Everyday Usability Heuristics: Visibility Of System Status

Guest post by Ondrej Valka
Ondrej is a freelance front-end Web developer & designer, currently helping Pixmac to make its front-end bulletproof.

Two weeks ago, I was watching my 45-year old father browsing the Internet. Every time I watch him I learn a lesson in usability. I’m sure you know with situations like this one – valuable opportunities to learn from the ordinary users for whom we design.

As he is using Windows XP the very first thing he did was that he ran Firefox clicking an icon on the desktop. No response. Nothing happened so after a few seconds he clicked the icon one more time. With his eyes focused on the Firefox icon he clicked the icon again. Everything he got was three Firefox windows opened. Sounds familiar?

The moment I saw this process I realized how applications are launched at my Mac OS X. Being clicked, the Firefox icon starts jumping in the dock. It’s not just a fancy effect, but a really useful feature. Clicking an icon user gets apparent immediate response. Moreover realize what you do: anytime you want to click an element, your eyes sticks to it. You are not watching the pointer, you just use a mouse and click. The same did my father.

Application icons in the OS X Dock bounce during launch to indicate activity.

Is a small flickering sand-glass beside the pointer more apparent than a big jumping Firefox icon that user’s eyes are sticked to? Keep this in mind and try to design thoughtful user interfaces. It’s not just about applying the Nielsen’s rules.

Of course it doesn’t matter what, but it also matters how.