GUI Principles: Focus on the Users and Their Tasks, NOT on the Technology

This topic is of utmost importance for all Technical Communicators in all sectors.

Even non-help system documentation is rarely in print anymore, but needs to be legible and useful from a computer screen of various dimensions and display capabilities. We must admit that it needs to be useful for reading on the fly at the particular time it is needed, often in an emergency.

We are the only ones who read manuals in advance of need, and we cannot win as professionals if we hold on to that ideal.

We need to make complex information easy to read onscreen, clear, compact, precise and easy to navigate.

To do that the main focus needs to be the audience and their vital needs. This focus is true for Software Architects, User Interface Designers, Document Publishers, Help Designers, and every person implementing their slice of the product.

The User Interface is the product. Features are not implemented, when they are obscured. The doers of the work are likely learning on the fly as they try to do their work with your new tool, as in a stressful economy, the training and education budget is one of the first to be axed. Even if the tool will do the job, if it is unknown, or difficult to operate, Users want to get a new tool, and often can.

The best thing that you can do is test your piece of the Technical Information on as many members of your audience as you can quickly grab (in with the developmental stages is even better). More people and more recording is better, but a half an hour with a basic screen mock-up on single office/personal volunteer is priceless in building the best.

Jeff Johnson has a wonderful section in “GUI Bloopers 2.0” on understanding the Users and the Tasks that should underpin every tool or document. Many people have also written well the topic of using surveys and interviews to learn about the audience. What shines is Jeff’s discussion on technical level, and his breakdown of the types of information to study:

  • General Computer Knowledge
  • Task Knowledge
  • System Wide Knowledge
  • Goals of using the tool.

Knowing users’ reasons to use the tool could impact how the user interface, help feature, and documentation is shaped at a very fundamental level. Knowing the architecture of the whole system should similarly help shape the conventions of presentation, and division of content. The level of security clearance required for certain tasks could result in the need for two separate documents, as an example. General Computer and Task knowledge might correlate along predicable lines, or not.

If this principle of the highest dedication to users, goals, and tasks is followed above all, we can and will prevent frustration, stress, and create client success.

The Bloopers associated with failing this principle are from all types, but the Management Bloopers in Chapter 8 are some of the worst offenders, which will be the next topic. That is bloopers made by Management (ie: The Man), not errors of writers’ or editors’ management.

I look forward to future rants discussions on:

#64: Treating UI as a low priority.
#66: Discounting the value of testing and iterative design.
#67: Anarchic Development.
#68: No task expertise on the team.


The Periodic Table of SEO Ranking Factors: Visual Elements Showing Relationships and Flow

The best info-graphic explaining White Hat Search Engine Optimization (SEO) best practices that I have ever seen:

I love this great resource and had to share. Note the division of SEO factors that need to be provided on the site itself, other online, and geographical reality. And the steps and elements themselves aligned with the concepts.

Handy Black Hat SEO trends are also listed. Make note of everything on the list, especially the violations that can kill or delay a pages inclusion in one or more search engines.

 The info-graphic shows a Periodic Table of Elements grouped in sections: On the Page SEO, Off the Page SEO, Violations, and Blocking.  On the Page CEO Section has three columns: Content, HTML, and Architecture. The Content elements ar: Quality, Research, Words, and Engage. The HTML column elements are Titles, Description, and Headers. The Architecture column elements are Crawl, Speed, URLs. Off the Page CEO Section has four columns: Links, Social, Trust, and personal. The Links elements are Quality, Text, and Numbers. The Social Column elements are: Reputation and Shares. The Trust column elements are Authority and History. The Personal column elements are: Country, Locality, History, and Social. The Violations Section has a row of elements: Thin, Stuffing, Cloaked, and Paid links. Stuffing is associated with the Hidden element, and Paid Links to Link Spam. The first letter of each “SEO element” comes from the subgroup that it’s in. The second letter stands for the individual factor.

A Few of Their Short Tips for Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization Factors Work In Combination

No single SEO factor will guarantee search engine rankings. Having a great HTML title won’t help if a page has low quality content. Having many links won’t help if they are low quality links. But having several positive factors can increase the odds of success. As for negative factors, they obviously can worsen the odds.

On The Page search ranking factors are those that are entirely within the publisher’s own control. What type of content do you publish? Are you providing important HTML clues that help search engines with determining relevancy? How does your site architecture help or hinder search engines?

Off The Page ranking factors are those that publishers cannot directly control. Search engines use these because they learned long ago publisher signals alone don’t help relevancy. Some publishers will try to make themselves seem more relevant than they are, for example.

More important, with billions of web pages to sort through, looking only at on-the-page clues isn’t enough. More signals are needed to better estimate what are the best pages for any particular search.

Make no mistake. Search engines want people to perform SEO. They provide help directly about SEO techniques and encourage this, because good SEO can improve their listings.

However, there are some techniques that they deem “spam” or “black hat,” acts that if you do could results in your pages getting a ranking penalty or worse, being banned from the search engines entirely: Blocking, Weighting, and Violations.

Here is a link to a PDF version of the Table Guide. Also a link to the PDF version of The Periodic Table of SEO.

Table used with permission.

Review of GUI Bloopers 2.0 by Jeff Johnson

Common User Interface Design Don’t and Dos

Rather than being merely a collection of “screamers”, eye popping misuse of the Graphical User Interface (GUI) features and text labeling,this book is a collection of industry best practice principles, the bloopers that violate these sections of the cannon, and how to address these various bloopers. Not just the entertaining don’ts, but the infinitely practical dos.

The author quickly defines Nine “First Principles of Design” with examples of the bad and the ways to avoid them in general. The rest of the book is an enumeration of  categories of bloopers, and how to take steps to fix them:

  • GUI Control Bloopers (with 12 bloopers)
  • Navigation Bloopers (9)
  • Textual Bloopers (10)
  • Graphic Design and Layout Bloopers (8)
  • Interaction Bloopers (12)
  • Responsiveness Bloopers (12)
  • Management Bloopers (7)

It is very tempting to quote extensively from the book for entertainment and education, so I abandon the rest of the review except to say “I would buy it again”. Owners of the previous version of the book should check out the Author’s Introduction, and all the changes that have been made to provide better phrased answers, and new types of errors, as changes online have “progressed”.

I will instead tackle some of my favorite bloopers, and their impact on me as a writer.



Secrets of the Mind All Interface Designers Need

I recently attended a talk entitled: “Adding to Your Editorial Tool Kit: Understand the Basic Psychology Behind the Rules”, by Jeff Johnson.

Really, who doesn’t want to know what makes us tick?

I tried to manage taking notes on the Powerpoint talk  some thoughtful appetizers from the host: The Bay Area Editor’s Forum (BAEF), situated in the “old city” gem, the Mechanics’ Institute (steps away from the Montgomery Street BART station).

After the author mentioned that back in the ’70s and ’80s almost all User Interface (UI) designers came from A psychological background, whereas there are almost none among the graphic designers, software engineers, and others responsible for the current UIs. I took four pages of cramped notes, and was thrilled that there was another option…

He had set it all down and more in his new book Designing with the Mind in Mind: Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Rules, as well as his wonderfully titled GUI Bloopers 2.0: Common User Interface Design Don’ts and Dos.  He let us know that he found that instead a title like  Updated GUI Bloopers. or GUI Bloopers, Second edition, his use of 2.0 in the title isn’t clear enough to his intended audience to keep Amazon from still selling the original.

I will post reviews of each book in turn rather than subject you to my version of his talk…

Look for GUI Bloopers 2.0 first.  Like I said, could not resist the title…