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How to frustrate your users by making data entry annoying

All I wanted to do was to create some calendar entries. A date, some times, and a description. Not too tough.

Except the person who created the user interface has clearly not spent a lot of time actually doing this task. Take a look at the form:


Now consider for a moment how annoying it is to enter start and end times on this form. It always defaults to “01:00 AM”, which of course is NEVER the start time for one of my appointments. So I must always change the first drop down value. And if the appointment starts on the half hour, I must scroll through 30 entries. Who thought this was a good idea? (Not to mention that since the end date doesn’t default to the start date, for most cases I must pick the date a second time. Yuck.)

Then I get the privilege of doing the same thing for the end time. The end time also starts at 01:00 AM”. Since most of my meetings are approximately 1 hour, if it started on the half hour I get to scroll that time yet again. Lame.

As a programmer, I understand why the programmers picked drop down lists. It starts with these basic notions:

  • Time entry is structured data. It has numbers is a specific format and in a specific range. Plus that whole am/pm thingy.
  • If I let people type whatever they want, then I have to validate what they entered before saving it. This way, less validation.

Which is all well and good, until you actually think about what users are trying to do. They are trying to create appointments. Quickly. There isn’t much info that is required for an appointment (dates and times and a description). Making it harder is really stupid.

Compare the above to this control time picker, available from Peter Blum:


The popup list of times to select only appears if I click on the little clock next to the textbox. This is lovely because since most of my appointments are during regular business hours and on the hour or half hour, I can just pick a time. Or if I need to enter a different time, I can just type it. No pesky drop down lists to scroll through for 45 minutes past the hour.

There is also the approach used in Backpack: just entering the whole thing in a text box, and letting the application parse it out.


This is the most complex option from a programming perspective. I also have mixed feelings about it for end users. I think for some users this is a welcome approach, but for others this takes some getting used to.

But the bottom line is that either of these second options was much more thought out than the crappy option with the drop down lists.

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Comments  2

  1. Jacki Hollywood Brown 04 May

    One thing that organizers like is efficiency. Data entry should be easy.
    The first example you show is outrageous. How many meetings have you been to that start at 9h11? Wouldn't it be easier to simplify and put just 5 minute intervals in 05, 10, 15 etc? Depending on what the data is use for, you could make it really simple and just put the 15's in (eg, 00, 15, 30, 45) so if you had a meeting at 8h20 you could set your time to 8h15 and never be late. Also, making the end time an optional field would make data entry easier too.

    I like the second option although I know it is tougher to program. I'm also wondering if it would accept all weird short forms.
  2. By Avonelle Lovhaug on 04 May

    Yeah, that form is really crappy. This particular software is very feature rich, but design poor. So it does an awful lot, but you have to decide how much ugliness and poor user interface design you are willing to put up with. For now, the price and features make it an acceptable tradeoff, but I really would rather find something else.

    Not sure what "weird short forms" you are referring to. I know Backpack doesn't seem to handle the word "noon", but it handles dates entered as 7/12 or July 12. It also handles times entered as 12pm or 14:00, for example.
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