Oops – Inadvertent Demonstration of a Usability Problem


A few of you may have noticed an extremely off-topic political humor post yesterday on Software++.  It was actually intended for my a humor blog, The Prehensile Mind,  that I’ve been experimenting with lately. Sorry about the mistake.

What happened?

As it happens, it was a classic example of a special category of slip called a mode error.  A mode error arises when we perform an action appropriate for one mode, but we are mistakenly in another. It is easy to see how this could happen given the WordPress UI as it appears when you are managing multiple blogs under one account as shown below.

WordPress Mode Ambiguity

Which blog does the New Post button refer to?

Learning from our mistakes, and indirectly from other’s

In his book, The Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman asserts that modes are evil, but a necessary evil where it is impractical to provide a 1-1 mapping of controls to functions. I suppose the takeaway here is the importance of caution when designing a user interface with multiple modes and communicating unambiguously to the user what mode they currently inhabit.

Other Surprises

In the comments, now deleted along with the errant post, I had one irate reader who threatened to remove Software++ from his RSS feed because he saw my “true colors.” I found it utterly shocking that someone would be so dogmatic about their ideology and hold their political heroes so sacrosanct that they’d find it unpalatable to read a blogger who didn’t share their own worldview. I was certain that I’d eventually lose some readers over my platform preferences or other technical opinions, but this shocked me a little.

I’d hate to lead any of my other readers on. So, despite the fact that it has nothing to do with this blog, I’ll be up front about it. I’m a Libertarian leaning conservative who doesn’t care much for the current administration, but is also sick of having to choose between two parties who continually play a game of good-cop/bad-cop so you can feel good about voting for one of them despite the fact that they are virtually indistinguishable from one another.

There. It’s out there.  Accidents aside, politics are going to stay on my other blog except where there is an angle germane to software development.

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4 Responses

  1. While the WordPress.com UI is very easy to use in general, I think one place where it falls short is tag entry for a post. You enter tags in a comma delimited list, even getting intellisense-like help if the tag already exists, yet you have to still click the “add” button. I *always* screw this up by neglecting to click the “add” button. Then I need to re-edit the post and add the tags again.

    The extra step of the “add” button seems unnecessary, especially when you are getting feedback about your entries via the “intellisense.” Not sure why they would add this redundant step for a feature that is used so extensively. Other tag-based services such as Delicious do not have an “add” button.

    I’m I off base here?

    • That is a good point. I have so many times neglected to hit the add button and had to re-enter tags for a post.

      The silly part is that the Add button is redundant with the save button for the post. That is, if you type in some tags, then save the post it loses the tags. I’d prefer they just drop the add button OR make it save the tags whenever the post is saved.

      Good call.

  2. I agree with your political stance and loved the motivational poster. I look forward to visiting your other blog often.

    • I appreciate the support, but just to let you know, the other blog is really intended to be more of a humor blog than a political one. Of course politics is often the best source of things to make fun of. =)

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