— 12 September 2005 —

Menu Design — Apple Mail Again

I recently upgraded to Tiger and for the most part I like the newest iteration of Apple Mail.

However, would it be too much to ask to relook at the design of the menus?

apple mail menu

Do the Increase and Decrease selections need to be one level down in the menu structure? No. The main menu isn’t long, and changing the list to read Increase Quote Level [insert difficult for the average user to understand icons here] and Decrease Quote Level [insert difficult for the average user to understand icons here] wouldn’t create a hassle for anyone.

The menu design in Apple Mail has raised my ire before. Again, this time it is more of a small annoyance than anything, but bespeaks a lack of attention to detail, or the inability of a designer or two to make a simple change (read as: they tried to get “them” to do it, but “they” just wouldn’t listen!).

Menu design is not a simple thing… too create from scratch. And in a way it is much harder to change a menu design as time goes by because you tend to get that whole crap response of, “The user’s need consistency!” Which is often the only reason given.

Actually, user’s need things to work. Now, I can see a PM saying to me, “That’s not in scope.” But honestly, how much would it take to do this? Maybe 2 hours of coding, 5 hours of testing? And if not now, when?

Which brings us to the crux of my issue: What do you or your company do when there is an opportunity to improve an interface that fall out of scope of a project? Where does that improvement get stored for future action? Does it? Or does it just get lost only to be hopefully followed through at some point when the designer can slip it in somewhere?

Finding opportunities for improvement is much like finding defects. Actually, I would call this Mail menu issue a defect. Perhaps that’s where these things need to live. But in the context of a project, I might list this as “low” which means it will never be looked at. These types of defects need a different category: Improvement. This could have it’s own priority settings of Critical, High, Medium, Low, and When We Gets Some Money.

But of course a lot of these Improvements aren’t going to be noticed by designers; they will be noticed by users. Then we have the challenge of gathering that data as well. Where, O where should we begin looking for feedback on software

The information is out there, it just takes a little leg work to do it. Design research is where it is at. Just ask the folks at About, With & For, which I will be at October 28-29 in Chicago.

So to sum up:

  • Apple needs to design even better
  • Defect tracking is for everyone
  • Give me money right now
  • Go out and do some research; improve the quality of life for those who allow you to get paid

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