Don’t Fear the Button

I’m afraid to push a button.
User interface design is something I care about. I am a developer, which practically makes me a power user by default. And yet I still come across boneheaded design in commonly used applications. Design that would make computers less accessible to the general public. Worse, in places that didn’t previously have these issues.

Latest: Youtube on a desktop browser. Drag the playhead to sometime later in the timeline. If it’s not loaded yet – tough cookies! It will only work on the section that’s loaded. Worse – it changes the “scale” of the playhead to only show what’s loaded, but *only while you are holding the playhead.* Absolutely no semblance of user expectation.

Why is this suddenly too difficult for YouTube to manage? I know a year ago I could easily have just skipped right to where I wanted to be, and simply wait for the data to download starting at the new location. As a developer, I can imagine why this choice was made. Perhaps the data format is not well suited for seeking. Is a “please wait” indicator too much to ask? Then the playhead scale will stay consistent. The user will have an understanding of where things stand. Instead, somewhere inside Google, a bunch of extra code was written to support this “seek only within loaded area” code, with special cases for the display and input system. Someone had to deliberately break the user’s trust.

Okay, fine, I can’t move the playhead to the actual intended target. There is another button, with the tooltip “watch later.” Maybe that will download it in the background so I can close the page and return. Oops! Nope, that means??? well, I’m not exactly sure. Some menu shows up on the left side of the browser and there is no indication of how it relates to the action I’ve requested – “watch later.”

That’s not what I wanted it to do. But I’m afraid that if I push the button again to “undo” whatever I just did, maybe the page will reload and I’ll have to wait for the whole thing to reload all over again. At this point there is no trust between me and the application that it will do anything that I expect it to.

We must always keep a watchful eye on our designs, whether they be games, websites, or applications. Every “feature” needs to be examined through the lens of the intended audience for clarity, not confusion. This is an ongoing battle that has been fought for many years, and will be for many years to come.
Let’s not forget it!