Archive for June, 2009

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2nd edition

June 30, 2009 Leave a comment

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2nd edition

This book is marvelous, and should be required reading to anyone who creates charts, graphs, or other summaries of quantiative/numeric data.  Especially interesting is the section showing how less is more in charts and how taking away information enhances the legibility.

Highly recommended.

Categories: link, UI

User Interface Post #2: Nonreactive scroll bars

June 28, 2009 Leave a comment

User Interface Design: Scroll bars that do not react to mouse wheel

Our screens are much higher resolution than they were 10 years ago.  Nevertheless, with web content we often still have to scroll to get places.  This pain has been alleviated with the advent of the near ubiquitous mouse wheel.  There are few things that irk me more while browsing the web or using supposedly Web 2.0 type technologies than custom coded components that do not react at all to the scroll wheel.  This often occurs in embedded video files that are age gated, as well as in long dropdown menus.

See, for example, the Assassin’s Creed 2 trailer

I don’t know whether I’ve ever seen the scroll wheel react correctly within an embedded video file like that, so I’ll cut them a little slack.  When it’s within components like drop down menus on a website, that’s just absurd.

FedEx can't get it right either

The reason why scroll bars are a pain to use in the first place is because they require fine motor skills to grab the narrow bar (probably less than 20 pixel wide).

I’m sure there are lots of other examples throughout the web.

This is just one specific example of a more important design philosophy: Don’t mess with things that users expect to be standardized and behave in certain ways.

Categories: regular, UI

Thoughts on the Sony Vaio P

June 5, 2009 Leave a comment

VAIO P netbook

I played around with this netbook at Staples yesterday briefly, and came away with two main impressions.


The screen is sharp.  Unbelievably sharp.  To fit a 1600 x 768 screen into 8” means it has an incredibly small pixels and/or dot pitch.  That’s all well and good but.  It also means that things are so small it’s impossible to see what’s going on.  My old 17” laptop packed 1920×1200 into that size screen and I had to constantly bump the size of fonts etc. up to be readable.

Here’s the weird thing though.  In my mind having a high screen resolution is good for two main reasons.

  1. to have multiple programs running at once arranged how you like
  2. to display high-def content

I feel like there is no reason to put such a high resolution screen in a netbook.  #1, since you are on a netbook you’re probably not going to be having too many programs running at once, which reduces the benefit of #1.

I am not sure whether this netbook is capable of running 720 p video, but the thought of including such a high-res screen for video content strikes me as overkill.  Given that 18% of people can’t tell the difference between high def and standard def content on big screen TVs , the extra pixels are really not going to be that noticeable on a crazy small screen.

Finally, it’s doubtful people are going to be watching much hi-def content on this device anyway, given that it doesn’t have an optical drive and only a 60 GB drive standard.  I would assume streaming flash is probably as close as most people are going to get, and again they’re not going to appreciate the extra pixels.

So in conclusion, I think the super high res screen detracts from the package – if I can’t see what I’m looking at, then you’ve failed.  Yes you can probably set the resolution to something different, but native resolution is always going to look best.


Given what I said about the huge expanse of pixels to navigate, having a good way to move around is very important.  The little eraser nub they include simply does not  cut it.  Again, this is a first impression and maybe it takes a lot of practice to become proficient with the device.  But I think people are by and large used to track pads, and will walk away with a very sour taste in their mouth after trying this device out in the store.


I realize that this netbook probably was not designed for me.  But I still think these complaints are valid.

Categories: regular

User Interface Design: Incremental Search

June 4, 2009 1 comment

User interface

This is the first of what will be a series of posts detailing user interface designs I think are great, that suck, that are blegh.. you get the idea.

User interface cheers

#1 Incremental search

It’s hard to use the web today and not use incremental search, at least if you are using some of the major web sites of the day. Incremental search means you get search results without explicitly having to choose when to execute your search – you get results immediately as you search. Since the results are immediately displayed, you can stop typing the instant you see what you were looking for. This approach can be contrasted with the standard dialog box approach found in many word processing programs, in which you must explicitly execute the search. When combined with most recently used and statistically likely search results, incremental search can seem like magic – how did Google know I was looking specifically for that?

You can see incremental search at work in some of the following applications and web sites

  • Facebook contact search
    Facebook contact search
  • Gmail contact search
    Gmail contact search
  • Google search bar
    Google search bar
  • Quicksilver
  • Firefox awesome bar
    Firefox awesome bar

Here is the evil modal dialog box incremental search replaces, this one from the otherwise excellent Textmate:
Evil dialog box

Edit: I should mention that Textmate features incremental search as well, when you use the ctrl s shortcut instead of command f.

The incremental search is also prevalent throughout Mac OS; Spotlight uses incremental search, as do the bundled apps like preview.

Jeff Atwood extolled the virtues of incremental back in 2005 in his post entitled Search: If It Isn’t Incremental, It’s Excremental He raises some excellent points as to why incremental search is superior, specifically “There aren’t any dialogs in your way”, “It wastes less of your time”, “Mistakes are clearly evident”, “It’s interactive.”

Thankfully programmers are making incremental search the standard rather than the exception.

That’s it for this installment. To come: Facebook does checkboxes right.

Categories: regular, UI