Archive for May, 2007

Too Much Search Criteria

Users’s don’t know, or care, how you store data in the database; nor should they have to.

It’s common today for a database front end to supply search boxes for each (potentially useful) database column:


In this case, Supplier Name and Supplier Number really are the same thing – they identify the supplier. These can be merged in one search criteria filter: Supplier.  

Same with City and Province/State – they’re both an Address. The user doesn’t care that we stored them in 2 separate columns in the database; she just wants to search by the supplier’s address. So we merge them as well, giving us:


Users don’t think of addresses as seven different fields:

Street1: Johnson Janatorial Supplies
Street2: 17 Piney Park Road
Street3: Unit Nº34
City: Ashville
State: NC
Zip Code: 28806
Country: USA

They think of them as a single block:

Johnson Janatorial Supplies
17 Piney Park Road
Unit Nº34
Ashville, NC  28806

It’s not the user’s problem if an address is stored over multiple database columns. It’s the job of the computer to search them all as though it were one block of text.

Taking these ideas further, people have seen how powerful Vista’s new single search box is.


The user doesn’t need to know where a file is, or it’s name; she only needs to remember something. After that, it’s the job of the computer to find it.

This also works for business applications. The user doesn’t care if the supplier has an ID, a Name, a Short Name, an Accounting System Name, a Legal Name, and a Display Name. She only cares that she saw a Johnson:


It’s much more powerful to find something when you can just keep trying words – adding them as you narrow the results.

Detailed search criteria can be useful; mostly when you’re picking between existing groupings (e.g. active/inactive, gold/silver/bronze, cash/credit, customer/employee, etc), or trying to generate a report.

But for blind searching, a single box that does all the work for you is much more powerful.


Stopping The Proceedings With Idiocy

In his book About Face, Alan Cooper rails against the sin of stopping the proceedings with idocy. This is when you force the user to stop whatever they’re doing to get rid of a dialog box.

Alan Cooper argues that there is rarely, if ever, a need for a dialog box. Sometimes this is very difficult to do without lot of work. Other times, it’s very easy. For example:


Of course it’s deleted, i just deleted it. The cursor changed to an hourglass for an instant, and then the supplier disappeared from the list. Don’t stop me telling me the obvious, or to put it another way:

 Don’t stop the proceedings with idocy.

Splinter Cell Causing Chaos Theory

i installed the patch Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory today. Now when running the program i am presented with the dialog:


My inital, and ongoing confusion is: what will happen if i push Yes? The text says “Continue?” rather than “Reboot?“. This makes me think that it will Continue, rather than Reboot

Unfortunatly i can’t trust them to do what they say, because if i guess wrong my computer’s going to shutdown.  (i’ve had an important program running for the last few weeks, which i don’t want to interrupt simply because StarForce says so.)

So i hit “No”, and forgo playing the game.

The dialog itself could be much clearer. This is what i was able to whip up fairly quickly:


The text is now white. The text on the original was mostly gray on black – not very easy to read.

The buttons are much clearer now about what they’re going to do, explicitly saying “Reboot Computer” and “Exit Game”.  Now you don’t even need to read the text, you can just pick your poison.

Also, the explanation text is before the choices, which is how people read: top-down.

 In this example, there is a better way altogether: don’t have any dialog. The problem is the StarForce copy protection drivers that UbiSoft uses. Thesedrivers have been causing people all kinds of blue-screens, slow-downs, inability to play the game.  UbiSoft should just not use them. In fact, UbiSoft has stopped using them, but not in time for the game i own.

p.s. the Russians who created StarForce have a propaganda site with a StarForce removal tool. There’s also a mirror of the removal tools on the Boycott StarForce site.

May 2007
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