From my 2014 study of GNOME's usability, usability testing revealed several "hot" problem areas, including:
Changing the default font in gedit or Notes
Testers typically looked for a "font" or "text" action under the gear menu. Many testers referred to the gear menu as the "options" or "settings" menu because they previously affiliated a "gear" icon with settings or preferences in Mac OS X or Windows. Testers assumed changing the font was a settings, so they looked for it in what they assumed was a "settings" menu: the gear menu.Bookmarking a location in Nautilus
Most testers preferred to just move a frequently-used folder to the desktop, so it would be easier to find. But GNOME doesn't have a "desktop" per se by default, and expects users to use the "Bookmark this Location" feature in Nautilus. However, this feature was not very discoverable; many testers moved the target folder into another folder, and believed that they had somehow bookmarked the location.Finding and replacing text in gedit
When asked to make to replace all instances of a word with another word, across a large text file, testers had trouble discovering the "find and replace text" feature in gedit. Instead, testers experimented with "Find" then simply typed over the old text with the new text.How does the new GNOME 3.16 improve on these problem areas? Let's look at a few screenshots:
GNOME 3.14 saw several updates to the gedit editor, which continue in GNOME 3.16:
The new gedit features a clean appearance that features prominent "Open" and "Save" buttons—two functions that average users with average knowledge will frequently access.
A new "three lines" icon replaces the gear menu for the drop-down menu. This "three lines" menu icon is more common in other applications, including those on Mac OS X and Windows, so the new menu icon should be easier to find.
The "Open" menu includes a quick-access list, and a button to look for other files via the finder.
The preferences menu doesn't offer significant usability improvements, although the color scheme selector is now updated in GNOME 3.16.
The updated Nautilus features large icons that offer good visibility without becoming too overwhelming. The "three lines" menu is simplified in this release, and offers an easier path to bookmark a location.
I uncovered a few issues with the Epiphany web browser (aka "GNOME Web") but since I don't usually use Epiphany (I use Firefox or Google Chrome) I'm not sure how long these problems have been there.
Epiphany has a clean appearance that reserves most of the screen real estate to display the web page. This is a nice design tradeoff, but I noticed that after I navigated to a web page, I lost the URL bar. I couldn't navigate to a new website until I opened a new tab and entered my URL there. I'm sure there's another way to bring up the URL bar, but it's not obvious to me.
I'll also add that taking screenshots of Epiphany was quite difficult. For other GNOME applications, I simply hit Alt-PrtScr to save a screenshot of my active window. But the Epiphany web browser seems to grab control of that key binding, and Alt-PrtScr does nothing most of the time—especially when the "three lines" menu is open. I took several screenshots of Epiphany, and about half were whole-desktop screenshots (PrtScr) that I later cropped using the GIMP.
Notifications got a big update in GNOME 3.16. In previous versions of GNOME 3, notifications appeared at the bottom of the screen. Now, notifications appear at the top of the screen, merged with the calendar. You might consider this a "calendar and events" feature. The notifications are unobtrusive; when I plugged in my USB fob drive, a small white marker appeared next to the date and time to suggest a new notification had arrived. While I haven't reviewed notifications as part of my usability testing, my heuristic evaluation is that the new notifications design will improve the usability around notifications. I believe most users will see the new "calendar and events" feature as making a lot of sense.
However, I do have some reservations about the updated GNOME. For one, I dislike the darker colors seen in these screenshots. Users don't like dark desktop colors. In user interface design, colors also affect the mood of an application. As seen in this comparison, users perceived the darker colors used in Windows and GNOME as moody, while the lighter colors used in Mac OS X suggest an airy, friendly interface. This may be why users at large perceive the GNOME desktop to have poor usability, despite usability testing showing otherwise. The dark, moody colors used in GNOME provoke feelings of tension and insecurity, which influence the user's perception of poor usability.
I'm also not sure about the blue-on-grey effect to highlight running programs or selected items in the GNOME Shell. In addition to being dark, moody colors, the blue-on-grey is just too hard to see clearly. I would like GNOME to update the default theme to use lighter, airier colors. I'll reserve a discussion of colors in GNOME for a future article.
Overall, I'm very pleased with the usability improvements that have gone into the new GNOME release. Good job, everyone!
I look forward to doing more usability testing in this version of GNOME, so we can continue to make GNOME great. With good usability, each version of GNOME gets better and easier to use.
GNOME icon: Wikimedia commons