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    Leaving aside the issue of accessibility for a second, there’s an interesting dynamic between design, learning, and market. Decades ago, Microsoft did a lot of research that fed into the development of Windows95’s UI. The start menu, I think, was a direct result of asking people at nursing homes to write a note. They found that, when confronted with the UI, people had no idea what to do. When they put a big start menu at the bottom of the screen, it gave them enough of a hint to nav to notepad.

    Apple, Google and a few of the other ubiquitous players in UX have been slowly conditioning us to learn to discover their interfaces. Apple, in particular, seems to value aesthetics over direct discovery. It works as long as people are ok with the software, and the brand has value. Not everyone will take the ride, however.

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      As bad as lone icons are, they’re way better than the next evolution in UI, implicit gestures. It used to be just Apple and a few incompetent app developers (e.g. Snapchat), but now even Google is moving to implicit gestures in Android… :sigh:

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        Implicit gestures can be fine as shortcuts or advanced functionality for power users who will go out of their way to learn them.

        Apple does this a lot in iOS.

        • 3D touch on apps or notifications for “quick actions”.
        • Swiping from the left of the screen instead of pressing “Back” in the upper left.
        • Swiping left and right on the “home bar” (not sure what they call it) in the newer home-buttonless iPhones to switch apps quickly.

        However I agree that they’re terrible as a primary form of navigation or functionality like in Snapchat.

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          SnapChat is sorta known for being obtuse. I had to learn a bunch of features from friends on the app. Maybe it was a way to keep the uncool people out.

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            Maybe it was a way to keep the uncool people out

            When building social apps for kids, that’s definitely a big part of it.

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            iOS’s implicit gestures at least mostly consistent (e.g. 3D touch acts like a ‘right click’).

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          Icons are pictograms. They’re modern day hieroglyphics. They’re poor at conveying meaning and are easy to misunderstand, or are simply unrecognisable.

          Every washing machine in I’ve come across in Europe. They’re unfathomable. The consequences of guessing wrong might be ruined clothes. I get that there are a lot of languages in Europe, but the manufacturers of these devices have spectacularly failed to find an iconography that makes any sense. It would have been far easier for me to use a washing machine with everything printed in Norwegian because at least I can type that into my phone or scan it with Google Translate!

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            Those icons on clothing tags are functionally useless! I know that you want to sell your clothing in multiple countries, but it can’t be hard to add even abbreviated labels for each icon.

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              While impossible to decipher for someone unfamiliar with them, you only have to look them up once - the same system is used across all clothing lines and labels (at least in Denmark), so you quickly get the hang of it.

              I think this particular issue is different from what the article mentions, as these icons were not chosen to convey context but rather defined at some point to be easily distinguishable from each other, and then people just had to learn to recognize them.

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                I am not sure if they’re so different - they’re both icons people don’t recognize because there aren’t additional affordances for understanding their function. The users described in this article could have looked up how to use the app on the Google help pages too, though they’re hard to find and use.

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                  I think a better analogy is “basic” icons like the disk icon (for save), the round circle with a line (shut down), etc. Kids these days have never seen a floppy disk nor do they know it’s a storage medium, but they still know it’s meant for saving things because it’s used everywhere. The shutdown icon does not seem intuitive to me, but because it’s used across operating systems and hardware, people learn what it means.

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            No screenshots? I’m curious what the tablet gmail interface would look like before and after replacing icons with “write an email” and “send an email”.

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              Knowing what I know about how Google works (I work in Google Apps), what the UX testers did was probably sample a few dozen people. I bet no more than 5% of people could not successfully create and send an email. When Googlers see numbers like this, we tend to ignore them, instead of trying to figure out why that is and fixing them. It’s tyranny of the majority applied to every change. If you’re in a small minority, the company won’t cater to you. It’s justified and it’s not.

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                It’s not just that.

                Someone who’s in a usability study is going to try to complete the task. After all, they know the tasks assigned to them are in possible, and they know that if they mess up nothing of value will be lost. Someone who’s on their own is much more likely to give up, either because they don’t know it’s possible to begin with, or because they’re afraid of losing their own data.

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                  That is a good point. Usability studies have structural bias that hides just how invisible UI elements can be.

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              I - who has been programming computers for a solid 17 years now - found myself wondering how to use gmail and facebook messenger on tablets. Now, of course, I know what the paper airplane means, but the first few times I saw it, 1) I didn’t even realize it was a UI element and 2) didn’t connect it was supposed to mean “send”. And it doesn’t help when there’s lag and even trying to press it doesn’t necessarily do anything…

              (But, when I tell people that I don’t know how to use their smartphones and they should ask someone else, they never believe me. I know how to use Slackware Linux, not the iPhone! Slackware at least speaks my language lol)

              I’d much prefer buttons that look like buttons, distinct from the background, with a nice word label.

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                About the flag thing - I rarely if ever see the US flag used to denote the English language. I do, however, often see the Union Jack taking that role. That kinda always made sense to me.

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                  Insert note about Gaelic languages here.

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                  It’s a fascinating aside about road signs. It might be worth mentioning that car manuals have translations for every symbol on the dash.

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                    I recently got a diving computer and I was amazed by how thorough the documentation is. It really goes into detail what every icon/iconset is, what every number represents, what values in can take and if it ascending or descending (including the fact that it will stop counting dive time at 999 minutes, even if the computer is just built for non-tech diving ;)). It graphs out all the modes the UI can be in and what the next mode will be if you tap the mode switch button.

                    I was a little confused about that until I figured one thing: you don’t want anything unexpected to show up on your screen in a situation where the main cause of death is panic.