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Design Diary

In spite of the evolution of User Centered Design, there are many issues that users face on a day to day basis where their problems are unattended. As a part of the INF382C course at The University of Texas at Austin, we recognize few of those design issues, apply certain principles/techniques from the maestros of HCI and provide better alternate solutions. The solutions provided had limitless imagination and 

1. Facetime Audio Group Calls

The Issue

Facetime is a service from Apple Inc. to do audio and video calls with your contacts. A user can either place an audio or a video call. Facetime is limited to users who have an Apple device. Facetime allows you to talk to multiple people at the same time. When you make a facetime audio call and you would like to add another contact to make it a group facetime audio call, it is not possible until you cut the call and make a group video call and then turn off the camera to make it into audio. When making a facetime audio call, a user should be able to add another Apple device user onto the facetime call without having to close the call. When observed, it violates Nielsen Norman usability principles. Nielsen Norman devised general principles to perform heuristic evaluation on user interfaces in independent walkthroughs and report issues. Facetime violates several principles. As we read ahead, we would analyze which principles were violated and suggest how could we improve the design.

Facetime audio call

Facetime audio group call

Adding contacts to calls

Nielsen Norman’s Heuristic Principles

Nielsen Norman with Molich in 1990 released an influential journal in the domain of user centered design. These principles are now a template for evaluating user interfaces to uncover any problems. There are 10 essential principles like Visibility of system status, Match between system and the real world, User control and freedom, Consistency and standards, Error prevention, Recognition rather than recall, Flexibility and efficiency of use, Aesthetic and minimalist design, Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors, Help and Documentation. We will touch on only certain principles where Apple violates them in facetime audio calls. Consistency and standards means that the system should maintain consistency and design standards so that the user should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing.

Apple does not maintain the standard format of adding contacts to group calls directly, but instead forces users to cut the call, make a group call separately. It also violates Flexibility and Efficiency of use. The user is made to do unnecessary number of extra steps and puts pressure and burden on the user.

Alternate Solution or fix

From the current solution, when you click on add call the system allows you to add contacts to the call but converts the call from facetime audio to a normal carrier based call. If we use the Markus-Maver model of design as refinement which is a defined as a process of continuous Analysis >Synthesis>Appraisal>Decision, Apple can use this principle and use the same button and make it into a group audio call instead of converting into a carrier based call or making the user cut the existing call, make a group video call and then making the users turn off the video.

2. Apple Pencil 1st Generation

The Issue

Steve Jobs always hated the stylus. During the launch of the first iPhone, Steve Jobs quoted, “Stylus! We have to get them and put them inside and lose them away!! YUCK!!”. Four years after the death of Steve Jobs, Apple announced the firsts generation Apple pencil alongside their first generation iPad Pro.


Apple went against their very own principles. The Apple Pencil is designed for users who would want to take down notes, draw and paint artistic designs on the iPad. The first generation Apple pencil can only be charged by connecting the entire pencil to the ipad. The ipad now cannot be used and it is bad design in many ways.

If we observe Gulliksen et al’s 12 principles of UCD. One of the few principles which the Apple pencil when connected to iPad violates is “Simple design representations” – the design must be represented in such ways that it can be easily understood by users and all stakeholders. This design is complex and is difficult for users. When the Apple Pencil is connected to the iPad for charging, the pencil sticks out from one end and becomes difficult for users.

Apple iPad connected to pencil

Redesigned Apple iPad connected to pencil

Alternate Solution or fix

We could potentially solve this issue by using the cap of the ipad to charge instead of having the entire pencil to charge. By applying the same principle of Gulliksen et al of using Simple design representations, we could use the cap to as a mobile way to charge the Apple pencil. This way of charging can be useful for users as they can either plug into their laptop or the ipad for charging as seen in the above figure. If the users loose the charging cap, Apple can resell them to the users as an accessory and sell them to customers and make a profit out of it.

3. Water taps

Water taps are supposed to be simple for its operations. They are generally two taps in bathrooms. Taps have generally have multiple types of designs. There could be either a single tap which could flow both hot and cold water by turning left for hot and turning right for cold water. Some taps could be rotated or turned left side for hot water and marking in red or a letter H and marking blue or letter C for cold water as shown in in the below figure.

Water taps at my home

The Issue

In the above figure, the water taps all look alike. There are no indicators as to what action each tap does. The other ambiguity is that there are three taps instead of two taps which also seems rarely odd. While the general design of taps is to rotate left or anti clockwise for hot water and rotate right or clockwise for cold water, this does not do so. To operate, you would have to turn all the taps clockwise or rotate right to operate as shown in the above figure. This is very confusing to a normal human. If we take into consideration Hedge’s definition on the standards for design, the taps above violate multiple principles.

Alan Hedge’s Principles for design to avoid exasperating users

Hedge’s 10 principles state about how to avoid inadequate designs which that “Clearly define the system goals and identify potential undesirable system states” and“Do not provide the user with false, misleading, or incomplete information at any time”. The principle stated above clearly means it is crucial to have the end goal to be performed clearly understandable for the users. As the taps in the above figure, do not mention or have any identifiers that tell how to perform the systerm goals, it clearly violates the rules.

Alternate Solution or fix

In the figure with the taps in my home, the water taps all look alike. There are no indicators as to what action each tap does. To solve our problem, we can consider Wickens’ Human Information Processing model. Wickens describes a qualitative model of human information processing that incorporates stages which are used to perceive sensations, transform data and choose action as shown below.

Human Information Processing
– adapted from Wickens (1992)

By observing this model, humans should not require to apply selective attention and should use the situation awareness from the long term memory and should be able to operate the taps easily. The solution to given problem for the current taps would be for the taps to rotate left for hot water taps, right for the cold water taps and have clear indicators which would be hot and which would be cold as shown below.


Alternate solution to the home water taps

4. Google Maps

The Issue

Google Maps is an application used for navigating from one place to the desired destination with real time updates on your current location. It also has multiple features such as options to navigate through vehicle, walking and public transport. Google Maps is widely used by a variety of people like general public who travel day to day in their cars, cab drivers, etc. Google Maps shows a tracking pin on the map to show where you currently are as shown in the figure below.

Water taps at my home

We have a lot of highways/speedways/interstate roads and navigate them to get to different places like city to city through these roads since these roads connect different regions and can travel in less time. These highways usually have a lot of complex road connections, exits and turns which is difficult to navigate using Google Maps as shown in below.

Due to this, users/drivers have a hard time navigating through these highways and often times miss the exits as they are not notified which lane they are supposed to be in or the turn to be taken is notified too late. The current lane navigation system in Google maps shows which lane you are supposed to be in the interstate highways as shown in the figure below. When a human is driving, he would require at most attention. With the number of lanes, number of high speed cars and attention on many other such factors, the user may miss out on which lane the driver is supposed to be in.

Norman’s Seven Stage of User’s Activities

Donald Norman in his book, “The Design of everyday things” has stated that there is seven stages of actions that refer to the way a user interacts with new objects. By using the seven stages of action, people are trying to figure out how things work, and if it worked when they used it. The seven stages of action are: goal, plan, specify, perform, perceive, interpret, compare. These steps carry the user across the gulfs of both execution and evaluation.

The first stage, “goal,” sets the standard that will be used later to determine if the action was successful. The next three stages (plan, specify, perform) bridge the Gulf of Execution, while the final three stages (perceive, interpret, compare) bridge the Gulf of Evaluation.

Don Norman's Seven Stages of user activities

The first stage, “goal,” sets the standard that will be used later to determine if the action was successful. The next three stages (plan, specify, perform) bridge the Gulf of Execution, while the final three stages (perceive, interpret, compare) bridge the Gulf of Evaluation. If we apply this to the issue with Google Maps, the seven stages of action is that the driver or user is driving straight and observing the map, only requiring thought when something novel comes up, like turns and construction blocking a particular road. Where a driver might think “I need to turn left,” a driver would think “I need to slow down, check my mirrors, check for oncoming traffic, and check which lane I am supposed to be” but since there is no alert or an attention to the driver that he needs to switch lanes and move towards the exit, the driver misses the turn.

Alternate Solution or fix

The solution to this problem would be to alert the user. The user who is the driver of the vehicle can request for alerts and when the user would need to change the lanes, they would be alerted. The driver can then slow down his vehicle and switch lanes accordingly as shown in the below figure Post the driver switches lanes, the drive can exit the highways without missing any turns and landing into any trouble.

Google Maps alternate solution

5. WhatsApp Data Transfer

The Issue


WhatsApp is a cross platform instant messaging application which helps users communicate with each other by sending text messages, audio messages, by audio or video calls and share images and files. WhatsApp has over 2 billion active users worldwide. Since WhatsApp is a cross-platform application, they have users on both iOS and Android mobile operating systems.

If a user is on an Android OS and wants to switch phones and come to the iOS or vice versa where the user is on iOS and wants to move to Android OS, the user would not be able to migrate his WhatsApp chat history data from one OS to another. WhatsApp lets users to backup their chat on cloud but there is a catch. Android users can only backup their chat history to Google Drive and iOS users can only backup their chat to iCloud. The chat history cannot be shifted from one cloud service to the other. Thus as an effect of this, if a user changes their phone from one OS to the OS, they loose on all they chat history.

Resistance Theory

If we consider the resistance theory we have three types, User Variables, System Variables, Interaction of system with organization/users. User determined resistance deals with resistance of users with cognitive style based, personality based and human based. We have system based resistance theory which deals with badly designed interfaces, systems with limited or poor functionality and interactions which are very unpleasant and complicated. WhatsApp now lies in the intersection of both. Because of the limited functionality which causes poor interactions users are going to have a negative affinity towards Whatsapp.

Alternate Solution or fix

WhatsApp data transfer solution

WhatsApp could bring in better functionality by allowing users to switch data from one OS to the other. As shown in figure above, WhatsApp can implement the same logic like connecting your WhatsApp account to a desktop.

WhatsApp could bring in the same functionality by allowing users to switch data from one OS to the other as shown in the figure above. Currently, connection a phone with desktop is established by going to settings on WhatsApp in your phone > Linked Devices > Scan QR code which displays on the desktop app. Very similarly, a user can scan the QR code which appears on the phone the user would like to transfer to, establish connection and transfer all media, data and chat history. This way the users would not build a negative affinitiy and would not fall in the resistance theory variables.

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