Usability applied to life

You might accuse me of being obsessed with usability. You might be right. At any rate, here are ways I apply usability heuristics to my life, most with the heuristic listed.

1. Prevent errors. I am not a morning person. If I need to take something to work, I put it in the car at night. Exception: perishable goods, such as food and videotapes, which melt or spoil in the car if I forget them. I pack lunch in the fridge the night before.

2. Prevent errors. When I bought a portable phone, I picked up many before finding an ergonomically sound and not overly expensive one. I paid special attention to the size of the talk button.

3. For a long time, I keep my wallet and keys in my back pockets. This added to pick-pocket paranoid in crowded places,and made fast food drive-thrus arduous.

I read an article mentioning that European men tend not to use their back pockets, more for vanity than practicality, but I started using my front pockets only, and I've never looked back. So to speak.

4. Consistency and standards. I always put my wallet, cash, and pen in my right pocket, and my keys in my left pocket. This way, a quick check will let me know I have them, as when I'm locking my car. Condoms, when I'm carrying them, always go in the left pocket—they are keys, from one point of view.

5. Aesthetic and minimalist design - Not only does this web site have few graphics, but I cut needless words, inspired by William Zinsser's book On Writing Well. My first draft often sounds like "It occurred to me just the other day that it might be the case that everyone is officially crazy now." when "Maybe everyone's officially crazy now." works. Clear writing helps: I often don't use the official source because its writing is bad.

6. Prevent errors. Important bills like car insurance are automatically deducted. I do not want to get into a car accident the day after my insurance expired.

7. I try to figure out how computer savvy the person I'm talking or emailing to is and adjust my jargon use, although I don't always succeed.

8. Prevent errors. (Skip if you're not a web geek) This could go under usability for programmers: I use absolute directory references when possible: "src=/images/picture.gif". That way, when I cut and paste code elsewhere on the site, the links don't break. My favorite example of how not to do it: "../../../../directory/images/picture.gif"

9. Prevent errors. (Yes, this is my favorite, what are you implying?) I always paste links to pages into email to clients, so I don't mistype one lousy character and embarrass myself. I also use when needed.

I'd love examples of any similar rules people have. You may not have thought of these rules as usability. You might want to look at Jakob Nielsen's usability heuristics (aka rules of thumb).

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Monday, August 5, 2002 (Link)


Posted by Joshua Kaufman Wednesday, August 7, 2002 at 04:31 PM

You're too funny, Chad.

Visibility of system status. If I'm pissed off at at someone, I'll tell them.

Match between system and the real world. No more drugs.

User control and freedom. If anything takes up too much of my time, I take a step back and make sure that it's not taking over me.

Consistency and standards. I'm very concerned with consistency and standards when it comes to technology, but my personal life has very little of either.

Error prevention. I listen to my mom.

Recognition rather than recall. Sorry, I try to remember most important things. It's like Tom Cruise's character said in Top Gun, "You don't have time to think up there. If you think, you're dead."

Flexibility and efficiency of use. I try to give everyone the same amount of respect.

Aesthetic and minimalist design. My weblog:

Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors. I tell people what I think.

Help and documentation. If only.

Posted by Jack Wednesday, August 7, 2002 at 11:47 PM

1) For things I need to take to work, I put them in front of the door that leads to the garage. For things I need to do in the morning, I prop a note in my keyboard because it's the first thing I use. When I do laundry in the morning I leave the overhead light on so when I naturally try to turn it off I remember to put the clothes in the dryer.

2) I'll never own a mobile phone. But when I bought a portable radio, I hunted for one that did not have a cassette or CD player. I wanted radio-only, with preset channel buttons. Why? A simplified interface. I didn't want three devices in one, and I didn't want to be twisting a radio knob every 5 minutes. My wife had to listen to me ranting in K-mart about "the crappy interfaces." I eventually bought from the web.

3) I use my front pocket for my wallet too. My wallet is thick, don't need it protruding off my rumpus.

4) I carry my keys and my wallet on me at all times. The only exception is when I sleep. I picked up this habit in college when it was common for people to lock themselves out of dorms.

Posted by Roslee Thursday, August 8, 2002 at 06:58 AM

I reviewed the usability heuristics you referenced. I find that I do most of them in a slanted manner routinely in my nursing career. I tend to slack off a lot in my personal life. I believe that is a reaction to having to be "good" and "neat" and so forth at work.

Like you, I tend to place things I need to remember to take with me in my purse, on my purse or hanging on the inside of the front door. I do tend to leave myself notes, especially in the car.

Posted by Roslee Thursday, August 8, 2002 at 07:01 AM

By the way, Chad.......I noticed that you used me and my querry regarding URL's to illustrate your point about talking to a person on their level of computer literacy. Thanks! I guess I am an example of "usability."

Posted by Roslee Thursday, August 8, 2002 at 07:02 AM

I just I know where you keep your money!

Posted by Roslee Friday, August 9, 2002 at 06:47 PM

Hey, HaikuBoy! Your link for the definition of "heuristic" goes to a blank page......what's the deal?? I understood that you were into usability. Now I ahve to look up the definition for myself. Is that user-friendly?? ;.)

Posted by Chad Lundgren Friday, August 9, 2002 at 07:07 PM

I've made it work. This is another usability thing. GET is better than POST!

What that means:

The people at Merriam Webster are using something call a POST where you type in a word to look it up. This means the search term is NOT listed in the address of the results page , so when you copy that address, the word isn't there.

So I went back, grabbed the page, edited it to make it do a GET, which shows the term in the address, and updated the posting so that now it works.

POST is not always the wrong thing: it should always be used for credit card transactions or passwords.

Posted by Chad Lundgren Friday, August 9, 2002 at 07:37 PM

Another Prevent Error:

I set the cruise control to the ticket-safe speed when driving, even in town. Here in New Mexico, no more than 10 over seems ticket-safe. Unless in a podunk town, in which case 0-5 is a better idea.

Chad's speed trap story:

My favorite New Mexico speed trap is on the road that meanders to Nambe Lake. The speed limit's 35 by a half dozen houses, and then you get a lot of nothing, and then it mysteriously lowers to 25 by this one house. Slow children? Even worse, the 25 extends well past the house. So you're twiddling your thumbs at 25, starting to feel foolish, when you see the pulled-over guy.

Once, I reached the booth, only to decide I didn't want to pay. But I saw the cop car at the booth, and the cop chatting with the attendant and bet he was the only cop. So I turned around, drove sedately around the curve, and gunned it.

I was right: he was THE cop.

Posted by Manuel Saturday, August 10, 2002 at 11:43 AM

Well keeping money in the front pockets absolutely changes your life. I've been doing it since I moved from a small town to a metropolis, and it works.

Re Jack: yup, it's funny when your mom or girlfriend have to listen about stoves and phone buttons as if you were Don Norman...

Posted by Daniel Bentes Wednesday, September 4, 2002 at 03:25 AM

Word of advice:

Never put your condoms in the same pocket as your keys. Why? Error prevention! How would you feel if you where "ready to go", only to find out that your condom have a hole in it? Hopefully you always check for holes before putting it on...

Posted by me Tuesday, October 8, 2002 at 02:00 PM

Your url to doesn't work because you have a "/i" at the end.

Posted by Chad Lundgren Tuesday, October 8, 2002 at 04:36 PM

I've fixed the link to in the entry.

Posted by Jeff Winkler Thursday, November 14, 2002 at 05:25 PM

>> "Maybe everyone's officially crazy now."

"Officially".. Can't you drop officially? Is there a sanctioning body? And if there were, could you trust them, because there'd be no -sane- people on the commitee! Better drop it.

"Now".. - well, yes, "now" is implied. Gone.

So: "Maybe everyone's crazy." Very nice..."Maybe" sounds wishy-washy, maybe drop it.

"Everyone's crazy."


Posted by Chad Lundgren Friday, November 15, 2002 at 11:49 AM

Ah, but is there an official arbiter of craziness, the DSM-IV put out by the APA (American Psychatric Assocation).

However, as you said, do we trust those folks not to be crazy themselves? Especially when they talk about "Generalized Anxiety Disorder"? In my day, these people were worry-warts.

"Everyone's officially crazy."

Posted by Jeff Winkler Friday, November 15, 2002 at 12:43 PM

ok, glad we agree :) This song comes to mind.

Stay in touch with my insanity
Really is the only way
It's a jungle out there kiddies
Have a very fruitful day

Posted by Tash Friday, November 15, 2002 at 08:10 PM

I was quite fascinated with this "usability applied to life"--before I linked the page. I mean, for such a beautifully designed layout, this article does not more than show how you cover your tracks.

As a student of Zen, I should point out that about carrying condoms in any of your pockets, which is a strong indicator (and correct me if I am wrong) of the anticipation of a casual sexual encounter, is very un-Buddhist.

Most of Buddhists would be very offended by your view of "applying heuristics to my life" as deep thinking leading to enlightenment.

Zen and Haiku are two Japanese words that have no ideological relation to each other and neither of the words have any relevance to your title or content.

A more appropriate reference would be made to "Bloom, et al's Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain" where you will find that you are not even at the level of "evaluation"--you are doing "application", which is a lower order mental activity.

On either of these scales, your article sucks, because of inappropriate content and the fact that you did not use all 10 heuristics.


Posted by Chad Lundgren Friday, November 15, 2002 at 11:52 PM

I have ignored but not deleted a number of prior trolls because I'm in favor of free speech (however misguided). At the risk of encouraging, I found this one fairly amusing.

Thank you for confirming my theory that someone would berate my egregious "misuse" of the words "zen" and "haiku". You then go on to question my dedication to enlightenment (and where did you get the idea I am into enlightenment?), and mention how bad of a Buddhist I am (did I say I am a Buddhist?) Why, that's a trifecta of assumption.

I'll refrain from any further reply to the rest of the troll. Oh, here's a definition of troll:

Posted by observer Thursday, December 12, 2002 at 05:36 AM

Hmmm. It's late; tired.

Posted by Gerald Monday, February 10, 2003 at 06:34 AM

The usability link at the top of the page should be targeted to
It seems to be a moving target as it has been a problem in the past too ;-)

Posted by Chad Lundgren Monday, February 10, 2003 at 01:42 PM

I've fixed this link. Thanks for pointing it out!
(Mini-rant: When I switched to named posts, I made both the old and new links work for *all* the old posts based on numeric names.)

Posted by Joy Wednesday, March 19, 2003 at 06:47 PM

The highest teaching in buddhism is to understand the truth in "cause and affect"; which is the root of all karma.
Its as deep, as an accountant--who has reached buddhahood, the highest level of enlightenment, now understands when a transaction is a credit or debit. How many lay accountants do you know who understands that concept.

Posted by ramy abdelhady Saturday, April 5, 2003 at 05:21 PM

what are heuristics? reason asking is if i am coming with mine, i did teh following

links are clickable
colours are consisten
compliant with netscape

are these known as heauristics?


Posted by Matthias Sunday, April 13, 2003 at 02:32 PM

@ramy abdelhady,
I think your heuristics are covered in the mentioned list:

links are clickable
= Error prevention

colours are consisten
= Aesthetic and minimalist design

compliant with netscape
= Consistency and standards

But there are some more points to care about! ;)

Posted by Mark E Hoffer Sunday, July 13, 2003 at 12:41 PM

Where would the idea: "Don't leave until you're ready to go." fall on the Heuristics spectrum, if at all?


ME Hoffer.

Posted by natalie Tuesday, July 15, 2003 at 12:58 AM

i was wondering if you could give me some leads on television interface design, now with all the new hi-fi tv's and their millions of inbuilt features, navigating through which is not an easy task.any pointers?

another thing, i found the above most intersting.

Posted by natalie Tuesday, July 15, 2003 at 12:59 AM

and are too funny chad!!!

Posted by Erol Orhun Sunday, September 28, 2003 at 09:36 AM


Posted by Chris Sunday, October 5, 2003 at 09:45 AM

Spend your life your money, your time acquiring
knowledge in any way that you can obtain it.
Remember all that you spend on knowledge
once learned can not be stolen from you. Knowledge goes with you wherever you go and you never need to pack it. Keep in mind everything that you buy you must house, clean, protect and move with you. Everything that you learn is always with you.