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Articles about ease of use for technical devices.

Password managers and autocomplete

Authentication Icons


Some web sites insist on as much control over our passwords as they can get. They demand that we choose hard-to-remember passwords, they spread the login over several pages, and they refuse to accept password text through autofill or even copy/paste. This is supposed to reassure us, I guess, the way that shoe removal reassures everyone at the airport.

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GUIs: Control, Conveyance, Continuity, and Context

Windows 8 Animated EvaluationI'm a sucker for basic principles distilled into pithy prescriptions.

A freelance writer, Brian Boyko, has distilled the basic features of graphical user interfaces (GUIs) into four principles: Control, Conveyance, Continuity, and Context. He uses them to structure a well-reasoned though shrill critique of Windows 8

I've just checked a few of my favorite usability resources (Don Norman, Alan Cooper's About Face, Ben Shneiderman), plus a bit of Googling, and I can't find a "recognized GUI authority" who reduces the problem to these four aspects.

Even so, I think Boyko has hit on something good. When I tried to distill a modern set of security-relevant design principles for my textbook, I had no concise statement about usable security that was backed up by extensive industry practice. In other words, there are accepted design principles for security, but not for usable security. There are a lot of principles that outline what's nice to have, but none that trump security traditions (like impossible-to-memorize passwords).

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The Five Worst User Interfaces

Call Lost - Redial?Bad user interfaces really annoy me. At best, a bad interface costs us time and effort. At worst, it can trick us into breaking something. A bad user interface is an assurance problem just waiting to happen.

Here are my nominations for the five worst user interfaces:

  • Recovering a lost phone call
  • Voicemail
  • Adding high-quality sound to a TV
  • Electronic calendars and time zones
  • Setting a watch

I've probably forgotten a few that are much more common and much, much worse. When you've lived with a bad interface for a really long time you adapt to it and forget how much trouble it causes.

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