The Design of Software (CLOSED)

A public forum for discussing the design of software, from the user interface to the code architecture. Now closed.

The "Design of Software" discussion group has been merged with the main Joel on Software discussion group.

The archives will remain online indefinitely.

Dumbest ideas in user interfaces

I suppose most of us know classics like the interface hall of shame. What is your all-time favorite mistake in user interfaces?

My definite number one is: The move function on the left mouse key -- without asking the user or notifying him. The incidents when someone claims that an object was "deleted" or "lost", just to be recovered from a nearby folder, are legion.
Secure
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
In the golden oldie section:
Emacs on VMS where the ctrl and meta keys were the same key but you held it down for ctrl and held then released for meta.

Annoyingly silly.
To eject a floppy on a mac you drag it to the waste bin. This doesn't delete it but instead keeps it safe!
Martin Send private email
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
One of my favorites from my first programming job :)

We had this software that would import data from an Apple Newton. The Newton was a PDA device, similar to a Palm, for those who never heard of them.

The device would be hooked up to the PC via the com port, this was before USB.

The software had a button on the import screen "Transfer Data". Clicking this would bring up a little modal dialog box:

Is the Newton ready to transfer data?

Yes | No | Cancel


Clicking Yes would start the import procedure, and if all was well, the data would be imported and previewed in a grid.

Clicking Cancel would, as you might expect, cancel the dialog.

One day, when making some adjustments to the data transfer routine to fix a reported bug, I took a closer look at this little interface and decided to click the "No" button.

The dialog box closed, as expected, then popped up again, asking me AGAIN, if the Newton was ready to transfer data. Click, No, No, No, No, etc... and it keeps popping up! I thought this was pretty cute, and looking at the code - the No option did nothing... it only returns you to the top of the repeat..until loop, which then follows to prompt the user again, and again, and again... It had been there for years, I guess nobody ever questioned it's usefulness.

I had a good laugh with the programmer next to me, then asked my manager if I could remove the button, explaining the utter uselessness of the No option.

At first, he insisted that it made sense and that it followed the standard of all dialog prompts in the system... (Yes, No, Cancel). I had only a few months experience under my belt, so he was understandably wary of my suggestions, but funny (to me, and later himself) it took a deal of convincing, but finally he saw what I was getting at... No, No, No, No... "Yeah, I guess it is stupid... remove it!"
I still code in Delphi
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
The black keys on the piano. Geez. Who came up with that one?
mynameishere
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
The default mouse driver for Windows maps the buttons on the left and right sides of the mouse to Back and Forward in most web browsers. These buttons are really easy to hit accidentally. I can't count the number of times I've lost a bunch of text because I clicked one of them.
JW
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
Kai's Power Tools. Really, anything by Kai Krause. Nothing like the "balls dropped into a tray of mud" interface to make a user feel right at home.
Mark Bessey Send private email
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
Internet Explorer 7

Everyone I speak to over the age of 50 who had this auto-upgrade from IE 6 happen cannot understand why "something changed on Windows and the Internet does not work anymore..."

Try explaining how tabbed browsing in IE 7 works to your mom over the phone, while you are using Firefox.
I still code in Delphi
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
The whole switch from MDI to multiple SDI in Office.
You close a junk document A it pops up a box asking if you want to save changes to document B - but you automatically click no becuase you aren't interested in docA - Arrgh!!!
Martin Send private email
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
Actually, some serious ones:

The CAPS lock key. Totally pointless, or at least not deserving such a prominent spot.

ctrl-I in eclipse. Equivilent to the TAB in emacs, which formats the current line. Worthless because you need to reach 8 inches with  pink and index finger to use it.

one button mouse in macs. Proof that jobs is fallable.

Icons. With the exception of universally understood icons, such as the backbutton, they hurt more than they help: Every application is, in essence, using its own hieroglyphics rather than a perfectly good language. A picture of a printer is NOT easier to use than the word "Print".

Schism between an operation's importance and its visibility, aka, "The Japanese Car Radio Problem". In an American car, you often have one knob that controls volume and power, and another knob that controls the frequency. In a Japanese car, you have 600 buttons, the tinyest of which controls both volume and frequency, depending on how long you hold it down.

Hidden comments in threads. Ever try to read a slashdot thread? Ugh. Worse is a normal forum in which ONE message is visible, requiring a click to read every other message.

The traditional upside-down threading in email.

Everything related to wordperfect.

"If you change a file name extension, the file may become unusable."  <--- and similar FALSE error statements.

"Couldn't find file XYZ.txt"  This is my least favorite error statement, and I'd be perfectly happy if every developer who wrote such a thing be taken out and shot immediately. The correct format is: "Couldn't find file XYZ.txt in DIRECTORY c:/where/I/was/looking/". Spot the difference? The first one is utterly, utterly worthless.
mynameishere
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
What's wrong with WordPerfect? No, seriously. I'm curious.
Greg Send private email
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
Any web page that rejects a credit-card number because it has spaces in it. Um, your software can tell the spaces are there, but can't ignore them? It's so much easier to make sure you've entered the right number if you split them into groups for four (hey, you think maybe that's why they do it on the card itself?). Don't you want my money?
Grumpy Old Coder Send private email
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
"It's so much easier to make sure you've entered the right number if you split them into groups for four..."

As it turns out, companies switched to using a single text field so that web browsers can automatically fill them in. Err...  it's sees that it's a credit card field labeled field and completes it for you.

It's still dumb. It wouldn't have taken that much more to set up the browser to recognize the CARD_FIELD_1 label, the CARD_FIELD_2 label, and so on.
TheDavid
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
You can have a single text field and still allow spaces, dashes, and other punctuation.
clcr
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
In the spirit of the thread...

Open a file in Microsoft Word. Immediately click the print button and then select File->Close. You'll get a prompt asking you if you want to save the document. Why?

Can't Microsoft tell if you've made any actual changes to the document itself?
TheDavid
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
Windows scroll bars.

If you have a lot in the control, say many USENET posts, and you are near one end of the data, there is no easy way to scroll ahead/back one display worth of data as there is no space to click on.

Sincerely,

Gene Wirchenko
Gene Wirchenko Send private email
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
On a more modern note:

Tooltips, when they're used for anything except what they're intended for.

You mouse over an item and a tooltip (might) pop up giving more information about that item.

1. If the mouse "jitters" then the tooltip won't show, as they don't show until the mouse has been still for some time.
2. If you were about to edit something under the mouse, the tooltip is inconveniently in the way.

It seems like every application I've used recently wants to pop up tooltips and I have to play mouse dodgeball just to get rid of them so I can click where I want to.
David Jones Send private email
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
AOL recently implemented something that completes your "To:" address as you type it.  Problem is that it's way slower than I type, and it loses characters.  I type:
M I (it loses I) C - now it starts autocompleting "MC*"

PowerPoint's idea that each text box has a default font, and if you paste text into it, the text gets that font.  If I have a whole bunch of text that's Courier 10 pt, and I copy text from elsewhere that's Courier 12 pt and paste it in the middle of the 10pt, it changes it to Arial 18 pt.

Word's SparkleText.
Michael G Send private email
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
The Metal pluggable look and feel.  (As in, Java's default use of).
import javax.swing.*
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
We had an internal app that had a nifty feature, when you cancelled a process, it would ask "OK" or "Cancel".  Well, "Cancel" meant "go ahead and cancel it" and "OK" meant, "No, don't cancel it, it is OK".
JSmith Send private email
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
Related to the credit card input: any time you instruct the user to apply a regular expression to their input.  Dell Japan's website got me on this last week:

"Your Customer Order Number is the 12 digit number starting with JP and separated by hyphens.  Please enter it below, stripping out the JP and the hyphens".

Would it have been THAT hard to write something like

#This regular expression compares the card number against the expected format JP****-****-****, and is robust against lack of the JP or stripping of the dashes.
inputCardOrderNumber ~= /^(JP)?([0-9]){4}\-?([0-9]){4}\-?([0-9]){4}\$/
processedCardOrderNumber = $2 . $3 . $4

or for that matter

processedCardOrderNumber = gsub(inputCardOrderNumber, "", /[^0-9]/)

Users do not have built in regexp libraries!  Your language/platform of choice does!  Use 'em!
Patrick McKenzie (Bingo Card Creator) Send private email
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
"A picture of a printer is NOT easier to use than the word 'Print'."

Unless you don't speak English.
Karl Perry Send private email
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
In an application's "Publish Settings" dialog, I once found a checkbox with the following label:

(X) Optimize performance and decrease file size

Nah, sorry. I don't go for these newfangled fast-publishing smaller files.
andy
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
 
 
By default, Word will attempt to save the last printed date.
Brendan Send private email
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
 
 
The "resizable scroll box" in Windows scroll bars.

Having it half the length of the scroll bar, to show you that you're seeing have the page, is fine.

What's not fine is having it indicate that you're seeing only a tiny portion of the page by sizing itself to about _three pixels high_, making itself a very difficult target to acquire.  The box's minimum size needs to be much larger than that.
Kyralessa Send private email
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
 
 
Hide file extensions starting in Win95. Adds no value or usability while causing so much grief over the years.
cbmc64 Send private email
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
 
 
"A picture of a printer is NOT easier to use than the word 'Print'."

'Unless you don't speak English.'

I have seen icons that I have no clue what they are, never mind the functionality.

Compare a strange word vs. a strange icon.

The strange word can be described easily: "What is this 'Frobnicate'?"

The strange icon?  "Well, it has a not-quite-square shape in the middle that is greeny-blue with some yellow.  There is a horizontal black line at the top which then turns vertical just left of the . . . Wait!  I think it is a door that is partly open.  Does it open things or close them or both?"

Look up in the sky.  See that cloud?  What does it look like?

In this case, a picture is not worth a thousand words; it just takes that long to describe it, poorly.

Speaking of clouds, have a look at
    http://www.absurdnotions.org/index.html
(It is on page 127 in case you are reading this when that strip is no longer current.)

Sincerely,

Gene Wirchenko
Gene Wirchenko Send private email
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
 
 
"Compare a strange word vs. a strange icon."

Try to google the icon... ;)
Secure
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
 
 
+1 for " Hide file extensions starting in Win95." You would have thought that after the iloveyou.txt.vbs virus MS would have realized this is a bad idea.

---
-1 for the mouse back and forward buttons. I use the back button constantly and won't buy a mouse w/o one.

---
Pet peeve: Hitting tab in a rich text box never inserts a tab. It always takes you to the next control.

---
The common dialog in Vista. I hate the microscopic Folders^ panel when you want to change directories.
Nicholas Hebb Send private email
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
 
 
@I still code in Delphi, you say:
Try explaining how tabbed browsing in IE 7 works to your mom over the phone, while you are using Firefox.


It's exactly the same, a carbon copy of firefox.. I think it would be easy to explain.
Totally Agreeing
Thursday, July 05, 2007
 
 
A simulation application I used in the army contained this gem:

Do you want to use degrees or radians [Yes/No]:

Since the developer used a Boolean flag internally ...

Another example of bad UI is the Windows restart dialog that keeps popping up after an update and stealing the keyboard focus from the current application. This one got me so annoyed I wrote about it on my blog: http://ericomguy.blogspot.com/2007/06/pet-peeves.html
Dan Shappir Send private email
Thursday, July 05, 2007
 
 
Mouse wheel in 'Windows Picture and Fax Viewer' zooms in/out instead of scrolling.
230 Volts
Thursday, July 05, 2007
 
 
"Mouse wheel in 'Windows Picture and Fax Viewer' zooms in/out instead of scrolling."

Which reminds me... the viewer silently and instantly rewrites the image file when turning the image around left or right. Just the behavior I would expect from a "viewer".
Secure
Thursday, July 05, 2007
 
 
- When you have a window or dialog with multiple rows of tabs, and you click a tab that's not on the bottom row, the row containing the tab you clicked moves to the bottom. Whoever decided that this was a good idea should be shot. Simply *highlight* the selected tab, and leave it where it is! (I've used programs that work this way, and believe me it's a huge improvement.)

- If a dialog or window contains an control that has scrollbars (such as a tree, list, etc.), the window should be resizable! I'm sick of seeing a tiny window in the center of my huge monitor, where I have to scroll to see all of its contents, when I could just make the window bigger and see everything, if it would only let me.
Karl von L. Send private email
Thursday, July 05, 2007
 
 
Absolutely the champion.

A film editing package called Lightworks which saturated the film business and was then ported to become a pretty bad video editor. 

In order to throw away something, you dragged the trashcan (which looked like a shark) *to* the thing to be thrown away.  It then swam back to it's starting spot. 

The product had so few other features compared to most nonlinear editors, that the demo artists would really push this 'feature'.
Captain Video
Thursday, July 05, 2007
 
 
In MS Office, unused menu items go away until you click an arrow to bring them back. That's fine, but some items should never go away, e.g. "Save" and "Exit" on the File menu.
Peter Vanderwaart
Thursday, July 05, 2007
 
 
Anything related to Lotus Notes. :-) No, seriously.
Ken White Send private email
Thursday, July 05, 2007
 
 
Amarok music player in Linux. Most of the interface will cause a "cognitive dissonance" to any user.

From the wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance)

"Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term which describes the uncomfortable tension that may result from ...engaging in behavior that conflicts with one's beliefs."
Pablo Chacin Send private email
Thursday, July 05, 2007
 
 
"When you have a window or dialog with multiple rows of tabs, and you click a tab that's not on the bottom row, the row containing the tab you clicked moves to the bottom."

I agree this is annoying, but if you followed your suggestion, wouldn't the new tab obscure the tabs below the one you just selected, making them permanently inaccessible?
Greg Send private email
Thursday, July 05, 2007
 
 
Paginated articles on news sites.

Requiring the mouse pointer to be over a specific area to use the scroll wheel instead of just scrolling the active window.

Software updaters that will bug you incessantly (and make themselves hard to disable), but won't just update the software themselves.

Applications that don't account for the possibility of the taskbar being anywhere but the bottom of the screen.

ZIP and RAR applications that have "Extract here..." and "Extract to folder [foldername]..." but they don't have a command that just checks to see if the archive contains nothing but a folder and then automatically decide.
If you extract to the desktop a lot (I do), then you either get foldername/foldername folders, or you coat your desktop in random DLL files and readmes.

Every instant messenger client.
blake8086
Friday, July 06, 2007
 
 
> ZIP and RAR applications that ... don't have a command that just checks to see if the archive contains nothing but a folder and then automatically decide.

Amen! Do you know any that actually do this? I'd love one.
JW
Friday, July 06, 2007
 
 
"In MS Office, unused menu items go away until you click an arrow to bring them back. That's fine, but some items should never go away, e.g. "Save" and "Exit" on the File menu."

There's an option to turn this off.  It's on the Tools/Customize menu, Options Tab in all pre-Office 2007 apps.  Just unclick "Menus show recently used commands first".

I also always turn off the Windows "Use Personalized Menus" option.
Get organized
Saturday, July 07, 2007
 
 
the "insert" key on the keyboard.  Back before I knew what it was I hit it on accident.  It took me hours before I got it fixed.  Capslock of course.  Imagine if it were a second enter key.  The backspace key itself if good, having it act as a back button in browsers is insane.  The standard three button mouse.  Physically there was nothing wrong with them.  However the morons behind them universally decided to map the buttons into an unusable configuration, by moving the right button to the third finger.
Tom C
Saturday, July 07, 2007
 
 
The way Windows Media Player (at least 9.0) starts up by default with all these sidebars that add no value, and with the menubar missing.    Whenever I reinstall XP, I spend 10 minutes fiddling that application settings, trying to get it to look like a normal Windows program again.  I also don't like that it loads up a web portal w/ads and a bunch of artists i'm not interested in.

Thankfully there's Media Player Classic, an open source video player that actually does what it's suppose to.
acm
Sunday, July 08, 2007
 
 
'I also always turn off the Windows "Use Personalized Menus" option.'

As do I.  It interferes with muscle memory / habit.

Sincerely,

Gene Wirchenko
Gene Wirchenko Send private email
Monday, July 09, 2007
 
 
The minute hand on the analog watch face. 
 - Pointless because the hour hand gives you just as much precision.
 - Actively harmful because it's more prominent than the more important hour hand.
Monkey Fuel
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
 
 
"The minute hand on the analog watch face.
 - Pointless because the hour hand gives you just as much precision.
 - Actively harmful because it's more prominent than the more important hour hand."

Not pointless since the hour hand covers a much smaller space than the minute hand.  The minute hand gives more precision.

Not harmful unless the hour hand really is more important.    I think that checking whether it is fifteen or thirty minutes until that meeting is more likely than whether it is two or three hours until that meeting.

People often do not check the time as much as how long until something else.  Try asking someone who has just looked at his watch what time it is.  He will probably look again, because he was looking to see how long until some event.

Sincerely,

Gene Wirchenko
Gene Wirchenko Send private email
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
 
 
@Totally Agreeing, you say:

It's exactly the same, a carbon copy of firefox.. I think it would be easy to explain.

That's what I thought initially, since my IE was at 6, but in reality, it wasn't that easy to explain. Tell you what, post your number and I'll get her to call you next time :)
I still code in Delphi
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
 
 
>> The minute hand gives more precision.
Only because it's bigger.  Remove the minute hand and make the hour hand that big, and I contend that you will have no significant loss of precision.

>> People often do not check the time as much as how long until something else.
Speak for yourself, I want to know what the time is.  And my whole point is that the minute hand makes it harder to do that because it's in your face offering information that's basically useless for the task.

Gene, the behaviour you describe is the ingrained way that people working around the basic bad UI design.
Monkey Fuel
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
 
 
"Paginated articles on news sites."

Paginated articles are not bad when done right, like with the New York Times News Reader.  The trouble is (a) having to click Next (there's no easy keystroke to do it), and (b) having to wait while the next page loads.

What we need is a tag that indicates "Next page", so that the browser could (a) designate a "next page" key, and (b) preload that page.
Kyralessa Send private email
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
 
 
>> The minute hand gives more precision.
"Only because it's bigger.  Remove the minute hand and make the hour hand that big, and I contend that you will have no significant loss of precision."

The size of the hand is irrelevant.  The hour hand sweeps through 30 degrees in one hour.  The minute hand sweeps through 360 degree in one hour.  The precision of the minute hand is far higher.  (Try determining one minute differences using only the hour hand.)

>> People often do not check the time as much as how long until something else.
"Speak for yourself, I want to know what the time is.  And my whole point is that the minute hand makes it harder to do that because it's in your face offering information that's basically useless for the task."

Maybe, you do, but it is not originally my observation.  Many people are looking not for the time but how long until some deadline.

"Gene, the behaviour you describe is the ingrained way that people working around the basic bad UI design."

I do not find it a surprise that people will use a UI in ways not planned for by the developer.  If the developer changes the UI to account for this, it could clutter the UI (make it worse).

Sincerely,

Gene Wirchenko
Gene Wirchenko Send private email
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
 
 
>> Try determining one minute differences using only the hour hand.

If you're interested in that sort of precision, you should be using a digital display.  That's my point - the ballpark figure for time that you get from glancing at an analog watch lacks precision anyway, why not admit it and simply the interface accordingly?

>> Many people are looking not for the time but how long until some deadline.

How do you know how long until your deadline unless you know what time your deadline is? 

>> I do not find it a surprise that people will use a UI in ways not planned for by the developer.

My point was, people would use the UI to tell time if it was actually usable, but instead they are forced into those kind of "how long until" guessing games by the UI that they are confronted with.  It's a case of users working around a bad UI, not a case of a well designed UI.
Monkey Fuel
Thursday, July 12, 2007
 
 
>> Try determining one minute differences using only the hour hand.

"If you're interested in that sort of precision, you should be using a digital display.  That's my point - the ballpark figure for time that you get from glancing at an analog watch lacks precision anyway, why not admit it and simply the interface accordingly?"

It is actually quite easy.  Within a few minutes is usually good enough, and a glance does for that.

Have you ever worn an analog watch for any significant length of time?  I have, and the problems that you are insisting are, are not.

>> Many people are looking not for the time but how long until some deadline.

"How do you know how long until your deadline unless you know what time your deadline is? "

The person knows when his deadline is.  When he looks at his watch, he does the mental arithmetic.  He may not even consciously know what time it is while doing so.  That is why he has to look at his watch again if you ask him what time it is.

>> I do not find it a surprise that people will use a UI in ways not planned for by the developer.

'My point was, people would use the UI to tell time if it was actually usable, but instead they are forced into those kind of "how long until" guessing games by the UI that they are confronted with.  It's a case of users working around a bad UI, not a case of a well designed UI.'

It is not a guessing game.  It is mental arithmetic.

It is not a bad interface.  I would hate to have to enter a deadline time to find out how long until the deadline or have the time and a countdown to a deadline.  On the latter, what if I have more than one deadline?

Sincerely,

Gene Wirchenko
Gene Wirchenko Send private email
Thursday, July 12, 2007
 
 
The tiny controls for scrolling through the playlist in Winamp.

Actually there are many applications that were written back when people used 640 x 480 resolution and still have controls the same size (in pixels) even though people today use higher resolutions.
Jeanne Send private email
Thursday, July 12, 2007
 
 
+1 to "Anything related to Lotus Notes". Absolutely the worst UI I've ever used. QuickBooks appears to have been designed by the same UI dummies.
weef
Saturday, July 14, 2007
 
 
>What we need is a tag that indicates "Next page", so that >the browser could (a) designate a "next page" key, and (b)> preload that page.


This already exists. Cant remember the attribute but yes, you can specify this on Anchor tags. Opera is the only browser currently that supports it.
... Send private email
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
 
 
1. The ubiquitous Javascript code, copied from a twenty-year-old book, that falsely tells me at least once per week "you have entered an invalid e-mail address."

2. Programs that take more than two minutes to run AND assume that the user is doing nothing else for that time, so they can open/move windows/keyboard focus without warning.

3. Emulators that don't tell the parent O.S. things are happening, so the screen saver keeps interrupting your work (or your play).

4. "Para continuar en espan~ol, marque el ocho"--offered after I waded through seven or eight menus in English.
Wes Groleau Send private email
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
 
 

This topic is archived. No further replies will be accepted.

Other recent topics Other recent topics
 
Powered by FogBugz