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Making Software as Productive as It Is Powerful
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Improving user interface design through simple communication improvements and lessons learned repeatedly in computerdom. Bellis' Law: "For every computer problem, even many hardware problems, there is a simple solution to the user interface, often as simple as improved wording." More, our About page...>    
Check out these items that can help you conquer unfriendly software:
arrow Function Tree
Destined to be an industry classic, a consolidated hierarchy of all generic software function.
arrow Design Gallery
arrow Learnability Gallery
Is learnability the new usability?
arrow Ux Results Tree
I'm not settled on the name yet, but the content is incontrovertable: afford these results or vanish.
arrow User InYourFace
The student programmer's before-and-after guide to usable design.
arrow Website Survival Checklist
33 vital signs for every website's health
arrow Computer User's
Bill of Rights

8 rules of the of user-in-yourface common sense
arrow Free Usability Criteria for RFPs
Put this text right in your Requests for Proposals, no strings attached.
  Full list of resources...

2011, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16: Obsolete, go to ...

Wow, time flies. This is usability stuff from before parallax view and flat design, and 'hero' meant a soldier or sandwich. I now bother the world with my UX ideas and other fun thoughts at






2009-Dec-19 x10 Commander Diagram

You gotta see it to understand it.

2009-Nov-24 Phone App Icons

Simple solution to the problem of iPhone home pages with too many apps.

All Articles and Content, in Date Order

Important Stuff

Control Proximity Revisited, Reemphasized   2 years since my last B&A?! (What the hell have I been doing since then?) Apparently finding the same UI mistakes over and over again.

2009-Feb-28 How Twitter Ate Google's Lunch Is Twitter another unfulfilled hyperdream like flying cars or the next killer app? Read our answer and the surprising prediction on our sister site,
2009-Jan-24 Website Review of Simple checklist usability review of a site for non-profits... you know, like CitiBank, Merill Lynch, and those guys.
2009-Jan-19 Review of
2008-Jun-13 Website review of, a vendor of a hardware temperature device for server rooms
2008-Jan-26 Website Review of Statistics Canada
2007-Dec-25, an online purveyor of advertising promo materials.
2007-Nov-10 Righting 4 the Web If the routine advice about writing for the web—reduce by 50% etc.—is valid, what were all those words doing in the first place?
2007-Sep-2 The Revolution Accelerates... Earth-Shaking Usability Advances by Zoho
2007-Sep-2 Website Review of Surely the chief purveyors of government-speak and the Section 508 requirements will have a fluffy, stuffy, hypocritically non-compliant website, right? You'll be surprised.
2007-Sep-2 UI's 7 Great Controversies Chauncey on the STC usability SIG asked what the top controversies are in usability and user-centered design. Good question!
2007-May-28 Google Is Now the Defacto Defacto-er a small indication that now we'll all be getting our UI leadership from Page & Brin, not Gates.
2007-May-16 Internet Ended by Oregon Realtors   In a quaint, protectionist fit, an Oregon company decrees, "There will be no bad things said about houses we list."
2007-May-4 Before & After... Bret Victor's Magic Ink If you fully design the graphics, interaction design is not necessary!? Hands down, the most important thing I've read in 24 years of user interface work.
2007-Feb-19 Risolviamo, traduciamo, ricreiamo? Usability review of Qabiria, a new translation services site.
2007-Feb-19 Before and After: "The Primary Interace": What do Home Depot, street address signs, and telephones have in common?
2007-Feb-9 Review of Visual Shopping Search Is the world ready for a search site that prompts you to search by visual characteristics?
2007-Jan-31 James City County Website Review of a public county's site. Is it as good as our favorite?

If you've made it this far, I have a free gift for the first 100 visitors who reply. If you know anyone who's learning to read, email me and I'll send you a free copy of a kid's book I wrote that has just been printed. Please include "Poopy Phonics" in the subject line so I have a chance of recovering it if it goes to my spam folder. For smart mouths everywhere, the book is PoopyPhonics(.com). No strings attached, but if you like it, consider posting a review to —Thanks, Jack

—No spam, no emails, no private info given out—
2007-Jan-4 Web 2.0? Ask the Audience What one thing does Web 2.0 (or 3.0) boil down to? Just ask the audience.
2007-Jan-4 Shovelware Redux Is shovelware reborn or just a great zombie? J&L Industrial's 2000-page online catalog, simulating a paper catalog is incredibly powerful, more so than many native HTML websites.
2006-Oct-20 Usability Hurts, But Learnability Kills Is learnability the new usability?
2006-Sep-24 Now Hiring Leonardo DaVinci  Everyone still wants to hire one person who will build them a helicopter 500 years before everyone else.
2006-Sep-24 New Web Aesthetic? Lighter type, raised panels, let corners be corners.
2006-Sep-14 Review of an Ajax App, MakeTime Will my content-centric heuristic checklist work for an app, let alone an Ajax one?
2006-Sep-14 Learnability Gallery Screen Capture Library of Techniques to Make Interfaces Self-Training
2006-Jul-12 Printing a Read-Through Guide  Reprint of a 1996 article, advising how to decide what to print versus what to provide in online help.
2006-Jun-31 Before, Just Before  How can a "before-and-after" article have no "after?" Take a look at this screen capture to find out.
2006-Jun-27 A Case for Specs   Functional specs are a counterproductive, wasteful, inauthentic remnant of a time gone by.... right???
2006-Jun-26 List of Web Apps  There are zillions of examples of great websites, but not too many of great web apps. I moved my list of apps from an obscure article to my "Web State of the Art Page" and added some more to the list.
2006-May-29 Instant Usability... how one great web app turns learners into users in no time flat, with 28 specific learnability techniques.
2006-May-23 Added requirements for ecommerce landing page to Function Tree.
2006-Apr-2 Solving the Great Specs Dilemma... A Case for Specs
2006-Mar-20 Review of, an offshore software developer
2006-Feb-11 The Amazon of Usability? If an Amazon product page is now one of the most complicated things on Earth, is simplicity a thing of the past?
2006-Feb-4 Review of a GenericDB Web App Site Not my usual content-centric review, this time we take a look at a database site 12 imgs with lots of advice.
2006-Jan21 Job Description for Usability Director: Everyone wants a user interface designer to solve their problems, and they want it today. But usability problems can't be solved today, and they can't be solved at the designer role alone.
2006-Jan-17 "Avoiding 'We can’t change THAT!': Software Architecture & Usability." Just a note about a great paper that details things that must be build into software in advance or they'll never be added.
2006-Jan-14 Docked Shopping Cart is About Time. A real improvement in the online shopping cart has been accomplished and somehow, and the idea is something that every one of us should have been smart enough to come up with!
2005-Nov-11 Usability review of a bible site... was it Jakob Neilsen that said "Simplicity is next to Godliness?"
2005-Oct-29 The Rightest Navigation? Is it time to put 'secondary navigation' or 'downstream links,' on the right?
2005-Oct-8 A catalog of models for web design, content, and navigation.
2005-Apr-17 One Big Print Button?
Why do I have to print out hundreds of separate pages to learn a topic that is on an otherwise great website? And don't tell me to read online. Read It...
2005-Apr-12 Review of a Designer's Site
Is Flashy Friendly? A very modern, personal site of and by a web expert.
2005-Apr-03 DOC FILE: Twenty-Two Years of Techwriting
DOC file of a presentation for techwriting students, rough notes and images without verbatim speech.
2005-Feb-12 The Metrics of Usability   
If a Recommendation Falls in the Forest, Does It Make a Sound? How to quantify the efforts of usability experts.
2005-Feb-12 The Triumvirate of Home Page Design
Try to build a bad website that includes these three ingredients. You just can't do it.
2005-Feb-5 On the Value of Techwriting: Can Charlie the Tuna really fix techwriting? Stop worrying about making techwriting valuable and instead concentrate on making valuable techwriting.
2005-Jan-24 Before & After: Bellis's Law of Control Proximity
What can light switches tell us about software design? Put controls, even text, as close as possible to the item they control.
2005-Jan-9 Pervasive Navigation Must Die?
The pundits tell us that conventional top tab bars and multi-level menus are a proven failure and trigger words will save the world. Hmmm.
2005-Jan-1 Improving Linksys' Security Dialogs
Or, "How to Save Linksys $25 Million in Support Costs and Save the World Along the Way."
2004-Nov-21 Dissecting CSS Styles
How do they make that cool text style on" There's a new aesthetic on the web and part of it is the deceptively complex issue of fonts. It explains why professional sites look good and others, well, don't.
2004-Nov-8 Do Computers Still Stink?
It's been 7 years since I wrote Computers Stink, a 150-page phillipic against the industry. I've improved the free 150-page PDF of the book by adding bookmarks and along the way I asked myself, "Has the industry conquered its deamons in 7 years?"
2004-Oct-27 Does More Technology Help Help?
Microsoft has a new infrastructure for online help that offers some efficiencies but those gains won't improve 'user assistance.' And they continue a costly industry habit of focusing inwardly, on tools, instead of outwardly, on users.
2004-Sep-27 Free Review of Review of an industrial design site from Pune. You know where that is, right?
2004-Aug-10 Webware Design Roles, Defined
I notice that information architects argue a lot about what an information architect is. That in itself probably tell us enough to define their role, right? Maybe not. Here's my spin on how the web design roles break out...
2004-May-1 "Cup-and-Strings" Grows Up, Sort Of... I installed a wireless router and still have my hair. But two guys in India and one in the Phillipines might have lost some.
2004-Apr-24 Two Javascript Scrolling Solutions That Add Real User Value... It's been a premise of mine that more technology should not be the first line of defense in combatting UI problems. But on the web, well, you know what they say about rules.
2004-Apr-12 Vistited any Good Functions Lately?

Should Web Apps Use "Visited Link" Color-Coding? This question recently arose on the STCs usability SIG... you know, when a link turns purple. I looked in a book I'm reading recently Baxley's "Making the Web Work," and you might be surprised at what I found...

And I added some items to our Function Tree. This is an amazing item, folks... or at least it has amazing potential. Check it out.

2004-Jan-10 Which Is Better, Departmental or Task-Based Navigation?
The question comes up frequently of whether a task-oriented structure is better than a departmental structure.
2004-Jan-07 "Frameworks": Limiting Factors in Reuse & Methodology
Perspectives on Transitioning a Software Company from Service to Product (An ongoing story)

The Declaration of Usability
The subject comes up periodically of having the usability profession "speak with a common voice" but it's hard to figure out what this means. Here's my attempt...

2003-Dec-25 A Classic Microsoft Flaw Story
... and who doesn't enjoy that? For those old WordPerfect users who want their "Reveal Codes" back. Read it on our Morsels page.
2003-Dec-21 Solve-It Yourself
I find more UI challenges than I can possibly include on our Before & After page, so there's only one thing to do... get you to do the "after" versions. So here it is our ongoing log of unsolved UI problems. Maybe it will be useful for a school project.
  Software Function Tree, A Work in Progress
Does it seem like you start all over again every time, and therefore miss some functionality you should have anticipated? Stop the insanity...
2003-Dec-15 Top 10 User Shocks of Converting to a Web App
2003-Nov-1 Should Complex Web Apps Use A Secondary Window?
Users of business apps might be better served without an address bar, back button, and all that menu bar junk, right? Hey, all I'm doing is asking. Why not? Read it and tell me what you think.
  Requirements Definition for Intranets
Three simple things—well, seven actually—to target... on our Morsels page.
2003-Oct-17 Accessible Advice on Accessibility A simple checklist. No heuristics. No theories. Do this.
2003-Aug-24 Tabs on the Web Should Always be <What Color???>
The verdict is in. See our Design Gallery page with examples of many design situations. And by all means, suggest better examples for our gallery.
2003-Aug-16 The Good Virus??? Come on Jack, we knew you were nuts, but do you have to go out of your way to prove the point?
2003-Aug-02 User Experience Affordance Tree
What's the difference between UE and usability? And where should you put your effort if your sole objective is a friendly site? Check out this great outline that you can use as a training tool.
2003-Jul-14 Off-Topic-But-Fun: "I Spy" in a Software Splash Screen
2003-Jul-12 New "Courtesy Work" Page
Sometimes we find stuff on the web that needs a quick, simple fix.
2003-Jun-24 The Ultimate Simplicity... from Microspam no less?!
Could it be that they've turned over a new leaf? Check out this great page design from Hotmail.
2003-Jun-16 Steve Krug's Book, "Don't Make Me Think"
A book report?! What's that doing here? Let's call it the 7 habits of highly successful websites.

Is Online User Behavior "Fuzzy?"
The solution to e-commerce usability is artificial intelligence and simulating brick-and-mortar attributes, right?

2003-May-23 The Industry that Wouldn't Learn
The paperless office, e-books, "classroom training is a thing of the past," and other great spin.
2003-May-16 Before&After of
Which is better for instructions, a few paragraphs of prose or a bullet list?
2003-May-16 Finally online, the 1997 Cult Classic, "Computers Stink"
150-page book on usability. Lots of great anecdotes.
2003-May-12 Website SHOOTOUT: CSU's CompSci vs. Computer Information Science
Who has the better website, the algorithm-ers or the MBA's who call them for support?

The Future of User Interfaces?
When Will the Past Finally Get Here?! If you think reality is bad, wait until you hear about augmented reality.

2003-Apr-23 Website Survival Report Card for: Cambrian College
Designing a college site is no simple task. How do you think they did?
2003-Apr-12 Website Survival Report Card for: HR Technology Group
Our first in a new series of usability reviews. 33 items no website should be without. Use it on your own site or ask me to do a complimentary review for you.
2003-Mar-15 New and Very Substantial Permanent Resource
GenericUI, A reusable style sheet and design for Web apps!
It's long overdue that developers stop trying to reproduce the last 14 years of GUI dialog design each time they start a new project. This shareware resource provides a style sheet, icons, table layouts, and page designs that will not only save projects a lot of time and money, but help users by providing common artifacts that cue them in to functionality.
2002-Nov-16 Before & After: Redesign of the Library Web Site
This was no silk-purse-from-sow's-ear turnaround, just applying some web basics and improving the words to clarify "keyword' vs. "browse."
2002-Oct-22 Help Ticket 666: A Conversation with Tech Support
I've decided to remove this satirical item as some folks might find it offensive. If you like stories like The Onion publishes, you might like it. E-mail me if you want it.
2002-Feb-12 The Best Dialog Ever?
It must be a mega-techno-multi-level-zip-zap-wing-ding, right? Or is UI design mostly about good words well-placed?
2001-Dec Ah, La Mode!
Why modes are wrong and we're surrounded by them.
2001-Oct If Manufacturing Had to Play by Software Rules...
A brief analogy to major household appliances, explaining why software manufacturing is so darn hard.
2001-Jan Before & After: Scaling Mount Everest: Redesigning Netmeeting
Try talking a non-Windows user through sound-and-video at a distance, and you'll want to tear your hair out, too.

2000-Sep Long Live Menus!
An article explaining that menus are not the boring fossil you might think they are.
2000-Aug Winning the Business Softwar 2001
(207K, zipped PDF) 46-page, 8+1/2"x11" book on usability and user concepts for businesses and individuals.
2000-Mar e-Commerce Shootout (Before & After)
Which mortgage loan web site is better? You be the judge.

(Before & After) Button Wording in a Simple Message Box
Put explicit wording on buttons instead of indirectly in the message box.

1999 Free Usability Criteria to Put in Your RFPs
Paste this wording right into the global requirments or "lofty goals" section of your requests for proposals.
1999 Communication, Communication, Communication
Four simple examples of how usability is always reduced to wording, and the words are not always on the computer screen any more.
1999 Computer Users Bill of Rights 1997
From the book, "Computers Stink," 8 simple rules etched in stone.

A book that I'm writing in installments, published on this site, and interactive with visitors in that installments are written when requested... BY YOU! Read the 7th installment...


"My interest in usability arose from the pain and tears of patching the wounds of suffering interface designs with the inadequate bandages of help files and user guides." — Daniel Cohen

2002,   All Rights Reserved
Any and all content may be reused without prior consent if you simply acknowledge the source,