case study

War Stories

War Stories: lessons from UI disaster stories

Things go wrong in even the most large-budget, popular products. Here are links to some of Alan's blog posts about times when things went wrong, and some of the the ways you can prevent this happening to the systems you design. These stories include elements of usability and user experience, and also software engineering, and the two intermingle as effective software design needs to take into account the human in the process, but also you cannot create a great (or even passable) user experience when the underlying software is not stable.

Crash Report
If your system goes wrong and you are able to detect it, then it is certainly good practice to gather the information about the problem and, with the user's consent, gather this for analysis. However, when this happens the user is probably not in the best mood, so your crash reporting definitely ought to be slick. Unfortunately, this was NOT true of Adobe's crash reporting, as this case study shows. Testing is probably the main lesson here: with real data, in real use, in messy situations ... read more
Some lessons in extended interaction
Another Adobe story, this time about obtaining a product. You do not have to be a Wall Street business analyst to know that if you annoy, confuse, or otherwise mess with people when they are in the middle of buying your product, then something is seriously wrong! The example here is about extended interaction, not just the moments you spend on the website, but the flow of emails and visits that together make up the whole experience ... read more
When your backup fails
This is about Time Machine, the 'backup' software in Mac OS. The word 'backup' is in quotes, as this case study shows it is certainly not a safe option for your only backup! Although, the post is specifically about Time Machine, it includes a series of general lessons about time and delays, testing and designing in robustness ... read more
As a P.S. some time after this post was written Alan's Mac one day said "Oops, something has gone wrong, re-initialising Time Machine" and promptly deleted ALL the Time Machine backups.
I just wanted to print a file
As the plaintive tone of the title conveys, a bit of a rant, asking how such a simple thing as printing a file can drag into a seemingly interminable process. This is phrased as a serious of "Why can't applications ...", some concerning time and time estimates, some general frailty of software. Read these as "Make sure your application ..." read more


Alan Dix © 2012