« December 2010 | Main | February 2011 »

January 27, 2011

Yes, I DO often want to see my email and calendar at the same time

Convo in team chatroom:

Ellen Beldner: Is there any way in Outlook 2011 for me to simultaneously view both my calendar and email? like, the way I'd be able to do if we used Google Apps and I had a separate browser window for both? or do I have to use the g-d-effing mouse to tab between each view?

Turns out that it takes a workaround, and none of the standard interface mechanisms (right clicking; toolbar menu item; draggable tabs) work.


I have a 30" monitor. I've had huge monitors for 7 years. I can't believe that whoever PMd Outlook 2011 at Microsoft thought that being able to view your calendar and mail (and tasks/notes for those who use them) simultaneously is so uncommon that they'd basically hide the functionality.

I hate you, Outlook.

January 24, 2011

...but Outlook, I don't see a SAVE button.

Jakob says (http://www.useit.com/alertbox/action-object-closeness.html):

One of the oldest principles of human-computer interaction is that things that are close together on the screen are seen as related. (Similarly, users view as related those things that are the same color or shape, that move or change together, or that reside within an enclosure, such as a box.)

I wrote about how to apply the closeness gestalt principle to GUI design in my 1993 book Usability Engineering, but it was well documented long before that.

I didn't see a save / confim button and thus assumed that Outlook was using AJAX to record my choices. So I clicked a link to navigate elsewhere and go about my business, and got a confirmation dialog. I thought "WTF, is OWA so dysfunctional that they forgot a SAVE button but somehow managed the confirmation dialog?"


I wanted to scream / sob / break something when I realized "my" mistake: the SAVE button, with white background and body-sized black text, is in the lower righthand corner of my massive 30" monitor:

  • 2,200 pixels away from where I looked for it (immediately beneath the form fields; at the bottom of the page; both left-aligned)
  • 2,000 pixels away from the locus of my attention (the textarea I had modified)
  • 1,200 pixels away from the closest form element otherwise on the page.


I didn't notice the confirmation dialog at first, either, because even that was about 1,000 pixels away from the locus of my attention -- the left nav bar, where I had just clicked.

Design guidelines to avoid this problem:

  • When you design a form, align the primary action (the CTA, the SUBMIT, whatever) along the dominant lefthand margin of the form.
  • The submit button should be visually grouped with the items it acts upon -- separate with a couple of lines of whitespace, horizontal rule, or other appropriate visual treatment; but group them together.
  • Dialog boxes, popups, etc. should appear near the locus of the user's visual perception -- in other words, the onscreen position should be calculated from the mouse event's X and Y positions. Don't just locate the popup in the mathematical center of the screen.

Further reference: Nielsen on the durability of usability guidelines (since HCI work of the 1970s) plus some of the guidelines he evaluated.


Aaaaand I've just noticed this now as I'm looking at the screenshot: why is the option to "automatically include my signature on messages I send" unchecked by default? Isn't that the point of the signature? Didn't I just edit my signature, thereby implying that I probably want it to show up more often than not (otherwise I'd just type my sig manually when I want it)? And isn't inserting it by default a much easier-to-recover-from error (I select the text and hit DELETE on the occasional messages where I don't want the sig) rather than what happened to me, which was more like "Huh, I could swear I remember adding my sig to my preferences, I wonder why it isn't showing up in this message I'm composing? Oh well, it's not worth my time to try to figure out what the problem is."

For the record: The answer to this problem is not "Oh, well when someone fills out the sig field, but doesn't check the box, flash a notification or an alert when they compose a message to tell them that they didn't check the 'always include' option, and do they want to insert their sig."

Oh vile and hated UEs!

I have to quit my browsers to install Outlook


Probably an engineering constraint that drove this awful experience. I do stuff in my browsers. Shutting them down means losing context on up to 10 different items I'm working on in a given day. Adobe used to have this problem a lot; they seem to have gotten better at it in the past couple of years.

Your iPhone is synced with another iTunes library.


Probably due to DRM and RIAA / MPAA paranoia. My work on the YouTube Content Manager exposed me to the intricacies of how media companies think about copyright, and the complex rules that can govern what we think of as a single song or TV show. Most of what sucks about iTunes is, I'm guessing, the result of terrified media execs forcing Apple to modify the right UE (effortless, invisible, seamless syncing of all my devices) to make it difficult or impossible to engage in widespread piracy.

C'mon. I am one of your best customers. I have 2 MBPs (personal and work), an iPad, an iPhone, an AppleTV, a TimeCapsule, a shuffle (for the gym) and an older iPod (full media library for longer trips; + backup). It makes me batty that keeping these devices synced is so fraught with annoyances.

UI shit like this drives me *batty*: I hate Outlook

A snippet of a chat I had today with a coworker:

Monday, January 24, 2011

11:56 Ellen Beldner:

outlook is a bitch so i'm just going ot communicate with you via chat

so: Liz scheduled a brainstorm tomorrow during our 1:1

I responded to her that it's a conflict, but that we can either move 1:1 a half hour early or skip it in favor of the brainstorm.

It's up to you, based on what you have to talk about.

(i tried to CC you on the email I sent Liz, but of course, Outlook prevented me from adding anyone else, since of course it was specifically a response to a Calendar invite, which means that either I'd never possibly want to respond to more than just the organizer, or some a**shole in some company somewhere complained to MS that it might be a security breach for person Y to see a meeting that person X scheduled with person Z.)

and then outlook for some reason only syncs my sent emails on some arbitrary and non-instantaneous schedule

so i couldn't just forward the email to you.

UI shit like this drives me *batty*