The Best of the Internets

UI Fail: How Our User Interfaces Help to Ruin Lives

This post is full of gold! Here’s a peek:

While some of the users had indeed never had much computer experience, a vast number of responses involved highly skilled, technologically-savvy individuals—often engineers themselves—who had helped build the information age but now felt themselves being left behind by Web designers who simply don’t seem to care about them at all.

While issues of privacy and security were frequently mentioned in responses, as were matters relating to fundamental service capabilities, issues and problems relating to user interfaces themselves were by far the dominant theme.

Some of these were obvious.

There is enormous, widespread frustration with the trend toward low-contrast interfaces and fonts, gray fonts on gray backgrounds and all the rest. Pretty, but unreadable to many with aging eyes (and keep in mind, visual acuity usually begins to drop by the time we’ve started our 20s).

Many respondents noted that screen magnifiers can’t help in such situations—they just end up with a big low-contrast blob rather than a small low-contrast blob.

But then we really get into the deeper nitty-gritty of UI concerns. It’s a long and painful list.

Hidden menus. Obscure interface elements (e.g., tiny upside-down arrows). Interface and menu elements that only appear if you’ve moused over a particular location on the display. Interface elements that are so small or ephemeral that they can be a challenge to click even if you still have the motor skills of youth. The list goes on and on.

One Letter at a Time: Quadriplegic Coder Looks Back at 21-year Career at Microsoft

A brief but inspiring profile of Greg Smith, a quadriplegic programmer and principal software engineer in Microsoft Research.

This bit was pretty incredible:

He puts together the skeleton of whatever section of code he’s working on that day in his mind. Then, using a camera that responds to his head movements and a mouth-controlled mouse and a metal clicker that he’s been using for 20 years, he’s able to key in the code—letter by letter. It would take too long to type out the code first and then start rearranging. So that part he does by memory.

Thriving in Unpredictability

Another great post from Tim. The sooner we recognize how little we actually control when it comes to our websites, the better we’ll be able to serve our users.

Getting a website successfully delivered to a visitor depends on a series of actions. My server must spit something out. That something must be passed over some network. That something must then be consumed by another something: some client (often a browser) on some device. Finally, the visitor views that something in whatever context they happen to be in.

There are a lot of unpredictable layers here.

See also (from this site):

Edge Conf: Notes on User Queries

The esteemed Bruce Lawson on user preferences (e.g., contrast level) and querying them via CSS (or not). User queries present some interesting possibilities, but I doubt users will want to set manually. Via a browser’s UI, however, that is interesting.

A note to Bruce: This could make for an interesting proof of concept browser extension. Interested in playing around with it?


I’m with Stuart Langridge, “progressive enhancement” (as a word) turns a lot of people off. I guess that’s partly why I named my book Adaptive Web Design. It seemed more broadly appealing to build a web that adapts to any browser (and is thereby available to everyone).


Extensible remote browser debugging via node.js. ’Nuff said.

The Ryanair Approach to Progressive Enhancement

Air travel is a great real-world analogy for progressive enhancement. Kudos to Christian for coming up with it!

Progressive enhancement is not about adding more work to your product. It is about protecting the main use case of your product and then enhance it with new functionality as it becomes available. Google is a great example of that. Turn off JavaScript and you still get a form to enter information in and you get a search result page with ads on it. This is how you find things and Google makes money. Anything else they added over time makes it more convenient for you but is not needed. It also offers them more opportunities to show you more ads and point at other services.