Yes or no? Checkmark. When? Field.

I was part of some usability testing of software. Basically the setup was running through some tasks with a "fake" version of the software (just images) in front of the people who were participating the tests. Lots of good things came out of it, but I had a new idea (to me) about the relationship between the types of questions or tasks and types of interface expected.

It came about because one of the tasks was to find "whether or not a particular server being backed up" (this software performs backups). Because the phrase was in the form of "yes or no" -"whether the server: is or isn't - it made more sense in my head to look for a checkmark. Or maybe a column in a field indicated yes vs. no.

There was information on the screen that said "when" a server was being backed up - but this didn't immediately answer the query (it did, indirectly) and didn't seem natural to me.

Let's look at some examples, shall we?


Ok, yes or no question: "Is a program being recorded on my Tivo?"


And we see checkmarks. Very clear. No wonder people love their Tivos.


Ok, a when question: "When was the last time that my file was modified?"

Here there is a field of text. We know to look in a column with text for the answer to a where question.


How about another yes or no question: "Is my iPod charging?"

Yup, that's a curve ball. This is, by my simple maxim above, the interface to answer a yes or no question. And, in a sense, it is: there isn't a charging icon (or, there is): so it is an icon, and it is binary. But it's found in the location of a "how much" type of location and indicator.

But this brings us to another point of usability: it's the right design if that is where your user expects it. And we've learned (not just on iPods, but laptops and other electronics) that the "charging" indicator is with the "how much battery" indicator. They are both about power.

My point is not to draw out all the design issues possible, but to point out that good design "rules" have exceptions.

BTW, the "yes" state of the iPod charging:

What question is being asked?

So, it bears asking yourself:

  • What is your user (or your reader or learner or buyer) asking?

Specifically, how are they phrasing their question?

And set up your information to answer not just the question: but the type of question being asked.

Sunday, August 17, 2008, 12:00 AM

tagged: interfaces, ipod, mac, macfinder, metrics, questions, testing, tivo, ui, usability, userexperience