Bright Matrices

Writings & musings of Mike Zavarello (a.k.a. brightmatrix), a "red mage" web developer.

Category: Design

A Confusing User Experience Betwixt Social Sharing Buttons in Twitter and SoundCloud

I recently joined SoundCloud, a social network for music and audio files (or, audiophiles, if you prefer). Overall, their user experience is simple, yet solid. As with other social networks, you can “like” a song, share it with your network (the user the term “repost”), add it to a list, or perform other tasks (download, share, buy). There are prominent buttons with clean, recognizable icons: a heart icon for “like,” a recycling arrow for “repost,” and a box with an arrow leading outwards for “share.” These are notably similar to Twitter’s “favorite” and “retweet” options, and, this is where I’ve noticed some problems.

When you view a single track in SoundCloud, the like, repost, and other icons are to the bottom left. On the right, there is a second set of similar icons with numbers next to them. These are “status” icons that show how many times this track has been played, liked, and reposted. If you click on any of these, you’ll see a page of the SoundCloud users who played, liked, or reposted the track.

A single track in SoundCloud. Note the sharing buttons at bottom left and status icons at bottom right.

A single track in SoundCloud. Note the sharing buttons at bottom left and status icons at bottom right.

Simple enough, right? Now, if you view your stream, which shows a series of tracks in the left-hand side of the page, related tracks will appear to the right in a sidebar. These have the same features as the single track page, except they are condensed in a smaller space.

Here's how the interface changes when you see SoundCloud tracks as related items. The icons are smaller and much closer together.

Here’s how the interface changes when you see SoundCloud tracks as related items. The icons are smaller and much closer together.

The play button is now mixed in with the like, repost, and share buttons, and these only appear when you hover over the track. They are now much closer to the status icons. What I’ve found is that I keep wanting to click on the status icons to perform a task, but, as with the single track page, this shows you who played, liked, or reposted the track. It doesn’t perform the action I expected.

This is a confusing action to me. Why? Because it is so similar to how Twitter handles these actions, and yet, the results are not the same.

On Twitter’s web interface, the main actions, reply, retweet, favorite, and more, are presented with their respective icons. The status icons, however, are shown as numbers (see the retweets and favorites titles below the tweet preview). Clicking on those numbers gives you the same result as SoundCloud (a list of who retweeted or favorited that tweet), but, because Twitter does not repeat the icons, there is a clearer distinction between these pieces of information and the actual actions you can take on this post.

A basic tweet. Notice how the actions are kept separate from the status icons, which are only numbers here.

A basic tweet. Notice how the actions are kept separate from the status icons, which are only numbers here.

The social media management tool Hootsuite does something similar in their interface. In Hootsuite, you view tweets as a series of vertical columns called a “stream.” The number of times a tweet has been retweeted is easily visible below the tweet itself. As with Twitter, clicking on this status icon shows you who did the retweeting. The actions you can take on that tweet appear when you move your mouse over the post. They are kept separate from the status icon, and, since they appear when you hover over the tweet, it’s clear that these are actions you can take right now.

Hootsuite's interface shows very simply the actions you need to take and who's sharing each tweet.

Hootsuite’s interface shows very simply the actions you need to take and who’s sharing each tweet.

I think it’s great that disparate social networks like Twitter and SoundCloud are using similar actions and iconography. It’s forming a universal language that reduces the burden on users, who now need to learn one less set of terms or icons when moving from network to network. The problem, though, is that if you as a user learn to expect one set of behavior on one network, it’s confusing when the expected behavior on the other network doesn’t match up to what you’ve experienced elsewhere.

I think SoundCloud would do itself and its users a great benefit by mimicking how its older cousin, Twitter, manages its action and status icons and limit the number of misclicks.

Some Helpful Advice from a Nitpicky Web Developer

Ever heard the phrase “the devil’s in the details?” I’m here to tell you it’s true!

For every clean, elegant, and professionally designed website or web application, there are droves of slipshod, sloppy, or just plain lazy pieces of code I encounter every week. What pains me most is that many of these quirks are really simple to fix and can go a long way to adding to your reputation and credibility.

I’ve put together six examples of detail work that you should include in your digital design and development. These suggestions may seem nitpicky, but as a professional web developer who’s been coding and designing websites for over a decade, these “fit-and-finish” items are the ones that always jump out at me when browsing a site or web application.

1. Display Current Copyright Dates

Most websites these days have copyright dates in their footers, usually followed by the formal name of the company or organization and legal text such as “all rights reserved.” Make sure the year displayed here actually matches the current year! Nothing says “out of date” like a mismatched copyright year. This is especially glaring following New Year’s Day. Scripting languages such as ColdFusion, JSP, PHP, and JavaScript can easily handle dynamic dates, as can content management systems.

2. Match Link Names and Page Titles/Document Names

Your users want to get to your content as easily and quickly as possible, so don’t make the process more complicated or confusing by using mismatched names in your website links. Make sure the language you’re using in the link text is a good match, if not exact, to the document or resource at the other end. You want your users to be confident that what they clicked on is what they needed. And please, avoid acronyms or business jargon! Simple language is best.

3. Use Accurate Singular/Plural Descriptors

This is one of my personal pet peeves: if you’re going to display a list of items, show a group of updates, or otherwise show a collection of objects dynamically, always add a condition in your code to change the descriptors from plural to singular when there’s only one item. I can’t stand to see phrases like “1 search results found” or “1 new tweets.”

4. Link Banner Graphics Back to the Home Page

Users have come to expect that clicking on the website’s banner or logo will take them back to the main page of the site. Make sure your banner is linked this way so users won’t get frustrated, or, at the very least, give them an obvious way to get there using a “Home” link or icon (a house is typical). For mobile applications, a “Home” icon in the contextual menu can help solve this problem.

5. Use Clear and Distinct Timestamps

If you’re managing a news website, blog, or any site or application that has time-specific or time-sensitive content, always show the publication date or the “last update” and make sure it’s easy to locate. This is especially important for users arriving at your site from search engines; they’ll want to know that the content you’re providing is the most current or up-to-date for their needs. I personally prefer to see timestamps right below the headline/byline, or, if that’s not possible, at the bottom of the article before any comments.

6. Make Your Social Channels Prominent or Easy-To-Find

Is your organization or corporation on Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube? That’s great, but don’t curtail your efforts by burying the channels in your “Contact Us” or “Resources” pages. If you’re actively using these channels, place social icons in prominent locations, such as the header (near the search box is a great spot for visibility) or anywhere where other contact information, such as phone numbers, is displayed.

What Advice Do You Have?

What about you, my faithful visitors? What common mistakes or omissions do you come across in your browsing that you would suggest as improvements to the site’s owners and developers? Share your recommendations in the comments below.

Where Users Fear to Tread? On the Heels of Great Footers

Of all the elements in a modern website, the footer is probably the least appreciated. Users have come to expect basic contact information, privacy policies, and other legal-oriented details to live in the footer, but that doesn’t mean footer designs need to be dull collections of links or tiring repeats of the main navigation. Done well, footers can be helpful, informative, and even mischievous elements in a website’s overall visual design.

In this post, I cite four examples of well-crafted and thought-out footers I’ve come across, leaving room to expand the list as I discover other fine specimens. Of course, suggestions are welcome!

1. Marketwire


Marketwire is a Canadian communications corporation that offers unique solutions to help organizations listen, monitor, analyze, measure, and connect with their audiences in both traditional media and “new media” channels. Their suite of tools and dashboards allow their clients to gather valuable insights into their customers and competitors and make actionable results to increase their value, influence, and reputation.

Marketwire chose to let their website’s main content sections do the talking, so the footer is tasked to show essential contact information with a few informative links. The sweeping gray stripe offers a clear separation from the main content and neatly caps off the overall design. Critical touchpoints, national and international phone numbers and social media channels, are presented in a clean and prominent fashion. Large, colorful social media icons pop nicely off the monochrome background and into focus.

This is a simple but effective design that gets straight to the point and doesn’t leave current or potential customers wondering where to go next.

2. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City


The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City is one of the twelve banks that make up the Federal Reserve System, the central bank of the United States (Disclosure: I work for the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, part of the Federal Reserve System). Alongside their dual mandate of monetary policy and bank supervision, the Federal Reserve Banks promote community development in their districts, enrich financial literacy among the public, and publish research data and documents on a wide array of economic topics.

The Kansas City Fed’s footer displays their site’s major website categories, a listing echoed in the top navigation. These categories, however, are shown in alphabetical order vs. the more topical choices in the top navigation, and surface the next level of content to help users find what they’re seeking. All titles are short (no more than four words) to ease scanning.

Bold category headings stand out nicely and draw the eye to key starting points. Common footer elements, such as a link back to the home page, contact information, privacy policy, and FAQs, are centered and offset from the primary and secondary categories to be easily discovered. The bank’s address and phone number have a third distinct style to complete the typography in the banner and headings. Seals at the top and bottom of the footer provide nice visual breaks.

Most Americans aren’t familiar with the inner workings of the Fed and can get lost amidst the vast amount of online content they offer. The Kansas City Fed’s footer delivers a lot of options, but does so in a roomy, clear presentation that can help ease information overload.

3. Wall Street Journal


One of the most recognized news publications in the United States, the Wall Street Journal delivers a staggering array of financial, national, and international news to its readers.

Offset in tones of deepening gray with ice blue links, the five columns of links in the WSJ’s footer are easily scanned and digested despite the fineness of the font size. The reversed contract color scheme is easy to read and distinct from the otherwise busy conglomeration of content in the main section of the site. As with the Kansas City Fed’s footer, key sections are in boldface. The WSJ’s RSS feed and social media links are embedded with small icons whose colors help them to stand out in the crowd. Alternate editions of the WSJ are collected together in the rightmost column and ruled off with a thin, dashed white border.

With nearly 100 links to various content pieces throughout the WSJ’s digital empire, the footer possesses a clean and pleasing design that gives a great overview of the wealth of available information.

4. ThinkGeek


A veritable gold mine of geeky goodness, ThinkGeek is a Fairfax, Virginia-based company specializing in collectables, apparel, games, and all manner of merchandise appealing to the geek in all of us. ThinkGeek is well known for its infectious creativity, whimsical demeanor, inventive products, and outrageous April’s Fool fake-outs.

ThinkGeek’s footer is another clean arrangement of major site categories divided into easily scannable lists. Bold, bright color gradients give richness and depth without sacrificing readability. Timmy, the impish monkey mascot of ThinkGeek, directs your attention to the company’s Twitter stream, videos, and blog from his vantage point at the footer’s left edge. Random “customer action shots” offer additional bursts of fun, user-contributed content that keep the experience fresh.

Best of all, the scene of rampaging robots that grace the bottom of each page turns into a mob of marauding zombies upon reaching the footer. It’s a subtle touch, but an extra bit of awesomeness to reward users for adventuring this far below the fold.

© 2017 Bright Matrices

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑