Scaling Mount Everest: Redesigning Netmeeting
In our previous UIB&A we redesigned the
wording on some
buttons, a mere "walk in the park" compared to
today's foray into the wacky world of Microsoft Netmeeting.
By comparison, this one will be like scaling Mount Everest.
I got into this expedition when I recently bought some webcams
to hook up both sets of grandparents for my kids. I realize
now that the marketing guys are asleep at the wheel... these
things should be called grandpa-cams.
Here's the out-of-the-box
interface, with the nearly insane new user.
this one brings up the issue of relativity: nowhere are
things more relative than when evaluating ease-of-use
with computers... it's relative to your experience. In
my Netmeeting trials-and-tribulations, I was talking my
father-in-law through the install. He is a non-Windows
user, meaning he bought a Windows box just a year ago
and can barely distinguish when it is turned on. Or let
me state it in positive terms: he's a competent AOL user.
Can't fully grasp the situation? Try this: at 10 o'clock
one night we were working on an unrelated problem and
I suggested we solve it by e-mailing a particular brick-and-mortar
business. He replied, "Why e-mail them now, they're
I on the other hand have 18 years of
quasi-development experience, have coded assembler by
hand (yes, 128, 64, 106, 109, 22 and like that), and can
solve cryptograms without a writing implement, yet I too
found Netmeeting incredibly frustrating. Talking "dad"
through to the summit was like Abbott & Costello's
immortal "Who's on First." Struggling to connect
voice and video with Bill Gates' version of a cup and
strings, Netmeeting takes the expression "blind-leading-the-blind"
and quite literally ratchets it up a level to "deaf-dumb-and-blind
in bumper cars":
Me: "Do you see the [unlabeled] button
with the picture of the book?"
Dad: "On the computer?"
Me: "Yes, on the Netmeeting window."
Dad: "All I see is Find Someone."
Me: "Drag that Window out of the way."
Dad: "I can't move it, it's too big."
Me: "Can you minimize it? Do you see the three buttons
that look like a dash a box, and an X?"
Dad: "You mean the negative sign? I don't see the X."
(... repeat for two hours)
You understand our challenge now, to make
Netmeeting communicable. We won't try to tackle the whole job,
just two main aspects: the startup tasks for first-time users
and simple wording on the buttons and menus.
Examining the "Before" Dialog
Notice in the original dialog, the buttons
have no labels. (Although MS provides tool-tip labels, also
called 'hover' caption or bubble help, they are of virtually
no use when helping a naive user.) Not only are the buttons
themselves unlabeled, but they are in groups that are also unidentified.
The avoidance of labels is an attempt save space and perhaps
address non-English users.
This interface is designed---optimized---for
the user who already knows how to use it. Its small visual "footprint"
is intended to serve those who have it working fine and are
now concentrating on the remainder of their Windows desktop,
where they are perhaps "sharing" a software application
with their Netmeeting conversationalists. These are all excellent
values ONCE YOU HAVE IT RUNNING. The man pulling his hair out
would love to know how many have gotten it running as easily
as they should.
I'm still working on this one. Stay tuned.