Monday, October 28, 2013

A most insensitive and useless message box

Has this happened to you? From Facebook (or any other website), you're trying to jump to another page and this window pops up asking "Are you sure you want to leave this page? Your message is still being sent. Are you sure you want to leave?"

You can't proceed because you probably accidentally pressed the spacebar on the reply box of a friend's status message and now the browser thinks it's an unfinished message. But you can't find where that "unfinished message" is, unless you scroll all the way down and scrutinize each box (and what if it's a blank space or a tiny period?).

Microsoft calls this a modal box. It's a window that won't allow you to do anything else until you select the only options presented to you (in this case, stay or leave -- but have that nagging sensation that you've probably left a reply unsent). Modal boxes are frustrating, actually, though trying to be helpful.

In Gmail, this is a useful message because you are only dealing with one message at a time and if it pops up, you just go back to that message. But in Facebook, you'd have to be really patient, or just click "Leave Page".

Stepping back, you realize that this popup is a useless box. Why? You can't do much to rectify your error. It just reminded you and gave you one more little thing to worry about.

How can we improve this message? Maybe it should have a link that jumps you back to the unfinished message. Then we won't have to gnash our teeth.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why the CATBus schedule handout is confusing

The photo shows a detail of the Red Route for the Clemson bus. I added the numbered blue circles to correspond to my comments.

  1. Centering long lines of text makes it hard to read the information. Since we generally read from left to right, our eyes need a visual cue on where to start from the left. Left-aligned text helps create a visual guide for our eyes. Centering the text removes that guide. Also, using ALL CAPS on the text makes it even harder to read the information. In another route, the ALL CAPS font are squeezed into what looks like Arial Narrow -- an even harder font to read especially in cramped spaces.
  2. The guide uses unnecessary effort to explain the regular and variant schedules, causing a lot of repeating information (eg, observe the repeated Mon-Thu info across Fall, Spring, Summer, and Holiday). This could be simplified by just listing the regular service common to all seasons, and then adding the exceptions in a separate section. 
  3. Long lines of text make it hard to follow the timings at the right side of the table. Using alternating row colors can help us read that information more easily.

Below is a snapshot of one page of the whole schedule (taken from the CATBus website). Notice anything?

  1. Too much real estate in the handout is devoted to a map that's not very informative. The most useful sections -- the schedules -- are relegated to about 20% of the paper. 
  2. The dimensions of the guide are not very portable: 28.5" x 22" (72.39 x 55.8 cm). It's almost like a tourist map with confusing folds. The schedules themselves could be printed on a strip of paper that could be folded and fit in a purse or wallet. 
Like I said in a previous post, I appreciate the CATBus service. It's free! But lots more could be done to help visitors and students to use the service.

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See also: The (absence of) bus stops

The (absence of) bus stops

I'm thankful for the CATBus, because it's a free bus service (CAT stands for Clemson Area Transit). However, there is room for improvement.

The photo above shows the Hendrix bus stop at Clemson University. It was taken during a very hot summer day 40º C (104º F). Buses stop at 30 minute intervals on weekdays and every hour on weekends. Since the bus was late, people were baking under the sun. Note also the number of people waiting versus the only available bench. Most of the stops have no shade (imagine if it rains).

Within the university, bus stops are marked with small, hardly noticeable signs. Outside of the university, the signs are less prominent and sometimes absent.

To visitors, the bus stops seem random. And on occasion, the stops are arbitrary. At Greenville, I missed the Greenlink bus (a shuttle that links to the CAT Bus), because I waited at a different spot. It turned out the afternoon bus driver stopped at a different spot from where the morning driver stopped. I asked people at Clemson in Greenville, but nobody knew the right bus stop. There were no signs either.

I called the Greenville station and their advise was to wait where I was dropped off -- which is what I did and why I missed the afternoon bus in the first place. So the morning driver stopped at a different location than the afternoon driver, and no one knew, not even the folks at the terminal. So I had to wait 2 hours for the hourly shuttle. The Greenlink bus is not a free service.

The CATBus offers a free handout of the schedules and the stops -- but the publication and information it contains are not designed to help people unfamiliar with the territory. I am trying to come up with a redesign of the handout, but that's for another day.

* * *
See also: Why the CATBus schedule handout is confusing

Saturday, October 19, 2013

How not to design toilets

This photo, which I took from a mall in Metro Manila, says it all. As Stan Lee would have said, "'Nuff said."

What to do when you've got a virtual scrum team

Scrum and Agile are suddenly popular in Asia, and because a lot of companies take on outsourced projects, they usually have virtual teams, w...