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.