Neil's News

UI Principles

28 May 2013

Last weekend's Maker Faire was a blast, as always. Quynh, Ellen, and I were there representing Google and demonstrating Blockly. Our stand was packed solid with visitors, from opening till closing. Definitely a sign that Blockly is on the right track. The highlight was watching two engineers from Palantir race each other to solve level 10 of the maze, only to be beaten by a pair of eight year olds at the next workstation.

Inevitably, the high traffic meant that none of us got a chance to see much of the show. But I did put together some photos of some things that did catch my eye: Maker Faire 2013

Creating the above album using Google Photos was extremely frustrating. The UI is clean, professional, yet almost unusable. Here's one example; below are three photos in the album:

For some reason the third image was chosen to be the album cover, not the first image. Fine, whatever. So how does one change which image is the cover image? Notice the little blue ribbon in the top left corner of the third image? The one that blends into the image and is basically invisible? Well, if you mouse over the ribbon a tooltip appears that says "Cover photo". Ok, we already knew that photo is the cover photo, so how do we change it? Clicking on the ribbon does nothing (despite the mouse cursor indicating that the ribbon is a link). Dragging the ribbon reorders the photos without changing the cover. Right-clicking on the photos reveals no context menus. I checked the console for a JavaScript error, but there was none. I tried another browser. Fully ten minutes later, I discovered that if one hovers over a photo's top left corner (exactly where the ribbon is on the cover photo), a ghost ribbon appears that one can click. This changes the cover photo. Gahh!

Repeating this sort of UI across a product results in extreme frustration. UI design is a strange profession that includes people who can make an interface intuitive and beautiful, and people who can make an interface frustrating and ugly. Both will tell you that they are following sound design principles. I've never seen a technical profession with such astonishing diversity in output.

Disclaimer: this is a personal rant, not a professional one. That said, it says a lot about Google that I can say this sort of thing publicly, and not worry about ending up in HR.

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