What Crappy Looks Like

June 19, 2012

When we see a crappy user interface we know it.  We can’t articulate it, but we know it. We look at it, have that sinking feeling in our gut, and try to figure out a way to say something about it. But we can’t. We’re afraid that we’ll offend someone, or worse yet have the wrong opinion. And really, that’s all it is – your opinion. That’s really the problem. If your assessment of a user interface is only your opinion, how can it be valid? It’s valid because you *know* it’s crappy. You don’t need a degree in human-computer interaction, industrial design, or usability engineering to know it’s crappy – it just is.

We often miss the opportunity to just blurt out, “That sucks”. Look, if it sucks, it sucks. If you created it, try to make it not suck. If someone else did, tell them it sucks. Don’t try to sugarcoat it – that’s like slowly peeling off duct tape. Just say, “that sucks” and get working on the next, highly productive question: Why does it suck? It probably sucks because it’s ugly, clunky, or hard to use. Pick one and start there. If it’s ugly, hire a graphic designer with a portfolio you like, or hold an online design competition. If it’s clunky, dump features until you’re back to the core features everyone wants. If it’s hard to use, ask people to use it with you looking at them, and when they can’t figure something out change it so that they *can* figure it out.

Decades ago, there weren’t that many user interfaces around, and they were really expensive to create. As a result we needed a lot of PhD’s huddled around a chalkboard to figure out the best user interface before investing millions of dollars in creating one. Today, we can whiteboard 3 user interfaces in an afternoon, and build a working prototype the next day. We don’t need to read textbooks just to understand where to put a button or a check-box. All we need to do is look at the sites and applications that millions of people use every day. Even if you don’t particularly like a user interface, you at least know millions of people know how to use it. Remember, if you’re going to tell someone their works sucks, you better be ready with an alternative, and there’s no better alternative than pointing to the user interfaces of highly successful products.

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I would like to point out that if we work together today, or have in the past, my opinions may or may not have been influenced by working with you. Most likely they have been, but I have to say that to avoid offending people. You're so vain. I bet you think this site is about you.