Flickr Uploadr UX Failr (or UX is About the Little Things)

After neglecting my Flickr account for several years, I thought I'd upgrade to Pro again and upload the photos that we commissioned from the talented Victoria Dawe from Friday's hugely fun Geek Ninja Battle Night.

So, to upload the 140 or so photos, I downloaded Flickr's desktop uploading app, Flickr Uploadr and dragged my set of photos in. Upon dragging them in, I realized that they were in the wrong order. They were listed in reverse chronological order, which the last taken photo at the top and the first one at the bottom of the window. In the top-left corner of the app, I saw a message telling me that they were "currently ordered by date taken" and that I could drag and drop if I wanted to re-order them.

The Flickr Uploadr makes it clear that you have only two sort options.

Here, the app was telling me that I had two sort options. Either reverse chronological (as was the default) or custom (where I had to drag and drop the photos manually). Not wanting to reverse 200 photos manually, I ran a Google search to see how others had solved the problem. Interestingly, I found this forum post dating from 2008 that informed the Flickr team of the issue. The resolution there appeared to be that it's not a bug but a feature because Flickr is a photo blog and that's the only ordering they were willing to support. I also found a post by someone suggesting that I manually drag each photo to the Flickr Uploadr in the order I wanted them to appear.

Needless to say that infuriated me a little.

These were photos from an event and they told a story of sorts. They needed to be in chronological order. I vented my frustrations, as you do, in a tweet:

So I have to manually drag and drop 200 photos into Flickr Uploadr because it won't let me reverse the date filter. Idiots. /cc @flickrless than a minute ago via Twitter for Mac

Harsh words, perhaps. But this is the effect bad user experiences have on people. Some people blame themselves. Others get angry. If people have enough bad user experiences in a day – they end up having a bad day. That's the power we have as user experience designers and developers. We have the power to make someone have a good day or a bad day.

And yes, I know this specific instance is very much a first-world problem but imagine if I had to use Flickr Uploadr every day as part of my job. Or imagine someone that does have to use a piece of software that is entirely unergonomic. Going beyond simply infuriating people, badly-designed software can actually harm people physically. (Based on numbers from five years ago (PDF link), RSI was costing the UK economy £5-£20 billion alone – I would love to study how much of that is based on bad software ergonomics.)

So, to get back to the story: several people tweeted suggesting that I use iPhoto or the web uploader. It was Aegir Hallmunder who tweeted the next piece of the puzzle:

@aral Once uploaded you can reverse the order in the set on Flickr itself, I believe.less than a minute ago via Echofon

Really? But that's not what the app told me (it told me I had two options for sorting my photos. I would expect the web site to offer the exact same two options). So I went to the Flickr web site to see. And lo and behold, Aegir was right. I could sort the photos in my in whatever order I wanted to.

Flickr web site photo sort order options.

This, actually is even worse UX. Why? Because there is an inconsistency.

If the app didn't offer any sort options whatsoever, I could understand it. It would still be confusing but at least I could view the app as a dumb uploader. I would think: "OK, I drag the photos here and they get uploaded. I guess I should be able to change things on the web site."

But that's not the case.

The app appears clever. It gives me the feature to order my photos. It just doesn't give me all the options that the web site has. What this makes me think – because I see the desktop app as a complete app and not as some sort of hybrid that shares parts of certain features with the web app – is that Flickr itself doesn't let me order my photos in any other way.

Now, before you think I'm simply dumping on the app, there are parts of it that I do like quite a bit.

For one thing, it intelligently handles updating of multiple selections. When I select multiple photos, the Tags box changes to read "Add to existing tags:" and lets me add tags to all selected elements. It is similarly clever about other attributes that you can change in multiple selections. The bit that I do not like about multiple selections is that the settings are applied when you deselect. Since there is no undo (another UX gripe), I would expect this action to require a more outward expression of intent (e.g., a button press) to persist.

The Flickr Uploadr does have some nice touches.

To bring the story to a conclusion, after learning from Aegir that I could reorder the photos on the Flickr web site, I proceeded to upload the photos to Flickr only to see that they were appearing in the correct (i.e., chronological) order in the set. I kid you not. So, after all that, it did exactly the opposite of what it told me it would do. Oh. My. Goodness!

Talk about being a bad communicator. If Flickr Uploadr had been a person, I would have said he was having a laugh with me.

Now, again, you might be thinking: wow, what a way to make a mountain out of a molehill. But you have to remember that user experience is about the little things. This was a little thing that annoyed me and made what could have been a lovely experience an infuriating one. And it's OK to get annoyed. If you don't get annoyed by things that don't work – if you don't find fault with the status quo – then you probably shouldn't be a designer. Why would you want to be if you don't want to change things? Make them better? The trick is to channel that anger, that passion, into making things that are beautiful. Things that give people delightful experiences. Things that change the world for the better…

One little thing at a time.