Input Prompt design pattern are available for download in Axure project file (.rp) and widget library (.rplib) format.

The following two Axure widgets are for the Input Prompt user interface pattern:

  • Clear text value on focus of Input Field
  • Clear text value on focus of Text Area

What is the Input Prompt UI pattern?

The Input Prompt UI pattern refers to using the input field text for communicating to the user what the label or hint text otherwise would. On focus of the input field (with the exception of a dropdown list), the text contained in the input field disappears.

When to use

The Input Prompt pattern is used to address the problem of space constraints where:

  1. The label for an input field can not be provided due to space limitations.
  2. The label for an input field is provided but hint text required to help with user entering information can not be provided for the input field due to space limitations.

Advantages

  1. Makes use of input field space to communicate label or hint text.
  2. Higher probability of text being noticed by the user in comparison to label or hint text since it is placed within the input field itself rather than around it.

Disadvantages

Text disappears upon focusing on the input field (solution- don’t clear text upon focus of input field). This isn’t a substantial issue when used in a text field since the text that can be used is only a few words. It is a considerable issue if the text consists of a few lines or more to be used as an example of what is to be filled into a text area. In this case, making hint text available is a good idea.

Demo the Clear Input Field Value on Focus Axure widgets

Demo (opens in new window, 105 kb)

Watch an example video


(File size:330 kb)

Download options

  1. You can download it as a widget library (.rplib) (downloaded 18906 times)
  2. You can download it as a project file (.rp) (downloaded 7495 times)
Creative Commons License
Axure Widgets for the User Interface Pattern: Clear Input Field Value onFocus/ Input Prompt by Abhay Rautela is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 India License.

Jing- a video capture tool for time based UI bugs (or when screenshots won’t do)

Summary
All UI bugs cannot be captured through images. Some UI issues are not only state based, but time based as well- where the bug might occur in transition of states or the time taken to change states (transitions and states are explained at the end for the unaware).

For example, you might want to illustrate the usability problem of a pull-down menu which has a zero time delay, thus making the selection of items down and up the hierarchy difficult for the user as the slightest overshooting of the target results in disappearance of the desired item.

In this case, it is not possible for an image to describe the issue. For such scenarios, video is effective method of capturing the issue, and there is a tool that makes it as easy and fast to execute as is capturing a screenshot.

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