Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Evaluation of the Usability of Signal Desktop Instant Messenger

By: Christopher Bennett

Signal is an opensource cross-platform messaging service that uses end-to-end encryption to safely and securely send group or personal messages.  It supports file transfers, voice, images and videos.  Signal is praised for its scalability and security. Bruce Schneier, an internationally renowned security technologist, says “I am regularly impressed with the thought and care put into both the security and the usability of this app. It's my first choice for an encrypted conversation”.

 A typical Signal client.

Signal is popular especially among security conscious people who are willing to trade quirky bugs and clunky interface in order to achieve total privacy. However, Signal's usability needs to be improved before it has a chance to become the next big chat application.  I will explore some usability flaws in Signal's Desktop client and provide my suggestion on how to fix them.  

No Drag and Drop to Rearrange Conversations

Drag and drop interfaces have become expected in modern user interfaces.  Signal’s conversation window offers no drag and drop organisation feature.  This isn’t the natural feel that modern users have become accustomed too using and now expect in a modern interface. 

By allowing the user to rearrange chats via click-and-drag Signal will keep consistency with other chat applications that have this functionality. This is the behaviour a user would expect.

Error Message Moves Conversations

Signal requires a network connection to send messages.  If the connection gets interrupted  the user needs to be made aware.  Unfortunately the error message used to alert the user that the network is unavailable also unexpectedly shifts the conversations widow.  In addition the message "Connecting" may be confusing to some users and isn't clear as to what it means.

recommend the error message be moved from the top of the interface to the bottom so no widgets need to be moved in order for the message to be displayed.  I also suggest the message be made more clear to prevent confusion. Perhaps "Unable to connect to network. Reconnecting" with an animation to give the user feedback that the connection is attempting to reconnect.

No Custom Disappearing Delays

One of the features of Signal is disappearing messages. This prevents someone who gets access to your device from being able to browse through past messages.  The menu to select how long a message should exist before being deleted has a few fixed preset values that the user is forced to choose from.  There is no option to set a custom value. This removes flexibility for an experienced user who may wish to fine tune how long they want the messages to exist for.

Adding an extra option at the bottom of the menu that,  when pressed, would open a widget that would prompt the user for a numerical value and a unit of time. This would  allow a user the freedom to set the disappearing time to the exact value they wished while still maintaining the ease of use for novice users. 

Confusing Feedback

Signal messages feature a delivery notification icon at the bottom right of the message. 

An empty dash bordered circle indicates that the message is currently being sent. 

A single check mark denotes the message has been sent to Signal service. 

Double empty check marks signify the message has been delivered. 

Double filled check marks mean the recipient has read the message.  

There is no tutorial or manual built into the signals client.  A user has to search for the meaning of these symbols and stumble upon the support article explaining the meanings. I recommend signal add a way for the user to discover the meaning of the symbols.  I suggested they add a help menu in the client explaining the meaning.  The users may also like a tap for more information functionality.  This would allow a user to cap on the icon and would be given a brief explanation of the meaning of the icon.

Silent Failure When Deleting Messages

A frustrating micro-interaction in Signal is when a message fails to delete a message.  No feedback is given to the user of why the message was unable to be deleted.

Example of the typical delete scenario

Example of a silent failure

The fix is simple, add an error message that alerts the user to why the message is unable to be deleted at this time.  This way the user has feedback and can understand why the message was unable to be deleted.


Signal is a ways off of becoming the next WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.  It lacks key features and isn't novice friendly.  It is designed for security conscious people who are willing to take the trade off of quirky buggy interfaces and in return get a very secure instant messaging client.

    Usability Evaluation of Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC)

    By: Navneet Sidhu


    Usability is to measure the ease of use in user centered interaction designs. In this article, I will discuss some of the major usability issues that were uncovered by performing heuristic evaluation and think aloud user testing on Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation . It is a government website that is used for booking travel tickets which includes railways, flights etc. It allows users to track their train, cancel their train ticket, check the facilities available at the stations such as wheelchair, WiFi, retiring rooms etc. It also allows the user to choose a complete holiday packages including travel tickets, hotels, food. It is the most used website in India. IRCTC was in top searched items in 2013 and 2014 ranked by Google India [3]. The issues discovered are classified according to Nielson’s 1994 Heuristics [1]. Recommendations to resolve those issues have also been suggested.
    Figure 1: Home page of IRCTC

    Usability Issues and Recommendations

    1.      Captcha Verification not visible

    Issue: The login page contains unnecessary information, which hides away the Captcha verification which is necessary for logging into the website as shown in Figure 2. While trying to login into the website, the captcha can be easily missed, and the user can go directly to Sign in button. The issue is due to failure of highlighting important distinctions, distractions due to ads and confusing screen design.
    Heuristics Violated: This completely violates Heuristic #1 which clearly states that more important items should stand out more. The users take longer to process more information and the catchy ads makes it harder to find the functionality that the user needs [2].
    Figure 2: Captcha verification doesn't stand out.


    The website should not be filled with unnecessary information. The Captcha verification box should be bigger and visible. It should stand out and shouldn’t be easily missed by the user. 

    2.      Complex navigation and design

    Issue: There are lot of navigation bars that confuses the user. Users can be easily confused whether they should choose destination and origin from the top bar or from the left bar. Similar case is while choosing journey class, user can be confused where they should choose from. The user is obligated to interact with the system multiple times to check availability and fare. The quota field (highlighted in the middle of the page on the right side in Figure 3) is differentiated from the actual description of the trip. If user needs to change the quota, they must navigate to different option bar.
    Heuristics violated: The complex design violates heuristics #1, #8 as this is unnecessary repetition of information and leads to a complex design.
    Figure 3: Design too complex 


    The designers could remove one of these options and keep choices simple for the user. The quota field should be clubbed together with the journey date, class, origin and destination.

    3.      Menu options not same throughout the website

    Issue: The menu options are not same throughout the different website pages. As shown in Figure 4 and 5, the options under Trains in the Home page are multiple such as Book a ticket, train schedule etc. but the same options can not be accessed from other pages. There is no way of reaching the train ticket booking page from Figure 5. The issue was caused due to inconsistency among the different parts of the website.
    Heuristics Violated: This violates Heuristic #4 that requires the software to be consistent by putting the same information at the same location and format throughout the system.
    Figure 4: Multiple options under Trains 

    Figure 5: Only few options under Trains 


    The menu options must be same throughout the website. The user should be able to navigate to all pages throughout the website. The same options that are given on the home page needs to be added throughout the website pages.

    4.      No captcha provided

    Issue: When trying to book a holiday package from Holidays options given at the menu bar at the top of the home page, while entering the details, it was found that there was no Captcha provided to enter in the Captcha verification field. The Refresh button provided in the top right of the Captcha verification window doesn’t work. No proper feedback was given for the problem.
    Heuristics Violated: This violates Heuristic #5, #8, #9.

    Figure 6: No Captcha provided


    The developer needs to investigate the code for the Captcha. A different Captcha provider can be used. The code snippets need to be placed in proper parts in the website.

    5.      Track your train option in the menu leads to Error

    Issue: ‘Track your train’ option doesn’t perform any function and leads to Error 404 Page not found (Figure 10). The option is a dead link. There is no functionality assigned to the menu option. This is a bug in the website.
    Heuristics Violated: This problem violates heuristic #5 that states to prevent errors.
    Figure 7: Track your train doesn't work

    Figure 8: Result of clicking on Track your Train option


    Functionality needs to be added to Track your train button. The developer needs to write HTML code for this option.

    6.      Replan button doesn’t perform any function

    Issue: When trying to book a holiday package, you fill the complete information, go to the payments page but decide to replan the trip, you try clicking on Replan button as shown in Figure 9. The problem is that Replan button doesn’t work and performs no functionality.
    Heuristics Violated: This violates heuristic #5 that states to prevent errors.
    Figure 9: Replan button has no function


    Replan button needs to be assigned proper functionality. The code needs to be investigated and the button should redirect it to proper page that allows the user to replan the trip.

    7.      Help isn’t on the same location on every page (No consistency)

    Issue: Online help is not consistent among the website pages. While booking a train ticket the help is displayed on the bottom right as shown in the screenshot in Figure 10. While booking a holiday package the help is on the bottom left of the page as shown in Figure 11. 
    Heuristics Violated: The heuristic that were violated were #4 as the same information isn’t at the same location and format throughout the system [2].
    Figure 10: Chatbox is on the bottom right  

    Figure 11: Chatbox is on bottom left


    This can be fixed by assigning a proper and consistent position to the help section. It needs to be same throughout the various pages of the website. 

    8.      Help required? Ask DISHA. Pops up right on important information.

    Issue: The #AskDisha chat feature is very annoying as it pops up at unwanted times and covers the cost and check availability action buttons. Though the option to minimise the chat box is provided it doesn’t perform its function very effectively. Even after minimising it, it pops up after few seconds and gets unbearable.

    Heuristics violated: This violates Heuristic #1 and #8 as the more important information (cost & availability) is being hidden by chat box.
    Figure 12: Chatbox covers the important information 


    The minimize button needs to perform its function properly and the chat box should not pop up after every 2-3 seconds. Either the default location of the chat box needs to be changed or the Check availability & fare column must be moved somewhere else on the screen.


    Heuristic evaluation uncovered various usability issues as reported above.  This is one of the most used websites in India. As per its usage this website should be highly maintained and provide good usability. The website faces many issues that needs immediate attention to provide good usability. By investigating usability in depth and implementing user centric solutions, IRCTC developers will be able to fix the issues that are of highest priority and make website design even easier for users to use.


        1.   Nielson, J. (1994), Nielson Norman Group, ‘Nielson’s Heuristics 1994’, at
        2.   Lethbridge, Timothy. Heuristic evaluation and Cognitive Walkthroughs at
        3.   Arora, H. Google year in Search 2014 reveals top level trends at
        4.   IRCTC website at

    Usability Evaluation of Student Enrollment system for University of Ottawa

    Usability Evaluation of Student Enrollment system for University of Ottawa 

    By Jiahao Li


    The student enrollment system is the most relevant educational administration system for each student. The usability of the enrollment system is directly related to the efficiency of course selection and learning for every student. In this article, I evaluated this system using Niellsen's 1990 heuristic principles. 

    In the process of the evaluation, I analyzed the usability issues about three main parts (course selection part, search part, and academic information part) of this system. I found that this system violated some of Niellsen's 1990 heuristic principles, such as "Consistency and standards", "User control and freedom" and "Flexibility and efficiency of use". At the end of this article, I also give a conclusion to this usability evaluation.

    Usability Issues

    1. There is no sign in function after sign out

    After users got in the enrollment system from the sign in page (Figure1) and finished to add course into their course schedule, they would click the sign out button. Then the page turned into Figure2. The problem here is that there is no sign in button in Figure2, which means if a user wants to sign in again in this situation, they have to sign in student uoZone first and then sign in enrollment system from unZone. This is a very complicated operation if a user would like to back to the enrollment system and deal with something. Therefore, this issue violates the principle of "User control and freedom".
    Figure1: Sign in page

    Figure2: Logged out page

    Suggested improvements

    1. Add a sign in function to this page instead of show a message to inform users that they already logged out.
    2. Give the user a hint about there is no sign in function in this page and give a link to lead users to sign in page.

    2. Hard to back class list page after getting in the class detail page

    Students can get in the class list page via search function in this enrollment system. Then they can view the class details page (Figure3) clicking the class section link. In general, we can click the back button on the toolbar of the browser to back previous page (class list page). However, in this case, both users found they would return to the course search page by clicking the back button but not return to the class list page. Users only can back to the previous page by clicking view search results button which is located in the bottom of this page. Obviously, the "Consistency and standards" principle is not being followed in the class detail page.

    Figure3: Class detail page

    Suggested improvements

    1. Move the view search results button from the bottom to the top of the page.
    2. Add the back button of the browser as a way to back to the previous page.
    3. Change the word on the button from view search results to view the class list.

    3. Hard to find the category of a course

    In the process of evaluation, if users would like to find the category of course CSI 5122, most of the users will try to find it via class schedule first (Figure4) which is demonstrated in the main page because a user can get into the class details page through class schedule. The users thought they could find the category of CSI 5122 by viewing the class details page. However, all users failed to find a category on this page. As a part of class information, it sounds weird that this feature can't be found on this page. In fact, a user only can find the category of this course by searching his course requirements (Figure5). Therefore, this function already broke the "Flexibility and efficiency of use" principles.

    Figure4: Class schedule
    Figure5: Student's class requirements page

    Suggested improvements

    1. Add the class category into the class details page.
    2. Give a hint to tell students how to find the class category information on the class details page.

    4. Find the recently used list and add a function into the recently used list

    In general, users can get into their favorite function page using the recently used list. Therefore, this function should be in a prominent place. However, in the process of this evaluation, users can't find this function on the main page. Surprisingly, I found this function is a subfunction of favorites function (Figure6).
    Figure6: Recently used list

    As for adding a function into the recently used list, no users did it because it seems doesn't have clear criteria about how to add a function into this list. Both users tried to do it through several methods, including a stay at the target page, open another page and get in target page many times in a short time. But no method works until now.

    Both users think it is very hard to find and they need more guidance or information to find this function. Besides, they also think the designer should redesign the add function into recently used list function because this function is not user-friendly now. Therefore, "Visibility of system status" principle is violated in this issue.

    Suggested improvements

    1. Put recently used list button in a more visible position.
    2. Redesign or explain how to add a function into this list.
    3. Remove this function instead of keeping it as an indifferent function.

    5. Hard to find option through main menu

    There is a toolbar with several buttons on the top of the main page. Among them, there is a button called main menu (Figure7). But both users found the design of this button is not user-friendly because they can’t find view my grade page through the main menu easily. Besides, users found this is an indifferent function because everything under this function list is easier to find in other ways. Therefore, this function also violates the "User control and freedom" principle.

    Figure7: Main menu

    Suggested improvements

    1. Remove main menu on this page because it looks more complicated and indifferent.
    2. Reorganize this menu to make user find functions more easily.

    6. Hard to go to account summary page from main page

    In the process of evaluation, users are asked to go from the main page to the account summary page. Both users were confused first, but they found the way to go to the account summary page soon using their experiences. However, at the end of this task, one user said he couldn't find this function if he didn't have experience. The menu (Figure8) is hard to find and even when he found it, he still spent half a minute to find the confirm button. By contrast, the other user who is a second year's student spent less time to find it, but he still thinks this function is not user-friendly because in go to menu, the designer called the account summary page as account inquiry page. Which make new users feel confused.

    Figure8: The go to menu

    Suggested improvements

    1. Change the menu name from go to menu to others page menu.
    2. Add some words to remind users on the confirm button.
    3. Change the name of account inquiry to account summary.


    In conclusion, although the student enrollment system meets student's basic needs for enrollment functions, there are still many usability issues and it is not a user-friendly system at all. These usability issues decrease the user experience to some extent.

    Compared with the enrollment system of some commercial online learning websites like Coursera and Hujiang, the student enrollment system for uOttawa looks like an old car which is riddled with problems. Therefore, the designers should redesign part of this system to improve the user's experience by reading this usability evaluation blog.

    Heuristic Evaluation of Air Canada Website

     By Vrushali Nadre


    Heuristic evaluation is a usability engineering method for identifying the usability flaws in user interface design so that they can be attended by designers or developers as part of continuous design improvement process. I performed Heuristic evolution on the Air Canada website by referencing Jakob Nielsen’s ten heuristic evaluation standards (Nielsen 1990). Air Canada is most popular airline in Canada ( It is among top 20 largest airlines in the world. Air Canada offers services to the customer through their online website. They provide services such as online flight booking, car rentals, hotel stays, share flight plans and many more. This blog post highlights the usability issues found during heuristic evaluation and usability testing. Furthermore, recommendations are provided to fix these issues. Provided recommendations can help developers to improve the usability of user interface design.
    Usability Issues and Recommendations
    1. Date calendar shows invalid dates
    Figure 1. shows the calendar on Air Canada website. When selected date on the calendar, it has been observed that all the past dates (invalid dates) are grayed out on calendar except day before current date, which should be grayed out as it is past date. This might be because of different region has different time zone.This invalid date is selectable and not showing any validation message when user selects it, which is incorrect. Moreover, if invalid date is selected for flight search and clicked on find button after filling all the information, an error message is displayed on top of the search section. This displayed error is unclear and not communicating what exact issue is encountered while searching flight. This leads confusion to user and user have to check carefully what went wrong, as a result it consumes more time. This issue violates the heuristic “provide good error massage”. Figure 2 clearly shows that invalid date is selected by user, which is not supposed to happen. Moreover, figure also shows, the displayed error message on top of the page when user selects invalid date during flight search.
    Figure 1. Calendar on Air Canada Website

    Figure 2. Shows selected invalid date and Displayed error message
    The best recommendation to this problem is, past date (invalid date) should be disabled so that user is unable to select that past date. If in case, past date is not disabled and user tries to select past date, then error tooltip or inline validation should be displayed (near calendar field). This will notify user about invalid date selection rather than displaying an error message on top of the page, when user hits find button to search flight which is happening in the current scenario. This way the displayed message communicates well with user about occurred problem, so that user can fix it quickly. Additionally, it is also recommended that invalid (past) date should be differentiated from valid date in terms of color (like in grey color for other dates) so that user’s eye focus is only on valid dates.

    2. No consistency maintained for optional field (* symbol) on create user profile page
    Create user profile page have few inconsistencies related to asterisk symbol used for fields. In Figure 3 and 4 it clearly shows that, asterisk symbol used for middle name, suffix and suite fields denote these are optional fields and user can ignore it. On other hand, Figure 5 displays asterisk symbol used at password section for challenge question and answer field treats that field as mandatory and it must be filled by user before proceeding to next step. This inconsistency leads strong confusion for user. This is another serious usability issue found on air Canada website that does not comply with the heuristic principle “provide good error message”.

    Figure 3. Shows middle name field as optional and denoted by * symbol

    Figure 4. Shows Suffix and Suit field as optional
    and denoted by * symbol

    Figure 5. Shows Challenge question and Answer field as required field
    (mandatory) field and denoted by * symbol
    The obvious and simple solution to this problem is to use asterisk symbol either to denote optional field or mandatory fields. Another solution is to add tooltip for each field so that user get notified about optional or mandatory requirement about field while filling information. It will be a value add to have highlighter together with tooltip to notify user upon missing field. Again, it is necessary to design actionable and clear error messages to communicate properly with user. Hence designing good error messages can solve this issue as well.
    3. User interface design and consistency issues for placeholders
    Figure 6 shows that fields on create my profile page are not arranged properly as per usability standard. Moreover, consistency of placeholder is not maintained for fields. Some fields have placeholders in bold uppercase letters such as title, gender field etc. Few fields such as country, home, date of birth (day) and language of correspondence have first letter in upper case and remaining letters in lower case with bold font. There is no placeholder provided for province field. This usability issue violate heuristic of “be consistent”.
    Figure 6. Highlighted inconsistencies on create my profile page
    This issue can be solved by arranging fields in systematic way so that create profile page will be short, attractive and easy to fill. To maintain consistency, similar placeholder should be added for all the fields and add placeholder at province field.

    4. User interface issues and unnecessary added features on language selection page

    Air Canada website supports few languages like Canadian English, USA English, Chinese, French and Espanol (Spanish) as shown in Figure 7. All these supported languages are already displayed on selection page. There are unnecessary drop-downs to list countries and languages which result in redundancy. Moreover, it does not show country specific languages for most of the cases. Thus, there is no need to have country and language drop-downs. This issue violates heuristic of “use simple and natural dialogue”.

    Figure 7. Language selection Page
    UI design issue can be resolved by removing unnecessary drop-downs. Supporting languages are already displayed on page. Hence there is no meaning to display these same languages through drop-down. As a result, it saves user’s time.
    5. No scroll to top (Back to top button) feature on flight search result page
    The result of the flight search shows a very long list of flights (Figure 8). Users need to simply scroll down using their finger or the mouse to go at the bottom of the page and it becomes too tedious to scroll back up through screens and screens of content. Moreover, user have to scroll up and down many times to check the content on page and this makes user frustrating. It also takes longer time to get desired search and to proceed further. This issue violates heuristic “provide shortcuts”.

    Figure 8. Flight result page

    The solution to this problem is to have the Back to Top button at the bottom of the search list on web page. This is a shortcut that allows users to quickly navigate to the top of the page. When users get at the bottom of a long search page, they often will need to get back to the top to access filtering and sorting features, to modify search, and to enter or edit a query in the search box. This feature provides user friendly navigation to the user and user can access feature on top of the page in single click. Hence, the role of the Back to Top button is very important for long pages.

    6. No informative tooltip on Air Canada website to help user
    The use of tooltip is become a common practice in many user interface applications in which user moves the mouse over the field and informative tip displayed near field to help user. Generally, these tooltips provide exact description of that field’s functionality in order to guide user in identifying the correct functionality for the task at hand. With tooltips, a user does not need to remember exact functionality of field, but without tooltip there is chance to misidentifying the functionality of that field which designers attempt to communicate. In addition, user have to remember what function the field has to performs. Tooltips plays an important role in reducing the user’s memory load. Unfortunately, there are no tooltips used on air Canada website to help user instantly while performing their task. As a result, it creates difficulty to the user while accessing site. This issue violates heuristic “minimize user’s memory load” as user has to remember what type of functionality a feature has.

    To solve this problem, descriptive tooltip text should be added to essential feature on Air Canada user interface. In addition to that these tooltips should provide very succinct descriptions of feature which helps user to perform their task easily and quickly. 


    Air Canada provides almost all services to customers through their online website. Everyday lot of customers use these services online. However, those usability issues identified on website significantly reduces user experience. During usability testing, it has been observed that experienced user finds these tasks relatively easy whereas new users struggle to complete these tasks, as they found this user interface complex and confusing. Proposed recommendations could be helpful to the designers to improve these usability issues and could help in making user interface more user friendly, attractive and effective.


    [1].  Nielsen, J. (n.d). How to Conduct a Heuristic Evaluation. Accessed February 9, 2005,
    [2].  Nielsen Norman Group,
    [3].  Lethbridge, Timothy.
    [4].  Air Canada, URL: