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There are a number of examples of applications/systems following a behaviour which is meant to protect the health of the user. Ranging from games prompting the user to go out and do something else after a time threshold, to applications limiting its functionality in the sole purpose to protect its user.

The case that got me pondering whether this is a good approach or not was the warning on Android devices when a user increase the audio jack output volume.

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Personally this annoys me more than feeling some appreciation for Google's care about my well being, for me it's an obstructive element which doesn't let me raise the volume to desired level without waking up the screen and dismissing this dialogue. I also find it annoying since I know that technically the actual audio output amplitude can vary very much just depending on the headphone/speaker impedance (rendering the dialogue close to meaningless in my meaning).

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The quick answer is "Yes, of course. Annoying people, no.". –  galegosimpatico Jun 28 '13 at 8:18

6 Answers 6

up vote 8 down vote accepted

1) The feature must be implemented intelligently if at all. In the case of audio volume, the system probably doesn't have enough information to know what an unsafe level of volume is. In the age of "quantified self", however, the system may have enough information (with the user's permission always) to make such recommendations.

Takeaway: You need lots of data and the logic to implement it to make this useful.

2) Even given the other conditions - a logic model and sufficient information - the user must be able to deactivate such a feature.

Takeaway: Each pop-up warning like this should come with either a checkbox saying "Do not show this again" or a link to a config screen where you can shut off any and all such warnings.

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I think you're on point regarding this use case. –  AndroidHustle Jun 28 '13 at 9:13

User Experience is all about protecting the user from doing harm to herself. If this is raising the volume to a dangerously high level, avoid taking damage in a car crash through various safety equipment, having a life vest under her seat if her airplane would end up in the Hudson River (again) or even having child protection on bottles containing acid. Everything in User Experience and any other design discipline is SAFETY FIRST.

That said, we live in the real world, where user also expects ease of use. And in that context, your question is very valid. Splashing a dialogue box saying its too loud isn't very useful. Especially not if you're having ear plugs raising the volume on the cord rather than on the phone (which could be stashed in the pocked. A better way would be to tell the user through sound that this is dangerous for you, and if you want to go further - double-click or something else. But a dialogue box? No.

All these protection should be possible to turn off, easily. Best would be to do this in context of the warning.

However I think this is primarily the care of the company rather than the user. Avoid getting sued for having a too high of a volume without a warning, is probably the main reason this dialogue box is there in the first place.

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I agree with you, especially the last part. It's a problem though when you introduce recommendations/caution messages which limit the usage. Mc Donalds putting a warning label on their coffee cups to avoid being sued is one thing, and that is also in the context of "instant user gratification", since it's very easy to connect a burn to the coffee you hold in your hand. In the context of audio volume however where hearing damage would be (in my guess) quite hard to connect to one instance of a audio playing device, and where the usage becomes limited, I think it's a bad strategy. –  AndroidHustle Jun 28 '13 at 9:08
    
@AndroidHustle It is a bad strategy, but try running this through the legal department and see if you get lucky :-) When we see these kind of messages, think of them as a victory for the legal department on the company rather than a help for your user... –  Benny Skogberg Jun 28 '13 at 9:18

The concern is one that a UX designer should take seriously. Don't make the current user experience more smooth at the cost of long-term drawbacks. Don't hide long-term problems from the user (especially health).

But the solution you show is a poor one. It is a repeated obstruction of a user's flow, much like a delete-confirmation-dialog. A likely outcome is that a user will learn to ignore the warning, get annoyed, or get worried when she shouldn't be because the phone doesn't estimate the loudness levels properly.

A large part of the problem here is that the phone-headphone interface is too restrictive for good UX. The phone should know accurately how loud the sound is coming out. And even if we can know the sound levels accurately, a user may want to take the risk of hearing damage temporarily (to hear the details of an important voice mail message over the sounds of a construction site).

As UX designers, we have a responsibility to make sure the user is aware of potential health risks. We are not responsible for the choices they ultimately make, nor should we try to influence them. If the user develops problems because they weren't aware the volume was too high, that's bad UX. If were aware, but they develop problems anyway, it's their own choice, and any attempt to prevent this would diminish the UX.

Some better solutions:

  • Extend the headphone plug interface with an (optional) way the headphone can passively supply information about its make and specifications. The phone can match these against an online database of measurements to determine the output level more accurately.
  • Color the sound indicator so that it becomes read at dangerous levels.
  • Analyse the user behavior. Let occasional dangerous sound levels slide, but send a warning message if you detect consistently dangerous behaviour.
  • If the user ignores these, there must be a reason. Maybe they can't hear dialogue over too strong a bass. Expose functionality to the user to fix this if a problem is detected. User testing will let you find out why users have their sound too loud.
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Actually your observation is correct. This sort of design is not that much good from user's point of view as it will disobey the very law of HCI : Human Computer Interface.

The law is Keep the user at ease and this is because if the user is at ease, then he will obviously be bit confident in using the system.

So, one time popup will be OK but every time it should not be there.

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Another quick answer is: It's not meaningful to frame the question in that way.

A given UX is always a trade-off between various objectives (those of the users – not necessarily a homogeneous group, those of the provider and those of other stakeholders as well), it is not “good” in a vacuum. And if you find this annoying, you are perfectly entitled to feel that way even if it meets some abstract notion of what a good UX is.

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I am a Software Engineer and i have advanced knowledge in Android Application Engineering.

Google is telling you in their instructions for Application to prompt the user for recommended settings, but let the user have the upper hand and give him a chance to choose what he wants. In their words: "Decide for me but let me have the final say".

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