The devil's in the details software updates

Here's a recap of a significant chunk of my last three months:

Software: Hey! Do you wanna update me!? It's important to keep your software up-to-date...


Me: Sure. But let's do it quickly so I can get back to work.

Software: Cool... I'm all done and just so you know I totally don't work anymore.

Me: Sounds good. ... Wait, what??

So that was fun. But I learned and re-learned some lessons in the process:

  • Test updates before installing them on important systems.
    I know, in the abstract, that this is a good idea. It's been a while since I've had to worry about it, and this is my first experience getting burned.
     
  • Always back-up before updates.
    No excuses from me on this one... just me being an idiot.
     
  • Have a plan for what happens if you need to nuke the entire thing and start over.
    After spending a lot of time trying alternatives, a fresh install was my solution. Fortunately, I was able to save all my data.

While those points are important, I think the most important reminder was this: things don't always go as planned and it's important to stay calm, keep it together, and keep moving.

Favors and "Oh no...." moments

1) Do a stranger a favor and place the Delete button far away from the Send button.

If I'm trying to delete something, it's expressly because I don't want to send it. Why put those two buttons next to each other? That's a slip just waiting to happen.

Screen grabs from two Android apps
What's Your Type Main Screen Grab

Here's how I've been thinking of it, recently: People often use software while drinking; when they can, designers should do a favor for a drunk stranger.

If I see someone having a good time at a bar, wearing a loose scarf, and hovering precariously over a tealight candle, I'll move the candle[1]... just to do a drunk stranger a favor. It's the sort of thoughtfulness that holds society together.

In this particular case, let's say that the Delete key is a scarf and the Send key is an open flame... do a drunk stranger a favor and put them far away from each other.

Screen grabs from Google Messenger
What's Your Type Main Screen Grab

I bring this up because it happened to me recently. I was editing a message to a friend and accidentally hit Send instead of Delete. (Not drinking, just rushing and clumsy.)

I immediately released my error, though, which brings me to point number two.

2) Give people a chance to undo that terrible thing they've just done.

After hitting send I immediately started mumbling "no no no no no no no no..." while searching for an undo option. Or an edit option. Or a delete option.

It's a special sort of sad when you realize you can't unsend an accidental message.

Luckily the message was nonsensical -- not offensive or otherwise damaging. Still, it's an unnecessary bit of frustration that's avoided by a) placing the Delete and Send keys far away from each other and b) giving users an option to undo that terrible thing they've just done.

All of which is to say: I need to add better undo functionality to What's Your Type. (Glass houses and whatnot.)

Sort Interface

After contemplating a number of sort interfaces, I decided to test two: a drop and drag option (similar to how you might re-order a shopping list) and an option where users adjust a series of drop-down boxes (like something you might see in Excel).

Two What's Your Type sort options
What's Your Type Main Screen Grab
The plan is to show both to users and see which one seems better for them.

It's also worth noting that I switched from Inkscape to Balsamiq for wireframing. I'm still learning the software, but I can already feel the difference. Balsamiq came highly recommended and it's wonderful.

Myers Briggs Test

Creating an in-app test has been a tough process, but I think the work will be worth it.


First, I wanted to make sure my test was quick.

I've been showing the app to friends, adding their types to the program, and informally watching them poke around in the software. People who don't know their type are often curious, and that curiosity most often happens incidentally... in the flow of the moment and conversation: at a party, at a restaurant, walking from the train to the ballpark. In those moments, it would be disruptive to break the conversational flow and have someone silently take a 10 minute test.

The point of the software should be facilitating conversation, not grinding it to a halt or exiling someone to a corner to take a pop quiz.

My solution was putting the options right in front of users, with a quick description, and letting them choose. Or, better yet, the person with the app can read them aloud.

Two examples from the What's Your Type test
The example on the right is a "last chance" that encourages the user to make a choice

What's Your Type Main Screen Grab
Users have 3 chances to make a choice for each of the 4 slots, so the question count can be as small as 4 and has a ceiling of 12. The last of the three chances always encourages people to go with their gut and just choose something. [See the example on the right in the above image.]

If someone wants to take a longer test, they can always do so once they're at home; in this moment, the focus is the conversation and interaction going on in real life, not on screen.


Second, I wanted to pay close attention to each statement/question's wording; I've seen many Myers Briggs tests ask the wrong thing. For example, a test might ask a user if they agree with the following statement:

"It's important to have a solid plan."

With a statement like that, you'll find out what a user values, not how they act: Yes. I see the importance of solid plans.

A better option might be:

"I often take the time to develop solid plans."

Now you have a chance to capture whether or not the user actually develops solid plans, regardless of how they value it.

Another example, which comes from the current iteration of my test, gets at the importance of setting context:

"My personal calendar tells me where to be."

Initially the statement read, "My calendar tells me where to be." When I casually asked a friend how she related to the statement, she responded, "well it depends... are we talking about my work calendar or my personal calendar?"

This is a great point: there's a huge difference in how some people would approach a work calendar and a personal calendar. Or, a question about a party feels very different if the user is thinking of a 6 person dinner party or a 50 person birthday party.

I've been trying to identify and fix as many of those issues as I can, but many of them will stay hidden until I watch other people take the test.


Between completion speed, question wording, and creating something that stays true to Myers Briggs, this test has not been an easy test to create. It has been fun, though, and I'm looking forward to refining the questions more as I take them to users.

What's Next

I'd hoped to get in front of users and test these designs in Q3, but life doesn't always work out the way you want it to. (Especially when you have a day job and a lot of hobbies.) For Q4, though, my main concern is getting the designs in front of people to figure out what works and what needs work.

  • Test designs with users
  • Some infrastructure maintenance


  1. Or I might tell a staff member, or otherwise neutralize the danger... but the general point remains. ↩︎