Sunday, November 18, 2012

Nautilus: what needs work

In the Nautilus file manager usability test, users were asked to complete a series of short scenarios. Here are the ones that caused problems:

"4. As you work on your project, you expect to go back to the folder frequently. A shortcut or bookmark to the folder would be handy, rather than having to navigate to it each time. Create a bookmark for Space Photo Project."

In the preceding scenarios, the testers were asked to create a folder, move it, and rename it. As explained in the exercises, the folder would be used in a project that collected photos from space, stored under the Pictures folder.

However, when asked to create a bookmark or shortcut to the folder, almost everyone (6) had problems. Quotes from the testers in this exercise:

  • "I'm not sure if it created the bookmark."
  • "It's not speaking to me." (Not telling me anything.)
  • "That didn't work."
  • "I'm looking for something that says 'Bookmark'." (Later commented didn't notice the Bookmarks menu.)
  • "Nothing shows up."
  • "I want to grab the address of the folder."
  • "Nothing shows up."
  • "Where did that go? I'm confused."
  • (To the computer) "Why do you not want to bookmark it?"
  • "Oops, did I do that wrong?"
  • "What about Edit - Make Link?"
  • "I don't think that did anything."
  • "Something should pop up to tell me."
  • "Nothing popped up, it didn't work."

Even though I used the same term in the scenario ("shortcut or bookmark") as in the menus ("Bookmarks"), testers were unsure what to do. The most common action was to go into the Pictures folder, highlight the project folder with a single mouse click, then select Bookmarks - Add Bookmark. When the menu action didn't do anything, testers also looked in File and Edit menus.

Two testers were eventually able to create a bookmark to the project folder. Of these, one first used the Help menu and searched for the answer - but admitted he would not have done that if he didn't know about the feature already. The other, having exhausted a number of menu actions, tried creating the bookmark from within the folder she needed to mark. And that, of course, is how you create a bookmark in Nautilus.

It seems clear that Nautilus should display a message when the user tries to create a bookmark. If the action is successful, it should note the success. If the action fails, Nautilus should explain why in simple language.

After the usability test, several testers asked how to create a bookmark, since they were unable to do this. When I explained how to create a bookmark, and why their earlier attempts to create the mark seemed to fail, they thought they could do it successfully the next time. (For those curious: selecting Bookmarks - Add Bookmark from within the Pictures folder, no matter what is highlighted, will attempt to create a bookmark for Pictures ... but Pictures is effectively bookmarked already as a default, so Nautilus doesn't take any action.)

"6. Do you remember the image that you downloaded earlier, in the web browser exercise? The filename was freedos.png, but you don't remember where you saved it. Find the freedos.png file and move it to the Pictures folder, if it is not there already."

In this scenario, testers were asked to search for a file. If I noted that they had (earlier) successfully downloaded the web image into the Pictures folder, I simply asked them to find the file.

Two of the testers opted not to use the file manager to search for the missing file, but clicked on each folder in sequence until they found the necessary file.

The other five testers used the Search button in the upper-right of Nautilus, but searching for the file was confusing for them. Quotes heard during this section:

  • "I'm not finding it."
  • "What else to search on?"
  • "Reload my search? Nothing happened!"
  • "Grrrr!"
  • "There is no general search?"
  • "Not found, huh."
  • "No option for my home."

Only two users were able to use Search successfully. Of these, one happened to click on the Search button from their home directory. The other tried changing things in the drop-down search action and eventually picked a combination that worked.

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