UI Confusion: Too Many Ways to Do the Same Thing

User interface confusion is something we all suffer. Using a computer and not knowing how to accomplish a task is a large source of frustration. Good user interface (UI) design allows the user to complete their tasks without ever getting in the way. It prefers to stand in the shadows only appearing when assistance is needed. However, good UI is hard to find.

Google are “pretty good” at UI design. They spend a lot of time thinking about the placement and meaning of interface elements and their products have garnered a large following as a result. Yet even them mighty giant misses in the most baffling of ways at times. One such example I encounter regularly when using GMail; their options for Forward and Forward All.

When viewing a conversation chain (one conversation consisting of multiple related emails) it is often desirable to forward the entire chain of emails rather than only the latest in that chain. The Forward All option is the mechanism for achieving this. Yet this option is not present in the menus that offer the Reply or regular Forward options. Instead it is nestled away in a list labeled “More”. Having two places to check for related functionality is confusing.

The following images demonstrate this. In the first image (below) only a single email exists in the chain, so the “More” list contains nothing to do with forwarding. The regular options list does contain a Forward link. This trains me to use the list on the right for my forwarding needs.

Forward All 1


In the second image (below) there is more than one email in the conversation. I click the list to the left but see only a Forward link. Does this mean Forward one or all? I’m not sure. However, expanding the “More” list reveals Forward All. Note that there is no Forward in this list.



Forward All 2


Having multiple ways to do the same thing is bad, especially when those ways contain subtle differences based upon the email or emails that are being viewed. I regularly get confused about where to look and click when forwarding emails as a result.

As an aside, the lack of a Reply All in the list on the right is another example of confusion in GMail. The Reply All link is instead buried at the bottom of the chain in light gray.

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