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I often use applications and electronic devices for which I think: "Why on earth did they engineer that thing as it is? They must have known that it is a pain in the neck to work with".

On the other hand I often observed that I created a (G)UI that I was convinced about, that it'd delight my customers and was a breeze to work with. Although my customers thought that too, it became obvious that it wasn't at all easy to work with in day-to-day work.

Because of that I believe that there are many developers and designers out there who are genuinely convinced that their product has the perfect user interface, but it hasn't!

That's why I wrote this question: To collect some of the common misconceptions developers have about user interfaces and to prevent other developers (including me) from making the same mistakes.

What annoys you most in user interfaces of applications, web sites, electronic devices, etc. but presumably was created for the benefit of the user? What was it that you were convinced would be a great idea—but in the end only annoyed your customers?

Please write only one example per answer.

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33 Answers 33

In a GUI, if the user taps a button a tenth of a second after it appeared, the user meant to tap that button.

If the button appeared as a direct result of the user's action, that's probably a decent assumption. But it if appeared due to some asynchronous event that the user didn't initiate, chances are the user intended to tap whatever was on the screen previously.

If you change what's on the screen, don't activate the controls until the user has had a chance to see the new screen.

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"Lotus Notes also does it like that, so it's good".

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Lots of organisations use Lotus Notes, so it must be good. –  Erics Oct 23 '11 at 5:30

It is normal that when adding functionality to the application, the UI becomes more complex.

Version 1.0 could be ran on 800 * 600 Version 2.0 requires 1024 * 768 Version 3.0 requires 1920 * 1200

Perfectly OK. Plus screens are getting bigger anyways.

I actually heard a product manager say: "With the application getting more and more complex, it is normal that the UI also becomes more complex."

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What I see often is that developers think that the fewer times you need to click the mouse button in order to access a function, the more user friendly the application is. A direct consequence is that as many UI elements and information as possible is put on the main screen of the application.

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Something typically in projects where we develop software to replace older software, and when asking for specification I often hear:

"It should work exactly the same as in our old software."

I hate it when people take this as an anwer. I prefer to repond:

  • Then why are we developing new software?
  • Wasn't the purpose of this project not because we were unhappy the old software?
  • Why are we not allowed to do it better than in our previous software?
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Making something accessible to people with disabilities is hard. Besides, none of our visitors (users) has a disability.

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Giving no indication of what rules are enforced for your password.

If you remind me it had to be at least eight characters with two numbers I'll know which one I used. If not, I'll have to use all the possible ones it could be until I finally get it right.

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The UI is not important. The application needs to be stable and reliable, that's more important.

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"Our end users are engineers, they're smart guys, they will have no problems figuring out how it works".

The number of times I have heard this...

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"We must avoid jargon at any cost, even when research shows that our users understand it, and regularly use it in place of clunkier, ambiguous, harder-to-read alternatives"

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Along the lines of "Users are interested" is the misconception that the more people see of the hard work I have put in, the better. I realise, as a software developer, that I have to justify my time, and being able to show something to my boss is helpful, but I also know, as a software developer interested in HCI, that the very best work I do is the work that no-one sees, that has very little impact on the user, that they hardly notice.

For me, the most satisfying result is when I do days of work, and the users are unaware of any change, except that "things seem to work better now." When the focus is on the user achieving their real task, this makes for good UI design. When the focus is on showing how much work we have done, it makes for nightmares.

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The belief that users don't know how to scroll (everything needs to be above the fold).

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Actually, studies have shown that users really don't mind scrolling at all. Check out this site: cxpartners.co.uk/thoughts/… for an explanation and some tips for encouraging your users to scroll. –  LoganGoesPlaces Aug 17 '10 at 18:16
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yes @Logan, that's why it's a myth :) –  GSto Aug 17 '10 at 19:33
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Here's my favorite article about it: iampaddy.com/lifebelow600 –  Michael Warkentin Aug 17 '10 at 21:43
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Wow, not sure where my head was on that one. –  LoganGoesPlaces Aug 18 '10 at 2:06
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For the most part almost everyone does scroll. But a few times we have had customers call us asking us about a product when the answer to their question was just down an inch or two but they didn't scroll to see it. –  Echo Aug 18 '10 at 15:04

"My users are just like me (so what is obvious to me will be obvious to them)."

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UI is always GUI. In the sense that UI doesn't have to be Graphical.

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Well, what I meant is that UI is always GUI is a myth. Anyhow, nice app! –  Ignacio Aug 22 '10 at 23:39

Scenario: a developer creates a form that, depending on what checkboxes are checked, certain actions will take place. While a person will have to pause to consider the impact of their selections, the developer believes the form is simple, as it only has a few options to select, and the text labels in the form sound rational to him.

Developer misconceptions:

(1) the shortest route for the developer to get the form on the page and make it work just happens to be the best way to present the form to the user

(2) the form would make sense to other developers even before I explained it to them

(3) when I did a demo of the form, it was reasonably clear to everyone, even though it was me who was doing all the clicking and explaining

(4) the form would make sense to anyone; in fact, you'd be an idiot if you didn't understand it

(5) users have a chip inside their brain playing an .mp3 of the thought process the developer used to make the form; they play this whenever they wonder what precisely the implications of their selections mean, because it's not explained anywhere else

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Misconception:

  1. Whether the submenu will fly out on hover of the main menu, or I have to click it.
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For web sites/applications, etc., etc.

Links (anchors) should go somewhere (go to user screen) and buttons should do something (update information, etc.).

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That people don't follow it. Whether or not I agree with is ultimately inconsequential, it is the accepted practice of the web. –  Kevin Aug 17 '10 at 13:35

There is a GREAT collection of user experience myths at http://uxmyths.com/ with wonderful supporting evidence as well. I just found this last week.

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One thing that annoys me - and is the cause of many of the annoyances you'll see on this page - are organisations that think they can figure out out how their customers will use their product without actually getting their customers to use their product!

I'm amazed at the number of companies who still don't invest in quick, cheap guerilla usability testing. Spending half a day and getting a little feedback would save them a barrel full of pain later on.

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Since other are doing this, it should mean it is simply better.

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More colors == better

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"Adding descriptive text will help the user"

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Related - "The user will check the Help/FAQ if they can't figure it out." –  eBeth Aug 24 '11 at 15:41

To force users to perform actions in only one way (software designers way, usually).

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"Everything should have options"

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This is something Joel Spolsky talked about at BoS 2009: blip.tv/file/3996778 –  Mircea Chirea Aug 20 '10 at 7:19
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But don't go too far in killing potentially useful options. It will annoy power users. (I'm looking at you, GNOME.) –  Mechanical snail Aug 23 '11 at 7:20

That users know or even care very much about user interfaces or computers or technology or any of the stuff UI designers care about. They just want to get something done without feeling miserable doing it.

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Unabortable wizards or in general UIs that force you into set steps, but disallow you to abort said steps at certain points.

I know why there might be technical reasons for such a solution, but there are few things that bug me as much as a wizard or dialog that I by mistake have entered into that forces me to complete it, or wait for n units of time while it completes one or more of its steps.

Installing applications on Mac OS X is at times a perfect examples of this.

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@Mark There are good reasons for this: squarefree.com/2004/07/01/race-conditions-in-security-dialogs –  Ignacio Aug 17 '10 at 17:45
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@Mark: What I'm really getting at is the inability to cancel dialogs. Waiting to continue is valid in many cases, whereas not allowing aborting the dialog IMO often is a case of programmer laziness. That said, there are times when it is difficult or "impossible" to allow a cancellation. –  Mikael Ohlson Aug 18 '10 at 20:06

I'd suggest that the most common UI misconception is this:

That my users are interested in my application.

Most users aren't interested in your application at all.

In most cases if your users could replace your application with a large red button marked "Go", they would. And then they'd train a monkey to press the button over and over, go home, and relax.

Users aren't interested in applications. They're interested in getting things done. Applications are just a means to an end.

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+1 so. hard. The same is true for pretty much everything. This is why splashscreens/intropages for websites fail. And long introtexts. If only people would get it into their heads –  Jonta May 24 '11 at 9:03
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Most irritating thing to me are the twenty long Logo animations I'm forced to sit through before I can play my favorite video game. I already know you made the game Ubisoft...I've seen your logo fifty million times now let me play the effin game! –  Mike Brown Jun 17 '11 at 20:17

UI should be tested as well as the functionalities.
But the test should be performed by end users that were not implied in the technical definition of the project. In my projects I often noticed that the applications are tested by people that helped designing them so they already have a "used to" user knowledge.

And when it's possible, you should be a user of your own application ! (you might then notice some issues with the everyday use)

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"I'll design the UI now, then the functionality will fall into place."

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I disagree. I think that the UI should be designed first, and the functionality figured out later. or simultaneously, if you have people working on a form of MVC architecture. –  GSto Aug 17 '10 at 19:34
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For all intents and purposes, the UI is the functionality, from the perspective of the user. Of course you need to know what the application is going to do, in broad strokes, but the UI design is going to bring up what is really important. –  Tim Sullivan Aug 22 '10 at 14:49
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I believe requirements should be designed first. Requirements define functions (not functionality) without mention or implication of graphical appearance. Then a user interface is designed around the requirements. I actually hate the reverse: "We will build the back-end first and then you can skin it" as then you just end up with an interface that exposes the "back-end" rather than a user-centred design. –  jeef3 Aug 30 '10 at 2:02
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The user interface is one of the most important parts of a piece of software. –  Nick Bedford May 24 '11 at 0:57

"The users are morons. They will never use that."

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This is a misconception!? :) –  Sruly Aug 17 '10 at 6:40
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and the reverse: "The users aren't morons. They will never misunderstand that." –  NickAldwin Aug 17 '10 at 14:37

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