Ring A Bell, Do I Not Drool?

I have been noticing lately just how susceptible people are to behavioral conditioning. And by "people" I mean "me". I do notice this in others. Occasionally in users of applications or interfaces I have developed myself. But I never really considered that I was also as susceptible to these Pavlovian reactions.

Often these learned responses are as the result of poorly designed UI. We come up with workarounds, shortcuts or other habits designed to overcome some shortcoming. Every now and then, however, some experiences are actually positive. When we become accustomed to these, we are at best confused and at worst frustrated when things behave differently.

The following are a few examples of behaviors that I have come to expect as the norm.

MSN

I live in both a Microsoft and Apple world. My work life requires using Internet Explorer and the home page defaults to MSN. I'm fine with that considering I use Chrome for any "real" surfing. But I digress. It's not like I have to justify myself to you.

On MSN, they do something very simple. Just about every image has a Title attribute that renders as a tooltip. Rather than clicking through to read stories (which can be truly painful), sometimes I will simply scrub my mouse over pictures to figure out who/what/where something is and then decide if I want to follow that rabbit trail any further.

Unfortunately, most sites do not do this. Jiggling the mouse pointer over images on other pages does nothing but make me feel silly.

Netflix

A variation on the MSN image tooltip theme, pointing to a movie/TV "cover" image causes a super, enhanced tooltip to appear. I want to mouse over cover images on any site that displays movie/book/music covers. The usual result is that I hope nobody notices what appears to be a case of "the shakes" and, once again, a feeling of silliness.

Twitter (iOS apps)

The Twitter client on iOS devices does not waste any space by providing a button to refresh the current view. Instead, you drag the list down and let it snap back to the top. This action will cause any new tweets to appear at the top of the list. It's a brilliant option that allows you to request the latest information with a single handed thumb-swipe where the target area is practically the entire screen.

Now there are other apps that follow suit, but they are few and far between. Any listing that occasionally updates (mail) tempts me to see if this update method is supported. It usually isn't.


I guess the thing that got me thinking about our mechanical interactions with computing devices is the pending release of Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) and its reversal of the scrolling direction. Learned behaviors can be replaced with others and if a you are primarily a touch user, the change will probably feel pretty natural/normal. I already find myself touching the display on my Macbook Pro to select tweets or scroll a page. Of course it does not work, but that's not the point.

What is the point? We are creatures of habit by nature and whether we love or loathe how things work, we adapt to the point where when things don't conform to what we are used to, we are uncomfortable.

At least until we get used to that then.