is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
I got a kick out of this recent example of why it’s impossible to make every user happy. It concerns the most recent update of Agile Bits’ superb password password manager 1Password, which added a new view to see the contents of all of your vaults at once when accessing 1Password from within a browser. (Vaults are essentially groups of passwords, logins and other secure credentials; you might have one for work, another for home, another for a side project, etc.)
This is a fine idea, but when I upgraded, I was surprised to find that the new “All Vaults” view is the default view. Even when I selected a specific vault as my preferred view, the next time I launch 1Password from my browser it would revert to the “All Vaults” view. I found this very irritating. This change struck me as wrongheaded—it flies right in the face of how I use vaults, as I prefer to keep each group of passwords segregated from the others. I could only imagine that it would rankle every other 1Password user, as well.
However, when I went looking for a solution for this on the forums, I came across this response to another user from a member of the Agile Bits team:
It’s funny, in the previous implementation of multiple vaults, we heard from a lot of users who wanted to be able to see all of their items all at once, no matter which vault they lived in. We thought that ‘All Vaults’ was going to be an amazing solution for our users who relied on multiple vaults. It’s been really interesting reading all the feedback from users now and learning more about the various use cases that don’t quite fit into the ‘All Vaults’ mould.
It hadn’t even occurred to me that the way I use 1Password might be completely at odds with the way someone else might use 1Password, but of course this is exactly the case. It was a modest revelation to me; I went from being irate at Agile Bits to being immediately more sympathetic to their challenges.
Luckily, there’s at least one relatively straightforward answer here: always default to the user’s most recently selected vault view—whether it was a specific one, or it was “All Vaults.”
More to the point though, this modest bit of feature friction made me realize that, though I’ve always tended to think of 1Password as relatively simple, it’s become substantially more complex over the years. At this stage, having gone through at least six major revisions, the utility must accommodate many different usage styles—people who want strict separation among their vaults, people who want to see across all their vaults, and more. As with any software, as the number of use cases grows, it becomes harder and harder to reconcile them with a single coherent interface. That’s the unfortunate truth of creating great experiences; not all of your users are going to be happy all of the time.+