Archive for November, 2010

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Don’t designers ever use the products they design?

November 30, 2010

Sometimes I wonder if product packaging designers live in a parallel universe to the rest of us mere mortals — a parallel universe where they have unlimited money to throw away on wasting the contents of the products they design.

It’s the only explanation I have for this ridiculous redesign of the Sunsilk shampoo bottles.

Mmmm... pretty bottle, nice waist, well balanced...

I don’t know about you, but in my world, when you can’t squeeze much more out of the shampoo bottle, you tip it upside down and store it that way so that the remainder of the product (usually at least 10% of the original contents) makes its way to the ‘top’, ready for you to get the last of it out of the container.

So what designer in their right mind would design the packaging so that the top is at a steep angle to the bottle, and thus CANNOT be stood on its top without help?

This bottle will NOT stand upside down by itself

Maybe their brief was to design it that way so that consumers would buy more. Well, here’s my take on it, Sunsilk — I won’t buy your product again while it’s so darned unusable! Your strategy for getting me to buy more has failed.

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Captivate 5: Change the Help options

November 29, 2010

When you install Adobe Captivate 5, the default Help is something called Community Help, which I’m sure is really useful once you’ve sunk your teeth into the basics of the new interface. But as a previous Captivate (v1 and v3) user, I really needed to know how to do some stuff in the new interface that I could do without thinking in the old one.

That meant that I needed just the plain old Help, not some fancy wancy overblown Help trying to be everything to everyone and succeeding in nothing more than overwhelming me with choices from all sorts of sources when I did a search.

The first few times I used Captivate 5, I didn’t want to see all those choices — I just wanted Adobe’s own Help.

So, if you’re finding the Community Help overwhelming too, here’s how to turn it off:

  1. Click Search Options (below the Search field).
  2. Change the Search Location to Local Help.

It’s that easy!

However, what’s not so good is that the Local Help has no Contents, and no Index — it just has a Search box. And when you get a result it displays in the right pane. As you click on a link, you get taken to that page but have to click the Back button to return to your results list. That’s a bit painful — I’d prefer the results to display in the left panel, as they do for Community Help, so I can skip from one result to another.

(And I think they meant ‘Search Community Help’ in that last line…)

Update 16 December 2010: After experiencing some issues with the Help, I had to uninstall and reinstall it. The more recent version has got an option to only search for Adobe’s own Help, as well as Online and Local options.

[Links last checked December 2010]

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Captivate 5: Get line, rectangle objects to display

November 26, 2010

After much trial and bleeding error, I found out how to get the line options (Line, Rectangle, Oval and Polygon) in Captivate 5 to display in the left toolbar. And it wasn’t at all intuitive for me (I don’t use other Adobe apps such as Photoshop).

I later discovered this technique is in the Help, but on first use I’m finding the Captivate 5 Help really cumbersome to use — I can’t see a way of turning off all that Community Help stuff that I don’t want as a new user*; I just want Adobe’s Help to start with — the rest is just noise and offers me too many choices.

Anyhow, back to the Line tool…

  • To get the Line toolbar icon to display its hidden options, click on it and HOLD down the mouse for a moment. Then the options will fly out to the right.

Single-clicking, double-clicking and right-clicking have no effect — it’s the hold action that results in these options showing.

The giveaway that there are hidden options is the TINY little black triangle in the lower right corner of this toolbar icon. I think the designers of these applications are all under 20, as this black triangle is both very small and hard to see on a mid-gray background. Not good for over-40 eyes…

* BTW, I did find out how to change the Community Help (the default on installation) back to the Adobe-supplied local Help. I’ll write another blog post on that soon.

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Wow! An Adobe upgrade that worked

November 25, 2010

With much trepidation (my experiences with Adobe upgrades have not typically been without enormous amounts of time and a lot of pain!), I decided to upgrade from Adobe Captivate 3 to Captivate 5 last week.

It was simple as installing the CD/DVD, running the setup program, entering my serial number, entering my Adobe.com details, and it was done!

The next step was to see if my Captivate 3 projects would open and save without error — and they all have so far (I believe there are issues for those using ActionScript, but as I don’t use it, that wasn’t an issue for me).

I even downloaded and installed — without error — the updates released since Captivate 5 was released.

Well done, Adobe. That was a lot less painful than any other Adobe installation/upgrade experience I’ve had in the past few years.

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Adobe Captivate: Reduce bloated file sizes

November 24, 2010

I’m close to upgrading from Adobe Captivate 3 to Captivate 5 (and all going well, I should have done so by the time this blog post is published), but prior to doing so I wanted to complete several movies for my client, just in case anything went pear-shaped…

I was horrified to find that my template was some 38 MB in size. There are only three slides in it, and only one of those has an image (which is about 1 MB). The other two slides are a title slide (text box) and a ‘finish’ slide (text box plus two buttons — one for replaying the movie and the other to return to the menu). Why on earth it was 38 MB was beyond me.

As a result, each time I created a new movie based on this bloated template, it started at 38 MB and increased in size from there. And if I imported any slides and objects from another Captivate project file, the file bloat just got worse and worse.

It was time to do something about it — I wanted the upgrade to Captivate 5 to be as smooth as possible, and that meant lean Captivate 3 project files!

Off to the internet where I found some excellent advice from Captivate guru, Kevin Siegel (he’s documented several methods for reducing Captivate file sizes here: http://iconlogic.blogs.com/weblog/2008/10/adobe-captivate-3-tactics-for-reducing-the-size-of-your-project.html).

I tried all his suggestions that were applicable to me (I’m not doing any e-learning/quiz stuff), but the file size reduction was minimal at best. Then I read one of the comments from a Tim Lucas — and found my solution!

  1. Create a new project.
  2. Copy the slides from the existing project. DO NOT import them into the new project.
  3. Paste the slides from the existing project into the new project.
  4. Save the new project.
  5. Check the file size — you should notice a dramatic reduction.

Here’s an example of the file sizes — those file names starting with z_ are the old, bloated project files:

So I now have file sizes from 664 KB to 3290 KB, whereas before doing that copying process my Captivate project file sizes ranged from 14300 KB to 97908 KB — that’s what I call a dramatic reduction. Thanks Kevin and Tim.

Of course, WHY the files bloat like this is something I hope Adobe has addressed in the couple of years since they released Captivate 3. I’ll keep an eye on the file sizes to see what happens after I start using Captivate 5. I hope they’ve fixed it.

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It’s not rocket science…

November 23, 2010

But from the way some web forms are created — and their error messages — you’d think it was really difficult to get it right.

Medibank Private, the Australian health insurance organization I wrote about the other day, emailed me a link to answer a quick survey about my recent experiences with them. I was happy to do so, but frustrated — yet again — with web form and error message stuff that isn’t rocket science.

In this case, a simple field on a form for my phone number so they could contact me if I was happy to answer any further questions. I duly entered my phone number, using the standard convention in Australia for writing phone numbers — (area_code) <four_numbers> <four numbers>. There was no user assistance on the survey form next to the field to tell me how to format my phone number. So I pressed tab to move to the next field.

And I got this error message:

Hello? Macquarie Dictionary defines a digit as ‘any of the Arabic figures 0, 1 … 9’. I had entered 10 digits, despite what the error message said. Maybe, just maybe, they meant ‘characters’, which are totally different than ‘digits’.

So I removed the parentheses from the area code. Nope. It didn’t like that either and repeated the same error message about ’10 digits’. So I removed the spaces from the phone number and then it accepted my phone number without further complaint.

So, what’s the problem here and how could the survey designer fix it? There are several problems that I can see:

  • It would appear that there was no usability testing of this survey form with real-life, ordinary users. Anyone observing someone trying to complete that field would have realized that there are many ways to enter a phone number, and thus many ways to get it wrong.
  • There was no user assistance next to the field to tell you that you can’t enter spaces, parentheses, dashes etc. — you can only enter one long string of 10 numbers.
  • The designer used an incorrect term in the error message. Digits and characters are two quite different things, so to tell me that I had to enter 10 digits when I had already done so was incorrect.
  • And using ‘digits’? Puh-lease. What about the more understandable term, ‘numbers’? ‘Digit’ might be fine for database designers, but users use ‘numbers’ or perhaps ‘numerals’.
  • Finally, don’t shout at me like I’m an idiot. The error message is in red — that’s enough to tell me you think I’m stupid, so don’t add insult to injury by using upper case text to shout at me too!

How could the survey designer have fixed this form?

  • Add some user assistance text next to the field to show an example of the accepted format (e.g. ‘Enter your 10-digit phone number; do not use spaces or other non-numeric characters. For example: 0712345678.’)
  • Improve the error message: If an error was made after providing the correct format in the user assistance, then repeat those instructions with an error message worded something like this: “Enter 10 numbers with no spaces, dashes, brackets, etc.” In sentence case.

It’s not rocket science…

Update: I wanted to rent a car online for my trip to the US for the WritersUA Conference. Here’s how Dollar deal with phone numbers:

Simple, easy to understand, and no need for an error message if the user follows the instructions/pattern shown to the right of the field.

[Link last checked November 2010]

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Word 2007: Show the Developer tab

November 22, 2010

Several of my Word 2007 blog posts have mentioned the Developer tab, but I realized I’ve never written a specific post on the steps to display it. So here goes…

  1. Click the large Microsoft Office button  (in the top left of the window).
  2. Click Word Options.
  3. Click Popular.
  4. Select the Show Developer tab in the Ribbon check box.
  5. Click OK.

See also: