Today, a friend of mine who I consider to be an individual of exceptional intelligence (or perhaps he just possesses an exceptional amount of common sense) came to me to ask how one were to download a story in plaintext. I was not sure myself, however, I did know that there were download links on every story's information page. I'm sure that most of you are aware what the information page for a story looks like, but here's an example:
It's not a shameless plug, really.
Now, the download links are those hard drives with a down arrow on them. This seems intuitive to me; the down arrow implies downloading, and there's even an icon next to each chapter (though in this example, there is only a single chapter). However, there is a single button at the bottom, not attached to any chapter, that will allow you to download the entire story.
It's this one!
Not true, my friend claimed. He said that he was unable to locate this button, or indeed even guess at its function. He actually tended to download individual chapters whilst reading them, using the buttons provided at the top:
You know, these ones.
I argued with him a while that, in fact, this was his failing, not the site's. I refused to believe that it was possible that our design was faulty here. After all, if I could use it, why couldn't he? I decided to get the opinion of a few non-users; that is to say, people who do not regularly use the site. They were also unable to correctly locate this button. I eventually had to accept the reality: the design was flawed.
This is one of the older parts of our UI, and as such, I actually was not the one who designed it. I believe it actually works quite well as it is right now, but it definitely needs a small tweak. After some more discussion with my friend, I decided that two things could probably make this much more intuitive to understand for the average user.
The first is that we can move the small information bar with the rating and completeness level to the top. The second is to change the color of the story download icon, to make it stand out from the other icons. This method keeps the look and feel of the current UI, does not add any additional clutter, and should make the download button stand out much more.
Here is a mockup of this design.
Another idea might be to add a much more obvious download button to the page, perhaps where the Stats and Groups button currently sit. Unfortunately, I could not come up with a place where it would comfortably sit on the page without looking very silly, so I don't have a mockup for that. Another minor change would perhaps be to collapse the two download buttons inside of chapters to one, with the same download icon as on the story's information page.
This incident reminded me that, on a site like this, UI design is never easy. It's something that needs to constantly evolve to meet the needs of the users. Everything you see on the site was designed by a highly intelligent individual with quite a bit of design experience. That's usually knighty, though occasionally it's either me or py. Whenever we design something, we tend to believe that what we're designing is usable, compact, and otherwise intuitive. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work when put into practice, as demonstrated here.
The biggest problem is that oftentimes, we just aren't aware of these sort of problems. When we ARE made aware, it often isn't just a simple fix. It took me a good hour of arguing and discussion just to arrive at a simple mockup of a potential UI change, because I was unable to move beyond my own confirmation bias. The current Favorites system took a few hours of back and forth with another designer, and even then people didn't like certain aspects of the design.
I do believe that most of the site is extremely well designed. knighty has done an excellent job of making everything very easy to use, and the site runs smoothly for the most part. There are almost no "big problems" with the UI anymore. The most frequent changes are to small parts of the UI, like when we recently very slightly reduced the padding on certain bars on the site. Everything adds up to a streamlined, intuitive, and presentable UI that we hope you all love using. And it's almost entirely thanks to knighty.
No, but you should definitely read Hundred Bits, though.