I started reading “Design of Everyday Things” by Donald A Norman and immediate knew that this was a special book. I am reading this after a few not-so-good books and I can see the difference immediately. This book makes me think! I have only read a few pages, but already my mind is thinking of things I never thought of before.
One of the concepts he explains is “Mental Model“. The author says that as soon as a person sees a set of controls, he makes a set of assumptions as to to how those controls work. If the original designer has made the same assumptions, then we perceive the product/controls as “intuitive”. If, the mental model of the user is different from how the controls actually work, the controls seem too complicated or un-intuitive. Users would have to memorize how controls work which is bad UX(User eXperience).
This got me thinking about the elevator in UB City. What if the controls for the lift were positioned like this –
Which one would you press to go up and which one for down? There is a mismatch between the mental model and the positioning of the switches. Fortunately, the early manufacturers of elevators quickly realised the problem and made the switches vertical.
Now, it is easy, click the up button if you want to go up and down button if you want to go down. Suddenly the interface became intuitive and elevator manufacturers quickly forgot about this issue.
Over the years, elevators added more and more features, but one of the features that I am interested in is the display of where the elevator is currently. This additional information is very helpful to the people waiting. They get feedback as to where the elevator is and how much time it will take to reach your floor. But, did you notice the problem?
Now, a brand new user( who has never used an elevator before) would look at the display and starts to wonder, “Should I press down to get the elevator down?” or “Should I press up to go up?”. If I need to press up to go up, then why have they given me the display as to where the elevator is? More than likely the first time user will press down to go up.
Then the user learns about “convention”. All lifts are designed such that you press up to go up and down to go down.
However,these buttons moved from intuitive to convention only on addition of the display which was intended to give feedback to the user on where the elevator currently is. It messed up the mental model of the users and the result is that in several buildings, we see the following instructions explaining the model of the elevator-
The instructions look extremely funny, especially to an experienced user. So, how would I solve the issue?
<< Answer hidden. Provide your idea in the comments. My idea is provided in the comments too >>
Both purposes solved without any ugly instructions!
This got me thinking, “Is there anything like the elevator buttons in computer world?” Are there any advancement in technologies that are spoiling the user experience?
Although I couldn’t find any examples that are as drastic as the elevator buttons, I did find a couple of things that can be changed
1) Save button – Most applications still use an image of floppy disk for save. It was very logical 10 – 15 years ago. If I want to save a file, I put it in my floppy disk. An image of floppy disk made the button intuitive. However, I am sure 5 year olds and maybe even some 10 year olds have never seen a floppy disks. When these kids grow up, they would be wondering where the designers got the “blue thingy” for Save button. Of course, we would have trained all the kids not to ask “Stupid Questions”. So, soon the blue square thingy would become “convention” for a save button.
Either of the two things will happen in the future. UI designers will remain conservative and not change the icon. This will make the save button similar to the Scroll lock key in the keyboard. It will lie there on one corner of the software but no one will use it.
Some one will be brave enough to replace the floppy icon with new technology equivalent – an icon of a USB stick :-). I hope designers in CDC Software are brave enough to take this step
Can you find any other instances where the UI has changed from intuitive to “Convention” because of technology or feature changes? Do comment