Stop making things hard.

Now that I’ve got your attention with that clickbaity-ass title, listen up.

The theme today is user interfaces that inexplicably add complexity to what should be a straightforward, if not plain simple, task. I know that it’s not easy making complex tasks simple. That’s why designers exist in the first place. But if you call yourself a designer, you have no right making simple tasks complex. Oddly enough, that seems to happen all the time.

I have compiled five examples of tech companies making tasks that should be no-brainers into puzzles, or obstacle courses. Because they have such a reputation for good user experience, and because they have such a talent for defying not just common sense but UX convention in the act of complicating basic tasks, three of those tech companies are Apple.

In the App Store, you can’t add a gift card on the purchase screen.

Suppose you have received a gift card for the App Store, and you decide to purchase a game for your iPad. You spend some time researching the best iPad games out there, and browsing around the App Store until you find something that sounds interesting. Now you’re pumped to play this new game, but when you click on the icon to purchase it, this pop-up will appear.

You might be thinking “hmm, where do I redeem my gift card?” But if you have read my previous UX Roundups, you will know that Apple does not like to make things obvious or intuitive.

  • The first thing you have to do is to back out of your purchase, because that totally won’t make you less likely to follow through with the purchase.
  • Then you have to go to the Today tab on the App Store, because that makes sense.
  • Then you have to scroll past the huge number of featured apps to the very bottom of the page!
  • There you will find your redeem link (although get ready for more bullshit steps when you click it).

If you are excited about your gift card and you are thinking you’re just moments away from playing your new game, the last thing you want is to wade through some Byzantine nonsense. Why would Apple not just put the redeem link in the context where it is needed?

I actually suspect this is not simple Apple blockheadedness. A gift card represents money already spent. If the user buys something with that card, no additional money goes to Apple, but they do have to pay out money to a publisher. So Apple has a vested interest in preventing you from spending your gift card, instead resorting to further cash payments. The longer you are thwarted from using your gift card, the longer they can hold onto the money without paying publishers.

I’m calling Dark Pattern on this one.

Important lessons

  • Do not force users to abandon the purchase process.
  • Put all controls relevant to a given task in the same place.

Finding your true number of followers on Medium is… unique.

Here is a snapshot of my Medium profile as of May 31, 2018.

It says I have “1.4K” followers, however I do not have exactly that many followers. I actually have 1,428 followers. How do I know that? Well, I have to click the “1.4K Followers” text. Then I see this:

Oh, look, still no count of my followers. In fact, you would be forgiven for thinking this was the exact same page, given that it looks almost exactly the same. The first page was just my regular profile page, but the second is my list of followers, and this is where things get really weird.

At first glance, the two pages look the same, but then you notice little details.

  • The follower/following counts are in bold.
  • The Top Writer category is darker.
  • The link in my self description is no longer a link.
  • “Edit profile” is now just “Edit”.

One thing any self-respecting designer knows is the rule of “contrast, not conflict”. This means that you never juxtapose similar but different things because it just confuses people. What kind of moron would design these two pages to look this similar and yet with so many differences? The kind of moron who puts profile editing controls on a follower list, of course!

Yes, before you even get to the list of followers, which is one of the likely reasons someone would click the “1.4K Followers” link in the first place, you have to see a (differently labeled) profile edit button which does the exact same thing as the other one, and the tab menu of your various content (Profile, Latest, Claps, etc.). None of that stuff is the stuff you want to see when you click on the count of your followers.

And even once I have clicked on that count, and I see my list of followers, and a bunch of superfluous crap, I still cannot see a precise count. It’s still abbreviated with a K. To see that count, I will have to hover my mouse over the “1.4K Followers” (but only on the second screen).

And there it is. So many things had to happen for me to get here.

  • First I would have tried to hover over the first 1.4K and that would have done nothing (that’s assuming I knew about hovering for details from the Stats page).
  • Then I would have clicked on the 1.4K, and I would have to notice that I was actually on a different page.
  • Then I would have to override my previous assumption that I formed when I got no result from hovering on the first 1.4K and try hovering on the second one.
  • Finally, I would have to keep my mouse in that position long enough for the tooltip to appear.

The best part of all this is that none of it was necessary. They could have just made “1,428” visible from the profile page. As you can see, there is plenty of room on the line to show an unabbreviated count of followers. Even if I had 423,084,394 of them, there would still be room to spare.

Do I even need to mention that there is no way at all to view a precise count if you’re on the mobile app?

So why would Medium do it this way? If I were being paranoid, I would say they don’t want us to have easy access to that information because that would make us too savvy. They want us to be naïve, infantilized users who “write from the heart” rather than making conscious choices to optimize our performance. That’s the kind of simpering nonsense I expect from these idiots.

Important lessons

  • Contrast, not conflict.
  • More specifically, do not design two pages that look almost the same but are for totally different purposes.
  • Do not include information or controls that are irrelevant to the current task.
  • Don’t abbreviate numerical data for no reason.
  • Don’t design your user experience around how you think people “should” use your product.

The OSX calculator doesn’t show you what operation you have selected.

What do you think will happen if I click the “9” button? Stupid question, right? It will change the value on the screen from 80,085 to 800,859. Duh.

Except, it won’t.

Little did you know, I had already hit the X, so the 80,085 would disappear and the value that would appear would be 9.

Now, we are missing even more information. Just as I could not see from the previous screen that an X had been entered, now I cannot see what operations occurred before this 9. Is it an initial value, or is it a value being added, or a multiplier, or a denominator? Unless I can remember it, I have no clue.

If you are switching between your calculator and some other window such a PDF of your tax returns, you are going to quickly lose track of what is happening on your calculator. You might have been in the middle of entering digits when you switched windows and, when you return, you won’t remember if you had hit a function key or not, so you may have to start whatever sequence of calculations you were in the middle of all over again.

It gets better (i.e. worse). The calculator app actually follows the standard order of mathematical operations (i.e. PEMDAS). Therefore, if you punch in 5+5*2, you will get 15 rather than 20. The problem with this is that going by order of operations rather than order of entry doesn’t work when the user cannot see all of the values and operations that have been entered. The user is forced to remember what they entered in, or they have to start the entire thing over.

Do you find yourself habitually clicking the C button on the calculator every time you use it? This is actually partially a remnant of the days when calculators had that mysterious CE button which only cleared the value you were currently entering. Therefore, if you saw a zero on the screen, it did not necessarily mean that the calculator had no values in its memory, but rather whatever value you entered could be applied to some previous numbers you forgot about. This habit could easily be broken by showing what values and operations are currently in the calculator.

Given that it is absolutely trivial to include this functionality in a calculator app in 2018, I can only assume that the failure to do so is some asinine little nod to skeuomorphism, a desire to make the calculator app look like the solar-powered calculators you used back when Mr. Mister were on tour.

Important lessons

  • Show the user all the information they need to complete their task.
  • Do not cheap out on basic functionality.
  • Do not limit your interface by the same restrictions that plagued technology of a bygone era.

iMessage doesn’t show when phone calls happened in your chat history.

This is a Facebook chat thread:

As you can see, the thread shows where phone calls occurred, and whether they were missed. It’s a convenient feature.

This is an iMessage chat thread:

As you can see, or rather infer, there was a missed phone call sometime between 2:06 and 3:18 PM. Apple does not actually tell you that information, though.

While the above example made it obvious that a call happened, in real life, that won’t always be the case. You may need to figure out when calls occurred and how they fit into the context of a text thread but you’re going to be in for a hell of an effort. You will need to go through your call history and find all the calls to or from that contact, write their times down, and then see where they go in the thread, which means you’ll have to do lots of thumb sliding since the timestamps aren’t always visible.

Oh, and to make your job extra hard, the iPhone does not let you search your call history for a specific number or contact.

The funny thing is that Apple has been in the business of phone calls for longer than Facebook, and have the (increasingly hollow) reputation as kings of user experience. That didn’t stop them from omitting such a moronically easy feature.

Important lessons

  • Do not separate information meant to go together.
  • If your competitor has already solved a design problem, copy them. Especially if you have a reputation for superiority in design that you don’t want compromised.
  • Make all information searchable.

Instagram won’t let you change your account to a business account on the web. You must download the app.

Do you want to create an Instagram account for your business? Perhaps you want to use a service like Buffer to automatically post content on a schedule. In order to do that, you’ll first have to create a regular Instagram account, and then convert it to a business account separately. That’s stupid enough as it is, but the stupidity has only begun.

Here is a photo from Instagram’s own help page explaining how to switch your profile to a business type.

Note that the screenshot is of the Instagram native app, and not of a website. I looked around and confirmed that this is indeed the only way to create a business account. This means that, not only can you not do it from your desktop computer, but you must download more crap onto your device.

There is obviously no reason to do this. Anyone with an IQ over 80 knows that (A) full account management should always be available on the web, and (B) desktop computers offer a better user experience for the kind of administrative tasks that one does when managing their account. Strangely, Instagram allows you to do some account management stuff on the web, meaning they specifically chose to block you from doing everything out of… spite?

This isn’t really a surprise. Instagram was created by a couple of callow hipster man-children and they didn’t even let you view content on the web until several years after its launch. That kind of native app chauvinism and disdain for the web is already looking dated, and yet Instagram insists on going down with that ship.

Important lessons

  • Any online functionality that you offer in a native app should be available on the web.
  • Account type should be determined (or at least determinable) upon account creation.

Help me hit 5000 followers!

Did you like this article? Then please follow me, because my goal for 2018 is to reach 5000 followers. I can only do it with your help.

Want more Renegade UX?

I’ve got you covered.

Jason published this article while listening to “Facer” by X Marks the Pedwalk.

https://medium.com/media/96d08ab34921bdd17986cb5c0396842f/href


Bad UX Roundup #16: You are not Viagra. was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



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