The over the phone test for UI designs

30.8.09

Origianl article by aza featutured in his blog


One of the design heuristics we use at Mozilla Labs, especially as we work to create a more invisible browser, is the “Over-the-Phone test”.

If your friends have ever got it into their heads that you might be good at technology, I’m sure you’ve found yourself trying to explain some aspect of computing over the phone. Probably something trivial and difficult to explain. I give you my condolences. Trying to troubleshoot a GUI over the phone is like giving driving directions to train conductor.

For instance, it’s difficult to tell Grandma how to spellcheck in a web mail application that doesn’t have spellcheck:

  • “Ok, Grandma, select everything by clicking anywhere in the text and typing Control-A.”
  • “Now copy the text by typing Control-C.”
  • “Open Word by going to the Start Menu, clicking ‘All Programs’, clicking ‘Microsoft Office’, and finally by clicking ‘Word’.”
  • “Paste your text into Word by typing Control-V… No, Grandma, I don’t know why it’s ‘V’–maybe because ‘P’ is already used for printing?”
  • “Click the little icon on the top of the bar that has a checkmark and some letters. You don’t see it? Okay, describe what you see. You see something that looks like a coffee cup? I have no idea what that is. Actually, forget it. Just select ‘Spell Check’ from the ‘Edit’ menu.”
  • “Click ‘Start Checking’. Grandma, I know you just told it you want to spell check; I don’t know why you have to tell it again.”
  • (Time passes as Grandma spell checks her document.)
  • “Click the ‘Done’ button. Or maybe it’s called ‘Finish’. Uh, just click either the ‘Done’ or the ‘Finish’ button.”
  • “Select everything by typing Control-A.”
  • “Copy the text by typing Control-C.”
  • “Switch back to the email you were writing. What’s that? You can’t see the email you were writing? Well, um… Move some windows around and try finding it.”
  • “Is the text of the email still selected? No? Okay, click anywhere in the text.”
  • “Select everything by typing Control-A.”
  • “Paste in your spell checked text by typing Control-P. Wait, no, Control-V…”
  • “You’re done! wasn’t that easy?”

At every step something can go wrong, your mental model can get out of sync with the state of the computer, or you might remember a button name incorrectly.

Thus our test: We ask ourselves, “Would I be willing to teach my Grandma how to use this over the phone?”. If the answer is “Definitely”, we know we’re doing well; if the answer is “Maybe”, we know we can do better; and if the answer is “No”, then it’s often time to rethink the whole thing.

This is one of the heuristics that informed Ubiquity.

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2 Responses:

Anonymous said...

Speaking of spell check, there is a good program Spell Check Anywhere (SpellCheckAnywhere.Net) it adds spell check to all programs.

sabith pocker said...

hat is a great program.You can better check ubiquity for firefox by the original author of this post.