The Hell they call Specs

I have seen the worst specs ever: A phonebook of descriptions, channels of content laid out in such detail that you would know exactly where which pixel should be. If you were able to read it of course.
I have also seen those very, very flexible specs. “Just make it send an e-card.. or something like that”.

The problem with specifications is that they can be too light or too heavy, and there is no way of knowing which is right for a project before you start. If you are really lucky, you work with thinking programmers who are able to correct mistakes, suggest improvements and fill in the gaps. They know the intention of the project and know what works and what doesn’t and most important: they aren’t afraid to speak up. Those people are rare, which is one of the reasons why a lot of websites and applications suck. In desktop software teams work for years on a piece of software, but on the web most projects are temporary and when it is done it is done. Not the best product matters but a cool look and acceptible coding in the shortest time possible.

The right specs differ from programmer to programmer, and one of the reasons for that is that we don’t all have the same imagination, (project) methodology, vocabulary, interest in users or even common knowledge.

Mark states it a bit bolder: there are two kinds of programmers… the assholes and the morons. Why specs matter. Some of the things he writes sound familiar, don’t they?


Everybody who comes from a Windows or Mac background – most of you- and who has ever played around with Linux has witnessed it: Poor usability. I consider myself quite computerfahig, but Linux is on the edge of my possibilities. I do n�t want to read a huge manual on my OS. I d�n’t want to work on the commandline. And I want to be able to install and get it running myself. It should work, it should be easy as hell and once configured it should work.

Frans Englich wrote an article that exactly points out the weak spot of the open source community: Too arrogant-nerdy to realize that usability is not an extra trick in a programmers toolbox but a full-grown science that has a lot more to do with psychology than with programming.

Englich pleads for reflection by the programmers, he thinks that if those people -yes, the 1000 and one different programmers from all over the globe- think just a little bit longer about labeling, that will solve the problems. Wrong ofcourse, since those programmers very well may allready be doing what he suggests.

Very useful to read the comments as well, it shows the sometimes very hostile attitude of OSS developers towards the ‘outside world’. An eyeopener and proof that lots of programmers should read more usability and IA books instead of the latest PHP- or MySql Bible.
It would give them so much more depth in their work that I think the REAL progress towards usability and more intuitive and advanced software development is still to be made. If only they would read about it…

Extra: a comic about this subject

Search engine updates

A search enginge war is coming. This year, promising better and personalized results, but:

…Brand highlights the fact that while this second search arms race promises to offer better search results, the technologies are designed give search engines a better story to tell to advertisers

Get a good update: Google killers

Extragratis: Niche search engines

And well well well… a new engine, a dutch engine. Izito with a dramatic layout. The results are in flash. Yeah, flash. They say: “Izito is a smart searchengine with a rich user interface that makes searching easier.” And opening links in a new tab impossible while at the same time distorting the expected back-button behaviour.

This engine might deliver very good results – actually my first impression is quite positive-, but I’m afraid that with the current user interface a lot of people will never find out. I have two words of advice for the creators: “Usability Testing”

Talking the blue underlined link talk. Again.

Do we make links blue and underlined? What do we do with the visited links. And do we have to take Jacob Nielsen litterally?

Of course we do not. Nielsen already quit claiming blue underlined links as the only right way some time ago, but some of the designers Cameron Moll has asked about their views still act as if Nielsen wishes to limit their artistic freedom.

A lot of familiar arguments, and some subtle remarks as well. Interesting though nothing revolutionary.
CollyLogic: Question Time: Visited Links

Integrating parts of user experience

Peter Morville – co-author of the ‘Polar Bear book’ Information Architecture for the WWW- has broadened his vision and has also come to the conclusion that not a single part of the user experience can be seen seperate from the others, but he views it from the user point of view.

He calls it the honeycomb in which the Useful, Usable, Desirable, Findable, Accessible, Credible together lead to something Valuable.

It is this kind of meta-vision that professionals in the field of user experience need and that make our work a bit more understandable towards customers and co-workers in the business.

For me it was as revealing as was reading The Elements of User Experience. It is the Diagram that integrated the seperate pieces of our profession into one, and it is this beehive diagram that takes it all into the subjective realm of what the user experiences. Very useful and interesting!