Interrupting your user

When designing user interfaces a lot of thought needs to go into when you are going to interrupt a user.  I am going to walk you through an example of what not to do.  My example deals with messing around with CSVs in excel.  I recently have been doing a lot of data loading via CSV and found myself getting consistently interupted by Excel when trying to save.  Pretty simple concept, once I have changed a document I should be able to click save ( yup thats it, nothing else.. pretty simple request huh?). 


Well take a walk with me…

Step 1.  Right click your desktop->new->Text Document

Step 2.  Change the name to Test.csv

Step 3.  Double Click Test.csv and it will open in Excel.

Now you will have an empty spreadsheet.  I am going to enter(| indicate next cell) : This | Is | A | Bad | UI | Interaction



Step 4.  Click Save.

Kaboom.  Greeted with a Sound AND Messagebox:


So I dont understand?  I just entered text why is it complaining about tabs?  Oh well I want to Save my csv format… so i click yes.

Step 5. Click Yes

Step 6.  Close

I then go to close the workbook and am greeted with:


Hmm.. I didn’t change anything so NO!

Step 7. Click No.

So lets open it back up and see what’s going on.

Step 8. Double click Test.csv


Really?  I guess that first warning was justified. Apparently, when I clicked yes to keep the format it meant, collapse into one cell and insert ? character…hmm.

Note: If you are on Windows 7 you might just see ThisIsABadUIInteraction either way it collapsed the text into one cell

Lets get out of here

Step 9.  Close


GAH!  Again!

Step 10.  Click No

So now I am just going to take over, I am going to open up the raw text and fix the CSV myself. 

Step 11.  Edit text and place “,” between each word and remove the TABs.  Save and Close.


Step 12. Open this thing back up(in Excel).

Ah.. much better.

Step 13.  Add a new row


Step 14.  Save (yes)

Here comes that warning again… click yes.

Excel_CSV_Changes_Y_SaveAs_Exist_Y_NonCompatx2 (1)

Step 15.  Close

Nooooo not again.  I don’t think I changed anything….


Step 16.  Lets click yes for the fun of it…

Woah…. Save As?  Really?


Well I don’t want to change the name… so I click

Step 17. Click Save

Noooo tooo many decisions…



Step 18.  Click Yes.

We have to be done right…?

Excel_CSV_Changes_Y_SaveAs_Exist_Y_NonCompatx2 (1)

Brain explodes… get a friend to click yes…

Step 19.  Click Yes.


FINALLY it closes.


So just take that for what its worth. There are really only 3 issues that reoccur that makes the process painful.   One if I open up a document and click save:  Save it, pretty simple.  Excel offers a “Save As” option, if i want to specify a different name or change the type I will select “Save As”.  Second, when its time to close prompt me to save changes (if I have actually changed anything) and then accept my answer and close.  In our situation it took 5 clicks to close… ?


Another thing I notices was the dialog that says “filename may contain features that are not compatible with ..(CSV or TAB).  What does that mean?  I didn’t do anything more than enter csv stuff.  I didn’t use formulas, charts, etc so what is it complaining about?  The first time I opened a CSV, it was completely empty.   But for some reason it decided it was a TAB delimited format?  Who knows.  Its almost like they are trying to scare you into the “lastest Excel format.”  Oh well, if you take anything away from this entry:


Americans are indecisive by nature, so don’t overwhelm  with unnecessary, and very word prompts.  Code to the things that the majority of people will want/need to do, and only interrupt people when it is completely necessary.

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Posted in C#, Issues, Java, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Programming, Windows

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