March 23, 2006
The Windows Live Local mapping service is surprisingly difficult to use. It certainly looks simple enough:
Like everyone else, the first thing I do when I encounter a new mapping solution is try my current address. In this case it's my work address. But when I press enter, I get this error:
No results were found. Try another search, or if entering an address, enter it in the Where box. Click help to learn more.
This is admittedly a sample size of one. But everyone I know makes this mistake when using Windows Live Local search for the first time. Yes, the two text boxes are labeled. Sort of. But users won't read anything you put on the screen, even so-called professional computer users like ourselves. There's simply one textbox too many on that form.
It may seem irrational to declare that two of anything is one too many, but consider these stopwatches:
Here's a stopwatch with one button. So this button must start, stop, and reset the time. It's a little overloaded, but like an Apple mouse, at least nobody gets confused. In theory.
Let's add one more button. Maybe one button starts and stops, and the other resets? Or maybe one button starts and the other stops. But which one? It'll take a bit of trial and error to get this to work.
Now we add another button. And an extra sweeping hand. I don't even know where to begin. The complexity just went up exponentially.
This stopwatch has three colored buttons. And no sweeping hand. The colors definitely help: red means stop, green means go. So I'm guessing black is reset.
The last stopwatch illustrates that it is possible to add interface elements without adding confusion. But you have to do it very carefully. If you have to add "just one more.." of any UI element, be sure that you're not adding the one UI element that breaks the camel's back.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
If your adding UI elements, consistance is the key. But so is discoverability.
However, any different interface in the case cited would arguably be more clicks, more possibly unecessarily verbose. Yes, it's jarring the first time. But once you learn it, and it's quick to learn, then it's possibly the cleanest interface.
The only other interface of worth, and possibly better, would be to place the decision at the point of action. i.e. let the user make the decision by having two differently, succinctly labeled buttons. But there is a whole slew of problems with that too.
Slightly off topic maybe, and maybe completely wrong. Feel free to correct me, I'm willing to learn.
I did the exact same thing.
For this particular case, put the "Where" first since if I'm using a map application that's more likely to be what I'm after (even more so considering that I'm coming from the competition like MapQuest).
And if I *do* type something in the wrong box which yields "no results found", assume I typed into the wrong box and run the query again for me automatically.
Also, be smart and see if what I typed in looks like a street address.
I agree with J.D.S. Putting the "Where" first fixes the problem. Microsoft Streets and Trips gets it right with a single box. Enter a location or address and it does the rest. If it gets more than a single hit it presents a list with possible matches that you can pick from. Nice.
ICR makes a good point about it being quick to learn. Making you fail the first time forces you to read and then, in my experience anyways, the user has the "oh, ain't I a dumb bunny for putting it in the wrong box" reaction. Obviously, switching the order of the boxes is preferable but I don't think the current state is the disaster you make it out to be.
I don't think the current state is the disaster you make it out to be
If your user's first experience with your product is "now I feel like an idiot", it's all downhill from there.
Oddly enough, about two minutes ago my wife had a panic attack: Outlook was saying something to her and she desparately needed my help. Why? Because it had downloaded what it thought was spam and put it in the junk email folder. Big deal? No. Had she actually read what it was saying she would have understood quite easily. My wife isn't completely computer illiterate - like most users she just won't put in the time to read and understand. It's the "Just make it go" mentality.
apart from the ui problem, it's also finding funny places. try searching for munich. or paris. well, it _does_ know about paris.
paris, illinois. wow.
You work at Microsoft yes? no? You could um like you know mention it to the windows live folx.
The position of the where box probably tells you something of the target audience, and I wouldn't be suprised if they had done the research into the matter. I'm far more likely to use a service to find some form of buisness. Yes, I might test it with an address, but in the long term I would more use the service for locating buisnesses. I would hazard a guess that is their target audience.
Not that that excuses the confusing situation. There have been a few ways mentioned above that would have solved the problem.
This really annoys me. I use Windows Live Hotmail and the new design has two search boxes annoyingly close to each other.
See image (http://twitpic.com/15gm9)
One for searching the web and one for your email.
I have never intentionally searched the web from hotmail as I would navigate away from Hotmail and that's what tabs are for. I have however put my email search term in there lots of times and left hotmail.
Similarly confusing is the Get updates button on the new whitehouse.gov site. It's enabled by default, and after I clicked it, I expected to see options (RSS, email, etc.). Instead, it turns out you have to input your email address and zip code *before* clicking the updates button. http://www.whitehouse.gov/
I'm color blind and find it very difficult to spot red in the scenario you pointed out without having it pointed out to me. :)
Before this, my brain makes assumptions and says black, black, green.
Actually it more accurately says dark, dark, bright
Also the buttons are in the wrong order (in a western oriented (read Left to Right) world anyway)
Should be green, red, black :P
Does the captcha always say orange?
@Rory - because it's the worst captcha ever.
That IS extremely confusing and I would have fallen for it the same way. Another irritation is two submit buttons on the same page.
I'm a big fan of watermarking my text boxes so the user has no choice but to read what they should be entering.