Well it has happened again?
Found yet another inconsistency on the Microsoft Office suite that for some reason annoys me to no end now that I found it. The issue lies around the ability to select colors.
Within outlook you can create message categories and assign them to messages in the mail list. This is pretty useful when you need to quickly identify groups of messages visually. I actually make use of this myself to help me separate personal emails from work related emails, and then a bit more granular to help rate them by importance via color (IE: light are less priority, darker are higher priority). It seems to work pretty good so far and helps keep me organized. However, lately something has just been itching at me about the way it works and looks, and suddenly last night it hit me. The color picker dropdown box that the Outlook colorization category uses is not a standard color selection dropdown. Here is what it looks like:
Problem #1 - It's just wrong! Windows has a standard color picker dialog box, why not use it? Someone had to:
- Take the time to design the control interface.
- Take the time to create a drop down control JUST for this use and include it in the code.
- Test it.
- Release it
Problem #2 - It's been done wrong! The UI of this control is awful and it is non-standard.
- It mixes the look and feel of a combo box and a menu control. Notice that the control uses a dropdown arrow to indicate the available action but then the option area is not a list style control, but instead is a menu style area, and even contains the light shading on the left where the menu would normally place icons that show this options equivalent location on a tool bar.
- The available colors are all mixed up. They are not in any specific order (IE: Light to dark, grouped by tone value, etc?) Very bad design indeed.
It's clear that someone at Microsoft does know how to design a color selection control, because they offer one. I see it used all the time, even in the same application (Outlook) when I want to change the color of my text. It looks like this in case you have forgotten:
See? Now THAT'S how it is supposed to look. Gives you access to the standard colors most often used, allows you to select form a nice wide range of other colors, arranged in (some) hue order to create a theme style, and then gives you the option to jump over to a more advanced selection dialog (using the More Colors?) option, where you can mix your own colors using not just the RGB or HSL scale but also brightness.
THAT is how it's done.
Now I am not going to argue about the effectiveness of the color selection dropdown I am showing above, I am simply showing that it exists, is considered a standard within the Microsoft community, both by internal developers and external customers, and seems to be effective enough for general use. I would not settle for this style in a high end art-centric application, but for what it needs to do as part of the Microsoft Office package I think this design is clear, concise and effective.
I do have to say however that even this design seems to have been perverted a bit. Taking a look into the same type of area but within the Microsoft Publisher application reveals this color option:
BUT at least it gives you the ability to jump to the more advanced option just like the others do using the ‘More Colors…’ option, and there you get the same dialog as shown above. In fact, because this is a professional (semi at least) desk top publishing application, this dialog box offers you the added option of using the Pantone color scale as well as the other RGB and HSL styles (who ever though that selecting a color would be so darn complicated?)
Since I was poking around I decided to crank open my copy of Microsoft Expression Blend 3 and see what that did for me. I figured as I went upwards in application complexity and relative use in the graphics industry I figured this one would be a bit more advanced (IE: Complicated) and I was presently surprised at the available features AND the obvious usability.
There is surprisingly very little labeling within the control itself, but I think most you can get the idea about what you can do with it pretty quickly. As I have often sighted to various groups in the past that have had to listen to me drone through usability discussions, quite often it is simple UI and the ability to play that leads towards an efficient design. You do not always have to GIVE the answers explicitly as long as you allow people the latitude to try and undo, leading to the adage that experience often leads to the best learning
So, I just HAD to do one more thing and revisit my old buddy PhotoShop.
Wow, it is actually not too bad. Funny, but it was kind of better than I had expected it to be. I do however notice that they may need a usability person to review this because the various types of color selections should really (IMHO at least) have a box around them showing that they are grouped together.
So, what have we learned here?
Yeah, I know, beyond the fact that I can get overly picky?
I think that the message is clear. Consistency is key.
As a developer, there is not really a need to go off reinventing the wheel. What would have been wrong with a dropdown solution similar to this?
At very least I think this leverages the idea I am trying to get across. And, it would give me more darn color options instead of just the static 25 that I am apparently stuck with for my categories.
Oh, and DO NOT GET ME STARTED on the fact that this listing of categories is the SAME listing that I have available between my CALENDAR and my CONTACTS!
That is the subject for another blog post!