Saturday, June 13, 2009

Transparent Decision Making

Did you ever experience that? You quickly want to print your presentation slides, so you select File – Print and then you go to the printer to grab the paper. Being at the other side of the office you might wait forever... The reason might be the following modal dialog which waits for your input until printing gets started.

Unfortunately, there are technical reasons for to be not that efficient when it comes to printing certain object types. So instead of consuming an enormous amount of resources, these dialogs have been introduced to let the user deci
de how should handle these objects. But, as we saw before, these dialogs interrupt the user's work flow. So my question is, whether this behavior is still acceptable...

How to answer that? The go
od news is, that our User Feedback Program provides a first insight in the real use of our product. I had a look at the user feedback raw data which is available for Impress and Draw and looked up all the items related to the transparency warning. I know, the current data basis might not provide significant numbers and there are still some issues, but let's just have a look at it... How is the dialog used?

Interesting, isn't it? If I got it right, then the dialog appeared 81 times and our users never let reduce the transparency during output; there are no numbers for the button „Yes“. Moreover, 9 decided to avoid this warning in the future, since the checkbox has been checked 10 times and unchecked 1 time. Similar settings are available in Tools – Options... – Printing. There, one user deactivated „reduce transparency“ which seemed to be active before User Feedback was collected, so no activation has been tracked.

Can these numbers tell the truth? An Issue Tracker query done quickly (Query 1, Query 2) revealed only the rather new issue 101479 which refers to a confusing error message when printing transparent objects. Although this issue has no votes, and is therefore only confirmed by the reporter, this is an indicator for people being irritated by the given text... May that be the reason for 81 times clicking on „No“?

Or, are today's computers fast enough? To check that, I looked up some data in the currently active User Survey 2009 which currently contains 164818 full responses. There, 75.25% of all users run either on a PC or a Notebook (21.05% didn't answer that question). Being questioned how satisfied these users are with the speed of the computer system (the computer, not, 48.05% are satisfied or very satisfied (no answers by 37.52%). So it can be concluded that the majority of our user base which answered that question perceive their computer to be rather fast.

Summary: The User Feedback data tells us that our users always activate printing with transparency. There is currently only one issue related to the printer warning; it is about the understandability of the dialog text. And, the largest part of our user base are at least satisfied with their computer's performance. Did you expect that?

Conclusion: If will keep its printing technology, and the ongoing collected user data will show similar results, then we should at least hide the transparency warning per default. Most of our users will be affected in a positive manner – less distraction by modal dialogs and therefore an improved perceived behavior of Okay, there might be users/administrators who think the decision is beneficial to them and who know clearly understand what it technically means – these people can easily activate the warning in the options dialog.

The Fine Print: Currently, the User Feedback system is active since the release of 3.1 in mid May. Thus, there a need for more data to confirm the current trend. In each case it will be near to impossible to clearly identify how often printing has been used in Impress or Draw, but I guess it is about 300 times for the current data which was exported 2009-06-05. So why is that important to me? As most of you might know from a previous blog posting by Philipp, I recently joined the i-Team for optimizing the new Printer Dialog in terms of User Experience. The collection of data what special options mean and how they are used is my first task, so expect to come more in the near future. If you want to know more, then please have a look at the cwsprinterpullpages in the wiki.

Finally, I think the data collection is a great chance towards more ... Transparent Decision Making ;-)

Happy printing,



scottishwildcat said...

To me, this data simply reinforces the long-known GUI principle that any warning dialog is a bad warning dialog. Users will generally just click whatever it takes to make the warning disappear with the least impact on their work, without (in most cases) really reading the text*.

Incidentally, every set of GUI guidelines I've read (and written!) says "don't use Yes and No buttons in warning dialogs", so I'm surprised to find them here. The button labels should reflect the action performed, which in this case might be "Print Faster" and "Print Better Quality", or something.

* If you switched the locations of the Yes and No buttons, I wouldn't be surprised to find that most people clicked the "Yes" button instead-- that would be an interesting experiment :)

Christoph Noack said...

"The" Calum? Nice to meet you again, we've met at the 2008 CHI ...

Full agreement. It is known that any warning dialog is a bad (warning) dialog. Looking nearly 10 years back, it has been introduced for some (maybe good?) reasons...

Concerning the Yes/No buttons - a pain! The dialog is old, but it is consistent to other ones related to printing, so harmonizing them will cause a lot of work. I don't think its worth the effort (including translation) and development (the button sizes are hard-coded). My personal favorite is to demonstrate that there is no real use for them ... and then get rid of them. But there is no way to remove "established" features like this one without providing data. Or money ;-)

Both the hard-coded interface and the design for rather low screen resolutions (OOo doesn't provide a layout manager) is one of the main reasons for having such short button labels. Thus, there are plenty of discussions between the translation, development and the UX team. I'm a bit sad about that, since we miss a great chance to really improve user experience...

However, many of the things are about to change. I hope that the current project Renaissance will remove both technical barriers and "aged" interaction patterns. If not ... there is no plan B :-)

Have a nice evening,

Unknown said...

This dialog is really annoying. It should be set to "No" as default. If someone has a slow computer, maybe he should be able to switch this dialog on in the OOo options. This would enhance the user experience.

Btw it's great that the User Feedback Program is useful and used for statistics like in this article to enhance OOo and to make it a better product.

Is it possible to get such statistics for the "Find & Replace" dialog? That could help to enhance the UX for this dialog as described in Issue 88714.

Christoph Noack said...

Hi ThomasS,

yes, you may find some more data at

Example: In Writer, the check box for find "Regular Expressions" has been checked 66 times, in comparison to calling the search dialog 13320 times (7560 via shortcut, 3754 via menu bar, 2006 via toolbar).

Just have a look! You may share your findings at the mailing list ux-discuss.