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The Internet Medicine

How Bad User Interfaces Can Ruin Lives 288

Lauren Weinstein writes: A couple of months ago, in "Seeking Anecdotes Regarding 'Older' Persons' Use of Web Services," I asked for stories and comments regarding experiences that older users have had with modern Web systems, with an emphasis on possible problems and frustrations. I purposely did not define "older" — with the result that responses arrived from users (or regarding users) self-identifying as ages ranging from their 30s to well into their 90s (suggesting that "older" is largely a point of view rather than an absolute). Before I began the survey I had some preconceived notions of how the results would appear. Some of these were proven correct, but overall the responses also contained many surprises, often both depressing and tragic in scope. The frustration of caregivers in these contexts was palpable. They'd teach an older user how to use a key service like Web-based mail to communicate with their loved ones, only to discover that a sudden UI change caused them to give up in frustration and not want to try again. When the caregiver isn't local the situation is even worse. While remote access software has proven a great boon in such situations, they're often too complex for the user to set up or fix by themselves when something goes wrong, remaining cut off until the caregiver is back in their physical presence.
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How Bad User Interfaces Can Ruin Lives

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  • Therac 25 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lehk228 ( 705449 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @08:22PM (#50059227) Journal
    ever heard of a Therac 25?
    • According to wikipedia, that had software problems that ended up killing people

      What's that got to do with UI changes and user experience?

      • Re:Therac 25 (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 06, 2015 @08:45PM (#50059377)

        The user interface of the THERAC-25 had a great deal to do with allowing the massive radiation overdoses to happen. For instance, the machine allegedly reported an error that could mean EITHER "radiation dose too high" or "radiation dose too low" to an operator, while indicating an underdose. The operator repeatedly told the machine to deliver more radiation, not knowing that the machine was actually delivering a massive overdose to the victim (who later died).

        http://users.csc.calpoly.edu/~jdalbey/SWE/Papers/THERAC25.html

      • Re:Therac 25 (Score:4, Informative)

        by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @08:47PM (#50059393) Homepage Journal

        What's that got to do with UI changes and user experience?

        Don't know about the Therac, but I've read of a number of cases where poor user interfaces resulted in warnings being ignored and medicine being given improperly. Presumably in order to 'protect' themselves the company had every little possibility throw a warning, to the point that they didn't have a 'I really mean it this time!' warning. Stuff like administering around 50 times the intended dose of an antibiotic to a person.

      • Re:Therac 25 (Score:5, Informative)

        by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @08:57PM (#50059451) Journal

        According to wikipedia, that had software problems that ended up killing people What's that got to do with UI changes and user experience?

        The original post was about bad user interfaces causing harm to people. Changes breaking the user experience was only one of the issues.

        In Therac's case the bug WAS primarily in the user interface:
          - Due to a race condition, if a button happened to be pressed at the wrong moment and the menu filled out in a particular order, the device would configure the electron beam for x-ray generation rather than electron beam generation (high electron beam current, no scanning) but not position the target, flattening filter, collimator, or ion-chamber x-ray sensor in the beamway, resulting in a configuration that irradiated the patient with beta radiation, rather than x-rays, at 100x a normal dose.)
          - The machine DID detect that there was a problem. But it reported it as "MALFUNCTION nn" - where nn was a number from 1 to 64 and not explained in the manual. If the operator entered "P" (proceed), it would then go ahead and operate in the improper mode anyhow.

        Both the second part and most of the first part sound like user interface problem to me.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          A race condition in the software and counter overflows are not "Bad User Interfaces". They software defects. I'm pretty sure no one designed those bugs in to the code.

          • Re:Therac 25 (Score:5, Interesting)

            by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @11:34PM (#50060109)

            A race condition in the software and counter overflows are not "Bad User Interfaces". They are software defects.

            In the case of Therac25, the bugs were triggered by a sequence of keystrokes that the UI programmer did not expect. The deaths were the result of a cascade of errors. The programmer was incompetent, and never should have been writing critical code. After the fatalities, the code was reviewed by experts, and they were horrified that such a mangled mess of spaghetti was controlling a lethal machine. The code was never reviewed by anyone, and there was no testing by anyone trained on QA, and no third party testing at all. Most importantly, the radiation shield and trigger were under full software control, with no mechanical interlocks. Even after the first reported deaths, they continued to insist that the software could not possibly be at fault, when an experienced engineer would consider a software bug to be the mostly likely explanation.

            • The programmer was incompetent, and never should have been writing critical code.

              If it's "critical code," then no single programmer should have been working on it any way. At the very least, one should have been writing test modules for the other programmer's work, and neither of them having overall control of the system development. But that still allows a serious hole for group think in ... well, precisely the UI areas.

              It's a fair example. And as my colleague-who-shares-an-office-with-me likes to point o

          • I'm pretty sure no one designed those bugs in to the code.

            The parents of the current Firefox designers?

    • Re:Therac 25 (Score:4, Informative)

      by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @08:52PM (#50059419) Homepage Journal

      I was working as a developer when the news of the Therac 25 problems broke, so I remember it well. You actually have it backwards; it wasn't bad UI design at all.

      The thing is mere functional testing of the user interface would not have revealed the flaw in the system. What happened is that people who used the system very day, day in and day out, became so fast at entering the machine settings the rate of UI events exceeded the ability of the custom monitor software written for the machine to respond correctly to them.

      If the UI was bad from a design standpoint the fundamental system engineering flaws of the system might never have been revealed.

      • Re:Therac 25 (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @09:14PM (#50059525) Journal

        What happened is that people who used the system very day, day in and day out, became so fast at entering the machine settings the rate of UI events exceeded the ability of the custom monitor software written for the machine to respond correctly to them.

        Which is still to some extent a UI issue.

        But the literal "killer" is what happened next:
          1) The machine detected that it had screwed up.
          2) But the UI reported this by a cryptic error message: "MALFUNCTION nn" - where the 1 = nn = 64 error codes not only weren't explanatory, but weren't even included in the manual.
          3) And if the operator hit "P" (for "proceed") the machine would GO AHEAD AND OPERATE in the known-to-be-broken mode, giving the patient a fatal (high-power, not-swept-around) electrons rather than a 100x weaker flood of x-rays, with NO FURTHER INDICATION that something is still wrong (unless you count the patient sometimes screaming and running out of the room.)

        If 2) and 3) aren't user interface problems, what is?

        • 2 was a documentation problem.
          Error code 54 was not in the documentation

          It appears to be an error code that was not possible, due to the software interlock system. Until there was a bug in the interlock system.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Well, part of every crap interface is some techy geek thinking it is not the fault of the UI. So consider this [slashdot.org] the "tech geek says it ain't a UI problem" part of the problem.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 06, 2015 @09:27PM (#50059595)

      In my spare time I pay visit to local elders and from them I have heard plenty of horrible anecdotes of how a change, no matter how minuscule that might be, might have a detrimental effect to some of the users - especially the elders

      For example - for years there was a service whereby the older people can call up, and a human operator will answer. If the older people needs something that service would try to find people / resources to help out

      That went on many years without problems and many elders, especially those staying alone, rely on the service

      Then suddenly someone decide to save some money by installing an auto attendant, where callers must listen to some options and then dial a particular number for a particular task

      For young people there should be no problem - but for older people where many have problem listening, and hand-eye coordination ability are no longer 'sharp', that auto attendant thing puts off many of the elderly

      Couple with it the audio script that was badly scripted (long-winded and without clear roadmap), and was read by someone with a very lousy accent

      Many of the elders have told me that they stopped calling that service because to them 'it's a torture'

      In short - a UI change, no matter how minor it might seem, may whack some severe blows to users whose ability are not as sharp as others

      • by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Tuesday July 07, 2015 @11:46AM (#50063179)

        I'm in a similar situation and it will surprise he hell out of you how little design choices or sudden small changes just wreck a senior persons ability to use a device. When Google moved the reply compose window from new page to an inline division at the bottom of the page seniors I know were unable to adjust. What seems to be lost is the cognitive clue of the new page load or Pop up window that one is changing context. The subtle sliding open of a new field at the end if the message window that you may need to scroll to proved almost unlearnable. Sure it's better Ajax than a new page load but it's not good for intuition. Things that are modal rather than expose on mouse over are much better for arthritic or less attentive mouse users. Likewise all those genie effects and skeimorphic interfaces and 3d pulsating buttons apple seems to be running away from are exactly the clues seniors need.

        When it comes to physical appliances having rotary switches that change menus but have no absolute rotation position are death to people with macular degeneration or arthritis. The worst are the dials on washing machines which free rotate when pulled out loosing the correlation of clock positional orientation and function. You can't buy a washer with just one big red button that says just wish my fucking clothes instead you have to finely rotate a knob past the permeate press setting to the normal settings beginning of cycle. But don't go too far or you miss the wash portion and just skip to the spin cycle. Behold needs this control? Why does apple or dishwasher makers think it's a good idea to make all buttons the same size shape and in one row? These thing just don't work for partly sighted or people with atheist is or motor impairments. Stroke victims can just give up. Making buttons different and putting some space between them would help

        The floating ad bars at the bottom of slash dot for mobile users are impossible for non nimble fingers to dismiss , they are deliberately misleading appearing to be controls, and make the real buttons on the page unreachable.

  • by cascadingstylesheet ( 140919 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @08:26PM (#50059253)

    suggesting that "older" is largely a point of view rather than an absolute)

    Anyone without cognitive impairment or severe physical limitations can use most common user interfaces (which is definitely not to say they can't be made more usable and efficient).

    That includes many 70 year olds, and a fair number of 90 year olds.

    • by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @08:34PM (#50059317)

      'without cognitive impairment'.
      'cognitive impairment' is a hell of a lot more gradual than you think.

      For someone using computers a lot, they're probably going to figure it out.
      For someone not using computers a lot, and who have managed to do things by remembering exactly what to click - this is enormously fragile.
      Issues from 'I might break it' -> 'I might put it in a mode I don't understand how to get out of'

      Someone in this position may not be able to recover from an expanded list collapsing down to a tiny triangle on a mis-click, especially if this is a feature that they will never need.
      Or icons changing from ones they know, or menus moving around.

      • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @09:41PM (#50059653) Homepage Journal

        Don't forget visual impairment. They may be depending on the splat looking thing next to the red thing being the send button. Move it and good luck.

      • by bondsbw ( 888959 )

        It's a hard problem. On the one hand, changing stuff around sucks for real people trying to do real things without screwing real things up. On the other hand, new functionality has to be introduced into the UI in some manner.

        We can't just say "don't change where this is", because there may not be enough room to accommodate a new function without adjusting the location of other items. I couldn't add a new chair to my living room without rearranging some of the existing furniture.

        We can't just say "don't a

        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 07, 2015 @05:42AM (#50061111)
          On the other hand, new functionality has to be introduced into the UI in some manner.

          The whole point of this subject is no the fuck it doesn't.

          Now options may possibly need to be offered as an option to those who might choose them. The rest of us want the gas pedal to stay in the same place in every car on the planet.

          User interfaces are not computer games. They are a means to control something, and with the advent of the internet, probably something not even imagined by the UI designer. Would you advocate having a bunch of graphics arts students come in the factory and move the controls on industrial machine tools in their "industrial design" class every Thursday? Leaving the controls in a random position, and omitting the odd "emergency stop" button?

          No, if it works, don't fix it

          There is no reason why new user interfaces should not be designed, or old ones improved, but no way on earth that this should ever happen to an existing user other than at his explicit request. EVER!!!!!!!!! and it needs a review and automatic undo facility like when you change the screen resolution and if you don't confirm (cos you can't read the message, or find the undo button because it is in blue and on a blue background) it undoes by itself.

          If you employ UI designers, you should realise these people make a living from fucking with UIs, and need to be restrained - quite possibly in a padded cell for their own protection.

          Signed

          Somone who was exposed to Unity and Lollipop.

      • by umafuckit ( 2980809 ) on Tuesday July 07, 2015 @02:07AM (#50060535)
        You've exactly described my mother's experience with computers. She's been like this for years. Since her 40s. She just memorizes sequence of actions and if anything's changed she is stuck. I don't know what the issue is, as she's smart otherwise. After two years of computer use I realized she still didn't even know about copy and paste. It's taken me about two or three years to get her to use that functionality and she's still not competent with it. I'd love to know why this is so hard for her.
    • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @08:41PM (#50059353) Homepage Journal

      I think a problem is the automatic assumption many young people make that the reason why an older person doesn't use something is because it's to complicated for someone older. I claim that this is largely false, and that the reason why older people don't use the technologies is because they suck, are intrusive, unreliable and fleeting.
      Young people are less critical, and seldom think long term (and when they do, they think a year is long term).

      Why should an old person learn to use (in rapid succession) CompuServe, AOL, Yahoo, LiveJournal, Myspace, Facebook, Flicker, Pinterest, Instagram (and so on and so on), instead of his relatives putting a little effort into hand written letters and face time?

      • by Darinbob ( 1142669 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @09:38PM (#50059637)

        The interfaces do suck. I can help out my mother, not because I'm smarter, but because I've learned to deal with the idiocy that's out there and understand some of the obtuse terms being used. I deal with crappy stuff all day long, she doesn't.

        Most recent example: her email lost her address book and send buttons. Basically that toolbar vanished. Don't know how it happened, probably some obscure key sequence she hit by mistake. So I have to go to the menu (this being Thunderbird it hasn't yet removed menus in the asinine way that Firefox did), find the way to change the view, look at which toolbars are active, click on "message" in my guess that these buttons were on the message toolbar and not the mail toolbar. Not hard but completely obtuse to someone not versed in how UIs are done.

        Next problem in the same phone call: it wasn't showing all her email. 15 unread messages that it didn't seem to display or download. This one had me stumped actually for a bit. Turns out she had accidentally clicked on one of the filtering buttons at the top of the list. It is not at all obvious what has happened, or what these buttons do. But click on one and it only shows messages that match its filter (she had clicked the one to show only messages from those in her address book). Now if there should be ANY menu bar that should have to option to be disabled, it is that completely optional one, not the one containing the button to let you send a message.

        To really make this hard, Mozilla is changing their UI all the time, without warning, without consulting with users, with devs thinking they know what's best for the entire world. Leave the UI alone, and stop being actively hostile to the user.

        Thankfully, I've got TeamViewer which makes remote control easy. I recommend it. You need the other end to have broadband though or it'd be too slow.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 06, 2015 @11:00PM (#50059973)

          It's not just computers. Plastic measuring cups have their sizes in raised plastic numbers, almost impossible to see. Packages, even for staple foods, are really hard to open. Printed instructions are in really small font. And on and on.

          I wish there was a culture of designers taking their work home to their mothers and grandmothers to see how their stuff operates in the real world. Also, every CEO should be required to call in to their company's telephone support system, use the menu, and listen to the hold music -- over their cell phones while they drive (or are driven ) to work. (Not to mention legislators being required to go to the DMV, etc., etc.) Things would change real fast...

        • As main tech support person for my mother, I certainly can sympathize and whole-heartedly recommend Teamviewer or the equivalent. Part of the problem is she doesn't have the vocabulary to describe what her problems are. She'll use the word "download" as a placeholder for some concept she doesn't fully grasp and I know now when I see that word I could substitute virtually any other english word in it's place and achieve the same meaning. This is where spending a few minutes on Teamviewer becomes invaluable.

        • The interfaces do suck. I can help out my mother, not because I'm smarter, but because I've learned to deal with the idiocy that's out there and understand some of the obtuse terms being used. I deal with crappy stuff all day long, she doesn't.

          To really make this hard, Mozilla is changing their UI all the time, without warning, without consulting with users, with devs thinking they know what's best for the entire world. Leave the UI alone, and stop being actively hostile to the user.

          Thankfully, I've got TeamViewer which makes remote control easy. I recommend it. You need the other end to have broadband though or it'd be too slow.

          My Mom (82 yrs) confused me for years saying her Internet didn't work, I'd check her system and it worked fine yet still she complained. One day it clicked she meant her E-mail.

          She was very active with a web based E-mail system, through changes of IP's and interfaces she got lost, that she can't remember much anymore doesn't of course help a bit.

          I had set her up with Forte's Agent E-mailer to POP3 her E-mail long ago but due to other advice she never used it. Sad really as she could of moved it from Windows

      • FaceTime is easy, the icon and the interface hasn't changed much since its introduction.

        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          FaceTime is easy, the icon and the interface hasn't changed much since its introduction.

          Oh, the icon has changed quite a lot over the decades, but it's still recognizable.

      • Because letters take ages to arrive, even longer these days as postal services are cutting delivery days due to low volume.
        Kids these days have horrible handwriting too.

        • Three to four days, like always. I send stuff all the time.

      • Why should an old person learn to use (in rapid succession) CompuServe, AOL, Yahoo, LiveJournal, Myspace, Facebook, Flicker, Pinterest, Instagram (and so on and so on), instead of his relatives putting a little effort into hand written letters and face time?

        Because those handwritten letters and face time are going to become a chore very soon, and chores have a tendency to be "forgotten", especially when they only exist in the first place because their benefactee is too lazy to invest into learning modern c

      • ...instead of his relatives putting a little effort into hand written letters and face time?

        Handwritten letters don't do squat if the older person can't read them anymore, or can't use their right hand to write anymore because of nerve damage.

        At least, computers can be upgraded and molded to some degree (even that too is not enough).

    • Cognitive impairment, in this case, can be a state of mind. The "I never used those things and I have no desire to learn now" state, in particular.

      You might also factor in the "Yes, I can type, but do you know what arthritic finger and wrist joints actually feel like (you insensitive little f-er!)" factor, along with failing vision, hearing, and a general lack of experience with the read-type-read mode of conversation.

      You know, 70 years from now, they'll be sitting in old folks homes trying to get the codg

      • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @11:11PM (#50060013) Journal

        You know, 70 years from now, they'll be sitting in old folks homes trying to get the codgers off their texting pads and talking to people in the room, for a change, and those old coots will be just as stubborn and self-injurious as old people today.

        Jethro(on his pad): Mabel, that damn nurse is trying to get me to look up and speak out loud again. I don't know why, it hurts my neck to raise it, you're deaf as a post anyway, and I know your puss hasn't changed since the last time I saw it, except maybe to get another wrinkle.

        Mabel(on her pad): Yeah, I don't know why they can't let us send IMs. But maybe you better make an effort. Didn't you say they threatened to turn off the network if we didn't all talk sometime? I don't know what I'd do without the IM network.

        Jethro: Don't worry about that. I had my grandson bring in my old equipment last time he visited. These pads are running on IPv4 over 802.11b on a plug-in router I've got hidden in the closet. No one in the current generation will even know where to look.

        • In seventy years we'll probably still be running IPv4 - with a quadruple-level NAT between the end users and the few datacenters where the precious addresses are allocated.

    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @09:01PM (#50059471) Homepage Journal

      Well that may be so. But as you get older you get less patient with people wasting your time.

      Let's say you're 90 years old. You're using a webmail system which does everything you need it to do. Then some manager has a brainwave and suddenly all the functions are somewhere else. How much of the 3.99 years the actuarial tables say you've got left do you want to spend dealing with that?

      It's not just 90 year-olds. Take a poll of working-age users and find out how many like the MS Office Ribbon; how many people are cool with the regular UI reshuffling that takes place in Windows just to prove you're paying your upgrade fee for software that's "new"?

      • by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @09:09PM (#50059501)

        Especially if computers are not your life, but something you want to - say - weekly - write letters on.
        Once you drop the frequency you're doing something, learning gets lots harder, even for the young.

        • by Cramer ( 69040 )

          That's ok, just make it all work like Facebook. That seems to be the standard progression of every app on every device on the market today.

      • by Darinbob ( 1142669 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @09:51PM (#50059685)

        I still don't know how to use Word. Luckily I don't have to. But I've dealt with enough user interfaces that I can muddle my way through them and eventually get something done. Occasionally I get something so screwed up that I can't recover (or I never even learn that there's a shortcut bar so never notice that it's missing). I've learned to think about all the stupid ways that stuff could be done. I switch between different UIs and operating systems all the time.

        A key point though which distinguishes me from a senior citizen who can't figure out computers, is that I experiment. My mother is always worried about clicking on something unfamiliar, because she thinks that it may screw stuff up and it will be a big headache to try to sort it out. WHICH IS TRUE, because it does screw things up! Her mouse clicks aren't always accurate so she does click on the wrong things sometimes and it's a mess (I have this happen to me when I'm forced to use a touchpad on a laptop and end up accidentally clicking while trying to drag). So computers have taught her to beware of doing the wrong thing or she will be sorry! Computers are punishing the users and creating negative reinforcement.

        Users are being conditioned to not experiment, but at the same time the interfaces are changing every few months!

        I think every software team that creates a UI needs to hire a few 80 year olds for the QA group.

        • I have this happen to me when I'm forced to use a touchpad on a laptop and end up accidentally clicking while trying to drag

          And THIS is why trackpoints (AKA "nipples") are superior to touchpads. Far superior, actually.

          • Touchpads are great, but only after I disable the tap-to-click function. Trackpoints suck for me because they are either slow or imprecise (for me). A trackball would be nice, but nobody makes laptops with them anymore.

    • OK, then explain the Sturm Und Drang that accompanies every thread here about changes in any software.

  • by mattventura ( 1408229 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @08:27PM (#50059275) Homepage
    I'd love interfaces that don't change every 2 weeks. Especially certain web browsers and desktop environments which seem to be plagued with such issues.
    • Yeah, but it's not like you just give up and stop using a computer when Google plays "where's the send button now?" with gmail.
    • by kbrannen ( 581293 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @08:39PM (#50059349)
      I agree completely. Too often we see change for the sake of change, for UI people to justify their jobs (or so it seems to me).

      My father is in his 70's and has slowly been losing his ability to figure out how to accomplish new things. He can remember things he learned as little as 5 years ago, but new things stymy him. Changing UI's have caused him to eventually give up using the computer, even his web email interface changed enough he couldn't use it any more. We considered adding voice recognition software, e.g. Dragon Naturally Speaking, but even that was to much for him to learn. Sadly, he's had to give up using the computer all together.

      I'd really like to see more software people come to realize that when something works well, to basically leave it alone. When software reaches that level of maturity, it's a good thing to leave it working. If that's boring for the developers, then go find a new software project and leave the mature product as is.
      • Changing UI's have caused him to eventually give up using the computer...

        I'm not quite as old as your father, but I still prefer the type of UI that I used back in the days of Win95 because it does things the way I expect, and doesn't have an ever-growing set of bells, whistles and gongs getting in my way. That's why my computers all use Xfce, because it's trivial for me to set up the way I like it. And, for somebody like your father, who isn't interested in knowing what's going on "under the hood," sw
      • by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @09:23PM (#50059571) Journal

        > When software reaches that level of maturity, it's a good thing to leave it working.

        Absolutely true. I think this runs counter to the basic business model, ,which posits that the next version be New and Exciting. (We could all think of examples of this I'm sure.) The Exciting part often being "I desperately need to do something RIGHT NOW that I USED to know how to do!"

        If software companies are upset that we're obstinately staying with older versions of their products, instead of paying for the latest and greatest, the answer might be simply "I know how to use this version, and I don't want to spend hours with each new revision trying to figure out where you've hidden the button this time." [1] It's ok to make things faster, more efficient, or add features, but Exciting New changes to the UI will slow adoption and may lose customers.

        [1] Trivial example: Mother in law in her seventies being forced to switch from Outlook Express to Windows Live Mail. She very nearly gave up on email altogether.

        • by rastos1 ( 601318 )

          On the other hand imagine a graphic application initially developed on HP-UX in early nineties with Starbase graphics [wikipedia.org] gradually ported and adjusted to work on modern Windows OS. Still drawing the multi-level menu using graphic primitives such as "draw rectangle", no right-click for context menu and developers pulling their hair off because drawing with XOR-mode leaves some pixels on the screen ... but it is impossible to push a change because "users are used to that".

          I too don't like change for change sak

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        THIS! Mod up!

      • Now you have to worry about televisions becoming too complicated to use. Set top box user interfaces are pretty lousy too. Smartphones are portable containers of horrible interfaces so that you can be frustrated and annoyed anywhere you go. So if you give up on the computer altogether, soon you find yourself giving up on lots of things.

        Even ordering food at restaurants is hard now. Oganic, vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian, paleo, low carb, high carb, free range home schooled beef, etc. There's a place my

      • Its like those silly icons on the top of a mac keyboard. I swear each one I get they are in a random new order for no reason! Or Android L changing what the Back button looks like to a triangle. I don't mind minor UI updates new colors shading, but stop moving things around for no reason or at least have a transition period over several iterations.

        We need to get to a point where you have long term support on a given interface. Windows Classic Skin does ok with this, but applications need to support it as

      • I think software should offer an option (disabled by default, but mentioned when first used) which switches the interface to that of the previous version. If more than half of your users switch back, you line up your UI "experts" and give them each a kick in the nuts and a pink slip.

    • You know, you can still get that if you want. PINE is still a thing (and elm, and mutt) and they work just like they used to. And the command line is a little formidable but you don't see it radically changing the rules all that much.

      Of course, in the years since those things were invented we've also invented amazing ways to send things like family pictures through email straight through your phone, and multigigabyte free online storage of photos that might outlast your lack-of-backups on the desktop, so..

    • by dryeo ( 100693 )

      That's why I use SeaMonkey, the default interface has barely changed since Netscape 4.x days. As a bonus it is faster then Firefox (important on dial-up) while still doing most everything that Firefox does.

      • by reikae ( 80981 )

        I suppose I'm missing something obvious here, but why is it important that Seamonkey is faster than Firefox (I'll take your word for it that it is faster)? Surely any browser would render content much faster than a dial-up connection can transfer data?

        I assume dial-up means about 56 kbps at most, or more likely around 30kbps; though I'm not at all up-to-date in that department.

  • by djbckr ( 673156 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @08:28PM (#50059279)
    Perhaps Slashdot should take a cue from this article and stop messing around with the UI!
    • Hear Hear!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Slashdot should take a cue

      I still click the bottom "Share" link out of habit because that's where the "Read" link used to be. Get off my lawn, Dice! I ain't sharing it.

  • by MatthiasF ( 1853064 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @08:29PM (#50059289)
    Hell, I'm not even 40 yet and I would like to see some of the websites I regularly use to stop changing UIs for the sake of change.

    Progress I will accept it, but if I need to spend the better part of a morning trying to figure out how to do something that only took 3 clicks before the update, that's not progress in my book.
    • Hell, I'm not even 40 yet and I would like to see some of the websites I regularly use to stop changing UIs for the sake of change.

      The sad thing is, when Tim Berners-Lee came up with http, the idea was for the server to send the core info to the client, and for the client to display it in the format best for the client. So if you had a fancy computer and a big monitor, you could display the webpage with full graphics and high resolution fonts. If you had a low-end computer and a small monitor, you could

      • by marsu_k ( 701360 )

        Most everything has gone downhill since then, with many sites today even refusing to let you resize text and photos (the formatting gets messed up if you try).

        Actually, with "responsive design" being all the rage nowadays (Google has started to downrank sites in mobile search that aren't responsive, AFAIK Bing does/will do the same), that is getting less true every day. Now, that doesn't mean responsive design is a magical answer to everything; too often tablet size and/or landscape mode is neglected, and no matter how careful one is, there might be breakage with a combination of browser X and resolution Y. But we're getting there.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Remember how you used to be able to right click on a network connection and go 'properties' from the system tray?

      Those were the days.

      Now it's "Open Network and Sharing Center", go past the annoying homegroup sharing bullshit that nobody has EVER used, now you can see your network connections and FINALLY you can get into the settings.

      I can believe that people are studying UX, but not that whatever they're studying SAYS DOING THIS BULLSHIT IS GOOD.

  • suggesting that old is largely a point of view, rather than an absolute

    Hear hear!!

    Get up out of that chair and go to walking.

  • by bearded_yak ( 457170 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @08:45PM (#50059381) Homepage

    Having worked in user support and network administration for multiple industries, I can imagine the frustration for caregivers when even the remote support software is just too confusing for the user.

    For instance, many of the most popular remote support services require the end user to jump through multiple hoops that may include surfing to a particular web address (which they invariably type into Google or Yahoo instead of the address bar), entering a series of digits they swear they typed correctly (but often haven't and are too stubborn to re-read what they typed), then watch the screen for browser interaction prompts (which may be reasonable-sized prominent pop-up dialogs, but are more often either a noticeable thin yellow bar at the top or bottom of the browser window, or even worse, a pop-up window that somehow ended up as a pop-under, even though that's not how it is supposed to be), then click only the buttons that answer in the affirmative. All of this assumes the user's browser even works correctly.

    Some days, it seems that even the young-uns can't figure out how to allow a remote support session.

    I do know there are a few less-complicated remote support products, but they are few and far between, do not seem to be popular enough to be in common use in these scenarios, and often have more security issues than the services I mention above.

    Much of the remote support problem is the catch-22 of browser security. If you don't secure the browser more, the customer is at risk. If you do secure the browser more, the customer's experience is further complicated.

    There are those who would say "just educate the user". These are the people who do not understand their fellow humans and the limitations different types of learner and different generational barriers.

    So, what about writing down instructions ahead of time? That gets into what the original post discussed; The interface will inevitably change, either for the browser or for the remote support service.

    I'm not saying I think there is a fix. I don't. I do think it is something that might could be solved if the industry becomes more aware of the Human Interface Design problem it has.

  • Lillian could write a letter and send a fax. We bought a fax for her assisted living home, and one for our house. She died at, I think, 96, in '07. But for the 3 years she was in that assisted living home my ex talked to her mom daily over that fax connection.

    About a year after she died I tried to craigslist the 2 fax machines, no joy. I gave them to goodwill and took a nice tax deduction. I can admit to that because the statue of limitations has passed :)
  • by Cafe Alpha ( 891670 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @09:18PM (#50059549) Journal

    strong. I don't want to say "failing" just very poor memory and the like caused by very poor health. One case is a man who was in the tech industry years ago, but that doesn't mean that as his mind was harmed by the effects of illness he could continue to make sense of Google's ever changing interface. He didn't have a problem with mail so much (he used thunderbird, so that interface wasn't changing), but he couldn't navigate Google's changing phone service interfaces. Combine that with poor eyesite and problems with phone drivers that occasionally have to reload ... and there would be days when he had no phone service until someone came by and fixed his computer.

    Keep in mind that there are people (once again the same man) who at times find simply dialing a phone too hard. Maybe they're too slow for hospital phone that gives you 20 seconds of dial tone then gives up, or worse gives you 20 seconds but no audio cue like a dialtone.

    For such people you need interfaces designed differently than ones for average customers. You need interfaces that NEVER change. You need interfaces that have no time-outs. You need interfaces that force modal interactions rather than assuming that the user will NOTICE something.

  • Come on, some lawyer will jump on this - just as soon as we get being a curmudgeon classified as a disability.

    Or maybe anyone can self-identify as disabled?
  • I think what this story is really about is drunk texting and emailing.

  • by safetyinnumbers ( 1770570 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @10:07PM (#50059765)
    Although software is getting easier to use in many ways, mobile OSs manage to include both the best and worse in usability.

    "Press that button below the screen, then tap the envelope picture to see your mail", is something that almost anyone could work out for themselves, but actions such as a long-hold on an item, swiping it left or right, tap with two fingers at once, dragging in a direction with two or three fingers, drag down to reveal the hidden search box above the list and drag from outside the screen area all are examples of interactions that you might never discover.
  • Claiming that a UI of a service that is often free and has thousands of competitors is "ruining someone's life" is just stupid. If you don't like a UI, don't use it. In fact, there are plenty of UIs for mail and other services that have changed hardly at all in a decade; just use those.

    • In fact, there are plenty of UIs for mail and other services that have changed hardly at all in a decade; just use those.

      Would you be so kind as to name some? And please don't suggest that I try to teach my 78-year-old mother how to use pine. Thanks.

  • Article Highlights (Score:5, Informative)

    by Art3x ( 973401 ) on Monday July 06, 2015 @11:12PM (#50060023)

    First, this survey was not mainly about grandmothers. They had "ages ranging from their 30s to well into their 90s," and "a vast number of responses involved highly skilled, technologically-savvy individuals -- often engineers themselves."

    The overwhelming complaints were of:

    - "low-contrast interfaces and fonts, gray fonts on gray backgrounds"

    - "Hidden menus. Obscure interface elements (e.g., tiny upside-down arrows). Interface and menu elements that only appear if you've moused over a particular location on the display. Interface elements that are so small or ephemeral that they can be a challenge to click even if you still have the motor skills of youth."

    - "the sudden change of an icon from a wrench to a gear, or a change in a commonly used icon's position"

  • Someone got confused by Snapchat (he's not the only one) and sent a video to his entire contact list instead of just his girlfriend. Those should not have been easy to confuse.

    http://arstechnica.com/tech-po... [arstechnica.com]

  • This was the longest article that I read that said almost nothing. The TFS is basically "People have problems with modern interfaces, please provide a simple accessible interface." At any point in reading the article I was hoping for some salient details and examples, what does not work and what may be better solutions. But I was disappointing, no details, no analysis, nothing. This article is borderline useless, it is a half mute scream of "something needs to be done", but does not provide any guidance as

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