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Episode #93 Interesting Moments with Bill Scott

February 23, 2010  ·  31 minutes

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Bill Scott chats with Jared Spool about rich interactions, his new book about them, and his deep history with them at Sabre, Yahoo! and now Netflix. Bill is one of the stellar presenters scheduled for all four cities on the UIE Web App Masters Tour.

Show Notes

If you're using advanced, or "rich" interactions in your web applications, then it's likely you have Bill Scott and Theresa Neil's Designing Web Interfaces on your desk, if not your bedstand. Published in 2009, it is perhaps the definitive tome on rich interactive design patterns for the web. Bill has dedicated a significant portion of his career to dissecting such interactions, creating the Rico JavaScript library, curating the Yahoo! Pattern Library and now overseeing UI engineering at Netflix—one of the first companies you think of when you think of Ajax-y web interfaces.

It's hard for us to picture talking about web apps without talking about Bill and his research into design patterns. His new book is full of examples where he slows down time to explore each micro-stage of an interaction. Our Jared Spool got together with Bill to discuss his ideas about the nuances of Interesting Moments.

Jared and Bill discussed,

  • Bill's experience of aggregating successful interactions in the Rico JavaScript and Yahoo Patterns Libraries
  • How his challenges at work lead to him writing Designing Web Interfaces
  • How his interface research lead to better ways to capture interactions for documents and prototypes.
  • Dancing Hamsters
  • …and more

Bill speaks about both patterns—successful interaction models for common interactions—and anti-patterns. By showing what not to do, anti-patterns often provide insight on the right way to do something.

A good example [of an anti-pattern is from] the old Yahoo Photos site[…] dragging several photos into an album, there's no indication that the photos actually dropped into the album folder, and there's no feedback that says, "Oh, there was three, but now there's six items in the folder." The designers had dropped in two extra "idiot boxes", which is a great anti-pattern. The first idiot box says, "Do you really want me to drop these items into the folder that you so carefully managed to use your mouse dexterity to get to?" Not quite that message, but that's gist of it. Then there's another pop-up that says, "Hey! Guess what? We did what we said we would do. We actually put those items in the folder." It's sort of, as Alan Cooper calls it, "stopping the proceedings with idiocy." The missed moments were just those little, subtle feedbacks that could have been done, instead of the hammer approach, by having those boxes pop up and interrupt the user.

The take away for our work is that this interaction was backwards. It gave no indication that you were doing something successfully while you were doing it, and then penalized your time after completion with dialog boxes to confirm your success: "You did it!" After dismissing the dialog, you were left with an interface that didn't reflect any of your changes.

By adding clues that the move was happening during the action, and then reflecting the changes with interface cues afterwards, we can make the experience smoother while avoiding "idiot boxes" altogether. (This interaction is detailed in chapter 5, "Overlays" of Designing Web Interfaces)