Tags: usability

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Monday, November 6th, 2017

Installing Progressive Web Apps

When I was testing the dConstruct Audio Archive—which is now a Progressive Web App—I noticed some interesting changes in how Chrome on Android offers the “add to home screen” prompt.

It used to literally say “add to home screen.”

Getting the “add to home screen” prompt for https://huffduffer.com/ on Android Chrome. And there’s the “add to home screen” prompt for https://html5forwebdesigners.com/ HTTPS + manifest.json + Service Worker = “Add to Home Screen” prompt. Add to home screen.

Now it simply says “add.”

The dConstruct Audio Archive is now a Progressive Web App

I vaguely remember there being some talk of changing the labelling, but I could’ve sworn it was going to change to “install”. I’ve got to be honest, just having the word “add” doesn’t seem to provide much context. Based on the quick’n’dirty usability testing I did with some co-workers, it just made things confusing. “Add what?” “What am I adding?”

Additionally, the prompt appeared immediately on the first visit to the site. I thought there was supposed to be an added “engagement” metric in order for the prompt to appear; that the user needs to visit the site more than once.

You’d think I’d be happy that users will be presented with the home-screen prompt immediately, but based on the behaviour I saw, I’m not sure it’s a good thing. Here’s what I observed:

  1. The user types the URL archive.dconstruct.org into the address bar.
  2. The site loads.
  3. The home-screen prompt slides up from the bottom of the screen.
  4. The user immediately moves to dismiss the prompt (cue me interjecting “Don’t close that!”).

This behaviour is entirely unsurprising for three reasons:

  1. We web designers and web developers have trained users to dismiss overlays and pop-ups if they actually want to get to the content. Nobody’s going to bother to actually read the prompt if there’s a 99% chance it’s going to say “Sign up to our newsletter!” or “Take our survey!”.
  2. The prompt appears below the “line of death” so there’s no way to tell it’s a browser or OS-level dialogue rather than a JavaScript-driven pop-up from the site.
  3. Because the prompt now appears on the first visit, no trust has been established between the user and the site. If the prompt only appeared on later visits (or later navigations during the first visit) perhaps it would stand a greater chance of survival.

It’s still possible to add a Progressive Web App to the home screen, but the option to do that is hidden behind the mysterious three-dots-vertically-stacked icon (I propose we call this the shish kebab icon to distinguish it from the equally impenetrable hamburger icon).

I was chatting with Andreas from Mozilla at the View Source conference last week, and he was filling me in on how Firefox on Android does the add-to-homescreen flow. Instead of a one-time prompt, they’ve added a persistent icon above the “line of death” (the icon is a combination of a house and a plus symbol).

When a Firefox 58 user arrives on a website that is served over HTTPS and has a valid manifest, a subtle badge will appear in the address bar: when tapped, an “Add to Home screen” confirmation dialog will slide in, through which the web app can be added to the Android home screen.

This kind of badging also has issues (without the explicit text “add to home screen”, the user doesn’t know what the icon does), but I think a more persistently visible option like this works better than the a one-time prompt.

Firefox is following the lead of the badging approach pioneered by the Samsung Internet browser. It provides a plus symbol that, when pressed, reveals the options to add to home screen or simply bookmark.

What does it mean to be an App?

I don’t think Chrome for Android has any plans for this kind of badging, but they are working on letting the site authors provide their own prompts. I’m not sure this is such a good idea, given our history of abusing pop-ups and overlays.

Sadly, I feel that any solution that relies on an unrequested overlay is doomed. That’s on us. The way we’ve turned browsing the web—especially on mobile—into a frustrating chore of dismissing unwanted overlays is a classic tragedy of the commons. We blew it. Users don’t trust unrequested overlays, and I can’t blame them.

For what it’s worth, my opinion is that ambient badging is a better user experience than one-time prompts. That opinion is informed by a meagre amount of testing though. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s been doing more detailed usability testing of both approaches. I assume that Google, Mozilla, and Samsung are doing this kind of testing, and it would be really great to see the data from that (hint, hint).

But it might well be that ambient badging is just too subtle to even be noticed by the user.

On one end of the scale you’ve got the intrusiveness of an add-to-home-screen prompt, but on the other end of the scale you’ve got the discoverability problem of a subtle badge icon. I wonder if there might be a compromise solution—maybe a badge icon that pulses or glows on the first or second visit?

Of course that would also need to be thoroughly tested.

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

Alt-texts: The Ultimate Guide - Axess Lab

Great advice for writing usable alt attributes. This gem seems obvious in hindsight but I hadn’t considered it before:

End the alt-text with a period. This will make screen readers pause a bit after the last word in the alt-text, which creates a more pleasant reading experience for the user.

Friday, September 8th, 2017

A Simple Design Flaw Makes It Astoundingly Easy To Hack Siri And Alexa

This article about a specific security flaw in voice-activated assistants raises a bigger issue:

User-friendliness is increasingly at odds with security.

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. “Don’t make me think” is a great mantra for user experience, but a terrible mantra for security.

Our web browsers easily and invisibly collect cookies, allowing marketers to follow us across the web. Our phones back up our photos and contacts to the cloud, tempting any focused hacker with a complete repository of our private lives. It’s as if every tacit deal we’ve made with easy-to-use technology has come with a hidden cost: our own personal vulnerability. This new voice command exploit is just the latest in a growing list of security holes caused by design, but it is, perhaps, the best example of Silicon Valley’s widespread disregard for security in the face of the new and shiny.

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

thebaer/MMRA: Make Medium Readable Again — a browser extension

I’ve gotten a little tired of showing up to a Medium-powered site on a non-medium.com domain and getting badgered to Sign Up! or Get Updates! when I’m already a Medium user.

A Chrome extension to Make Medium Readable Again by:

  • Keeping the top navigation bar from sticking around
  • Hiding the bottom “Get Updates” bar completely
  • (Optionally) hiding the clap / share bar
  • (Optionally) loading all post images up front, instead of lazy loading as you scroll

Shame there isn’t a mobile version to get rid of the insulting install-our-app permabutton.

Friday, September 1st, 2017

Progressively Worse Apps

This article makes a good point about client-rendered pages:

Asynchronously loaded page elements shift click targets, resulting in a usability nightmare.

…but this has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with progressive web apps.

More fuel for the fire of evidence that far too many people think that progressive web apps and single page apps are one and the same.

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

What I’ve learned about motor impairment

James gives—if you’ll pardon the pun— hands-on advice on making sites that consider motor impairment:

  • Don’t assume keyboard access is all you need
    • Auto complete/Autofill
    • Show me my password
  • Allow for fine motor control issues
    • Don’t autoplay videos
    • Avoid hover-only controls
    • Infinite scrolling considerations
  • Be mindful of touch
    • Avoid small hit targets
    • Provide alternate controls for touch gestures

Far from being a niche concern, visitors with some form of motor impairment likely make up a significant percentage of your users. I would encourage you to test your website or application with your less dominant hand. Is it still easy to use?

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Designing The Perfect Slider – Smashing Magazine

If you thought Vitaly’s roundup of date pickers was in-depth, wait ‘till you get a load of this exhaustive examination of slider controls.

It pairs nicely with this link.

Monday, July 17th, 2017

Despicable Design — When “Going Evil” is the Perfect Technique

I really like this “evil” design exercise that Jared has documented on Ev’s blog.

I broke them up into small groups of three, spreading each role across separate groups. I then asked each person to grab a sheet of paper and make their own list of ways they imagined the product’s user experience could be made worse.

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

URLs are UI - Scott Hanselman

So many folks spend time on their CSS and their UX/UI but still come up with URLs that are at best, comically long, and at worst, user hostile.

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

Improve Your Billing Form’s UX In One Day – Smashing Magazine

A few straightforward steps for improving the usability of credit card forms. The later steps involve JavaScript but the first step uses nothing more than straight-up HTML.

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

The ‘Credit Card Number’ Field Must Allow and Auto-Format Spaces (80% Don’t) - Articles - Baymard Institute

A deep dive into formatting credit card numbers with spaces in online forms.

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

Improving accessibility in Co-op wills – Digital blogs

Some interesting insights from usability and accessibility testing at the Co-op.

We used ‘nesting’ to reduce the amount of information on the page when the user first reaches it. When the user chooses an option, we ask for any other details at that point rather than having all the questions on the page at once.

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

Usability Testing of Inline Form Validation: 40% Don’t Have It, 20% Get It Wrong - Articles - Baymard Institute

I saw Christian speak on this topic at Smashing Conference in Barcelona. Here, he takes a long hard look at some of the little things that sites get wrong when doing validating forms on the fly. It’s all good sensible stuff, although it sounds a bit medical when he takes about “Premature Inline Validation.”

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

Interactive Form

I quite like this step-by-step interface for a form, all cleverly handled with the :focus pseudo-class. I’d want to refine some of the usability issues before using it in production, but the progressive disclosure is nice.

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

Short note on improving usability of scrollable regions

Three very easy to implement additions to scrollable areas of your web pages: tabindex="0", role="region", and an aria-label attribute.

Friday, January 15th, 2016

Testing

It’s tempting to think of testing with screen-readers as being like testing with browsers. With browser testing, you’re checking to see how a particular piece of software deals with the code you’re throwing at it. A screen reader is a piece of software too, so it makes sense to approach it the same way, right?

I don’t think so. I think it’s really important that if someone is going to test your site with a screen reader, it should be someone who uses a screen reader every day.

Think of it this way: you wouldn’t want a designer or developer to do usability testing by testing the design or code on themselves. That wouldn’t give you any useful data. They’re already familiar with what problems the design is supposed to be solving, and how the interface works. That’s why you need to do usability testing with someone from outside, someone who wasn’t involved in the design or development process.

It’s no different when it comes to users of assistive technology. You’re not trying to test their technology; you’re trying to test how well the thing you’re building works for the person using the technology.

In short:

Don’t think of screen-reader testing as a form of browser testing; think of it as a form of usability testing.

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Password Masking

A great investigation into the usability benefits of allowing users to fill in their passwords in plain text.

Major caveat: make sure you still offer the ability to mask passwords too.

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Friday, July 26th, 2013

The slippery slope | 90 Percent Of Everything

The transcript of a terrific talk by Harry on how dark patterns are often driven by a slavish devotion to conversion rates.

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Auto-Forwarding Carousels, Accordions Annoy Users

Carousels are shit. Auto-animating carousels are really shit. Now proven with science!