critique of interface

Bluehead Prust Aaron D Prust (
Wed, 25 Feb 1998 13:07:48 -0600 (CST)

Date: Wed, 25 Feb 1998 13:07:48 -0600 (CST)
From: Bluehead Prust Aaron D Prust <>
Subject: critique of interface
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From: Aaron Prust
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This interface involved the creation of a web-based mail archive.
In considering this critique, it is important to note that I was
unfamiliar with the reasons for doing this sort of thing, and it was not
until after the testing when I saw an actual archive that I understood
exactly what the interface did. This could perhaps imply that I am not
the sort of person that the interface is targeted at, and it is important
to consider my observations in light of that fact. The test was
administered last night.

The main problem that I found with the interface is that of the
order in which actions were to be taken. I found that the tabs implied
that order did not matter, but that my actions did need to follow an

In order to more easily separate my observations, I will try to split my
observations into the nine heuristics given in the TCUID text.

Simple and Natural Dialog
Again, the tabs created problems in this respect. The order
actions needed to be taken was not clear to me, and the irrelevant
information was not hidden. I could look at the tabs that were greyed
out, and I didn't understand what actions needed to be taken in order to
achieve the tasks.

Speak the user's language
I found that the language was confusing for me, and wondered
whether or not a lot of the language was given in terms that only someone
who knew the underlying workings of the program would understand. This
might not be that important depending upon the targeted users.

Minimize user memory load
I didn't notice that I was expected to remember anything.

Be consistent
I do not remember doing one action in one case that was
drastically different than doing the same action somewhere else.

Provide feedback
I liked the help on the bottom that popped up. I felt that
something was trying to help me, but I think that the help messages could
be changed. I remember that the Generation tab had help that said it was
the last thing I should do, and that the Project tab had help saying it
was the first thing I should do, but what about the other tabs? The
order implies left to right because of the help messages, but when the
certain items where greyed out, I felt that I had to figure out what
actions would make these intermediate tabs active. I was apprehensive
after going through Project, Mailboxes, Archive and then skipping the
other two tabs when the Generate help said that I should do that tab

Provide clearly marked exits
I don't remember doing anything that made me feel that I couldn't
go back. This could be the only reason for using a tab-like interface.

Provide shortcuts
I don't think the tasks asked me to use anything like this, and I
don't remember anything which would apply to this category. There was an
attempt at supplying defaults.

Good error messages
I thought that the error messages only told me the problem, they
didn't tell me how to fix the problem. For instance, there was a time
when I tried to add more than one mailbox to the list of mailboxes, which
signaled an error. However, I didn't know what I did wrong, only that I
did something wrong. I later found that I had to change something in the
Project menu in order to put more than one mailbox in the list. The
error message did not tell me that I had to do this, and there were no
other ways of finding this out. I felt that many of the error messages
were like this, I would know that there was a problem, but the error
message did not point me to the tab or control that would solve the

Prevent errors
This is connected to the Good error messages heuristic. I think
that alot of the actions that I took could have been prevented by clearly
showing me the order in which I had to take my actions, and that many of
the controls that were available could have been grayed out. I found
that there were alot of blank text boxes, and although I saw the label, I
didn't know what sort of format I should fill in the text with. I feel I
would have probably filled these empty boxes wrong. I'm not familiar
with the purpose of the interface to try to give recomendation, but I
definetly did feel like I was causing too many error, and that I felt
like I was supposed to know and understand what I was supposed to do.

After seeing the final product (the actual archive in web form),
I saw how the program would be useful. I don't know who the intended
users are, but I do believe that the tab interface might not be the best
choice in the format. Perhaps something more like a Wizard (sorry for
the Windows reference, but I think the Wizard idea is good sometimes)
would be a better way to take the users through the process of creating
the archives. Another strong feeling I got from the program is that it
seemed to be made for someone who already knew how to create these
archives in some other way. Despite how bad this critique sounds, I do
think that the main idea of the program is good, and I can see the need
for something like this, especially in a university setting. If the mail
from a class mailing list could be archived in this way, it would be
really nice to be able to access it via a web page.