fuzzy notepad

Tagged: ui

[blog] Twitter’s missing manual

I mentioned recently, buried in a post about UI changes, that Twitter’s latest earnings report included this bombshell:

We are going to fix the broken windows and confusing parts, like the .@name syntax and @reply rules, that we know inhibit usage and drive people away

There’s an interesting problem here. UI is hard. You can’t just slap a button on the screen for every feature that could conceivably be used at any given time. Some features are only of interest to so-called “power users”, so they’re left subtle, spread by word-of-mouth. Some features you try to make invisible and heuristic. Some features are added just to solve one influential user’s problem. Some features are, ah, accidental.

A sufficiently mature, popular, and interesting product thus tends to accumulate a small pile of hidden features, sometimes not documented or even officially acknowledged. I’d say this is actually a good thing! Using something for a while should absolutely reward you with a new trick every so often ‚ÄĒ that below-the-surface knowledge makes you feel involved with the thing you’re using and makes it feel deeper overall.

The hard part is striking a balance. On one end of the spectrum you have tools like Notepad, where the only easter egg is that pressing F5 inserts the current time. On the other end you have tools like vim, which consist exclusively of easter eggs.

One of Twitter’s problems is that it’s tilted a little too far towards the vim end of the scale. It looks like a dead-simple service, but those humble 140 characters have been crammed full of features over the years, and the ways they interact aren’t always obvious. There are rules, and the rules generally make sense once you know them, but it’s also really easy to overlook them.

Here, then, is a list of all the non-obvious things about Twitter that I know. Consider it both a reference for people who aren’t up to their eyeballs in Twitter, and an example of how these hidden features can pile up. I’m also throwing in a couple notes on etiquette, because I think that’s strongly informed by the shape of the platform.

[blog] We have always been at war with UI

A familiar story: company makes product, product becomes wildly popular, company royally fucks product up.

The most recent example of this is TimelineGate, but it’s something I’ve had on my mind for a while. Thus I present to you a list of complaints about personally-inconvenient UI changes, carefully disguised as a thoughtful essay.

[blog] XY UI nitpicks

Game Freak, you are kinda bad at interfaces. Don’t get me wrong; Pok√©mon X and Y are absolutely the best in the series and even just showing the party Pok√©mon from within the bag is nothing short of genius.

But goddamn how does nobody working there notice these other things, some of which have been around since Red and Blue.

(Pretty light spoilers since this is just standard Pok√©mon gameplay stuff.)

  • When learning a new move and choosing which one to delete (in battle, anyway), there is no way to see the Pok√©mon’s stats. So if I’m choosing between a 60 power physical move and a 70 power special move, which is not uncommon… I can’t see if the Pok√©mon has better Attack or Special Attack. I often end up having to consult veekun to guess at the stats of the Pok√©mon that’s already out!

  • Getting from a move to its description (and damage class, ahem) in battle is ridiculously tedious. You can, of course, hold L and choose a move to see its properties. But this is never mentioned anywhere in the game, I’ve had this actually use the move once or twice, and anyway it doesn’t work if you have L=A turned on (and why wouldn’t you? one-handed mode wooo). Meanwhile, the X and Y buttons do absolutely nothing.

  • The bag has five pockets. Four of them are nicely organized.

    • Key items, of which there are probably a few dozen at most.
    • Berries, which can’t hold more than… 65, I think?
    • TMs, of which there are 108.
    • Medicine, which probably doesn’t exceed 50.

    That leaves the “other crap” pocket, which gets filled with the following:

    • 20 types of Pok√©ball
    • 18 Arceus plates
    • 18 type-boosting held items (Charcoal and the like)
    • 18 type-boosting gems
    • A dozen evolution items
    • At least 17 species-specific held items (Stick, etc.)
    • At least two dozen general-purpose held items
    • Some untold number of (ahem) the new item type introduced in XY
    • Fossils, shards, loot, Heart Scales, Honey, mail, and god knows what else.

    That’s over 200 items in one pocket, twice the size of the next-biggest.

  • The miscellaneous pocket of the bag no longer shows item grouping icons (like a Pok√©ball), which at least helped separate sections in BW.

  • Neither the bag nor the in-battle item menu show item icons any more. The held item on a party or boxed Pok√©mon doesn’t, either.

  • The “item” submenu on a party Pok√©mon offers to let me take or swap an item even from a Pok√©mon that doesn’t have one. It also doesn’t tell me what the item is before I take it, which is annoying when I’m trying to find where I left something like Amulet Coin or Lucky Egg.

  • Deposit” and “withdraw” on the Pok√©mon box system are useless. Using one or the other is slightly faster than going through “organize”, I guess, but anyone who runs with a full party of 6 (i.e. almost everyone) is going to want to do both together. It wouldn’t matter except that this is the one thing stopping me from merely mashing A to get to my boxes.

  • For some reason trading has two ways to show a Pok√©mon: press A, or tap a weird icon or something at the bottom I forget. The next step from either of these to actually offering a trade is a little different, and I can’t figure out why.

  • When viewing a party Pok√©mon, I can’t switch directly to my Pok√©dex and read a description of it. I have to remember its dex number and look it up manually.

  • There is no list of all moves or abilities I’ve seen. :( Shouldn’t the Pok√©dex track what abilities Pok√©mon can have?

  • The zoomed-out box grid view on the PC should really color each box icon according to its wallpaper. With 24 boxes this view is not very useful.

  • There are two (and a half…?) completely separate and distinct interfaces for deleting a move. There are at least two completely separate and distinct interfaces for seeing a Pok√©mon’s summary. This is a little silly, but it’s been the case for a while.

  • The summary view when perusing boxed Pok√©mon neither mentions its nature nor indicates which stats are raised/lowered.

  • Learning a new move and forgetting an old one involves some three separate prompts. If you change your mind about learning the new move, the button to abort is helpfully labeled “QUIT” and just restarts the sequence of prompts over‚ÄĒmore than once have I just mashed A and accidentally agreed to learn it again. Why not just say “here’s a fifth move, pick which one to lose”?

    (That’s an annoyance in a lot of games, particularly RPGs: the button I mash to advance through dialogue is the same button I use to agree to choices offered in dialog. My 3DS has like a thousand buttons I’m pretty sure you can spare a second one.)

  • There are several places in the game where a list of items is intended to be scrolled by sliding on the touch screen, a la most phone interfaces (e.g. the bag, puffs in Amie), but either I’m a clumsy buffoon or something is not calibrated well because I very frequently end up tapping an item instead.

  • I miss the Habitat List. Please stop adding neat UI features in doomed branch games and not bothering to port them to trunk of the next generation. :(

So hey all those people with uncles and cousins that work at Game Freak who’ve come out of the woodwork since XY was announced: if you could pass this along that would be fantastic.

[blog] GNOME 3 revisited

How did I write this? I don’t know what happened. I was just jotting down notes and prose came out.

I wrote a whole thing about Shell and Unity before, but it was kinda knee-jerk ranting. With my newfound blog fame, here’s a lame attempt at a more constructive list of specific criticisms of GNOME 3, now that I’ve actually used it for a while on my laptop.

[blog] Unity vs. GNOME Shell

For those not aware, the GNOME world is getting shaken up lately. GNOME 3.0 was released last month, with a completely redesigned interface called GNOME Shell. Meanwhile Ubuntu, the biggest GNOME-based distribution by a gigantic margin, decided that they are super special snowflakes and do not want to use GNOME Shell, so they repurposed their netbook interface, Unity, and scrambled to make it tolerable on desktops for the 11.04 Ubuntu release next week.

Our media center is running some ass-old release of Ubuntu and its main partition is too tiny to even upgrade any more, so a few days ago I bought a new drive, slapped it in, cleaned out an inch-thick layer of dust, and installed the 11.04 beta for the hell of it. After using Unity for “long enough”, I installed GNOME Shell and gave that a spin too. Here is my impression.

Quick version: They are both terrible and I am sad.