Left To Right, Top Down

I explain in my “Why is my underwear in the microwave?” technical design post AND in my “The Other Half” user documentation post that they are mutually related to what’s stated in this post, where I discuss how newspaper comic strips seem to get it right, too.

How We First Learned To Read a Book
Let’s step back to our earliest times when our parents first taught us how to read our fairy tales. We were to go to the storybook’s first page and begin our reading at the most upper left-hand corner and read horizontally across to the right, to the last word. When we reached the end, we went to the next line down, and then to the far left to repeat. This same method continued down to the bottom line’s last word, to turn to the next page and follow the same reading process.

The fairy tale pages included graphics to help us visualize who the different characters were so we could see their various facial expressions and any situation we were mired in. This was the logical progression for first learning how to read books. Newspaper comic strips have their logical reading flows as well, which heavily includes their framed graphics.

Now that we understood the logical flow of the “how to read” process, we could read our fairy tale books on our own. And to further motivate us to read on our own, our parents would point to where we should be in our readings and emphasize us to read, left to right, top down.

My Favorite Comic Strip: Blondie
The average comic strip usually has three frames displayed in either a horizontal or a vertical format. If it’s in a horizontal format, we know to start at the left-most frame and read each across to the right. If it’s in a vertical format, we know to start at the top-most frame and read each down to the bottom.

My favorite comic strip is Blondie featuring her clumsy and always hungry husband, Dagwood Bumstead, created by Chic Young. The strip is so well-designed I’ve come to know its POV scene protocols. For example, when Dagwood’s outside his home talking to his neighbor, Herb Woodley, Herb always appears on the left side of a frame and stands further back behind his property’s horizontal bush that goes across the frame at mid-point. Dagwood, in turn, always appears in the forefront and to the right side of the frame as he stands just outside his home’s front door.

At work, when Dagwood is in his boss’s, Mr. Dithers’s office, Dagwood usually stands to the left-hand side of the frame to the backside of Mr. Dithers as Dithers sits at his desk at the right side of the frame. I’ve never seen Dagwood stand on the other side of Mr. Dithers’s desk, which I find quite interesting.

When Dagwood and Blondie are inside their home, in their living room, the POV has Dagwood at the left side of the frame sitting in his living room chair. Blondie is sitting in her living-room chair at the right-center side of the frame, at an angle somewhat away from Dagwood’s chair. Included in this frame is their TV, which is to the frame’s farthest right-hand side, barely visible from view. The TV is Dagwood’s first priority as he directly views it. Blondie is not as interested in watching TV as she’d rather read a magazine, but she still is involved in her conversations with Dagwood.

When in their bedroom and lying in bed, Dagwood’s side of the bed is closest to the left-side of its frame and Blondie’s side is closest to the right-side of the frame.

In one bedroom comic scene Blondie speaks first as she faces Dagwood directly, as her cloud of words appear above Dagwood’s head at the top left-hand corner of the frame. Blondie mentions to Dagwood, “I forget to tell you, dear, some fellow named Clarence called you today.”

Below Blondie’s cloud of words in the same first frame scene, as Dagwood gets into bed, he speaks with a degree of doubt, “Clarence?” Take note here because all of their conversations follow the left to right, top to down reading rule. Although Blondie’s graphic is on the right, her cloud speech appears above Dagwood’s cloud speech. And every comic strip, too, follows this same left to right top down format.

Blondie is not only art and nostalgia (the strip is 85 years old!)—it also carries a psychological message and much more. It’s a logical presentation as well. For life-time followers like myself, who read each day’s strip, we have the comfort of being the fly on the wall as each Blondie script scene is presented in a logical way for readers.

Why can’t computer screen pages be designed in the same top down, left to right manner? And often when they’re not, it’s not easy, user documentation-wise, because we don’t know how to perform their procedures and know where on a screen’s page to go to next to execute a step.

To Be Continued With Actual App Examples!

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The Other Half

My “Why Is My Underwear in the Microwave?” blog post references apps’ illogical design. If you haven’t read the “underwear” blog, click HERE.


This post is about the other half of the problem we users have

This half refers to poorly presented user documentation. Along with poor application design, they add up as two strikes before we even get into the batter’s box to know how to use an app.

What helps to confuse us, when attempting to perform an app function, is that many times their clickable-labeled named items don’t make sense. The clickable items are presented as hyperlinks, buttons, and tabs. Hyperlinks usually are correctly labeled. Buttons, most of the time—but not always—are correctly named. Tab labels, more times than not, don’t match up with their respective subject matter to act upon.

Newspapers get this right when they label a continuous read to another page. If a news article is about how a man confronted an alligator, its linking label from page most likely would be identified as to go to: “Page 3, Alligator.” Computer clickable labeled items only take us to a next page where the page, only, is the link. And if that next page has its many clickable items, then where on that page do we start?


Our Third Strike to Swing At

As for user documentation, there’s no one standard for all.

  • Some apps use videos to describe how to do their user procedures.
  • Others show page-pictorial images with embedded text in their procedures.
  • And lastly, there are those that use only text for their procedures.

I hate “how-to” videos. They’re not fun to watch and listen to amateur actors’ boring ten-minute (of fame) presentations. And then what, am I supposed to memorize what was said in order to do its procedure function again six months later? And if I need to refresh myself on an item that’s in the ninth-minute of the ten-minute movie-clip, I then have to hear eight minutes of blah, blah, blah, that will surely put me to sleep. Visuals are for movies and TV shows that includes professional actors, which serve their purposes well. I’d be upset, if I went to a movie theater and instead of seeing the movie, I’d have to read its script pages instead.

Apps that present their procedures to include displayed pictorial images added to their procedures to perform, are not good choices either. This method inflates the length of their procedures.

If each web page had its own unique name shown at the screen’s top middle, then in the text-only method, their procedures would easily describe the named page and what the user needs to do next. Text-only procedures are short and sweet. They are performed step-by-step in bang, bang, bang, downward fashion. This should be the ONE and only standard method.

I would think it’s the application owners’ responsibility to provide good user procedures; after all they are the apps’ providers. They assume their app is the only one we users use. I got news for them, speaking for myself. I use more than 100 apps and there is no way, I can memorize how to do every app’s, every function.


Crazy Owner’s Manuals

My new 2015 Hyundai car came with eight books—that’s a little much!

One of the manuals describes how to delete a route, which doesn’t make sense. My argument is that a route is subordinate to a destination. If I don’t have a destination to go to, then I don’t have its route. When having a destination to go to, the only thing I can do, route-wise, is to change it, to either get to its related destination by the quickest method or by the slower scenic method. In either situation I end up at my destination.

One of the most basic data processing fundamentals we users need to know when performing various app functions is that we are to:

  • Add the whole of something that was never there before which now needs to be included, or
  • Change parts of that something that’s there now, which needs to be updated to stay current, or
  • Delete the whole of something that’s there now, which is no longer needed.

 Something could be any data entity such as a user profile, a text document, a pictorial image, etc. This is important to know, the: add, change, and delete functions are of equal status, and each is not subordinate to the other two. Logically we can’t change or delete something if we first didn’t add their something. And we can’t change something if it’s already been deleted.

We users can’t do these three functions if the technical end doesn’t allow for this to take place. Yet, I find it amazing how many apps make it so complicated to accomplish these three basic functions, especially the delete function. This is where we can tell the difference between a professional and an amateur app designer.

With my car’s weird routing app, I have to go through its change portal to make the delete happen. This doesn’t make sense to me. The delete button should be displayed next to the change button in the same screen portal. As to destination, we can only add or cancel (delete) it. Think about it, we can’t change a destination.


What follows is just one example regarding user documentation we users are frustrated with

I have five app payment accounts that automatically send their respective charges to my bank account each month. With each account referring to my respective profile pages, I need to include my credit card data. We know what’s required for it: the sixteen card numbers, the expiration date, as well as the three-digit security number on the card’s backside. Each of these three data items can be individually changed.

What I find amazing is that each of my five payment accounts have five different procedure methods to affect these three items for change, and none is designed by the best one standard method I would have designed, which is to treat each of the three entities separately to either change: any one, or any two, or all three.

Stay tuned as there’s more blog posts coming on this important user documentation subject.



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I Hate FAQ Lists, User Forums and The Like!

 As mentioned in my Why is my underwear in the microwave? blog, many applications are not logically designed. When an application includes a Help Tab, and/or an FAQ list and/or a User Forum, this is a red flag. This tells me the application owners know their customers, we users, are going to have problems with their site.

They’ll never admit that their application is illogically designed, making we the users feel computer ignorant. But I know better. Most people I’ve talked to over the years are above average in intelligence. I’ve told these people the fault’s not on their end; it’s on the designers who created a clunky, complicated application.

Why are so many applications designed like an albatross? There are three main reasons:

1.)     Unqualified technicians designed the application.

2.)     The application’s owners want their application installed as soon as possible. Because of this rush, the designers take shortcuts to meet the unrealistic installment date.

3.)     Both of the above.


The application people, meaning the owners and technicians, know their customers will have questions about how to carry out each of their application’s many functions. They become cost burdened with the following three methods as to how on their end they will answer the many customer questions that will inevitably come up.


Application owners who give us confusing applications:

•     Hire customer relations people who get paid less per hour in comparison to the technicians. My chief complaint is that most customer relations people do not know anything about good application design. Those in customer service only know how to work the application regardless of its unorthodox design.

•     Do not hire anyone and resort to using a computer function that involves customers pressing fixed given questions in a cascading downward fashion an FAQ list dictated answers the customers are “forced” to read (and don’t answer the real question the user would like to ask).  We have telephone systems that do this same thing!

They never answer the question I would like to ask, which is: “Why did you design such a complicated application which is like reading Chinese upside down?” I don’t say this to be controversial. I can be specific about where the problem is and what design improvements should be made to make it more “user-friendly.”

•     Include a User Forum as another portal within their application, which is the cheapest customer service solution compared to the two above. When customer users volunteer their help to aid other users they are enabling the owners. If no one would volunteer their help, then the owners would be forced to choose one of the other two methods mentioned (which aren’t that great).


One method owners will certainly not use is to have their technicians take the service calls. The owners’ mindset is that their technicians are highly paid and they are not to be taking phone calls. And yet this would be the best choice of all. If enough customers called on the same problem, shouldn’t this tell the technicians they have a flaw and should immediately resolve it?


The Bottom line:

Application owners should first hire qualified technicians. Secondly, allow them the time to design logically correct their applications. And lastly let their technicians take user calls for at least three-months after their application is in production. After this, then hire the lesser paid customer relations people.

Yes, there will always be a few customers, no matter what, who won’t know how to work any application regardless how well it’s designed. Unfortunately this is the nature of the beast.



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How Hell, I want to know Why First

As most apps tend to do, they headline their user procedures with “How to…” captions, where most don’t explain their specific purpose. I prefer to see a caption headline that explains why I need to do something. In a caption’s detail instructions, it’s there that tells me how to satisfy its objective.

As I mentioned in “The Other Half” blog: user documentation parallels as to what the technical design allows. In my opinion, most app sources treat user documentation as bastard-cousins. They write it once which is their meek attempts to parallel their first apps’ technical designs functional attributes. Then when future design changes are made, they don’t bother to change the user documentation to stay parallel.

Even when user documentation is provided, they take shortcuts by combining multiple procedures as one massive procedure, with a complex header captions that contain multiple verbs and multiple noun descriptors. Its detailed instructions for users to execute, are compounded as well, which is like reading a: who-done-it mystery novel.

Here are several poor header captions I’ve been issued from various source apps I have to use:
• How to Keep WordPress from Forgetting You with Always Remember Me Change My Address.
• How to Add Front-End Login Pages and Widgets in WordPress.
• How to use Facebook Lists for better Organization, Privacy and Security.
• How to Capture More Email Leads With Social Media Contests.

When reading the four how to captions above, would you know exactly why you need to perform each? I say “exactly,” as you shouldn’t have to guess as to why.
Let’s do a how to exercise function
I’m your boss and our office is located in Raleigh, NC. Interstate I-40 passes through Raleigh eastward 130 miles to Wilmington NC, which abuts at the Atlantic coastline. From Raleigh, I-40 extends westward 2,424 miles, and ends up in Barstow, California, which is just east of Los Angeles. Between Raleigh and Barstow, I-40 passes through other major cities such as: Durham North Carolina; Nashville and Memphis Tennessee; Little Rock, Arkansas; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Amarillo, Texas; and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

As your boss, I approach with a box, and hand it to you. I then say, “Take this box and put it in your shiny red car and get on I-40 and head west.” At this point, I did tell you “how to,” did I not?

If I were to document this as a written procedure, its header caption would read as: “How To Put a Box in Your Shiny Red Car, Get On I-40 And Head West.”

While you hold the box and before you dart off to your car, would you not ask me, where am I going, and what’s the purpose of delivering this box? If your destination is Durham, you know you’d be back in a several hours. If your destination is Barstow California, then besides that box, you’d probably would need to pack a suitcase to include some underwear for your three-day car trip west.

What follows below is another poorly described caption header created by Pinterest.
(caption) To Edit Or Delete A Pin

When the “or” word is included in a caption header as the above caption conveys, in its detail steps to perform, we users are going to have a problem executing easily, its edit and delete intertwined (verb) actions functions by its one procedure.

From reading further in their application, as to what this is really about, it’s about pictorial images and websites. You’d never know this by this caption header as described that’s more enamored with their “pin” term.

Here’s the above Pinterest’s caption detail procedure:
1. Hover over the Pin you want to edit and click the pencil button.
2. Edit the Pin description or website, or pick a new board.
3. Click Save Changes when you’re done.
4. Or click Delete Pin if you want to get rid of it—you can’t undo this, so be careful!

Notice in step 2, they mention “a new board.” I interpreted this to mean, move images and web sites from one board to another board.

I rewrote the above one caption header as six different caption headers to include their specific procedures to perform. As to the edit and delete terms, I prefer to use change and remove instead, in my procedures.

1.) To remove a featured image, scroll to the specific board as to where the image is located.
…………A.) On the board, hover over its pinned image.
………………….a.) A drop-down screen appears.
2.) Scroll into the drop-down screen to the ‘Delete Pin’ Button and click to select.
…………A. The image has been removed.

1.) To remove a featured web site, scroll to the specific board as to where the web site is located.
…………A.) On the board, hover over its pinned web site.
………………….a.) A drop-down screen appears.
2.) Scroll into the drop-down screen to the ‘Delete Pin’ Button and click to select.
…………A.) The web site has been removed.

1.) To change a featured image’s description, scroll to the specific board as to where the image is located.
…………A.) On the board, hover over the pinned image.
………………….a.) A drop-down screen appears.
2.) Scroll into the drop-down screen to the pencil-symbol Button and click to select.
…………A.) A drop-down screen appears.
3.) In the drop-down screen, scroll to ‘Pin description’ and click to select.
…………A.) The ‘Pin Description’ Screen appears.
4.) In the Pin Description Screen, enter the new description name.
…………A.) When done, scroll to the ‘Save Changes’ Button and click.

1.) To change a featured web site name, scroll to the specific board as to where the item is located.
…………A.) On the board, hover over the pinned item.
………………….a.) A drop-down screen appears.
2.) Scroll into the drop-down screen to the pencil-symbol Button and click.
…………A.) A drop-down screen appears.
3.) In the drop-down screen, scroll to ‘Website Name’ and click to select.
…………A.) The ‘Website Name’ Screen appears.
4.) In the Website Name Screen, enter the new description name.
…………A.) When done, scroll to the ‘Save Changes’ Button and click.

1.) To move a featured image to another board, scroll to the specific board as to where the image is located.
…………A.) On the board, hover over the pinned image.
………………….a.) A drop-down screen appears.
2.) Scroll into the drop-down screen to the pencil-symbol Button and click to select.
…………A.) A drop-down screen appears.
3.) In the drop-down screen, scroll to the new board the image is to be pinned to and click to select.
…………A.) The image has been moved to the second board.

1.) To move a featured web site to another board, scroll to the specific board as to where the web site is located.
…………A.) On the board, hover over the pinned web site.
………………….a.) A drop-down screen appears.
2.) Scroll into the drop-down screen to the pencil-symbol Button and click to select.
…………A.) A drop-down screen appears.
3.) In the drop-down screen, scroll to the new board the web site is to be pinned to and click to select.
…………A.) The web site has been moved to the second board.

When reading my six captions above, do all not explain why? Also note, and this is important, each of my captions includes a single subject and a single verb to satisfy its single objective’s purpose. And their respective detail steps to perform, satisfies their respective captions’ objectives with straight forward associated procedure steps which are much easier to accomplish than Pinterest’s one complicated multiple-function procedure to perform.

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Why Is My Underwear In The Microwave?

What follows is my professional explanation as to why we users have such a difficult time understanding as to how to use computer applications.

When you build a house, the first person you consult is a certified home architect. Even though they are in the house building trade, you wouldn’t go to a carpenter, or an electrician, or a plumber because they don’t know all your city’s environmental housing codes. The tradesmen don’t draw up the blueprints either. Each performs their respective jobs by what the architect’s blueprint dictates.

Like designing a new house, businesses that want a computer application built, should also see a certified application design architect first. Just because some smoe went on YouTube, or went to Barnes and Noble to learn how to write HTML software, does not make him qualified as a computer architect any more than an electrician is a home’s architect. Because there are no third-party blueprint design safeguards in the computer industry many applications are designed incorrectly by unqualified personnel.

The house architect must receive the city’s stamped-sealed approval before he has his second meeting with the homeowner-to-be. The first blueprint page the house architect shows is the master layout. This blueprint identifies only each named room within the outer walls of the future home such as the: kitchen, master bedroom, dining/living room and so on. Everyone from Maine to California are familiar with these names and know what each room’s purpose is.

To go one step further, the home has been built and the homeowner and family members have moved into their home. Soon after, they fortify their home complete with all the functional items they need for their living comfort. For example: hammers, nails and screwdrivers would be stored in the garage; food-stock items and toothpicks would be stored in the kitchen; underwear and socks would be stored in bedrooms; and toothbrushes and toilet paper would be stored in bathrooms.

As to computer applications we users are its residents, as well. What is different here is the application designers fortified our computer house. One problem is that on their main blueprint pages, they fail to clearly identify all their rooms and even if they did, by their labels used to identify, not all people from Maine to California would recognize their specific purposes.

Many applications display their like named hammers, toothpicks and toilet paper labels on their home pages, which shouldn’t be there, any more than house architects would show pictures of their true named hammers, toothpicks and toilet paper on their first blueprint page.

To add more complications, applications show in their like named kitchens that our underwear is to be found inside its microwave; and our toothbrushes are located in their like named garages. To find these items, we computer homeowners are bumping into walls because of their illogical design.

All business owners need to have their IT personnel properly trained. A good starting point to identify the different skill levels, is to contact the “Institute for the certification of Computer Professionals” that has been in the testing and certification business since 1973. By accessing their site, the business owners can learn of the different job descriptions in the computer field and their related career path time and skill requirements. After passing the related tests, their IT personnel are then certified and registered with their specific skill.

Everyone benefits when IT personnel obtain their certifications. The business owners’ benefits because as a holder, they adhere to good business practices. IT personnel benefit as they design systems logically and program code by adhering to basic data processing fundamental principles. As a result, the public benefits because they can more easily use their applications.

When you find an application is difficult to use, it’s not because of your self-imposed ignorance. It’s them, whose illogical designed applications that made you think this way. Whenever possible, inform the application owners what you think of their site.

Leonard Rattini, CCP (ICCP Registration Number: 010592)


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A collection of photos I took in an ocean aquarium at eye level
I took a bunch of pictures in an ocean  aquarium at eye level, then later arranged this scene that I painted


Colors and Shapes
From another photo I later painted from. I love its colors and shapes

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