The Universe of Discourse

Sat, 27 Feb 2021

Fuckin' user interface design, I swear

I'm so old I can remember when forms were introducted to the web; as you can imagine it was a big advance. The initial spec included the usual text boxes, radio buttons, and so forth, two types of “submit” buttons, and a “reset” button. Clicking “reset” would reset the form contents to a defined initial state, normally empty.

So you'd have a bunch of form widgets, and then, at the bottom, a Submit button, and next to it, a Reset button.

Even as an innocent youth, I realized this was a bad design. It is just setting people up for failure. They might get the form all filled out, be about to submit it, but click a few pixels off, hit the Reset button by mistake, and have to start all over again.

Obviously, the Submit button should be over on the left, just under the main form, where the user will visit it in due course after dealing with the other widgets, and the Reset button should be way over on the right, where it is less likely to be hit by accident.

(Or, more likely, it shouldn't be anywhere; in most cases it is nothing but an attractive nuisance. How often does someone need to reset the form anyway? How badly would they have to screw it up to decide that it would be quicker to start over than to simply correct their errors?)

Does my “obviously” come across as superior and condescending? Honestly, it comes from a place of humility. My thinking is like this:

  • The field of user inteface design is skilled work
  • I have no training or experience in this field
  • Also, I have no talent in design generally (Just look at this page!)
  • Experience has proved that I am very stupid about this whole area
  • But this particular problem is apparent even to a blockhead like me
  • So it must be extremely obvious

But maybe I'm not giving myself enough credit. I said “obviously” but it sure wasn't obvious to many people at the time. I remember 90% of the forms I encountered having that Reset button at the bottom, at least into the late 1990s.

A still from _The Simpsons_, showing
the sushi chef's instruction book, open to the page about “FUGU”.  A
surly purple fish is depicted.  Several large sections are marked off
with dotted lines and labeled with skulls.  Only one narrow sliver
lacks a skull-and-crossbones.

And it's on my mind because my co-workers had a discussion about it at work last week: don't put the Cancel button right next to the Submit button. If this was obvious to dumbass me in 1994, why isn't it common knowledge by now?

Don't put the Yes button right next to the No button. That encourages mistakes. Obviously.

Don't put the commonly-used "close this window" keyboard shortcut right next to the infrequently-used and irreversible "quit this application" shortcut. In particular, don't put "close this window" on control-W and "quit this application" on control-Q. I'm looking at you, Firefox.

And that brings me to my real point. Can we talk about Google Meet?

These three buttons are at the bottom of the Google Meet videoconferencing app. The left one temporarily mutes and unmutes the microphone. The right one controls the camera similarly.

Three circular
red-and-white buttons, one with an icon of a microphone, one with an
icon of a hanging-up telephone handset, and one with an icon of a
video camera.

And if you click the button in between, you immediately leave the meeting and quit the app.

Now, as I said I'm pretty damn stupid when it comes to design, but geez, louise. Couldn't Google find someone less stupid than me?

[ Addendum 20210228: Google fucks up again. ]

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