What is the value of unused UI elements?

On any app or webpage there is a number of functionalities put into the interface. The call for your attention sending you signals or offering you ways to interact. I know that as a web-developer, working with the front-end side of websites. Every component, every functionality I put to the sites I have a role in, I think user interface and user experience into them – for instance:

  • What will this element give to the user?
  • Will the user understand the element?
  • Will the user use the element?
  • Is it noise..? (to the user)
  • ….

An example: Facebook location information on posts

Yesterday I went on a great trip to the Northern part of Denmark. I shared an image of my daughter eating a burger. As the great “sharer” I am I ofcause wrote a text to follow the image and I tagged the location in which I bought the brilliant burger. The post then recieved a comment asking where this great restaurant was located… #fail!

The post allready stated the location, so why did this friend of mine ask about the location to find the restaurant? There are many possible explanations to it, but I will not try go guess why, only conclude:

The interface of the Facebook location information did not succeded to deliver it’s message.

As I said: It is a fail, and it is not up to me to resolve that issue of the Facebook posts location information.

Facebook posts is a complex interface

Let me pare of share the above post from Facebook.

I found 15 elements in Facebook post

I did a non scientific look at Facebook posts and I found 15 elements. This is an image being shared. Anyway, let me run through each of the 15 elements, giving my humble  opinions:

1. The image: Well a picture says more that 1000 words, so no extra understanding with the visitor is required.

2. The image of the writer:
 Again, this one will in milliseconds be decoded and understood by the visitor.

3. The name of the writer:
 Fair – who is this guy? Most people I guess will read it, ie: It is useful info.

4. How old is this post?
This post is 11 hours old. Relevant info, and I guess than in an intense communication channel like Facebook, it can be a nice to know information. I love that it is a relative time specification, which I have also pushed to a customer website. A date some time is just annoying — “2012.02.01 10.23.01” you may find on some sites as the date for a piece of information, but, hmm… I would prefer to be informed visually that the information is “more than 3 years” old. The datestamp is important, but in most cases (for news) it is more relevant to know the “relative date”, ie. the age.

5. Share with…
This is perhaps more a editor element: Who do you want to share this post with?. Is it working? Are people using it? Well, I for one only use it seldom. It is a great usefull feature, if you understand it and you have the need to post to different target groups. Since it is very litle I will accept it.. sort of :-)

6. Close button
We need it, even if (power) users will understand that pressing “Escape” will close the currently open post. Keyboard short-cuts is a big part of my life and they do not harm anyone, but will users understand to use them? That is another subject.

7. “together with…”
It is not fair I must admit, my image is in Danish, but number 7 is the “together with” information which stats who was together with me as I posted the information. I think that on a social media like Facebook it is an important piece of information. It extends the relevance and state on the post if someone I know were related to this event. Would a thumb of the people related to this post be a better choice? 

8. “where” – aka location information
This one was the one which actually give birth to this blog post. It is a great meta data information, to the viewer and to me (in about 6 month or so). It is placed in an important place, just below the (number 9) description. It should be an important place, but many people simply do not see it. Many people also fail to enrich their posts with it. I find the “where” an important piece of information with great value – it is part of the “What, Who, Where?” information that is connected to almost any piece of information.

Why do people not use it? I suggest that it is because of the “bandwide” it requires from both the sender and the receiver of pieces of information. The brain is constantly receiving data through all of its senses, so of cause it is trying to optimize that process. If that is true, then perhaps the brain do not value the location information high? Well, in the post I send, it is not true. Actually the information was required by one of the post readers. He actually spent time commenting on the post, asking “Where was this burger found?”. If this person wanted to know that, he could simply have looked (and clicked) on the “where” information.

Did his not know? Well, he wrote that now he sees (and last night he missed it). So in this case he says that he knew of the UI component (the “where” link/information). However he missed it anyway. Fail again, but was it the fail of the UI component or was it because the person was tired? “..last night he missed it..”. Cant tell, but he did not fail to understand that my daughter was eating a (great looking) burger. The image did not fail to deliver pieces of information.

I actually spoke with him, and he said that he also had thought about the situation. It turns out that it may have been a “lost in translation” situation. The Danish translation did not trigger that he find the piece of information.

9. Description
Here the sender can share written information with the reader, and well share thoughts which can improve the understanding of the overall message of the post. Guess that this is a very important part of the overall message of the post.

10. “Tag the image”
I find that many of the people I know do not understand the basics of “tagging”. I try to always tag my images. If many people do not understand the tagging concept, this UI element also fails. It demands also that the tagging person spends or puts time into the post. It is one of those examples where I think that the feature definitely is important (being part of the  “What, Who, Where?”).

11. “Edit”
As with “tag the image” many people do not use this (you can see revisions of posts if an edit is applied, and I have never seen it — perhaps because it is not easy to see when a revision exists?). I however use it to correct my posts.

The rest…
As this is not a scientific post, I will stop here… 

My conclusion..

I think that such a blog post is filled with UI elements, many of which fails for most people. I do not want Facebook to change anything, I only want to point out that working with user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) is a hard task. It is also interesting, as any other task which can be a success and a failure.

I suggest that you discuss and test any (new) part of your interface. Understand who you are communicating to and interacting with. Try (at least) to understand the nature of the target of your information, if not doing real life tests with a number of actual test persons from the targeted group.

As a consultant it actually gets even more complex, as you are serving the sender of information. You do not always have a role of decision in the implementing of UI and UX. You are asked, but your answers are only inputs to the decisions.

My experience is also that being a front-end developer you are (normally) allowed to speak, but you should not expect that your arguments are heard. Heard by the customer and even people other places in your organization. I have many times been forced to implement stupid (IMHO) patterns because a project leader believed my suggestion to be not correct (it may actually not have been correct).

And finally let me try to finish up. The value of a UI element, what is it?

  • Is it because it actually is something which is a must have for the communication process of a message to work?
  • Is it because thousand of dollars have been invested in it? (and therefor must be used, no matter its value to the user).
  • Is it the joy of the visitor when using the element?
  • Is it joy of the sales department when the UI converts to more sold products?

I hope that you somehow find yourself inspired by this post. Please do write a comment, as comments are welcome.


Leave a Reply