Monday, September 13, 2010

UX Quickie: Lunch with Google Calendar

I've been remiss about posting lately - my apologies. There are a few new developments in my life that have taken up some time (which you'll hear about eventually) and I just haven't quite found the motivation to sit down and blog the last few days.

Anyway, I'm sure there are lots of people out there that use Google products and Google Calendar in particular. I love the pace at which they've been adding new features, and I generally applaud the features they add. In particular, I like the ability to invite others, including non-gmail users, by putting their email in when editing and event.
Does anyone want to play with me?
This feature has made my Burning Wheel games infinitely easier to plan and organize.

However, I've noticed that Google hasn't quite done their homework when investigating how people use this feature to set up 1-on-1 appointments. For instance, the first time I ever used this feature (probably about 3 or 4 months ago), I used it to make a lunch appointment with my friend Lianne. I think I just happened to notice it as I was making the calendar appointment. So, I entered her email in the little box, filled in as many details as I could at the time, and titled it "Lunch w/ Lianne."

That doesn't sound very strange, right? Not from my point of view, anyway. But when Lianne got the invite, she was more than a little surprised to find an event that said she was having lunch with herself. I blushed in embarrassment, we giggled about it, and - as users often do - I boiled the mistake down to me not knowing how to use it. But the reason I'm now writing about something I noticed 3 months ago is that the issue persists, and I'm not the only one who does it. I get invites all the time saying "Lunch w/ Dustin" which is pertinent for my friends, but very confusing for me.

The problem is that Google is making us think way too hard about this. I haven't really figured out a proper solution yet (this is one of those "soft" problems), but I think I've figured out the problem. When I'm setting up an appointment with one or two other people, I have three basic choices for how to title the event. As an example, let's say my name is Dustin (which it is) and the friend's name is Jake. Here are the possible ways I could go about titling the event:

  1. "Lunch w/ Jake" As discussed earlier, this makes it very easy for me to remember what this appointment is about, but it'd be confusing and a bit off-putting for Jake to have to deal with. Also, is Jake able to change the name of the event on his calendar without changing the name on mine? This is unclear, and the potential embarrassment has stopped me from trying on several occasions.
  2. "Lunch w/ Dustin" This makes me a very good friend, since this way I'm not confusing him, but I've only flipped the issue on its head. If this appointment is more than a few days away, I'm likely to forget about it for awhile, and then be surprised when I notice lunch w/ myself on my calendar.
  3. "Lunch" This is simpler, I suppose, but now Jake and I are both kind of screwed. It's impossible to tell at a glance who this appointment is with, and potentially tough to remember this if the event is not in the immediate future.
I'm thinking that the problem here is that there's no way to reliably tell who an appointment is with just by glancing at the event on the calendar. Or if the appointment is indeed with anyone at all. Because of this, I use the title of the event, which is immediately visible, to remind me about the all-important context of "who else is going to be at this thing." The general solution is to give people the option of making this visible at a glance along with the names of the events. Exactly how that should be implemented, I leave to Google.

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