Usability: Making things look obvious and intuitive

[Updated: 11 Apr 2013]

Obviously, Facebook executives read my blog post about their usability issues and released a new version of their website that resolves this problem.  This is the new search bar:




[End of update]

Facebook lacks usability

The concept of “usability” is that you ensure that the interfaces between people and your product is self-explanatory, easy-to-use, easy-to-understand, and otherwise intuitive.  When people use your product, device, or website; it should feel so natural to people that they just start using it without instructions or explanation.

So, it was quite surprising when Facebook rolled out its new search tool and it lacked fundamental usability concepts.  Take a look at the image below:

In the blue bar of the Facebook page is the classic Facebook logo and a heading to the right, “Search for people, places and things.”

Now, one rule of thumb is that buttons should look like buttons, headings should look like headings, and non-clickable text should look like non-clickable text.  If something is clickable, then it should look clickable.  So, when I see the heading, “Search for people, places and things,” it looks more like a heading or a tagline, not necessarily a clickable link or button – especially when viewed in context with other things that are obviously interactive such as the [Edit profile] link below Blake Newman and the “Whats on your mind?” text box below Update Status.

That disappoints me.  But, it gets worse.

When you mouse-over that heading, “Search for people, places, and things,” the Facebook icon turns into a search icon – the classic magnifying glass.  This seems intuitive enough but when you mouseover on the magnifying glass it turns back into the Facebook icon and if you click on that spot, it simply redirects you back to  Clicking on the magnifying glass does not take you to a search box.

So, when I move my cursor to the right of the magnifying box, there is no indication that anything is going to happen if I click.  It appears as if it is an unclickable heading or tagline.  But, if I happen to click it, something does happen – the “Search for people, places and things” goes dark which makes me think it is now disabled.  Instead of converting that into a nice search box with a white background or a text box similar to the “What’s on your mind? Update status,” it just goes dark.

It’s difficult for me to realize, without stumbling and clicking around that I could actually start entering text into that nontext box and actually search for something.

It is amazing for me to think that Facebook, as successful as it is and as simple of a concept as it is, would fail so miserably when it comes to making things easy, obvious, and intuitive.  There is a concept called, “Don’t Make Me Think,” by a guy names Steve Krug.  If you are interested in the subject of Usability then I highly recommend you read it.

I believe that devices and interfaces, regardless of whether they are a toaster or a microwave or a car or a website should be foolproof, dummy proof, and monkey proof.  Things should be so easy that a 4 year old pre-K can figure it out regardless of whether or not she can read or if she understands your language.

Facebook clearly failed in this area, me thinks.