Random Gmail annoyance – sorting Inbox to show oldest messages first

It is 2013.  Sure, my email practices are probably based on conventions from 1993, but this is an ongoing personal frustration. I should say up-front that it can of course be solved by using a third-party mail client, which I do (on occasion).

On a desktop or laptop device, I’ve always preferred to run with older messages showing first, since they’re the ones that are most likely to *become* important – someone who has been waiting for a week is more likely to need their answer *now* than someone who has only just got in touch a minute ago.

It also means I can think “forward” of where I currently am, no matter what point of the day or workflow I encounter it.  Having to constantly think both forwards and backwards, particularly when dealing with the user interface elements involved with navigating, dealing with and filing messages or whole conversation threads, feels completely counterproductive. Actually it’s worse – it’s nudging me towards falling in to the “tyranny of the urgent” rather than dealing with what’s actually “important” right now.

On the one hand, one could argue that not having this facility means I constantly need to re-evaluate the whole queue every time I look at it.  On the other hand, I find that this approach saps functional time and energy away from the things that really *do* need doing.  And I don’t like that.

So come on Google – how’s about enabling that option for more than just multi-page lists?

Google – Another step backward for UI design?

It really doesn’t feel like much time has passed since Google launched the “black bar” to navigate around Docs/Calendars/other services.  And over time, many of us have come to rely on it being there.

Roll on another (wow, it’s been a couple of years already?) couple of years, and now we get this:

Image

Yup. That’s a grid, buried among a couple other things that rarely get used.  Click on it, and a list of icons appears to help take you to your chosen service. All well and good, except you have to click again to go there.

Those of us relying on pattern or muscle-memory to get things done intuitively will balk at this for a few reasons:

  1. We now need to click twice to get a simple thing done.  Surely activation by hovering over the grid should bring up the menu?
  2. The grid is in no way intuitive – looking at the icon doesn’t tell me anything meaningful about what it’s going to do if I click on it.
  3. The grid is in a completely different place on the page from where the old navigation bar was

A little car analogy:  I need to know that when I take my car for its annual service, it comes back with key consumables replaced under the hood, but with key controls (gas and brakes for example) in the same place as when I took it there, each retaining the same function as when I left the car at the garage.  I don’t want to have to relearn where the pedals are, and what each does, every time I head off on a new journey.  Likewise with software.  Changes and improvements are a good thing.  But only when managed in a way that allows the majority to keep up, or to operate the machinery safely in the way they were first trained to when taking on the machine.

It’s the small things like this (and Ars Technica has an interesting article listing similar things here) which are turning many of my tech-embracing friends and relatives back away from the tech they purchased, because they don’t yet use it enough to learn how to relearn pretty much every task they ever set out to achieve.  Many of them might only perform a task once every year or two, yet every time they do, enough little things have changed that mean they’re relearning the process as a new user.

I think that’s a clear example of technology creating more stress, and more hassle – far from the technology enabling things through reducing effort and overheads.

Am I the only one thinking this way?

BBC iPlayer user interface fail

Just thought to post up something that’s really bugging me on the BBC iPlayer site lately.  Why does the search entry box not clear the text string “search” when clicked on, like pretty much any other search function on any other website I’ve ever encountered?  It would save maddening situations like this ever being a problem, however much the user knows about the web:

Confused, much?