Monday, 30 March 2015

Don't kill good behaviours

Just recently, an update to GMail totally threw me when it subtly changed the way it did something that I use many, many times a day. Although this change probably seemed trivial to the team at Google, it really has been a pain in the neck for me.

Changing the user experience for a popular piece of software is a difficult tightrope to walk. Too little change and you stifle progress whilst changing it too much risks loosing or annoying the user base.

So what caught me out? I get a notification of what has changed in my groups as a top level entry in my inbox. I found this useful since I could simply go to the group, see what has changed and read the items that were of interest at that moment. I return to my inbox and the notification would be removed - happy days.

The update has subtly changed this. Now, it seems to want me to read ALL of the items the notification is related to. If I don't then the notification remains at the top of my inbox until I have viewed everything it relates to or I simply dismiss the notification by swiping it to the left.

This is a tiny change in all reality, it could even be a mistake but I find this change in behaviour very annoying since it requires more action from me. I imagined how this might have been recorded:

Given 1 or more groups have been configured
When the user enters their inbox
Then a notifications is displayed for each group that has new mail
  And the notifications are at the top of the inbox
  And the notifications are ordered descending by the amount of new mail in the group

It has long been my contention that the words we use in scenarios are often a bit sloppy. In this case you could easily interpret this in 2 ways, which revolves around how we interpret a 'new' mail item. Is a mail item new if it has never been opened or when it has been seen via clicking on a notification?

By not really explaining what 'new' means we may have killed existing behaviour by simply misinterpreting what the original intention was. In this case the word 'new' is not clear as it is open to interpretation.

A good practice is to think how this could be interpreted in the future. Would this be exactly the same as now? If there is any doubt, then deliberating over the words used is a good use of time. The emphasis should be on the author to think about this rather than make the assumption that the reader will interpret correctly.

It is worth thinking about what you know and they don't - the conversation for my scenario may well have included what 'new' meant or it could have been well established by that specific team. Since it completely missing from the scenario, we will never know.

As the author we have access to the whole context of the conversation, so the odd word here or there does not appear to matter. If we take a step back and put ourselves in the place of our intended audience we can often see assumptions we have made and save them a lot of time and effort in the future.

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