Cropping Blues

Last week’s reading finally explained to me why I’ve been having such trouble cropping photos in my new PhotoShop. Last year, I got upgraded from CS4 to Creative Cloud 6 or so, and the cropping regime is very different.

On page 120 of the Norman book, he talks about the metaphors we use to control scrolling on a computer screen. Are you scrolling the window down, or are you scrolling the text up? This is an open question on desktops, but on phones it’s pretty obvious that you’re swiping the text up or down. So Apple has switched to a moving-text model, but PCs haven’t followed suit.

It’s similar with PhotoShop. In the old version, you have a photo and you overlay the cropping selection on top of it. You can see it around the 1:00 mark of this video:

With my new PhotoShop, you can resize the crop window, but generally you are moving and zooming the photo behind it. It’s taken me months to get used to the change.

I suspect this change is also driven by mobile. On a phone, it would be silly to change the size of the crop window. The crop would quickly get too small to be usable. So you change the size of the picture while the crop stays constant.

(As usual, my phone implements this in a weird way. You can move the crop window in some cases, but you can’t move a photo after you’ve blown it up within the crop window. So you have to hope the crop window lands on the part of the photo you’re trying to show.)


Motivation drives user acceptance … but don’t count on it.

I have a key example of motivation driving software acceptance: My mother and my mother-in-law on Facebook.

Neither of them is particularly tech-savvy, but once they heard there were adorable grandbabies on Facebook, they were logged on right quick.

The motivation factor is a key problem at my school. We spend a lot of time teaching students how to do basic tech tasks because they were never motivated to learn them. They can download illegal music on their phones, but they never learned how to attach a file to an email.

In his video, Prof. Sherman talks about making the signup process frictionless to get users into the product before their motivation wanes. In my opinion, Pinterest may have taken this a bit too far.

As I signed up, it required me to select five areas of interest and instantly presented me with a premade board. But I had to hunt a bit to find out how to make new boards and even how to create my own pins. I suspect this is driven by business requirements rather than straight usability. I believe the company is trying to make things easier for casual users, in an attempt to gain more market share, at the cost of making things a bit more tricky for power users.

Extrinsic motivation can be a crutch for usability, as Hootsuite founder Ryan Holmes found. He found he got better feedback from free users than enterprise users, because he could not count on their loyalty. He had to work harder to keep them, and it made the product better.

“Your product is a piece of sh*t”: How this feedback changed my company – by Ryan Holmes



The Bucket Affords …

My challenge for the last week has been fighting habituation – trying to “think like a beginner” as Tony Faddell says.

The Bucket Affords …

I was at Hot Chicken Takeover (a local chicken joint) last week and I saw a little metal bucket on the counter.

It took me a minute to figure out what it was there for. The bucket affords putting things in – but what?

Then I saw the bucket was sitting in front of a box of drinking straws. There were some crumpled-up straw papers in the box, cluttered up with the unwrapped straws.

I stuck some of crumpled-up straw papers in the bucket.

So there you go. The crumpled straw papers signify that the bucket affords trash.

Cancel or Delete?

Here’s one from my phone. I was trying to cancel a meeting, so I selected the calendar item and pressed delete.

Here’s the dialog window. Does pressing “delete” cancel the meeting, or does “cancel” cancel the deletion?

Follow the Users Where They Are

In the Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman recommends following the users wherever they go, following them into the shower if necessary. The Greater Columbus Convention Center took this to heart. I saw the following kiosk in the bathroom there the other day.

Publishing vs. Software

That Jesse James Garret chapter really crystallized it for me – I’m a publishing guy trying to do software.

In Chapter 2 of his Elements of User Experience (.pdf), Garrett says the web grew out of two traditions: 1) The world of software design and 2) The publishing / media / blogging world.

“One group saw every problem as an application design problem, and applied problem-solving approaches from the traditional desktop and mainframe software worlds. (These, in turn, were rooted in common practices applied to creating all kinds of products, from cars to running shoes.) The other group saw the Web in terms of information distribution and retrieval, and applied problem-solving approaches from the traditional worlds of publishing, media, and information science.”

I’m a former reporter, so I come very firmly from the publishing side of the biz. But a lot of the challenges I face right now aren’t writing challenges so much as software challenges.

My current white whale is an online catalog for our college. To solve this problem, I need to lay out a series of web controls which allow users to manipulate the information so they can make an informed decision. So what I’m trying to create is less like a traditional college catalog (aka a book), and more like an e-commerce application. My favorite design inspiration is Stark Bros Nurseries & Orchards.

To be sure, this also involves wrangling a lot of content. But to be successful, it has to work like a great piece of software.