Monthly Archive for August, 2007

User testing is more influential than you might believe

okcancel.jpgRecently the HATT list had its annual debate on the “Click the OK” or “Click OK” issue. (Yes, user assistance developers actually argue over this stuff. And it’s “Click OK“, if you’re wondering.)

Did you know that the OK button had its origins in usability testing? During interface development for their pioneering Lisa software, Apple designers noticed that users were having problems. When the software required positive or negative confirmation from the user, a small window appeared with two buttons: Do It and Cancel. The testers noticed that many users wouldn’t click Do It, and some were visibly annoyed. Via Folklore.org:

The team noticed one user that was particularly flummoxed by the dialog box, who even seemed to be getting a bit angry. The moderator interrupted the test and asked him what the problem was. He replied, “I’m not a dolt, why is the software calling me a dolt?

Get it? The nature of the low-pitch monitors required the use of sans-serif fonts, and most were reading the “i” in “It” as a lowercase “l” as in “Losery dude who writes about buttons in his blog.” The Lisa interface designers made the change to OK, it performed better in usability testing, and the rest is history.

What is even more intriguing is that this simple change reflected a new way of thinking about human-machine interaction. HOTB goes on to suggest:

“Do it! is the same as previous versions of Enter or Execute. It’s commanding the machine to do something. OK is acquiescing to the machine, forming a partnership. In the end, the simple OK button may have contributed to the success of the Macintosh. It changed the relationship between person and computer, away from the master and slave mentality toward a friendlier world where the computer is a partner.

The moral? Any interface between human and machine – be it mechanical, electrical, or graphical – should be tested as early as possible during development. Make the case to those who fund you.

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