When design hurts

There’s a great deal of truth in the age-old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Unfortunately for me, today I decided to fix something that was absolutely not broken. I’ve used a password managing application for years now, eWallet from IliumSoft. I’ve loved it for several really good reasons – it’s cheap, it’s simple, and it does the job incredibly well. In fact I probably use the app thirty or forty times a day, it’s that useful for me.

Basically, what it does is ask you for one password, then displays categories of all your passwords and other information. Once you’ve entered that password you have access to all your key data. There were very few frills, and nothing really got in the way of what it did.

Today I found the Android version, and found if I upgraded from version 6 to version 7 (for a very reasonable price) I could sync between the two. So, with that age-old saying echoing in my head I paid the price and upgraded.

The first problem I hit is what appears to be at least one large-scale bug – the application hangs temporarily for 5-6 seconds, every 15 seconds or so. This makes moving through it pretty painful at best. This may be something to do with my own setup of course, so I can’t absolutely guarantee it’s a bug, but since every other app is running fine on my Windows machine I think it’s probably a safe bet.

* UPDATE: Having spoken to the company support it turns out to be an incompatibility issue with the fingerprint software installed on my machine – who’s fault that is remains to be seen, but disabling part of the fingerprint software did stop the problem, for now.

But it’s the second problem that really hurts – and I do mean hurt.

Years ago I tested a complex software application that had been re-engineered from a much simpler previous version. When users started to interact with it, I witnessed some strange behaviour. They would furrow their brows, move in to the screen, squint their eyes, and in general look as if they were experiencing pain. When I asked them about this, painful was a word that came out several times – the new system was painful to learn, as it had thrown out their previous understanding and seemed to be almost maliciously breaking the rules they’d previously worked by.

I’ve seen it many times since of course, but today I feel their pain.

The previous version had a clear, clean three-zone approach – a top menu/icon bar, a left category panel, and a right content panel for the card.

In it’s place, the new version has five zones – a top toolbar/ribbon (that expands and contracts and changes as you move), a left category zone (with a bottom toolbar and options), a right content panel for the card, a lower panel for the card details, and another panel below that for card notes.

Where the previous version was clean in terms of design, this version has mirrored reflections on headings (which doesn’t appear to be optional), sizable drag-bars on every zone and region and at times a dizzying array of customisation options on-screen.

What should be simple tasks have become confusing, with some UX faux pas included. For example, the notes panel is editable at any time, just click and type, whereas the card panel isn’t, and only becomes editable on a double click. The details panel isn’t editable at all, and won’t respond to a double click even though it’s showing fields, the same as the card panel.

When you do get into a card you can change all the fields – but there is no Save button. It appears that the only way you can save your changes is to click on a completely different card, and then return to the first card to check it changed.

I fell foul of another problem the first few times I tried to edit a card. I clicked on the card to change a password, only to see a list of fields but no password field. Confused I went back, tried again, and then a third and fourth time, completely thrown out as to why I wasn’t seeing the password field (see below):

 

Before you edit…

Before you edit…

During edit…

During edit…

It took me a few attempts to realise that a ribbon of options was being displayed over the fields I needed – the key fields you’d want to access almost every time. Click into the card and the ribbon disappears, but that’s pretty counter-intuitive – click where you don’t want to go, to the hide the thing you didn’t want in the first place, so you can see the field you need, and then click on it again. Why they didn’t scroll the fields down below the ribbon confuses the hell out of me.

I could go on and on, there are options for field names that just seem to make no sense, the entire process of synchronisation to Android is confusing, and I managed to get stuck in the template editing function and unable to get back out.

Next time I really REALLY have to remember – if it ain’t broke…

Gary Bunker

the Fore