Category Archives: RPR- Red Paint Rules

There are certain unwritten rules when it comes to UX design. Time to write them down.

Usability Importance, Post-Hawaii

Bethea-Hawaii-Missile-Warning-1We all saw what happened in Hawaii yesterday.

A message went out over the EMS that nukes were inbound and this was no drill.

40 minutes of chaos ensued before the “All Clear” was given. Panic. Terror.

Today, we know WHY it happened- BAD USABILITY

Quoting a national news agency, when discussing the guy who sent out the alert:

“This guy feels bad, right. He’s not doing this on purpose – it was a mistake on his part and he feels terrible about it,” said Miyagi in a press conference Saturday afternoon.

Miyagi, a retired Army major general, said the employee would be “counseled and drilled so this never happens again,” but he did not say whether there would be disciplinary measures.

Rather than triggering a test of the system, it went into actual event mode. He confirmed that to trigger the alert, there is a two-step process involving only one employee — who both triggers the alarm, then also confirms it.

“There is a screen that says, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?'” Miyagi said. The employee confirmed the alert, inadvertently causing a panic in a state already on edge over saber-rattling missile threats from North Korea. “

Seriously? This is the system in place at EMS?

Here’s the issues I see on just the first reading:

1- If it is a “two-step process involving only one employee”… it’s a one-step process.

2- Nobody EVER pays attention to an “Are you sure…?” screen because they are so common.

3- Your “Test” system and your “Oh crap, we’re being nuked!!” system should not be so similar that you can’t IMMEDIATELY tell them apart, at least by color.

We don’t know how many accidents, possibly resulting in deaths, this mistake caused.

I know that I and those like me always preach how “vital” or “critical” or “important” usability is. The situation in Hawaii is the BEST and WORST case example I have ever seen for proving the point.

– J


Rule #4: Design left to center. The right doesn’t matter.

I’m not going to go into detail on this one since I just did a post about it in this post and decided it needed to be an RPR as well:  Effective Screen Layout: It’s about “where”, not “what”.

Basically, everything important needs to be in the area of screen from the left edge to the center. Anything right of center will usually be ignored.

Also, anything that is an image; pictures, graphs, tables, charts; will be the first thing the user looks at and they’ll also get a closer examination than any text… so make ’em count.


Rule #3: Keep the Navigation Simple

The purpose of navigational tools and cues is to allow the user to get where they need to be. The best type of navigation is the ones where the user doesn’t even realize they are using it. The user shouldn’t have to figure out how to use your “cool” new nav.

An example of bad navigation is ESPN’s “floating nav”. I did an entire post specifically on this feature here: ESPN Floating Nav Text.

An example of good navigation has to be Amazon’s. The site is incomprehensibly huge, yet a user to able to get to any item with a couple of clicks.

This may be a personal preference, but any nav that changes when you move the scrool wheel on your mouse is too distracting. If the entire page changes because I’m scrooling down a few lines it is very disconcerting. Please give me a way to turn that function off.

In Summation- The best navigation is one your user never notices.

Rule #2: Content matters. Eliminate all typos and grammatical errors.

I wasn’t planning on doing this one now, but a post I did yesterday put me into this frame of mind.

Everybody has heard of and probably received a “phishing” email. These are emails that are masquerading as actual messages to customers of a business. The emails make up some reason that the victim should immediately send the perpetrator personal information, such as passwords, credit card data and the like. You can guess the result if the victim actually complies.

The problem is that the crooks are getting really good at their job. In the early days it was painfully obvious when an email was fake. Now, the fake emails look almost identical to a valid message. One way of determining if an email is a fake is to pay attention to things like typos, poor English structure, obvious grammatical errors and similar. The assumption is that the REAL company would not have made such an egregious error.

The customer TRUSTS the real company to not let such an obvious error slip through the cracks.

Now, apply that same logic to a website. A potential customer who is visiting a site for the first time and spots these kinds of careless errors immediately loses faith in that company’s professionalism and diligence.

In other words, nobody is going to give you their credit card for an $800 watch is you spell it “timepeace”.

Related to this is the question of correct sentence structure and grammar. This has become more of an issue since DEV has moved offshore and you have non-native speakers providing the content for a site. Being able to speak a language to a good level of understanding does NOT make you able to write content for that site’s home country. Ditto times 20 for using a software package to due the translation.


  • Have a native speaker of the target language, at a minimum, review all created content if not actually create it.
  • See those little red squiggles all over your page? Click them. Spell check is your friend.
  • Sometimes your friend isn’t your friend. Industry terms, trade names, “terms of art” and acronyms can be a problem. Take care when blindly accepting spell check’s suggestions.
  • Language has a cadence. It is very obvious when a site was written off-shore. Some refer to this as “Engrish”. A visitor that is confronted with stilted language, requiring internal revisions to understand, will typically not stick around.

Rule #1- Never make it hard for people to give you money.

This shouldn’t even need to be said- but the purpose of any business is to exchange your goods/services for your customer’s money. You have NO OTHER REASON to have your doors open.

However, we constantly see instances where companies make it needlessly painful for customers to give them money. This is never good because people know they have many other options out there.

I’ve already covered this behavior in an online situation with my “Pizza Ordering” post. I had to jump through hoops to even get to the “Order Online” screen. Well, Pizza Hut is way simpler and they bring hot, cheesy goodness to my house too. Original post: Just let me log in!

In the real world, the perfect example is our friends at Wal-Mart. I can’t tell you how many times me and the fam have walked in, filled up our cart with the 5 things we needed and 20 things we didn’t and then head over to check-out only to find 30 registers and precisely ONE open with a LOOOONG, slow line. They used to have those handy “self checkout” stations but could never get them to work and pulled them out.

So, I stand there and a clock starts ticking in my head. You NEVER want to give your customers time to rethink what they’ve already casually tossed in their cart. My wife is famous for slipping items back OUT of the cart as we shop because she “didn’t really need that”. As for me, when that clock starts ticking I know if something doesn’t happen quickly what is going to happen. Inevitably after five minutes of not moving, while watching the 4 employees not working shooting the breeze, I push my loaded cart out of line and walk out the door. Rarely is there less than $100 in that now abandoned cart. That is a Benjamin just walking out the front door because they couldn’t be bothered to open another lane.

NEVER let anything come between a customer giving you their money. Violate this simple rule and you may as well hang up the “Going Out Of Business” sign. It’s that simple.