Saturday, October 4, 2008

Product Analysis

Google chrome

Actually this issue is all browsers supporting tabbed browsing, but I was hoping Google Chrome would fix it (or may be it is in their todo list). Often times, I feel the need for seeing content of web-pages from multiple tabs "at the same time"... the only alternative I have at that time is to CTRL-TAB b/w the tabs which is a painful process. I feel that this problem is a generic one and could be faced by many others.

A similar feature has been implemented in editors used in UNIX... I know of at least "vim" that has this feature (:vsp  #short for vertical split). For internet browsers, my suggestion is following:

1) For each tab associate a number (I believe it is already done), that will be displayed along with the tab (new feature) so that one does not need to count to find the exact tab number (espeically if you have multiple tabs open).

2) For displaying multiple tabs together, user enters CTRL-S (lets say), then enters the tab number for all tabs that need to be displayed together and then again enters CTRL-S. To go back to individual tab display user could enter CTRL-S in the unified window again.

There are few important things to note here:
a) Zero use of mouse
b) Using same CTRL-character sequence for both starting and ending the unified display. Moreover, since 'S' key is placed very near CTRL key, it is easier to press both keys together.

Course reviews done at universities

A 'course review' is more of a process rather than a product but anyways I'll comment on this since I believe the way it is usually conducted does not fulfill its purpose. Considering that the prestige of a school is as good as the quality of education being imparted, it is of utmost importance to get the feedback process right (to be effective, any mechanical or functional system needs a feedback loop!). 

Course reviews are typically done in last class in last 5/10 mins of the course. I'd suppose this is the time, when a student is either thinking about rushing to the next class for final presentation or exam or getting back to home. The problem here is that the student's motivation in filling out the form is minimal at the time reviews are done. That needs to be fixed.

I'd suggest using _first_ 20/30 mins (lets say) of last class for review. Now, if I think of myself as a student staring at a paper for next 30 mins, however much I am disinterested in the process, I'd put at least some information there. Moreover, students who are genuinely interested in providing feedback would utilize the time to provide a more thoughtful review.

After that,  I'd suggest to have the feedback be read by a third party who reviews the comments and provides summary to the Head of the Department and the professor.

And, after all this, I'd have the summary (% of students who thought that the course contents were good and that it was well-taught) be put on course website for future students reference. Considering the amount of money that is spent on college tuition, I'd think it makes sense to provide past-students feedback of a course, so that students can then make a better decision about which course elective to take. 


IMHO Gmail's UI is an example of how UI should not be designed (it is indeed more surprising that the product is from Google known for its simplistic yet powerful UIs). 

Issue#1: Too many mouse movements

When you are logging, mouse is towards right side of the screen (that's where user/password need to be entered). However, after logging in, mouse travels towards left, as you would start going over the emails (because the sender of the email is displayed on left). Once you find email of your interest, you would click on it. If you would like to reply, you would need to travel mouse pointer to right again (i.e., 3 left-right mouse movements so far!). If you are thinking whats the big deal with this, think about people with RSI/tendonitis/Carpel Tunnel (which is BTW an increasing % of computer users).

Moreover, if you need to forward the email, it is tricky. First, you would realize quickly that there is no button on screen which says "forward". After that you'd guess that it will probably be under drop down menu under "Reply" button. Now to do this, one has to put the mouse pointer at precisely the drop down arrow and then click.  This could be cumbsersome especially for people with hand injuries with repeated use of keyoard. message boards

Oftentimes, I am looking to read the messages in a "single" page and not clicking every time for every response I am interested in which is quite a painful thing to do (and time consuming as well).

There should be a "view all" kinda option where in one single web page you can read everything.

Temperature controllers at home

Dont know about other folks but even though I am an engineer, I have not been able to figure out with much ease how to control various knobs on the thermostat - e.g., lets say I want to make sure that at night when I sleep the AC should run for only 1 hr and then shut off and then start again at 7am and then shut off an hr later - I am sure it is possible to do this just that it is not fairly obvious how to do that. On top of that when you need the product manual you wont find it! (murphy's law).

In such devices, make a slot to hold the documentation - there is no better place to shelf the documentation manual then in the product itself. Actually this can be extended to other similar products e.g., water-controller device that regulates water for backyard.

Bluetooth Car Device

Oftentimes, products miss to address the very basic problem that they are supposed to address.

I came across such a product recently - Roadmasters VR3 bluetooth speaker for cars ( I bought this from Costco for roughly $40.

One basic problem is the sound is not loud enough! (its natural to assume that with traffic and ambient noise, the volume really needs to be loud). I wonder how such basic tests are missed in product design.

Other problemI found was that LEDs are not bright enough - it is not clear whether the product is on or off.

So no matter whether the product purports voice-dialing or having a built-in DSP chip for cancelling echo, I am going to return the product to Costco and look at alternatives.