Google Groups - When Interaction Design goes wrong.

8 Dec 2004 - 7:10pm
9 years ago
34 replies
1075 reads
Stewart Dean
2004

I need some help here,

I have been an avid user of google groups for a few years now (and was using
deja news before that). The first version of google groups was a bit clunky
but once you worked out how to use it you could find and read messages very
quickly. To keep track you could search for someone and track your posts
just click on your name. Sure the way to find groups meant sometimes groups
where hard to get to. Gradual improvements where that - improvements but
there was some room for a few changes.

The along came the google groups 2 beta. Great, thought I, google, a company
driven by the interface and who I have quoted in meetings is going to make
the groups tool 'zing'. On first view - instant confusion. Okay, maybe it
was just me. Great I can now save my favourite groups - one tick - but what
on Earth is going on on there rest of the page. What is this message I'm
seeing - what are these stars and what is that list to the right.

Too much information - too many options. 1 new of 1 message? What? 1
author.

Here's something I've found in user research- people like lists. People like
lists with colomns. Why - because they can scan them.

Google doesnt appear to believe that so now chunk up everything and gives it
to me in a way I can't scan. I can view titles only but that becomes
unreadable - with overlapping, no colomns and less legable to the list it
replaced.

But that's not the worst bit. Threres bits being hidden on clicks and
infomratoin being called options (bad nomenclature at work) and the quoted
text, which adds the context to most post, you have to click to view. I can
see they did this to save space so you could scan a group - but it fails.
They then undo that work of saving space by adding more space - much more.
It's line break city. This means it becomes harder to see where one message
starts and another ends. They attempt to do this by using a block around the
authors name (which you can no longer click!).

This has turned into a rant.

What I need is others to have a look at google groups who have expertise in
interactive design and find out how a company like google can design
something the undoes the usability benefits of a previous version. If you
feel google groups doesnt work I woudl appreciate if others could send them
feedback.

If you feel it does work I'm also interested to hear why you think it does.

Google groups can be found at www.google.com - click groups.

The old version of google groups is still alive at www.google.co.uk so you
can compare.

Cheers

Stewart Dean

Comments

8 Dec 2004 - 7:56pm
Listera
2004

Stewart Dean:

> Great, thought I, google, a company driven by the interface and who I have
> quoted in meetings is going to make the groups tool 'zing'.

Hmm. Am I the only one who thinks Google is not a UI powerhouse?

Ziya
Nullius in Verba

8 Dec 2004 - 9:33pm
Peter Bagnall
2003

On 9 Dec 2004, at 00:56, Listera wrote:
> Hmm. Am I the only one who thinks Google is not a UI powerhouse?

I think the reason they have that reputation is mainly the front page
(which now many browsers have the search tool built in you never see
anyhow). Remember when AltaVista was king, and how they decided they'd
add a billion things to the front page, when all you actually wanted to
do was leave the front page as fast as possible to get some results. I
hated it when they did that, and I immediately looked for a search
engine that wasn't stuffed full of nonsense.

Many other search engines seemed to make the same mistake; Google got
the front page right, in that they understood why people were there,
and didn't try to "leverage their user base" and use it as a revenue
stream. The results page is where people actually spend time, so that's
where you catch people anyhow!

AltaVista has now copied Google's simple front page, but Lycos, for
example still seem to think they're a content site.

As for what happens after the front page - well, that could be
improved, as has been shown before (although I think there's
potentially a deeper problem than just the layout and graphic design,
but that's a whole other topic for another day).

So, while I wouldn't say Google is perfect I can understand why they
have a reputation for being better than most. They at least provided a
solution to the right problem.

--Pete

----------------------------------------------------------
It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an
irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds.
- Samuel Adams, 1722 - 1803

Peter Bagnall - http://people.surfaceeffect.com/pete/

8 Dec 2004 - 11:26pm
Listera
2004

Peter Bagnall:

> They at least provided a solution to the right problem.

I'm a devotee of their search input page, granted.
Beyond that?

Ziya
Nullius in Verba

9 Dec 2004 - 2:03pm
Peter Bagnall
2003

> I'm a devotee of their search input page, granted.
> Beyond that?

The rest the design needs to be informed by a study of which elements
of the information are most useful to people doing searches. This is
not something I think you can ask people, I would expect it to be done
somewhat subconsciously. A technique like eye tracking might be useful
here to track exactly what people look at as they make their decision
about which links to follow. Only then do you know which information to
emphasise in the visual design.

But it goes even deeper than that. What information is actually most
useful to present to a user to help them decide whether the page is
going to be useful to them or not? There could be information that
would be useful, but at the moment isn't presented at all. The only way
to really find this out is to try a number of different information
sets and see how accurately people can use that to determine page
relevance. I have no idea whether or not Google have done such work.
With Jakob Nielsen on the board of advisors and this article...

http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20040802.html

...I suspect they are well aware of this, and I'd imagine (although I
have no evidence of this), that they have put some work in to get this
right. If that's the case then I would argue that they deserve their
reputation for paying attention to the interaction design.

Which leaves the visual design, and I think this is probably the area
they are weakest on, and Andrei's recommendations certainly speak to
this.

http://www.designbyfire.com/google_redesign_02.html

But one point where I disagree with Andrei is on the way he suppresses
much of the additional information for the results past #5. That means
that you have no information other than the title to go on, which means
that unless you're lucky enough to find what you're looking for within
the first 5, your chances of finding it are greatly reduced, unless the
author obligingly had the perfect title to the page. While it cleans up
the visual design it breaks the interaction because it makes it harder
to do the job you're there to do IMO. I see that Andrei comments on
this himself, and acknowledges that this is a trade off, but I would go
for the other solution ;-). Having said that, I've only seen interation
II, there may be a III. Andrei, is there a later iteration?

So, my point is that, as with much IxD there's much more depth to the
design problem than just the information layout and visuals, and while
Google might not have done the best job on the visual side, I think
some of the work behind that has been done pretty well, and they
deserve credit for that. That, I believe, is where they have got their
reputation from. I think that unless you have a really pathological
visual design the choice of which information to present is actually
going to have more of an impact on effectiveness than the visual
design. While the current design on Google isn't perfect by quite some
way, I wouldn't say it's pathological.

Cheers
--Pete

----------------------------------------------------------
It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an
irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds.
- Samuel Adams, 1722 - 1803

Peter Bagnall - http://people.surfaceeffect.com/pete/

9 Dec 2004 - 2:33pm
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

On Dec 9, 2004, at 11:03 AM, Peter Bagnall wrote:

> I see that Andrei comments on this himself, and acknowledges that this
> is a trade off, but I would go for the other solution ;-). Having said
> that, I've only seen interation II, there may be a III. Andrei, is
> there a later iteration?

There is, but I never finished it to my satisfaction. It's about 50% of
the way there. I might try and finish that sometime during the holidays
when hopefully I'll be able to get back to my blog and get stuff
written again.

To be clear, the tradeoff I proposed would put the descriptive summary
of the result after #5 into the TITLE tag, so that on hover you see
that information without having to force all that content onto a page.
This allows you to show 100 results more effectively instead of 10,
giving users an opportunity to make better decision about what they are
looking for instead of stopping after page 3. I actually put content
into the TITLE tags on that example redesign so you can see what I mean
by this.

So the information is there, it's just that some of it is one layer
deeper than the initial visual state. This gives the user has the
opportunity to view a larger collection of data to make a choice on
what they want to view without having to page through ten or pages.

Andrei

9 Dec 2004 - 2:36pm
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

To be even more clear, I only put example TITLE content into the
results of 10-25, not the entire set. I got lazy making that example
redesign.

Andrei

9 Dec 2004 - 3:26pm
Peter Bagnall
2003

On 9 Dec 2004, at 19:33, Andrei Herasimchuk wrote:
> To be clear, the tradeoff I proposed would put the descriptive summary
> of the result after #5 into the TITLE tag, so that on hover you see
> that information without having to force all that content onto a page.
> This allows you to show 100 results more effectively instead of 10,
> giving users an opportunity to make better decision about what they
> are looking for instead of stopping after page 3. I actually put
> content into the TITLE tags on that example redesign so you can see
> what I mean by this.

I abbreviated your position a little there! Thanks for expanding it
again!

I'm still not convinced though, because I can't scan that extra
information. Now rather than my eye's scanning (which is fast) I have
to move the mouse, wait for the other info to appear, move to the next
one, and so on. That turns scanning into a much more laborious task.
And I'm cynical about the title tag being used effectively by many
people. People are pretty awful at adding metadata, so to use it so
heavily in the results list seems like it could lead to less useful
listings. Yes this is a bad thing, but if you don't take account of it
your design is less robust.

> So the information is there, it's just that some of it is one layer
> deeper than the initial visual state. This gives the user has the
> opportunity to view a larger collection of data to make a choice on
> what they want to view without having to page through ten or pages.

But the time to evaluate any one listing looks like it may have
increased not decreased. Personally I tend to use Google in 10 results
per page mode because this fits on my screen. I can scan those ten and
click the next page option to get the next 10. This is really fast. It
avoids me scrolling for one thing, which makes it much easier, so I'm
unconvinced that putting more results on the page is necessarily the
best approach. I also find that the results often become obviously
unhelpful after about the 4th or 5th page. That tends to be when I try
to refine my search terms, so the ability to list a hundred results
isn't so important to me. Now, how common that behaviour is I don't
know, since I've not studied it, but I think it would be good to know
that as it would help inform your design.

Again, Google should, and I presume, are doing (or have done) this sort
of work. I'm guessing that you have better things to do than do that
work for them, which forces you to make a best guess, which is fair
enough but if you had access to that information though I imagine it
would change your design somewhat, unless you've made some really lucky
guesses (or do in fact have more information that I think you do!).

All this reminds me that for any design the documentation should
include not only what the design is but WHY the design is the way it
is. If you critique a design without that you may find you're missing
problems that the original designers had to consider, which may mean
you get a more naive design.

--Pete

-------------------------------------------------------------
Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding
of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they
are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of
patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the
same in any country.
--Goering at the Nuremberg Trials

Peter Bagnall - http://people.surfaceeffect.com/pete/

9 Dec 2004 - 3:39pm
Listera
2004

Peter Bagnall:

> I'm guessing that you have better things to do than do that
> work for them...

Although if you did want to extract work from them, that's not a bad way to
go.:-)

What if the pointy headed boys and girls at Google were able to design an
algorithm that did a really good job of summarizing a given doc into one
short sentence which would be what you get see as result-set items below the
Top 10 on one page?

Ziya
Nullius in Verba

9 Dec 2004 - 4:09pm
Peter Bagnall
2003

On 9 Dec 2004, at 20:39, Listera wrote:
>> I'm guessing that you have better things to do than do that
>> work for them...
>
> Although if you did want to extract work from them, that's not a bad
> way to
> go.:-)

There is that!

> What if the pointy headed boys and girls at Google were able to design
> an
> algorithm that did a really good job of summarizing a given doc into
> one
> short sentence which would be what you get see as result-set items
> below the
> Top 10 on one page?

That would be really nice to see. And auto-summarisation is doable, I
think word can do it now. Certainly some of the guys at BT labs (now
Adastral Park) had a system which did it, and did a pretty good job of
it too.

The only problem I can see is that one page might have several topics
in it, so it might not be possible to provide a single summary, but
then selecting the right section's summary that matches your search
terms would be even better, especially if it could send you to the
right part of the page (with something like the google toolbar
helping).

--Pete

----------------------------------------------------------
A brave man is a man who dares to look the Devil in the face
and tell him he is a Devil.
- James A. Garfield, 1831 - 1881

Peter Bagnall - http://people.surfaceeffect.com/pete/

9 Dec 2004 - 5:07pm
Listera
2004

Peter Bagnall:

> That would be really nice to see.

Well, I wasn't being uncharacteristically generous, I'm hoping that Google
finishes up something like this soon so I can license it from them for a
financial reporting UI I'm working on. I know the people I'll have to ask
to implement this will take forever.
:-)

Ziya
Nullius in Verba

9 Dec 2004 - 5:24pm
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

On Dec 9, 2004, at 12:26 PM, Peter Bagnall wrote:

> I'm still not convinced though, because I can't scan that extra
> information. Now rather than my eye's scanning (which is fast) I have
> to move the mouse, wait for the other info to appear, move to the next
> one, and so on. That turns scanning into a much more laborious task.

Certainly true. The sort of design approach tends to force the issue
that maybe too many current web pages ignore to a certain degree:
better page titling. For the design I propose to really get traction,
the titles that come from web pages need to be more relevant and
precise. That way, the longer descriptions that would be bundled into
the TITLE tag are more to double check if that's the result you want.
As it stands now, the poor titling tends to force you to rely on the
longer descriptions to see if the search result is really relevant to
you.

The best way to get some people to pay attention to page titles would
be if a company like Google, with as much momentum and power they
yield, switched to this sort of design. Companies would start paying
attention more to this labeling to make sure the are easily scanned in
a big search results page like this.

> And I'm cynical about the title tag being used effectively by many
> people. People are pretty awful at adding metadata, so to use it so
> heavily in the results list seems like it could lead to less useful
> listings. Yes this is a bad thing, but if you don't take account of it
> your design is less robust.

The way I used the TITLE tag in the redesign doesn't rely on others. It
simply takes the current description content Google assigns to a search
result and feeds into the TITLE tag on the search results page. It's
the same data, just placed into different HTML tags.

> But the time to evaluate any one listing looks like it may have
> increased not decreased.

You'd have to time test that to really see if that's true. I willing to
bet the time to get a denser search results like the one I'm proposing
versus the current Google approach (which would be calculated by
combining the time it takes to scan and read multiple result pages
along with page load times which includes multiple forward and
background actions) is actually less with my approach.

It may feel longer to you because it's a new approach, but until it is
tested, I don't think there's any way to know. People are very good at
parsing a lot of information if presented in a way that allows them to
do so logically. More data in many cases is actually faster and easier
than too smaller chunks of less data.

> Personally I tend to use Google in 10 results per page mode because
> this fits on my screen. I can scan those ten and click the next page
> option to get the next 10. This is really fast.

Perception, I argue. It feels faster to you because you are used to it.

The only anecdote I can give you is that a lot of people complained
when the Photoshop shortcuts changed from 3 to 4, claiming it took them
longer or more keyboard actions to perform similar actions from before.
In truth, it was basically the same number of shortcuts and keyboard
actions, but because it was different, it felt "harder" and felt like
it took longer. Once they became accustomed to it, everything equalized
again. Only the newer interactions were optimized to work with layers,
which in truth opened up entirely new and more powerful ways of working
that weren't entirely possible in the old layer model of Photoshop.

The design I propose I think would open up possibilities that people
would not tend to favor the first ten search results on Google, but be
more open to see results in the 30 to 70 ranges, finding information
they may never had found before simply because it's put more in front
of their face. It might even open up Google to more business by not
having to rely on the upper percentage of results for all their ad
relevance. More results become more important which leads both to user
benefit and business benefit.

But that's just my opinion. I'm obviously biased about the design. 8^)

> I also find that the results often become obviously unhelpful after
> about the 4th or 5th page.

I tend to agree. If that is truly the case, then the design I proposed
would probably stop at 50 items per page. One search results page to
use versus 5 that require multiple forward and backward movements to
use in its entirety. But who knows... maybe you'll start to find more
relevant results, those little golden nuggets that somehow got crept
down into the 75 range? Since you probably don't bother to go past 50
or page 5 today, you might not realize just what you are missing,
right?

> I'm guessing that you have better things to do than do that work for
> them, which forces you to make a best guess, which is fair enough but
> if you had access to that information though I imagine it would change
> your design somewhat, unless you've made some really lucky guesses (or
> do in fact have more information that I think you do!).

I have some information, but it is indeed something of a guess. In this
case, the exercise was more about applying information design
principles (mostly regarding Tufte) and putting them to work on
something so many are familiar with today. Things that don't
necessarily require user need, but are driven more by the needs of the
data and content itself. Things like cleaner visual display, reduction
on certain visual noise, and denser data construction because humans
are actually very good at parsing dense data. Much more so than too
many in our field give them credit, imho.

What my redesign needs is testing to validate some of things I'm
claiming are possible with the redesign. I'd LOVE to see someone take
the time to do it as I don't have it right now.

Do I mind doing that work for free? Not necessarily. I wouldn't have
published that exercise if I wanted to to make money off it. I actually
did the exercise to bring up the larger point about dense data
displays, which I think is lacking in our field today. I'm willing for
Google to take it if the field of design gets to see a real test bed on
this sort of issue play out in the public realm for our collective
knowledge on what works and what doesn't.

If Google ever wanted, I think they should set up an alternate search
results view based on my design or variation of my design (saved as a
pref state with a cookie) and really see if this sort of thing is more
productive in the end. If they want my permission to do that, tell
someone to send me a letter and I'll sign it.

> All this reminds me that for any design the documentation should
> include not only what the design is but WHY the design is the way it
> is. If you critique a design without that you may find you're missing
> problems that the original designers had to consider, which may mean
> you get a more naive design.

I didn't do a full disclosure on the whys or even avery good job
describing the whys, but it is in the article that goes along with the
exercise: http://www.designbyfire.com/000039.html

One of these days, I'll become better at writing about the whys on what
I do. At this stage, I'm just struggling with not sounding so snippy
all the time in email threads. 8^)

Andrei

9 Dec 2004 - 6:03pm
Alex Robinson
2004

At 2:24 pm -0800 2004/12/09, Andrei Herasimchuk wrote:
>> And I'm cynical about the title tag being used effectively by many
>>people. People are pretty awful at adding metadata, so to use it so
>>heavily in the results list seems like it could lead to less useful
>>listings. Yes this is a bad thing, but if you don't take account of
>>it your design is less robust.
>
>The way I used the TITLE tag in the redesign doesn't rely on others.
>It simply takes the current description content Google assigns to a
>search result and feeds into the TITLE tag on the search results
>page. It's the same data, just placed into different HTML tags.

Alternatively, you could put the current description in exactly the
same tag for the non top 5 results and use CSS to hide them. And then
show them when the user mouses over the individual result.

(Whether the reveal is triggered by mousing over the whole result row
or some text/icon that says "show description" and whether it's done
in pure CSS or with some help from javascript is an implementation
issue best left to one side for the moment ;)

That way older browsers that don't display titles wouldn't be left
out and it would probably go down better with the accessibility crowd.

Plus some browsers only display a certain amount of text in title
tags (er, surely attributes)

Moreover, if the results rows were id'd and classed sensibly, a user
could set their own preference as to how many results get shown in
full without the output having to be altered.

9 Dec 2004 - 6:36pm
Peter Bagnall
2003

On 9 Dec 2004, at 22:24, Andrei Herasimchuk wrote:
> The best way to get some people to pay attention to page titles would
> be if a company like Google, with as much momentum and power they
> yield, switched to this sort of design. Companies would start paying
> attention more to this labeling to make sure the are easily scanned in
> a big search results page like this.

Alternatively the tools people use to write webpages could be improved.
In much the same way that Word makes up a filename for you. Auto
summarisation could feed into the title. Would be intriguing at least!
I'm a "write HTML by hand" guy, cause the code that the tools produce
is just awful beyond belief, but really it shouldn't be that way. But
most people don't understand things like separating style from content.
You only have to see how many Word users use styles instead of setting
font attributes directly to see that.

>> But the time to evaluate any one listing looks like it may have
>> increased not decreased.
> You'd have to time test that to really see if that's true. I willing
> to bet the time to get a denser search results like the one I'm
> proposing versus the current Google approach

Yup, a test is definitely required. I think I'd bet the other way
though if I were a gambling man! I think there's a risk with your
design too that some useful pages might get overlooked because it's the
other data that you have hidden (for want of a better word) that might
be the clue that it's a good page. While you can get at it, it's
sufficiently hard that you're going to get a multiple levels of
filtering. If the top layer of data isn't much help then your chance of
showing the next layer (which may help) is reduced. But we're well into
speculation at this point ;-)

> Perception, I argue. It feels faster to you because you are used to it.
That's possible, it's also cause I have a decent connection, so
multiple hits are quick. To be sure it would need to be tested
objectively, which would be an interesting project. I might have to
suggest that to a masters student ;-). It'd make a good dissertation!

> But that's just my opinion. I'm obviously biased about the design. 8^)
Naturally, if you didn't think it was right you'd have changed it!
Which is why evaluating your own designs can be hard without some
external heuristics, or some such tools.

>> I also find that the results often become obviously unhelpful after
>> about the 4th or 5th page.
> I tend to agree. If that is truly the case, then the design I proposed
> would probably stop at 50 items per page. One search results page to
> use versus 5 that require multiple forward and backward movements to
> use in its entirety. But who knows... maybe you'll start to find more
> relevant results, those little golden nuggets that somehow got crept
> down into the 75 range? Since you probably don't bother to go past 50
> or page 5 today, you might not realize just what you are missing,
> right?

It's possible, but there's a cost/benefit trade off that becomes
increasingly less attractive (although of course your design changes
this trade-off). I find it's much more effective to change my search
terms instead. Occasionally I'll go past the 5th page, but it's very
rare I ever find anything useful there, which is of course why I've
changed my habits. Again it would be interesting to test this and see.
Another student required...

> What my redesign needs is testing to validate some of things I'm
> claiming are possible with the redesign. I'd LOVE to see someone take
> the time to do it as I don't have it right now.

Yet again, sounds like a student project. It would make a really good
one.

>> All this reminds me that for any design the documentation should
>> include not only what the design is but WHY the design is the way it
>> is. If you critique a design without that you may find you're missing
>> problems that the original designers had to consider, which may mean
>> you get a more naive design.
>
> I didn't do a full disclosure on the whys or even avery good job
> describing the whys, but it is in the article that goes along with the
> exercise: http://www.designbyfire.com/000039.html

That wasn't really a comment on your design. I was really referring to
Google's own design. It's hard to critique it without knowing what
forces their design is balancing, and it's pretty safe to say there are
some we don't know about. There are quite likely things which they only
discovered late in the design process which affected it, quite likely
some that didn't appear until after deployment.

Because of this it's quite likely that we're making some errors that
Google have already faced just because we don't have such a complete
description of the problem. Unless they're much worse at this than I
think they are. It would be very interesting to get a response from
them, but I'm guessing that's not too likely. Any Google people lurking
here?!

I'm trying to record the reasoning for some design work I've done, and
it takes huge amounts of time, more than is practical for the average
project, so this is something of an idealistic point on my part.

Cheers
--Pete

----------------------------------------------------------
As long as people believe in absurdities they will continue
to commit atrocities.
Francois Marie Arouet (Voltaire), 1694 - 1778

Peter Bagnall - http://people.surfaceeffect.com/pete/

10 Dec 2004 - 1:54am
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

On Dec 9, 2004, at 3:36 PM, Peter Bagnall wrote:

> I think there's a risk with your design too that some useful pages
> might get overlooked because it's the other data that you have hidden
> (for want of a better word) that might be the clue that it's a good
> page. While you can get at it, it's sufficiently hard that you're
> going to get a multiple levels of filtering.

I'd argue with the semantics or use of "sufficiently hard." Driving a
manual transmission in sleet and snow with three screaming kids in the
back seat... that's sufficiently hard. Checking a hover tooltip to read
more descriptive text... Well... not so sufficiently hard. (Please
pretend I'm pulling a poor Jon Stewart impression as I type this.)

> ... it's also cause I have a decent connection, so multiple hits are
> quick.

Even with a quick connection, the act of moving forward and backward to
find a result you can't remember if it was on page 2 or 4. Those issues
also come into play, not just speedy broadband or zippy computers.

> Yet again, sounds like a student project. It would make a really good
> one.

Someone care to bite?

Andrei

10 Dec 2004 - 3:32am
pabini
2004

Hi Ziya

At lunch just today, several UX people were discussing the deficiencies in
Google's UI design, so you're not alone in this view. I've heard Google
described as an engineering-driven company, which I think is true. They have
*great* technology, but the quality of some of their user interfaces doesn't
match that of their technology. Perhaps they don't give their UX people
enough scope. At least search is simple and elegant though.

Pabini

> Hmm. Am I the only one who thinks Google is not a UI powerhouse?
>
> Ziya

10 Dec 2004 - 7:15am
Stewart Dean
2004

>From: Peter Bagnall <pete at surfaceeffect.com>
>To: Listera <listera at rcn.com>
>CC: IxD <discuss-interactiondesigners.com at lists.interactiondesigners.com>
>Subject: Re: [ID Discuss] Google Groups - When Interaction Design goes
>wrong.
>Date: Thu, 9 Dec 2004 19:03:36 +0000
>
>[Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
>>I'm a devotee of their search input page, granted.
>>Beyond that?
>
>The rest the design needs to be informed by a study of which elements of
>the information are most useful to people doing searches. This is not
>something I think you can ask people, I would expect it to be done somewhat
>subconsciously.

I disagree - if using a talk aloud process you can find out if people are
uncomfortable and get an idea of what hey are looking for, if not exactly
what they are looking for.

>A technique like eye tracking might be useful here to track exactly what
>people look at as they make their decision about which links to follow.
>Only then do you know which information to emphasise in the visual design.

Eye tracking I found not to be helpful compared to tradiational one to one
sessions and can appear to contradict other information is used in
conjunction. I feel you won't find out what to emphasis in the visual design
by eye tracking as how can you check for what is not there. The only clue
you get is what is most visible and if they can't find out what they're
looking for their eye darts around a lot.

There's nothing here you cannot get from correct facilitation of a one to
one meeting.

<snip to last point>

>So, my point is that, as with much IxD there's much more depth to the
>design problem than just the information layout and visuals, and while
>Google might not have done the best job on the visual side, I think some of
>the work behind that has been done pretty well, and they deserve credit for
>that.

Of course - but there's no point producing the best results if they are
incorrectly displayed. In the case of google the user experience is at fault
- not the background technology. The search works but the presentation
negates it's power.

The amount of screens, distinction of functinaality and lack of ability to
quickly scan information are all to blame here. I just use the old google
interface again and found what I was looking for in about three clicks. To
do the same in the new google I have to find the right search box (only one
should be on screen at any point of time for example in my view).

>That, I believe, is where they have got their reputation from.

I disagree - the search relevence is only half the story - the other half is
they have not gone down the Yahoo route and gone for the 'pile it high, sell
it cheap' functionality market approach.

>I think that unless you have a really pathological visual design the choice
>of which information to present is actually going to have more of an impact
>on effectiveness than the visual design.

The two are too closely related to sepearte.

>While the current design on Google isn't perfect by quite some way, I
>wouldn't say it's pathological.

All design is pathological - its wether the design works with what we are
expecting and allows us to quickly find things. From my experience
displaying lists that are easy to browse is much more in keeping with user
demands than drop down menus and hiding elements as you find in Microsoft
office. Same is true with using roll overs for more information or, in this
case, click to reveal.

If the information is vital for scanning don't hide it - and in this case
the quoted text adds context but is hidden, making scanning harder. Context
is vital for quck scanning - otherwise you end up with a bunch of items and
the user isnt sure how they are related.

Cheers

Stew Dean

10 Dec 2004 - 11:26am
Elizabeth Buie
2004

Andrei writes:

>Driving a
>manual transmission in sleet and snow with three screaming
>kids in the back seat... that's sufficiently hard.

To make it even harder, make it an automatic transmission.

:-)

Elizabeth
--
Elizabeth Buie
Computer Sciences Corporation
Rockville, Maryland, USA
+1.301.921.3326

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10 Dec 2004 - 1:09pm
Peter Bagnall
2003

On 10 Dec 2004, at 06:54, Andrei Herasimchuk wrote:
>> While you can get at it, it's sufficiently hard that you're going to
>> get a multiple levels of filtering.
> I'd argue with the semantics or use of "sufficiently hard."

The phrase "sufficiently hard" should be read in the context of the
sentence. I'm not saying anything about the absolute level of
difficulty, (which is low). What I'm trying to say it that because it's
harder than just having the stuff visible all the time it's going to
have an effect on how that information is used or not used. In other
words the slight increase in difficulty is enough (I suspect) to have a
significant effect.

> Driving a manual transmission in sleet and snow with three screaming
> kids in the back seat... that's sufficiently hard. Checking a hover
> tooltip to read more descriptive text... Well... not so sufficiently
> hard. (Please pretend I'm pulling a poor Jon Stewart impression as I
> type this.)

Who the heck is Jon Stewart?! ... Google to the rescue ;-) ... Ok, got
you! I'm in the UK, never seen the guy before. Very funny stuff though
from what I can see online.

>> ... it's also cause I have a decent connection, so multiple hits are
>> quick.
> Even with a quick connection, the act of moving forward and backward
> to find a result you can't remember if it was on page 2 or 4. Those
> issues also come into play, not just speedy broadband or zippy
> computers.

The way I do things is I open likely candidates in tabs (or new
windows) so I almost never go back to previous pages, but that
definitely takes us into the specifics of how I do things rather than
how people in general do things. It would be interesting to have a
quick poll of search engine habits, just to see how people do adapt
their working patterns to the interaction. Many people I know use a
similar method to me, but it may be because I'm in an academic
environment so we do this sort of thing more than most, or might be
that we've noticed effective habits that other people use. I don't have
an answer to that, would be interesting to get one.

Cheers
--Pete

------------------------------------------------------------------------
----
One of the great attractions of patriotism it fulfils our worst wishes.
In the person of our nation we are able, vicariously, to bully and
cheat. Bully and cheat, what's more, with a feeling that we are
profoundly virtuous.
Aldous Huxley

Peter Bagnall - http://people.surfaceeffect.com/pete/

10 Dec 2004 - 1:38pm
Peter Bagnall
2003

On 10 Dec 2004, at 12:15, Stewart Dean wrote:
> I disagree - if using a talk aloud process you can find out if people
> are uncomfortable and get an idea of what hey are looking for, if not
> exactly what they are looking for.

But then using a recording a verbal protocol in an experimental setting
is rather different to just asking someone, which is really what I was
saying wouldn't work. You could well be right a talk aloud method would
be effective.

>> A technique like eye tracking might be useful here...
> The only clue you get is what is most visible and if they can't find
> out what they're looking for their eye darts around a lot.

Ok, I can see where you're coming from on that.

>> I think some of the work behind that has been done pretty well, and
>> they deserve credit for that.
> Of course - but there's no point producing the best results if they
> are incorrectly displayed.

Sure, but I was trying to explain why they have a reputation for being
good at the interaction design, which was the question that Ziya
implied.

>> That, I believe, is where they have got their reputation from.
> I disagree - the search relevence is only half the story - the other
> half is they have not gone down the Yahoo route and gone for the 'pile
> it high, sell it cheap' functionality market approach.

I mentioned that in my first post on this thread - if you look at Lycos
you can see the antithesis of the google approach there. Altavista made
the same mistake although they have no copied Google's cleaner front
page design.

>> I think that unless you have a really pathological visual design the
>> choice of which information to present is actually going to have more
>> of an impact on effectiveness than the visual design.
> The two are too closely related to sepearte.

You could separate them with a controlled experiment. It wouldn't be
too hard to design an experiment with reasonable validity. Keeping the
information the same you compare different visual layouts, then keeping
the visual layouts the same you change the information presented (the
harder of the two cases to do admittedly). I think it's reasonable to
say there are two different factors in play here.

>> While the current design on Google isn't perfect by quite some way, I
>> wouldn't say it's pathological.
> All design is pathological

I don't follow you on this. I was using pathological in the sense of a
design being so malformed that it might be considered dysfunctional (or
diseased). I would hope that not all design is pathological in that
sense. Could you expand on what you were meaning?

> If the information is vital for scanning don't hide it - and in this
> case the quoted text adds context but is hidden, making scanning
> harder. Context is vital for quck scanning - otherwise you end up with
> a bunch of items and the user isnt sure how they are related.

I think we're in agreement on that. The information hiding is the
aspect of Andrei's design that I'm uncomfortable with.

Cheers
--Pete

----------------------------------------------------------
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
- Leonardo de Vinci, 1452 - 1519

Peter Bagnall - http://people.surfaceeffect.com/pete/

10 Dec 2004 - 2:07pm
Listera
2004

Peter Bagnall:

> You could separate them with a controlled experiment. It wouldn't be
> too hard to design an experiment with reasonable validity.

On most working days I wake up with a wish to be in charge of the testing
dept at Google, Amazon, eBay, MSN, Yahoo, etc., even if it would mean living
someplace on the West Coast. :-) In juts a few hours they can test real
tasks done by real users on real sites *by the millions*. I just salivate
over that capability.

> I think we're in agreement on that. The information hiding is the
> aspect of Andrei's design that I'm uncomfortable with.

Hmm. I usually start my client presentations with 10 min show and tell
segment on why "information hiding" will be my Job #1, on most projects that
require UI surgery. I probably spend more time on hiding information than
revealing it. But then again my design motto, rephrased, is:

No Japanese rock garden is complete until there are no more rocks to be
removed.

Ziya
Nullius in Verba

11 Dec 2004 - 7:11pm
Lilly Irani
2004

> Because of this it's quite likely that we're making some errors that
> Google have already faced just because we don't have such a complete
> description of the problem. Unless they're much worse at this than I
> think they are. It would be very interesting to get a response from
> them, but I'm guessing that's not too likely. Any Google people lurking
> here?!

Hello! I'm a UI Designer at Google lurking here.

I wasn't deeply involved in the search results page design but I can
offer some personal critiques that are my speculation of what you'd
hear presenting this:
http://www.designbyfire.com/google_redesign_02.html
at a ui review, based on critiques I face for my designs. :)

It's exciting to see new ideas, btw. There is a fairly strong Google
aesthetic (stripped down and simple) but the danger is getting stuck
in that.

1) What purpose do the chevrons serve? They grab my eye as I can
preattentively spot them, but instead of leading me to the titles and
links, they lead me to just outside the titles and links, which is
exactly what I don't want.

2) At 800x600 (and not only at 800x600 but at the width my browser
immediately opened to when I checked this out):
 - The breadcrumb wraps in a way that makes it very difficult to tell
in a quick scan whether it is two breadcrumbs or one.
 - The left margin of the result 1 title and the result 1 snippet
are not aligned.

3) I miss the colored ads too. I know we did experiments with various
ad configurations and visual treatments before settling on the one
that performed the best and was least confusing. But there was a
friendliness that can't be justified in visual efficiency that came
out of having colored boxes around the ads.

4) Having "Sponsored Links" in the middle of the stack of ads makes
that column look like two different kinds of content. This is
reinforced by the fact that the ads above "Sponsored Links" are
different colors and the ones below are all green.

5) Showing a reduced result snippet is interesting but I think people
will scream if you show fewer than 10 full snippets. I agree with some
of the others that scanning over snippets with your eye, searching in
parallel for your query text and evaluating its relevance, is far more
efficient than scanning titles which may or may not be relevant to my
query. And scanning is definitely less efficient than moving my arm to
get rollover progressive disclosure.

Another consideration is the time it would take to load that many
results into one page -- there's time to get all the results, and then
time to render them. If the majority of users find what they want in
the first page and leave the result page, will our 90% case appreciate
a page that loads 0.1 second faster or more results on the page? I
actually think that 0.1 second difference can improve the feeling of
"snappiness" that people really appreciate. I'm fairly certain that
most queries don't result in page 2 getting loaded, so this extra
information puts a lot of load on the 90% case search -- both on our
backend on users.

However, there are the folks who know in they are in a "research" mode
of information retrieval where they want to be exhaustive. I can see
something like this being really interesting to them. One thing I'd
definitely add is at least a domain to the micro-results, since
domains  are really important for me in judging the potential
credibility of a result. Full URLs would be better for me since I can
sometimes judge spammy results that way, but this is surely a minority
user behavior.

My opinions do not represent Google's in any way shape or form. :P

~lilly

12 Dec 2004 - 1:46am
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

On Dec 11, 2004, at 4:11 PM, Lilly Irani wrote:

> 1) What purpose do the chevrons serve? They grab my eye as I can
> preattentively spot them, but instead of leading me to the titles and
> links, they lead me to just outside the titles and links, which is
> exactly what I don't want.

Simple markers. As results become closer in the visual, it may be
helpful to have demarcators. Although not having them is fine as well.
I'm not sure what you mean by "lead you outside" of the titles. Either
way, not that big a deal to add or leave out.

> 2) At 800x600 (and not only at 800x600 but at the width my browser
> immediately opened to when I checked this out):
>  - The breadcrumb wraps in a way that makes it very difficult to tell
> in a quick scan whether it is two breadcrumbs or one.
>  - The left margin of the result 1 title and the result 1 snippet
> are not aligned.

Easy to fix. Didn't bother checking rendering results on lower res
screens. It was a free exercise after all.

> 3) I miss the colored ads too. I know we did experiments with various
> ad configurations and visual treatments before settling on the one
> that performed the best and was least confusing. But there was a
> friendliness that can't be justified in visual efficiency that came
> out of having colored boxes around the ads.

I hardly find this level of critique in "design reviews" to hold water.
Colored ads or not, in the end users would still click them. To me,
colored ads are a branding issue, not an interface issue. If Google
wants them, users will deal with them. But if Google doesn't want them,
for whatever reason, no biggie. The current crop of ads are bland,
boring and blend in so much into the search results I've done a better
job of blocking them out than before.

Good for me as the user maybe (and I emphasize maybe as it's not a big
deal), but it seems like a potentially bad business decision.

> 4) Having "Sponsored Links" in the middle of the stack of ads makes
> that column look like two different kinds of content. This is
> reinforced by the fact that the ads above "Sponsored Links" are
> different colors and the ones below are all green.

That was the intention. The red and yellow were supposed to be of
higher value. The green lesser ads. If the business decision is to not
make that distinction, fine. 2 seconds of coding to move the phrase.

> 5) Showing a reduced result snippet is interesting but I think people
> will scream if you show fewer than 10 full snippets.

They may, they may not. So add a full 10 if that becomes the case. No
way to tell unless it's tried.

> I agree with some
> of the others that scanning over snippets with your eye, searching in
> parallel for your query text and evaluating its relevance, is far more
> efficient than scanning titles which may or may not be relevant to my
> query.

Have you considered the current design requires multiple page reloads
and movement back and forth in the browser? Just how much that adds to
the task?

> And scanning is definitely less efficient than moving my arm to
> get rollover progressive disclosure.

Moving your arm? Not to be offensive, but have we really come down to
that level in design critique? Whether moving one's arm for simple
hover actions warrants real design critique in interface design? Or in
review meetings with co-workers?

> Another consideration is the time it would take to load that many
> results into one page -- there's time to get all the results, and then
> time to render them.

Given Google's current performance, I'd suspect the time difference
wouldn't be all that problematic. If so, I'd expect a results of 50 to
be acceptable.

> If the majority of users find what they want in
> the first page and leave the result page, will our 90% case appreciate
> a page that loads 0.1 second faster or more results on the page?

You're assuming (or claiming) people find what they want, even if in
the first page. Is there any real data to back that up? I know
anecdotally I hardly ever find what I want in the first page anymore on
Google.

What they "want" may actually be on result page #6, but they never get
there and get sidetracked and follow something else. Or simply type a
new phrase as they fail to find what they want. Or people find
something "good enough" that they just accept what they get. But what
they want may still be lurking in there somewhere.

> I actually think that 0.1 second difference can improve the feeling of
> "snappiness" that people really appreciate. I'm fairly certain that
> most queries don't result in page 2 getting loaded, so this extra
> information puts a lot of load on the 90% case search -- both on our
> backend on users.

Unless you state "I know" instead of "I think" then we'll just go back
and forth all day on an opinion based argument. How do you really know
people are finding what they want and not just accepting what they get,
therefor staying on page 1 and not moving on? I'm constantly struggling
with Google to find the right search phrase when I give up after page 6
or so of results. Maybe my real result is hidden on page 8? Yet, I'm
more prone to try new search phrases thinking I'm wrong in the search
when in fact the search results of Google might not be deep enough for
me to weed through the *entirety* of crap there is in the web?

The only way to know is to try it out And I don't mean 2 hour testing
anonymous users behind a one way mirror. I mean long term, month after
month usage of a real design letting people to get familiar with the
new approach so they don't just provide feedback reacting to the fact
it is different. Real, meaty research data that tests a design in the
field.

Google already has a perfect testing bed for this sort of new design
approach without killing the current product and without risking
anything at a business level: Use the cookie prefs to enable this
search results page over the current one and let people try out these
sorts of new designs. Get real feedback from those that choose to try
it out. Put a design like this in place and find out for real after
months of testing what works and what doesn't.

A design like this should take one to two weeks tops to code and
implement, then let it go live as a pref. Modest advertising with die
hard Google bloggers will do the trick to get started on letting people
know it's there to check out, then sit back and see what works and what
doesn't over a one to three month period. From what I understand of the
culture there, it would take a UI designer or an engineer to try it out
and put into place to make it happen. The question is: does anyone at
Google care enough to try it out? I think someone there should try it.
Even if the design fails, what would be discovered with regard to more
dense information design would be extraordinarily valuable to the
company on how to stay ahead of the pack with the flagship product with
regard to search results.

Andrei

13 Dec 2004 - 7:35pm
Lilly Irani
2004

Andrei -

> > 3) I miss the colored ads too. I know we did experiments with various
> > ad configurations and visual treatments before settling on the one
> > that performed the best and was least confusing. But there was a
> > friendliness that can't be justified in visual efficiency that came
> > out of having colored boxes around the ads.
>
> I hardly find this level of critique in "design reviews" to hold water.
> Colored ads or not, in the end users would still click them.
Yes, but we *know* from experiments that they don't do so at the same
rate. Different visual treatments affect ad click through enough to
affect our ad revenue in a huge way. You're right that there is ALSO
an issue of branding but it's hard to evaluate the dollar value of
brand and it's easy to evaluate the dollar value of ad click rate
based on just the kinds of UI experiments you advocate.

>> And scanning is definitely less efficient than moving my arm to
>> get rollover progressive disclosure.
>Moving your arm? Not to be offensive, but have we really come down to
>that level in design critique?
We haven't come down to any level that isn't worth going to. We're
talking about bodies interacting with physical objects and media,
expending energy. Tell my wrists that ache with tension from typing
all day or my grandmother's arthritic wrists that movement doesn't
matter in design. Having to move my arm to dig deeper into information
I'm not even sure I want *will* affect my level of exploration. I
point this out because perhaps there is another way to present the
additional information. Take this as a challenge to go further (and I
should too) or ignore it and make the decision to remove the body from
your considerations of user experience. Up to you.

I'm not saying I would have decided to take away the colors. I miss
them too. But I can understand how an intelligent person would make
that desicion.

> Google already has a perfect testing bed for this sort of new design
> approach without killing the current product and without risking
> anything at a business level: Use the cookie prefs to enable this
> search results page over the current one and let people try out these
> sorts of new designs. Get real feedback from those that choose to try
> it out. Put a design like this in place and find out for real after
> months of testing what works and what doesn't.
Yup. How do you think the page got to be what it was?

I wish I had more freedom to debate you openly but I'm really not sure
what boundaries I'm treading with confidentiality. My hope was to
contribute some fuel for a discussion in which we all learn, but what
you do with my intentions is up to you.

~lilly

>
> A design like this should take one to two weeks tops to code and
> implement, then let it go live as a pref. Modest advertising with die
> hard Google bloggers will do the trick to get started on letting people
> know it's there to check out, then sit back and see what works and what
> doesn't over a one to three month period. From what I understand of the
> culture there, it would take a UI designer or an engineer to try it out
> and put into place to make it happen. The question is: does anyone at
> Google care enough to try it out? I think someone there should try it.
> Even if the design fails, what would be discovered with regard to more
> dense information design would be extraordinarily valuable to the
> company on how to stay ahead of the pack with the flagship product with
> regard to search results.
>
> Andrei
>
>
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>

13 Dec 2004 - 11:32pm
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

On Dec 13, 2004, at 4:35 PM, Lilly Irani wrote:

> Yes, but we *know* from experiments that they don't do so at the same
> rate. Different visual treatments affect ad click through enough to
> affect our ad revenue in a huge way.

Well, without the tested design, criteria or results of the tests this
is a non-starter to discuss openly. We have no way of knowing what was
tested and what the results were to debate what may or may not be
working in the design sense. As it stands, colored ads or not don't
seem to be a big deal regarding the overall design in terms of which
decision is made. (From my pov.)

> We haven't come down to any level that isn't worth going to. We're
> talking about bodies interacting with physical objects and media,
> expending energy. Tell my wrists that ache with tension from typing
> all day or my grandmother's arthritic wrists that movement doesn't
> matter in design.

I never claimed there are issues with RSI injuries. I myself am now
suffering from a bit of carpal. The issue for me is that RSI and carpal
have far more to do with poor hardware design (my Apple keyboard in
particular is pretty bad), office furniture and general lack of poor
behavior on the part of people when using computers for long periods of
time. (Not enough stretching, or getting up, etc.) Things like hovering
over a link to reveal more info have little to do with the real issue
of RSI from my experience.

> Having to move my arm to dig deeper into information
> I'm not even sure I want *will* affect my level of exploration. I
> point this out because perhaps there is another way to present the
> additional information.

Perhaps there is, but the point of the design is to find a way to add
50-100 search results to one page and make it scannable, and thus
reducing multiple page loads, or multiple scans, or digging through
multiple pages to find what you are looking for. Adding depth to the
results and less pagination. Unless you propose fully displaying all
the info, which would be overkill, this is really the only way out.
Amazon's A9 uses hovers (for site info), and I've yet to hear problems
from RSI about them, by the way.

I think you're overstating the negative aspects of the hover in the
design. there are negatives to be sure, but not to this degree.

> Take this as a challenge to go further (and I
> should too) or ignore it and make the decision to remove the body from
> your considerations of user experience. Up to you.

I'd be happy to explore all these issues further if Google paid me.
However, your competitors are already exploring interesting new ideas
here, so it appears you guys are the ones being challenged. It's no
skin off my back what happens to Google. As a consumer, I could
actually care less.

> How do you think the page got to be what it was?

The current page is horribly designed, no matter how well it tests.

By the way, I say this as a person who thinks Photoshop is mediocre
when it comes to design. It was fine back in the day some ten years
ago, but it's obviously showing its age and has so many features piled
on that's it has quickly become too much to bear. And I helped make it
that way.

> I wish I had more freedom to debate you openly but I'm really not sure
> what boundaries I'm treading with confidentiality. My hope was to
> contribute some fuel for a discussion in which we all learn, but what
> you do with my intentions is up to you.

Having worked on high-profile products, I understand the need to not
cross the boundaries your company lawyers would throw the book at you.
At the same time, if you are going to speak up in public forum -- and I
encourage you to do so -- please know I'm not interested in feedback
which in the grand scheme of things is very minor. Changing ad color,
moving a phrase like "sponsored links" or feeling a hover might induce
RSI tension just doesn't cut it for me in terms of design critique.

The purpose of the exercise was to attempt sweeping change, and seeing
what sweeping change do. (And don't forget the redesign I set up was
largely standards compliant to boot.) The exercise is about depth and
how that depth might change search behavior or enhance it. The
challenge I daresay is up to the design team at Google. Put out a
design on the flagship product of the company and see how the world
responds. The "redesigns" I see coming out of Google these days will
have you in the same position you put Yahoo! in four years ago, after
Yahoo got complacent about their portal home page approach. that is,
you'll be in a prime position to lose to others willing to take bolder
risks that seems absurd on the face of it. (Remember, the simple search
field could never outpace a large clouded portal home page back n the
day, right? There wasn't enough to choose from, right? Never fly.)

The thing is, you guys can do it for free, and for a very small cost to
the company with a much larger cost on the benefit. Whether you choose
to or not, that's not my problem. But taking my redesign as a stepping
stone to try something different, you could gain a lot, imho.

Andrei

13 Dec 2004 - 11:55pm
Listera
2004

Lilly Irani:

> Hello! I'm a UI Designer at Google lurking here.

If I may be impolitic and curious about about the Google structure, is there
a person all UI designers ultimately directly or indirectly report to who
himself/herself is not a designer?
(I'm not looking for a name, of course, just the nature of the title.)

Ziya
Nullius in Verba

14 Dec 2004 - 12:40am
Lilly Irani
2004

Well, vague report structure can't be confidential information. The UI
Team is within engineering. We report to a director of engineering who
at one point did design Google UIs, but not with design training. You
might correctly infer that this is the root of the minimalistic design
that can look unpolished, if functional. The UI team started because a
few software engineers with HCI related backgrounds cared to act
outside of their role.

Think what you will of Google. I'm certainly not here to claim that
we're the best in any or all realms. Someone just asked if a Google UI
designer was lurking. I apologize if my critique went beyond the scope
you felt prepared to be critiqued on, but the mock was pretty
high-fidelity so I didn't realize minor points were out. The critique
reflected 1/10 of the controversy my mocks get subjected to at work.
No chevron or colon goes unjustified. Mileage on such detail
orientedness varies by project.

And I wish I could mock some of my ideas for a results page that riffs
off of Andrei's inspirations for greater information density, but I
don't know what the IP implications of that are.

Anyways. I am out. Good night.

On Mon, 13 Dec 2004 23:55:25 -0500, Listera <listera at rcn.com> wrote:
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
> Lilly Irani:
>
> > Hello! I'm a UI Designer at Google lurking here.
>
> If I may be impolitic and curious about about the Google structure, is there
> a person all UI designers ultimately directly or indirectly report to who
> himself/herself is not a designer?
> (I'm not looking for a name, of course, just the nature of the title.)
>
> Ziya
> Nullius in Verba
>
>
>
>
> _______________________________________________
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> discuss at ixdg.org
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14 Dec 2004 - 3:43am
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

On Dec 13, 2004, at 9:40 PM, Lilly Irani wrote:

> I apologize if my critique went beyond the scope
> you felt prepared to be critiqued on, but the mock was pretty
> high-fidelity so I didn't realize minor points were out.

It's not that they are out... it's that I don't have a problem changing
them or fixing them, and don't feel the need to spend time on that sort
of detail. In the larger picture, they are the things that if I was the
lead designer on the project, I would fix them in a heartbeat to get
past the issue. I don't hold those aspects of the design as sticking
points. If a group of folks didn't like those aspects, fine, go for it!
Change it. The larger issue for me is the depth of the search results,
the broader implications of what a denser search results page could
mean to users. That's the interesting stuff to me.

> The critique reflected 1/10 of the controversy my mocks get subjected
> to at work.

I've been there. I feel you're pain. At the same time, I also feel like
the way to get past those sticking points is to not give the minor
details too much justification or debate in review meetings. That tends
to happen when you are willing to debate the minor points instead of
moving past them. They tend to take over, instead of larger issues that
need to be discussed. Not saying you do that, just that I react that
way to them out of my experience these days.

> No chevron or colon goes unjustified. Mileage on such detail
> orientedness varies by project.

That's unfortunate. Had Google hired me back when I interviewed, I
guarantee you I would have been able to fix that problem if it exists,
so the designers could focus on meatier design issues, not things like
what dingbat should be should used to lead titles. There's really no
need for that level of critique at any company that takes design
seriously. Designer's should be trusted with those details, or let go
if the company feels they aren't doing a good job. But there's no need
to discuss those details in design review meetings. Ever. Period.

Ah well... Google's designer will get there. All companies do in their
own time.

> And I wish I could mock some of my ideas for a results page that riffs
> off of Andrei's inspirations for greater information density, but I
> don't know what the IP implications of that are.

If Google needs me to sign a release to give you the design to work
with and riff on it and modify and change it, please tell them to send
me a letter. I'll be happy to sign it. I put it into the public domain
to be used, not to be horded by myself. I'll be happy to give up any
rights to it if you think you guys at Google could use it as a
springboard for something bigger or have it lead to entirely different
design that takes it to the next level.

Andrei

14 Dec 2004 - 4:42am
Kevin Cheng
2004

Lilly said,
> We haven't come down to any level that isn't worth going to. We're
> talking about bodies interacting with physical objects and media,
> expending energy. Tell my wrists that ache with tension from typing
> all day or my grandmother's arthritic wrists that movement doesn't
> matter in design.

Lilly,

First, I want to encourage you to continue to add your thoughts on
topics, Google related or not. Most on the list have some level of
corporate lawyers hounding on them and I understand that Google has
cause to be more careful recently than others but it's still
refreshing to get perspectives from Google. I think Andrei makes some
excellent points and if you're not used to interacting with him, can
be (and seems to be) misconstrued.

Re: RSI. I studied ergonomics, albeit briefly, and honestly, hovering
over some titles instead of clicking pages to go through search pages
has no significant impact on the typical Google user who let's say
generously, searches thirty times a day. In fact, if we took an
extreme look at it, and let's say a person makes a living just
searching and spends every minute Googling and scanning results past
page 1, clicking has far more adverse effects on the wrist than simply
moving the mouse to scan items. This is why it's suggested by doctors
to change the Windows settings to use single click instead of double
click to open files when you are suffering from severe RSI but still
must use the computer.

Re: Attention to detail. I'm with Andrei on this. That level of debate
is like a developer being asked in a code review why he names a
variable x instead of y, rather than discussing the overall algorithm
and architecture. If you can't trust the people do to the most basic
things they were hired for, it adversely affects the operation of the
company as a whole.

I think Google is stuck in their design aesthetic to the point that
it's hindering them*. "Ugly" is not a brand. As an example, most
people here know I draw a comic strip. I don't consider myself amazing
at it but I think I'm competent. I've had friends who are still
working on their art defend that their work is simply stylistically
different from mine but not worse. The fact is that it simply isn't
true. There is a basically level of what is deemed competent, whether
anatomically correct or not, that any cartoonist would recognize but
not being a good cartoonist cannot be defended with "that's my style".

The same for design.

* Blogger not withstanding, which wasn't done in house anyways.

Kevin Cheng (KC)
OK/Cancel: Interface Your Fears
kc at ok-cancel.com
www.ok-cancel.com

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14 Dec 2004 - 5:00am
Dave Malouf
2005

Hiya everyone,

I also want to add to the sentiment that Kevin tried to say. Lilly and
everyone else who sticks their head of the lurk shell at a time when their
own highly visible products are on the crit seat, thank you. The bravery in
this setting is above board and I for one appreciate it.

Now, I also want to disagree w/ both Kevin and Andrei. While I agree with
the spirit of what Andrei and Kevin are saying about valuing your designer
to do their job, I do think that a solid crit is worth it. Now does a crit
mean you are going to go change everything, I hope not, but design decisions
shouldn't be random and should be presented in a way that people understand
why you made those decisions. Is that "justifying" your work? To me the
"justification" comes out of whether or not you have to supply a gazillion
links of research and put a spreadsheet together calculating ROI. But just
to be able to explain why you made a decision to me is very viable if it
comes from a place of understanding and an attempt to move the design
forward. To me that is what a crit is all about and is a wonderful legacy of
the design field. This is a way we get pushed as designers and quite
honestly if someone has to ask you about a decision it actually means the
decision itself is probably not communicating what you want on its own
accord. Isn't that what good design should do?

Anyway, I see both sides of this issue, but I do think that there is room
for a solid detailed crit, so long as it is done from the perspective of
moving a design and a designer forward and not done just to be critical and
for validation justification.

-- dave

14 Dec 2004 - 5:43am
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

On Dec 14, 2004, at 2:00 AM, David Heller wrote:

> This is a way we get pushed as designers and quite
> honestly if someone has to ask you about a decision it actually means
> the
> decision itself is probably not communicating what you want on its own
> accord.

Not to sound argumentative, but that's a gross generalization that can
get you into big trouble, especially in large review style meetings
where unless you are careful, certain issues can devolve quickly into
design by committee.

The fact that someone asks you a question regarding a design decision
does equate to the decision or the design being unclear. Any
interpretation of a question in that vein will have you questioning
everything you do to the point of getting nothing done. It's just not
practical.

The issue tends to be the type of question: If I'm asked why I chose a
chevron over a bullet, or no chevron at all, my answer is simply that I
thought it looked good. Knowing that is my answer, I choose to not
worry about that kind of detail, and therefore am willing to change it
if pressed (but as the designer, I would hope I'm not pressed
constantly about such minor details). Further, knowing that in review
meetings, people get seriously bogged down in that kind of minutiae, I
also do what I can do prevent that kind of discussion, even to go so
far as quickly agreeing to change it to move on, or ignoring the
comment altogether in meetings.

There are many issues like that where people need to stop wasting
precious company time on that level of detail in meetings. Those issues
rarely warrant crit outside of simple designer to designer feedback.

Andrei

14 Dec 2004 - 5:57am
Dave Malouf
2005

> -----Original Message-----
> There are many issues like that where people need to stop wasting
> precious company time on that level of detail in meetings.
> Those issues
> rarely warrant crit outside of simple designer to designer feedback.
>
> Andrei

I totally agree that in a x-functional non-designer review at this level of
detail is not useful, but we ARE designers here and I do think that saying,
"b/c I like it" is not really a viable or more aptly a useful answer.

This is an example of a visual design element ... What would be an example
of an IxD design element? Why did you decide to use radio buttons instead of
a dropdown? Or visa versa? What woud it mean to answer this question from an
aesthetic perspective instead of quoting a bunch of stats from a usability
test or pointing people to alertbox?

I actually feel that b/c the IxD pieces are so close to that x-functional
team loci of ven diagramming that we do need to be better at communicating
the reasons behind our designs. Also, unlike visual design, which has a much
higher proportion of aesthetic to functional value, IxD is newer and IxDers
need to still defend what is we do. Visual designers compete amongst
themselves, IxDers are competing with business analysts still to get a seat
at the table.

That being said, I do think that the best "offense" for an IxDer is not ONLY
be an IxDer. Knowing your "sh*t" around structure, behavior, and
presentation makes you a more complete stakeholder in the total process.
Throw in a real ability to lead research and validation and you even have
more control. Lastly, if you are able to think beyond the tactical and into
the strategic then you are truly an in-house decision maker and close to
being a true business partner with the x-functional team instead of being an
in-house consulting firm.

- dave

Ps. Ok, I'm up early to catch a flight to Boston (6am EST) ... Andrei, it is
3am PST ... Go to sleep!!!!

14 Dec 2004 - 6:42am
Kevin Cheng
2004

Just to be clear on my view of the "detailed design review" thing. I
wasn't saying that detailed critique isn't valuable, especially from
other designers but it did sound from Lilly's post that Google (and
not just Google, in my experience) sometimes spends a great deal of
time debating issues that are fairly minor.

I wouldn't compare the use of a bullet vs a chevron as the same level
as dropdown vs radio button. To me, those are completely different
levels. One question you might ask is, would a user even notice the
difference?

I think Google in particular prides themselves in attention to detail
because of their bare and minimalist approach to interfaces. For
example, when they removed tabs in the main Google page, there was
lot of fanfare in the design community but had it not been for that
fanfare, I wouldn't have even noticed and I know many non-designers I
speak to never DID notice (or care, for that matter).

Now this may be a good thing if
a) you have a UI team large enough to support all your projects
(Google does not given their large portfolio now)
b) the larger details were already polished (again not - look at the
state of Google News, Froogle, their incredible looking and unhelpful
404 page)

I'm not sure we're disagreeing though. Constructive criticism and
discussion is useful even on more minor points. As Andrei points out,
there are just some aspects that aren't that big a deal and can
dangerously overshadow more important discussion points when limited
in time and resources.

Kevin Cheng (KC)
OK/Cancel: Interface Your Fears
kc at ok-cancel.com
www.ok-cancel.com

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14 Dec 2004 - 1:31pm
Listera
2004

Andrei Herasimchuk:

> I would hope I'm not pressed constantly about such minor details...

Quite. The critical factor here is *why* they would be constantly asking
these questions. Are they genuinely interested in aesthetic details? Or is
there another reason? What's behind the symptom?

Ziya
Nullius in Verba

15 Dec 2004 - 9:38am
Stewart Dean
2004

>From: "Kevin Cheng" <kc at ok-cancel.com>
>Reply-To: kc at ok-cancel.com
>To: "'David Heller'" <dave at ixdg.org>,"'IxD Discussion'''"
><discuss-interactiondesigners.com at lists.interactiondesigners.com>
>Subject: RE: [ID Discuss] Google Groups - When Interaction Design goes
>wrong.
>Date: Tue, 14 Dec 2004 11:42:52 -0000
>
>[Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
>Just to be clear on my view of the "detailed design review" thing. I
>wasn't saying that detailed critique isn't valuable, especially from
>other designers but it did sound from Lilly's post that Google (and
>not just Google, in my experience) sometimes spends a great deal of
>time debating issues that are fairly minor.
>
>I wouldn't compare the use of a bullet vs a chevron as the same level
>as dropdown vs radio button. To me, those are completely different
>levels. One question you might ask is, would a user even notice the
>difference?

My answer would be yes.

If they don't notice they will feel less happy if the wrong thing is
selected. Much of our work is about the user not noticing things after all.

Visual design is vital to the interface and nuences makes a difference,
often in ways users cannot verbalise. I say this as someone who has created
many wireframes and work with designers on a regular basis. The design of a
user interface, I feel is more than the sum of it's parts. The function
affects the interface affects the visual design and back again.

Stew Dean
User Experience Consultant

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