Things that are Hard to Use

This is a bit long winded but a very funny review of Microsoft word is buried in this L[ouis Menand piece End Matter in the New Yorker](The End Matter | The New Yorker.

He reinforces @iab’s opinion.

Toilet snake

Node based GUIs. Don’t get me wrong I love the utility and flexibility of parametrically driven software in general, but the translation of that concept into a million little boxes that all look the same and need to be manually “plugged” into one another is just awful UX.

Ableton Live recording software

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yah, that looks no fun!

The funny thing about GUIs is that they brought the appropriate choices for the current context to the surface. Prior to GUIs one had to be aware of what the computer wanted or how to interrogate the computer for the current context.

The desktop metaphor is not relied and maybe not needed. Many developers are really clueless how opaque their GUI is.

Here comes the grumpy old man rant…
The webpage stateless nature really changed how a whole generation of developers misunderstand the fundamentals of computers let alone the power of GUI.

I have lost so much of my human relatability through overuse of computers that the Ableton interface looks clear and simple to me.

I think that many of the on screen elements need to become physical forms. This where I imagine everyone ends up with their own busy-box of physical manipulation elements. These elements can be meaningful to the user and the computer will just adjust it’s input to the busy-box on a per user basis.

That’s a really old screenshot. IMO i’s a little unfair to rag on an old piece of software if it’s still being updated and improved (though it’s entirely fair to rag on a piece of software that’s being updated and actively made worse - looking at you, every Microsoft application.) Having never used Ableton I can’t speak to the majority of the “use” portion of its UX, but from a quick Google search it looks like they’ve pretty significantly improved the visuals to have much better hierarchies of information when it comes to element colors, legibility of type, free space between elements, etc.

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The image below is from their current website. They have been doing just that for awhile now, making it even more difficult to use.

I think this brings up an interesting scenario when it comes to evaluating UX - what makes something easier or more difficult to use can be extremely relative to the prior knowledge of the user base.

I’d imagine someone who knows a program like Ableton inside and out from years of use finds a ton of utility in something like the modular, programmable, physical interface pictured above, whereas a new user would be absolutely overwhelmed by its complexity. The seasoned user’s argument would go something like this - basic UX principles around intuitiveness, ease of use, etc. are moot because the intended user has moved so far beyond them.

The counter argument, though, asks how much time has that seasoned user wasted over the years in frustration, backtracking, lost work, etc. while they learned a product that requires a minimum amount of specialized knowledge and skill rather than simply being elevated by that knowledge and skill.

I think the programs that best address this dichotomy are those that can appeal to both user groups. They are simple and intuitive enough on their surface to use effectively with only basic, everyday knowledge and skill while being deep enough in specialized functionality that they remain the product of choice for seasoned pros.

In my recent experience I’d point to Davinci Resolve as a great example of a piece of software that takes this dual-user approach (even despite the fact that it runs largely on nodes, which I’ve mentioned I hate.) As someone who used Final Cut and Premiere for a number of years I was extremely skeptical when I started hearing editors gush over Davinci. But you know what? After just a day or two of screwing around it was pretty obvious that it was both a program you could easily pick up in a very short amount of time and use at the highest professional levels.

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Yes, I want that but for everyday use of computers not just editing stations. Something a little more custom and tailored than a phone.

If I knew what it was I would make it. I’m working on it…

This is what I’m trying to describe in a projects thread.

The hope is that the aesthetic will lead to broader range of interactions.

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The classic divide could be seen with iMovie and Final Cut Pro.


For almost 15 years (2007 - 2021) I made a living based on this premise, contributing UX strategy for emerging markets, particularly Africa’s high growth mobile telephony platform based ones. During my dissertation research 2020-21 I designed a couple of simple and easy to use ‘thinking tools’ for illiterate and low literacy women vegetable vendors and farmers to facilitate their capacity to organize and manage their incoming cash flows and outgoing expenses with documented empirical results of significant adoption and use over a year later (65.6%). Financial literacy programs tend to be designed from a top down perspective and from a formal financial institutional frame of reference. You had to know how a cash dominant informal market worked with seasonal irregular incomes and unpredictable cash flows in order to accomodate the needs for flexibility and negotiability (trade offs) that people were making constantly just in order to survive. What we take for granted on predictable incomes (a known amount on a known date) is the hardest thing in the world for a street vendor of tomatoes who does not know how much she will sell today or how much income she makes in a month.

/end rant

ps. these tools used coloured stickers, or just pencil and paper. no tech or digital.

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The new Core discussion board. :roll_eyes:

Something in specific throwing you off @sonofscrotum ? Maybe we can help?

It’s just that I found the old UI much easier to navigate and search through. This new one is taking some getting used to.

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It does take a minute @sonofscrotum … if you hit the little black cat icon in the upper right it takes you to something that seems a lot more like the old layout :smiling_face:

I used that a lot until I got used to the new layout.

I never saw that cat. Great example of bad UI. Why a cat?



The Cat is the most common thing I click here.

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I used it a lot for the first few weeks, I’d asked @shaggy if he could give us a place that felt like the old board main page after he asked the mods to beta test the platform… But after a few weeks with the new UI I found myself going to the category page less and less and just letting the feed do the work. The category page does make the color coding make sense though!