Searching for a case of bad design as defined by Don Norman in his book The Design of Everyday Things proved to be far more difficult than finding a case of good design. This is likely due to Norman’s observation that users tend to falsely blame themselves rather than the design when something can’t be figured out. I eventually overcame this tendency and settled on a candidate from my work experience. Evernote is a note-taking program that functions as a digital workspace, allowing users to archive data varying from internally created text-notes to clippings of webpages to file attachments, all under a folder system characterized as “notebooks.” Although I could go into great detail regarding the usability flaws of Evernote’s notebook/note system, I will concentrate on the basic functions of the website’s interface, as Norman’s criteria would support. My struggles with Evernote as a program extend from the website to the Mac app; however, the website definitely won (or lost, really) in terms of the worst design.
Evernote is one of those companies that updates their program very frequently. The latest incarnation advertises a “clean, beautiful workspace,” that enables the user to “find what you need and get to work quickly, without the clutter.” As we know, simplicity is no indication of good design. Visibility for the site’s launching page is poor, with the option for a new user to sign up for an account eclipsing the option for current users to sign in through the use of highlighting and increased font size. After overcoming this visibility issue, the default interface upon sign in exhibits both poor visibility and mapping.
Simplicity is clearly the priority at the sacrifice of good mapping; although the user can quickly begin writing a new note, a major affordance of the service, there is no indication of where this note will be saved, nor an option to choose a save location, evidence of poor mappings. Upon clicking into the note to begin typing as instructed, the entire screen is blanketed by the note interface without warning, an unexpected feedback that exhibits further evidence of poor visibility. Though visibility on this new page is improved by the indication of the note’s default notebook on the top left corner, the affordance of changing this notebook location is not present. This gulf of execution is frustrating and confusing, considering the system’s advertisement as a means of organizing your work as you see fit. Further, there is no indication of how to get back to the previous screen without completing the note, another example of poor mappings. The physical constraints of the interface are obscuring the system’s affordances, creating a system image that is inconsistent with the user model. Cultural constraints regarding the basic functions of a website indicate that to return to the previous page, the user should be able to use the back button of their browser. Not so with the Evernote site – attempts to do such instead lead the user right back to the initial sign-in portal.
Returning to the initial interface, visibility on the left hand menu is adequate but not ideal. Navigating from one section of the site to the next is nearly impossible due to poor mappings, where the option to return to the previous section is conspicuously absent again and again. This physical constraint amplified by a disregard for common cultural constraints not only exhibits poor visibility but also poor affordances – where are the clues for the user’s perceived properties of a website? Such examples of poor design are repeated in many aspects of the website, and as such, the Evernote website cannot be considered an example of good design as Norman would define it.