Weekend Discussion: Usability - Mozilla to West Palm Beach

Friday November 10th, 2000

We're all probably keenly aware that there were numerous usability problems (and here) with the balloting in West Palm Beach county during this Presidential election which created voting patterns which according to statisticians are, for all practical purposes, an impossibility.

Not going into questions of legitimacy regarding the vote, my questions to you are these: Can blame be placed when usability issues create incorrect or uncertain results? Is there remedy? Much has been said about usability issues in Mozilla - how does Mozilla's usability play a part in the developer/user relationship? Is there blame to be placed if a lack of usability testing creates an interface that's difficult for users to navigate? Do you think a correlation can be drawn between software UI usability and usability issues for paper interfaces like government forms or ballots? What responsiblity, if any, does the user hold for navigating a UI or form that suffers from serious usability issues?

#1 absolutely

by jilles

Friday November 10th, 2000 9:11 AM

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A bad user interface, be it on paper or on screen, can be misleading. In the case of an election you might argue that users should double check what they are doing (I know I would), punching two holes is just plain stupid IMHO and not a usability issue, punching the wrong whole however is a usability issue and has everything to do with how the ballot was designed. But in the case of users vs. an application that can easily be replaced with alternatives, I'd say usability of the UI is very important. If only because there are userfriendly alternatives.

It is very developer centric to say that something is the user's fault when something goes wrong. However, considering mozilla is going to be general purpose software, I'd say it is a responsibility of the developers to communicate the intentions of the software in a clear and unambiguous way. If only to save those poor devils at the helpdesks from stupid questions.

Not that the mozilla team is doing a bad job. From what I've seen, mozilla is very usable and user friendly allready. The main problem is that it looks completely different from the other apps on the system. This might cause novice users to get confused. I don't believe this is a problem with the underlying technology (i.e. XUL), which I'm sure some are going to claim here, but with the UI design.

One of the attractions of a web browser is that the UI can be conceptually really simple: three buttons (back, forward, reload), a textfield for the URL and an area to display the content are all the essential widgets you need. The rest is nice for power users but nothing should distract from the core functionality.