Monday, January 13, 2014

These 6 systems have great usability

Mauro New Media writes with a recap of Milestones and Missteps UX/UI Design Review for 2013. While these aren't open source projects, I think it's useful to examine what is working well (and what is not) user interface designers can improve their own information products. I'll leave it to you to read the full article, but the winners included:

The Nest thermostat
An example of the "Internet of Things" ("IoT"), the Nest is a smart thermostat that determines when people are in the house, and when they are not. The Nest "learns" patterns of when you are home, and figures out how long it takes your furnace to heat up the house or the air conditioner to kick in, so that the home is ready for you when you wake up, or when you come home.
What works well: With a friendly interface, you can tell the Nest about your preferences, and the Nest takes it from there. Feeling chilly? Turn up the thermostat, and the Nest figures out your preferred temperature. You can even control the Nest via the web. "Overall it shows that a well-designed UX configuration can and does drive adoption of a new technology as compelling as IoT."
Google Chromecast
The Chromecast is a neat device. Most of us have a DVR (either one we bought or one the cable company gave us). Some have moved to new "streaming devices" such as the Roku or Apple TV. The Chromecast fits into the latter category, except it's effectively invisible. The Chromecast plugs into an HDMI slot on your HD TV, and you use your smartphone or tablet to stream content to your TV. Except the Chromecast takes things one step further; while you use the smartphone to select something to watch, you aren't actually streaming from the smartphone. Instead, the Chromecast "transitions" the stream from the smartphone to itself.
What works well: Simple setup, and easy to use. "Plug the dongle into an empty HDMI port on your TV and switch your TV to the corresponding input. Then, you go to the provided setup URL on any WiFi-connected device that you'd like to connect to your TV." After that, your smartphone or tablet effectively become a remote control for your television. No more losing the remote.
The article also covers several user interface mistakes. Topping the list is Yahoo Mail. It's so bad, only about 25% of Yahoo employees actually use it. Yahoo clearly has its usability work set out for it in 2014.