UI Oddities #1 – Skype

Every so often I use some software in my day-to-day life that, whilst useful, slightly perturbs me. I thought I’d catalogue these, and perhaps keep an eye out to see if in future releases of the software it is improved. These posts won’t be based on any one software family or language, and will be infrequent in nature – just whenever I stumble across UI that bothers me. I encourage readers to disagree with me or provide their own thoughts. These posts, as with all my posts, are off-the-cuff remarks that aren’t hugely considered and are likely to be flawed – help keep me honest 🙂

First up is Skype. I’m running Skype 4.2.0.0169 on Windows 7. I use Skype very often as I work from home and pay them a small amount each month to get ‘unlimited’ calls to the US. Often times at the end of the call I’m asked if I want to give feedback as to the call quality of the previous call. Almost always the quality is excellent, and I’m always happy to tell them that. So, up pops the dialog, which looks like the following (click for full size):

The Skype 'Call Quality Feedback' dialog

So, in many regards the dialog is tidy. I like the use of stars to indicate the quality, making them the actual button to click is very nice. I like the summaries given for each of the five options – it seems clear when to select which option. Finally, I like the general design of the dialog. It’s professional and clean.

The problems I have with this dialog are small and finicky. Firstly, where did one-third of the dropshadow on the Skype image disappear to in the top-left corner? Secondly, why put the ‘Cancel’ button down the bottom-right corner? Thirdly, why is the dialog the height it is? There is about 90 pixels of wasted whitespace at the bottom of it, and the window isn’t resizable.

Fair enough though – this dialog is not intended to stick around – you give the feedback and that’s it, right?

Well, that’s where the real oddity begins. That isn’t the end of the interaction. Once I give my feedback I’m subjected to a second page of the dialog:

The Skype 'Thank You' dialog

So, after being helpful, I now get the privilege of being thanked and then having to close the dialog myself. This is when the height of the window becomes frustrating – I clicked in the middle of the dialog on the previous page, and now I need to move my mouse a considerable distance to get to either of the close/finish buttons.

My suggestions are simple and require only minor changes:

  1. Thank the user for their consideration towards giving feedback on the first page. Even if they don’t want to help it never hurts to be thankful. Especially considering you did just pop up a dialog and steal their attention.
  2. Consider moving the cancel button on the first page to instead be a sixth option in the central pane of the first page. Call it something like ‘I prefer not to say’ and choose an appropriate icon to easily indicate visually that a user uninterested in helping would click it instinctively.
  3. Get rid of the thank you page entirely. Regardless of the feedback given on the first page, simply dismiss the dialog. Don’t make me click again.

That’s it. Given this small change I think the Skype ‘call quality’ dialog would be improved and certainly a little less annoying (given it’s a frequently recurring dialog). Admittedly, it’s not a light-and-day improvement, but then often-times UI improvement are just a collection of small tweaks, and this is just another one that should be considered in light of any future UI improvements that they may plan.

6 thoughts on “UI Oddities #1 – Skype”

  1. I understand your suggestions and agree on the second page being useless. However, it may not be wise to move that cancel button to a sixth option; it would be clicked much more than if it is harder to reach down below.

    About the white space; a few pixels could be shaved off, but usually having some decent amount of white spaces gives a nice and cleaned-up view. We coders have big tendency to overcrowd screens; “hey, there are 4 unused pixels!” So better a bit too much whitespace than too little.

    1. Tom, I agree. My main point was definitely regarding the redundant second screen, and we agree on that. This is what initially frustrated me as an end-user.

      The other suggestions (wasted whitespace and moving the cancel button) were certainly less important in my opinion, but I included them nonetheless as points to consider.

      As I’m sure you’ll agree, the good thing about UI design is that it’s so easy to come up with ideas, prototype them, and then test the outcome. Often times you’ll realise the idea is not as good as you think it is, and that’s perfectly fine 🙂 . These two changes certainly would need testing to see if they were beneficial or not.

      The most important thing is that we can come up with ideas to test out, and that we can discuss these ideas and iterate.

      1. Yes, it’s easy to prototype, but every time I create a screen, I experience that it’s also very difficult to “get it right”. One assumes that only some labels & fields need to be placed on a square, but there is a fair amount of artistic feeling included to make a screen more that fields-on-a-square; for example the stars add some flair.

        Colors, layout, whitespace… For me, a good screen is not trivial to make. So discussion and iteration are very important indeed.

    2. I disagree: Never move any GUI component to a harder to reach position, because you want the user to click somewhere else.
      It reminds me of Flash (an ancient multimedia system for desktop computers 😉 PopOver-Ads with 3×3 pixel sized Close-Buttons.

      I’m constantly annoyed by the Skype GUI and I know the reason for this. It’s also the answer to Jonathans questions about the missing “one-third of the dropshadow on the Skype image” and the wasted space:
      All dialogs are HTML-based and this works (sometimes) in a browser, but not in a desktop application where the HTML gets mixed with native GUI-components.

    3. “it would be clicked much more than if it is harder to reach down below”
      Annoy the user to get what you want is bad software.
      You gave the reason why they did it, but Jonathan was precisely complaining about it for it’s annoyance.

      Altogether, I feel that this window is invasive and a huge lack of respect for the customers. Skype found a free way to get quality control by putting the burden on clients.
      I always answer randomly this window in protest.

  2. (Note that I’m holding back any wise-ass comments in regard to the “down below” and “harder to reach”)

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