Wait… wait… It's a pun! Misusing "moot" and "mute" is a pet peeve of mine. But this post really is all about muting.
One of my clients just had their hosted WebEx Meeting Center account updated to build WBS31 (specifically 184.108.40.206 in their case). I logged in and found that user interface cosmetics had changed a bit… No big deal, really. The UI design team squared off the icon for the Chat box. There are new icons for audio status in the Participant List. And participant names now show initials in a circle that also acts as a quick-swap to change Presenter control. Fine.
But when I started using the audio controls in a session to mute and unmute participant microphones, I noticed that I was getting confused over current status of the microphone and what action I was initiating. That is strange, as I have used WebEx through every iteration of the software over more than 15 years. I know those basic operations like the back of my hand. What was going on?
I decided to really study the new control visualization in action. I logged in as a host and as two sample attendees in a test meeting. For all tests, Attendee 1 had a muted microphone and Attendee 2 had an open (unmuted) microphone. Let's look at the different visualizations in the Participant List as I move my mouse back and forth…
1) First we see the list in its most basic form, with nothing highlighted and the mouse nowhere near the names:
A1 shows a red microphone with a line through it. That is a good indicator for a muted microphone. I like it. It also shows a tiny red X next to the computer audio indicator on the left. Seems redundant and easy to miss. But okay. A2 shows the computer audio indicator on the left, but nothing on the right. It feels asymmetrical.
2) Now I move my mouse up to the Attendee 1 line. No click, just a hover over the middle of that line:
Notice that the microphone icon on the right changes to a new circled control. I wonder why? I haven't done anything. Just moving the mouse past each name makes icons change shape and change back again!
3) Here I move the mouse to hover over Attendee 2. Still no click, just a hover:
I've gone from no icon to a gray microphone with a line through it. I might have thought that a line through the mike meant it is muted, but no… The universal symbol for "NO" actually carries no meaning! And again, I have symbols appearing and disappearing as I move my mouse up and down the list.
4) Here I click once on Attendee 1 to highlight that row. I have not clicked on the microphone control, just once in the center of the row to put focus on it.
Ooh, my right-hand microphone icon has changed again! It went from red to white. I wonder what information THAT conveys? Notice that the tiny dark red X on the left is almost impossible to see against the dark blue background. But that X is the only valid status indicator I actually have. Bad designer! Bad! Bad!
5) Might as well click on Attendee 2 to highlight that row:
Unlike the highlighted A1, the microphone symbol now appears in a circle.
6) Now I move my mouse to hover on the microphone icon itself for Attendee 1. They couldn't possibly introduce ANOTHER variation, could they?
They sure could! Now the control shows a white microphone in a red filled circle. Remember, I STILL HAVEN'T CLICKED ANYTHING. This is all the result of just moving my mouse up and down, left and right.
7) Might as well finish things off by doing the same hover while pointing at the microphone icon for Attendee 2:
Look familiar? IT'S THE SAME ICON THAT WAS USED FOR ATTENDEE 1 BACK IN SCENARIO #2!!! So a red microphone with a line through it in a white circle might mean "This is on and you are about to turn it off" or "The attendee you are pointing at but haven't clicked has an inactive microphone."
In seven scenarios, the UI team has introduced the following iconography:
- No mike on a white background
- Red mike on a white background
- Red mike in a white circle on a gray background
- Gray mike in a gray circle on a gray background
- White mike on a blue background
- Gray mike in a white circle on blue background
- White mike in a red circle on gray background
- Red mike in a white circle on gray background
And those variations come and go as you move your mouse up and down, right and left. It's like a kaleidoscope. There is no other way to put this… The design is inexcusable. It really doesn't matter at all what the team was thinking. In practice, no user has time to figure out what the differences mean (if indeed, they mean anything at all). I must be able to instantly figure out at a glance whether a participant's mike is on or off, and what is about to happen if I click a control. This design update fails that test miserably.
Shame. Shame. Shame on you, WebEx design team. Fix this. Do it now.