Human Tolerant Software


Suppose you have a date range picker in your user interface, like this:

Date range picker

This picker acts as a filter for selecting records of things that are themselves ranges of dates.  For example, project tasks that have start and end dates.

The usability question is, should the filtered records be ones that (A) fall inside the selected date range, or (B) intersect the selected date range?

Answer: B

One guiding instinct is to err on the side of showing more information when given two otherwise equal options.  However, I feel this “rule” is weak because at some extremes, you wouldn’t want to follow it.

My key rationale is that from a usability standpoint, software should be tolerant of human imprecision.

Win95 vs. WinXP Start Buttons See, for example the classic example of how Microsoft Windows designers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Windows 95 by not allowing you to click in the bottom-most left-most pixel to invoke the Start menu…you have to actually move the mouse a few pixels up from that, a source of great frustration particularly to novice, sticky mouse ball, twitchy, funky mousepad, visually impaired, screen misaligned, elderly and disabled computer users the world over.  See also Fitt’s Law.

In our example, our designer has two real choices:

(A) Expect the human to always know and properly pick the "bounding dates" and exclude anything that doesn’t lie inside the circumscribed dates.  The worst case here is that the human is wrong, and when that happens, records will be missing the she/he should be seeing.  And she/he may not even know that records are missing in some cases,

OR

(B) Be more tolerant and expect that maybe the human accidentally picked 1/2 instead of 1/1, or maybe the human forgot that there’s a task that started on 12/31.  Show more.  Worst case: we show too much.  Then the user has to refine his/her search, or simply ignore the extra record(s).

Which software would you prefer to use?  The one that expects you to be a machine?  Or the one that expects you’re human?