June 10, 2005 | Category:

Design: Hotmail Editing

Upon checking my Hotmail account earlier, I was accosted by a feature alert as I logged in. Apparently they’ve got rich text editing these days. Despite the fact that I would never use such a feature (I’m not a fan of comic sans text, or yellow writing on a white background), MSN deemed it worthy of interrupting my browsing to let me know.

UI design hint 1: There is a huge discrepancy between what you want to tell the user and what the user wants to know. Get rid of your fucking ego. If the user does not absolutely need to know something, then don’t force them to find out anyway. Hint at it, make sure that the information is accessible, but do not shove it in the middle of the interaction; especially in a focused operation like checking email.

After your wade through the initial marketing garbage (again, not helping), you get the instructions. It was the message afterwards that really bothered me though: “To keep these instructions open in another window, click here.”

UI design hint 2: If you think that a feature that will be enabled mid-task has instructions so complex as to warrant being written down elsewhere, you’ve already blown it. Instead of wasting your time creating a separate web page that gives diagrams and repeated instructions, fix the real problem: your UI is unintuitive.

A more general rule to finish off: you can’t fix bad UI with good documentation. Remember that.