Archive for November, 2010


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.


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]


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.


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 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.


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:

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.


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]


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:


Travel: Single supplement price gouging

November 19, 2010

This blog post comes under the category of ‘user experience’, and has nothing to do with technical communication!

It’s about my experience with the apparent price gouging of the ‘single supplement’, so beloved by travel companies, cruise ships, package tours, and the like.

First, some background. I’m traveling to the US next year for the WritersUA Conference in California. One of my leisure activities is quilting and making things in fabric, and one of the digital magazines I read is one that focuses on quilters, quilting and travel packages associated with quilting — things like quilting tours to France, Bali, Japan, Africa and quilting cruises in the Caribbean etc. One of the 7-day Caribbean cruises took my eye — it locks in well with the time I need to be in the US for the conference, and although it would mean extra flights and costs to get to and from Miami, the deal looked pretty good… until I asked some questions.

The advertised deal was ‘from $898 per person based on double’, which included:

  • Accommodations on board the ship
  • Port charges & taxes
  • Meals & entertainment
  • Cocktail Party
  • [company] tote bag & gifts
  • Quilting Classes (not including kit prices)
  • Show & Tell
  • Sit n’ Stitch (of the seven days, three are ‘at sea’ days when we sew, and four were in various ports doing the touristy thing)
  • Book Signing

Reading closer, the ‘from $898’ price was for an Inside Cabin; the prices were $1048.00 for a Window Cabin and $1248.00 for a Balcony Cabin.

I read the terms and conditions and saw that:

If you are a single traveler who has asked [company] to assist in finding another single person to travel with you, all responsibility for this arrangement will be between you and the person you are making the arrangements with. [Company] assumes no responsibility for this arrangement whatsoever.

Furthermore, should this roommate cancel from the trip, you will be responsible for paying the single occupancy rate of the tour, should final payment date is past. If you cancel off your trip after the final payment date because your roommate cancels off, you will be penalized 100% of the tour/cruise cost.

Hmmm… So they do matching of travelers if you ask, or there’s a single supplement if you don’t want to share. And it’s not clear whether you’d be liable for your costs PLUS your prospective roommate’s costs in the event of cancellation. No matter — I was nowhere near asking those questions yet.

I wanted to know about the single supplement price, so I contacted the company. They replied very promptly with this:

The single supplement rate varies depending on the size cabin you are interested in. The inside cabins are $898 plus the single supp. rate of $1298, Window cabins are $1048 plus single supp. $1548, and the balcony cabins are $1248 plus single supp. $2008.

I asked for clarification — did that mean that an Inside cabin was $1298 OR was it $2196 ($898 + $1298)? Was a Window cabin $1548 OR $2596 ($1048 + $1548)? and was a Balcony cabin $2008 OR $3256 ($1248 + $2008)?

Guess what the answer was… Yep, the prices for a person traveling alone on this trip were:

  • Inside Cabin: $2196
  • Window Cabin: $2596
  • Balcony Cabin: $3256

Talk about making me think twice! What seemed a good deal at around $1000 for 7 days cruising the Caribbean and getting some sewing tuition as well, suddenly didn’t look nearly so attractive at $2200 plus (don’t forget, I’ve got airfares from Australia and from Los Angeles, plus extra accommodation to cover as well).

So, I got to thinking about this single supplement thing a bit more and started to look at where the travel company/cruise line could justify this extra cost. And I didn’t come up with anything! Here are some of my assumptions:

  • Laundry costs: One person in a room with two beds will create less laundry than two people sharing that room — less bed linen to launder, less bath linen to launder, therefore less cost to the cruise line.
  • Housekeeping: The costs of cleaning a cabin would be the same whether there’s one person in a room or two. Actually, the cost in time may be a tad less because there’s only one bed to make and one set of linen to collect.
  • Food and drink: One person will eat less than two people, so food costs for the cruise company are less.
  • Use of facilities: One person less means more facilities available for others to use.
  • Tuition: The price per person includes the tuition, so whether there’s one person or two, there should be no difference.

There’s nothing I could think of that would justify a price premium of nearly 250% of the per person price of someone who shares a room!

Most hotels charge a ‘per room’ rate, but it seems cruise ships are still charging a per person rate, then whacking on unbelievably hefty penalties for you to travel by yourself — even though the cost of looking after you is less than it is for two people!

Had the single supplement been equivalent to the total of two people sharing a room (i.e. $1796 total for the inside cabin), that still wouldn’t have been fair as the price includes the class fee etc. and only one person would be availing themselves of that. But to add on a further $400 to the price for two people sharing a room, thus taking the single person price to $2196 for an Inside cabin is just WAY too much (and it’s $500 on top of the 2-person  price for a Window cabin and $800 on top of the 2-person price for a Balcony!).

And it smacks of price gouging to me.

Instead of the company and the cruise line getting my business, they’ve priced themselves out of the market. I won’t get to experience a Caribbean cruise (I’ve never been to the Caribbean or on a cruise before), the cruise company and the quilting travel company don’t get a customer, and I’m unlikely to travel on ANY cruise ship in the future. They’ve all just lost a potential customer for the next 20 to 30 years. This was to be my first experiment with a cruise, and if it was a good experience, it was one I was willing to repeat many more times in my retirement.

Can anyone offer a valid argument as to why the price for a single traveler has to be so high?

Update December 2010: I saw a quilting travel company advertisement in another magazine, so I figured I’d ask them about their single supplement prices to see if this price gouging is across the cruise industry/travel company industry. Here’s the information I got back:

  • Interior cabin: $995 per person twin share (single occupancy: $1490)
  • Ocean view: $1095 ($1690))
  • Balcony: $1295 ($2090)

So there are companies that don’t charge more than double for a single supplement. These prices looked far more reasonable to me. And if you do take a non-sewing companion, the company refunds them $250 for the cost of the quilting courses. This means you can take your spouse or a friend who just wants to come along for the cruise.

Update August 2012: <sigh> I checked out another quilting travel company’s Caribbean cruise for March 2013. This time the single rate was DOUBLE or close enough to double.


Word 2007: Unlocking locked functions

November 18, 2010

I was testing a draft template for an entire business unit today and to say it’s locked down would be an understatement. But I won’t go into all the details otherwise I’d be here all day.

Most tool icons on the Clipboard, Font and Paragraph groups on the Home tab in Word 2007 were locked down, as were the ability to re-insert a Table of Contents, insert a section break, reapply a template, modify a style, apply a decimal tab, etc. Also locked down was the ability to use many standard Word formatting keyboard shortcuts (like Ctrl+B for bold).

However, I did figure out how to get most of them back by making a single change!

Here’s what the locked down template’s Home tab looks like:

The only active tools are Paste, Sort, and Show/Hide. That severely limits what you can do! You cannot manually change the text alignment of a paragraph with either the icon or keyboard shortcut (e.g. Ctrl+E to center a figure), you cannot apply highlighting to a particular section, you cannot change a table’s borders, etc. I can understand why some organizations want to lock down the styles, but to lock down all this other stuff as well? That just baffles and frustrates me.

To get back most of these locked down functions:

  1. Go to the Developer tab. (If you don’t have the Developer tab on your ribbon, click the large Microsoft Office button in the top left. Click Word Options. Click Popular. Select the Show Developer tab in the Ribbon check box. Click OK.)
  2. Click the Visual Basic icon (far left on the Developer tab).
  3. The top left panel should show This Document for the document you have open.
  4. Go to the Properties panel and find EnforceStyle. (If you can’t see the Properties panel, select View > Properties Window from the menu.)
  5. Change its value from True to False.
  6. Click the Save icon on the toolbar and close the Microsoft Visual Basic window.
  7. Go back to the Home tab — your Font and Paragraph group icons are now active, as are the functions to insert a section break, insert a table of contents, apply a template, insert a decimal tab, align paragraph text, modify a style, etc. And all the standard keyboard shortcuts for formatting are active again too.

Word: Pages go to landscape when accepting all Track Changes

November 17, 2010

Here’s one I haven’t come across before.

My work colleague, D, called me in desperation late yesterday afternoon. She was trying to accept all Track Changes in her Word document, but each time she did, the first section would go to landscape orientation when it was meant to be portrait. She couldn’t figure out what was going on.

When I looked at the document, I could see nothing strange that might be causing the problem. So I tried accepting all Track Changes too — with the same result as D. The first section after the document’s front matter flipped to landscape.

There was only one landscape section in the document, but it was after that first section. Hmmm… Maybe it was the culprit — after all, it’s the following section break that contains the formatting for the section in front of it.

I looked more closely and saw that the section break between the portrait and landscape pages had a Track Changes bar on it. Aha! I right-clicked and saw there was a deletion, so I rejected that. Then I right-clicked again and saw that there was an insertion, which I accepted*. THEN I accepted all Track Changes in the document and the portrait and landscape pages stayed put, as they were designed to.

So if you have the same problem:

  1. Look for Track Change bars at the Section Break, and accept/reject that individual insertion/deletion.
  2. THEN accept all Track Changes.

Note: * I think that was the sequence — it may have been the other way round, so if this happens to you, try both options, then accept all — if it doesn’t fix it, the Undo button is your friend and you can try the other way.