Flipboard and the case of usability that doesn’t care about you

I’m a regular user of Flipboard, the app that tells me what’s happening in the world that isn’t Twitter. I have a carefully curated list of interests. One of the things I do with my lovely spouse is share links using Flipboard. In the user interface on my iPhone (I don’t use it elsewhere), there is a Notifications tab.

In the past, this contained a list of links from my spouse and a handful of other people with whom I interact on Flipboard. It was my favourite feature of the app. That little red dot was a happy reminder that someone cared enough about me to send something they’ve taken the time to read and share with me.

Recently, Flipboard released a new version of their app which has added a new, obnoxious, difficult to navigate, impossible to turn off, set of notifications which is front and centre, called “Recent”. What happened to the links I expected to see in here?

WE WISH TO DISCUSS AMERICAN POLITICS WITH YOU

If I want to only see links from people I care about, I can tap on “Shared with you” at the top. On a modern mobile device, this requires massive hands, good dexterity, or using another hand to tap a very difficult to read light grey-on-white link (hex code #CBCBCB, or R:203, G:203, B:203) with no obvious indication that it is in fact clickable.

Shared with you

Jonathan Stewart (blog | Twitter) wrote a post some time ago about the choice of colour being a conscious decision backed by research and millions of dollars. When Flipboard chooses a light grey on a white background, they are sending an explicit message that anything chosen by people I want to interact with is not as important as their bold, red, underlined “recent” content.

By hiding this content behind a link that is de-emphasised, at the top of the screen and difficult to reach, with no visible indication that it is clickable (or tappable, I guess?), Flipboard has instantly taken away the power and enjoyment I got from their app.

Instead I am bombarded with links about American politics. I’m not American, though I do travel there from time to time. I don’t care about their politics, especially under the current president, and I have taken great care to mute news sources in Flipboard (and other news and media apps) that mention the Orange One or his cronies. The very last thing I want to see in Flipboard is currently shoved in my face without my express permission.

I’ve been using computers and writing software since 1983. I don’t consider myself a design genius, nor do I rate myself as a user experience expert, but I do recognise obnoxious and user-hostile design. Anyone who has used IBM or Oracle enterprise software knows exactly what I’m talking about.

So I took to Twitter to ask them how I can turn off the Recent tab. What transpired is as comical as it is frustrating.

“You can just turn off the notifications”

In a conversation on Twitter with Flipboard customer support (which was far more colourful than the grey on white they chose to hide away my shared content), it came to pass that I can turn off notifications in the app by turning on notifications on my phone at the operating system level, then going into the Flipboard app, toggling all of the CONTENT and SOCIAL buttons, then turning notifications off at the operating system level again.

So I did exactly that. Here’s what I did:

  1. Go into the Settings app on iOS.
  2. Tap Notifications.
  3. Scroll down to Flipboard and tap on it.
  4. No, I said Flipboard, not Fly Delta.
  5. No, I said Flipboard, not Firefox.
  6. Tap on the Allow Notifications button.
  7. Go back into to the Flipboard app.
  8. Tap the top right “tuning” icon (their words).
  9. Toggle off all eleven notification options.
  10. Tap Done, which is on the top left.
  11. Go back to the Settings app.
  12. Tap Notifications.
  13. Scroll down to Flipboard and tap on it.
  14. Toggle off the Allow Notifications button.
  15. Open Flipboard again, and tap the Notifications tab.
  16. Be exposed to the same Recent links that I didn’t ask for.

Yup. None of that actually did anything to get rid of the Recent Notifications tab in the Flipboard app. Naming things is hard.

In other words, their customer support team didn’t actually read what I was saying, and that assumption escalated into this complete and painful waste of time on my part.

Disabled

I absolutely hate playing this card because it does not define me as a person and normally I get by without anyone noticing, but there are two things at play: my hands don’t work properly all the time, and I am on the autism spectrum. In the first case, there are days where it hurts so bad that I can’t hold anything, so using a mobile device can be painful. Coincidentally, today is one of those days. I’m literally gritting my teeth typing this post up.

On the second note, one of the best parts about ASD is comorbidity with ADHD (which is one of the reasons why I tend to have notifications turned off). I already am frustrated with not having hands that work properly today, and then to be told I’m doing something wrong by a company that has demonstrated by their actions and colour choices that my use case doesn’t matter, I’m about ready to act out more than I already have done.

Summary

Flipboard has destroyed the one part of the app I found useful. Additionally, Flipboard’s customer support did not understand the problem I was describing, and sent me on a wild goose chase to turn off something that was not even what I was talking about, in a user interface that is difficult to use.

Flipboard has demonstrated that it does not care about me. I hope they and other app developers fix usability problems and take feedback in a way that doesn’t require escalation. I hope they fix the app so that links are obvious, that customer-generated content takes precedence, that their customer support team understands what is being said. I hope they realise that usability matters for people with limited motion. I hope they stop using obnoxious colour schemes.

In the meantime, I’m taking recommendations for an app that I can use to read and share news. I’m pretty sure I can find content elsewhere, in other apps, with better user interfaces that make it easier to share with people I care about.

P.S. I’m not going to stop using profanity when I get upset. I literally have no control over how my brain is wired. I’ll apologise if it was unwarranted.