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Archive for July, 2012

Beware how much you “help” people in the name of the next great usability idea.

July 26, 2012 Leave a comment

I have been involved in many debates about usability over the course of my career. Indeed, each time a new design paradigm or some sort of design meme is introduced, there is always the discussion about how much it helps and whether it is worth the effort to implement it. In particular this becomes a problem on mature user interfaces with larger customer bases that are already familiar with how to get their tasks done via the current UI.

Recently I encountered the same sort of potential risk when driving a rental car. I’m driving a brand spankin’ new fully loaded Ford Explorer right now while on vacation. It’s a great vehicle really, with an enhanced digital dashboard, on-board cameras for backing up, the whole shebang. Handles well, is quiet. I’d consider buying one myself.

Except someone at Ford decided to monkey with the directional signal.

I trust you are aware of the directional signal. It’s the little lever on the left of the steering wheel that you click up into place to indicate a right turn, or click down into place for a left turn. Once you turn the steering wheel back straight, the level clicks back into its original position automatically.

Not so on the new Ford Explorer. On the Ford Explorer, there’s no click into place; when you push it up, it doesn’t stay up. So naturally you immediately think it’s broken. And then once you realize it’s not broken, you discover that the length of time the turn signal stays on is driven by how hard and how long you hold the signal lever in place. If you don’t hold it long enough, it blinks three times and then turns off.

Not only is it extremely confusing, but it goes against every other directional signal design on the road, and in some cases it’s dangerous. What it doesn’t do is make my signal turning easier, even though I can only assume that was the intention of whoever came up with this.

This is a cautionary tale for anyone looking to incorporate the next great design idea, or try to help their customers do things easier than they’ve done before. It’s a good idea to understand the satisfaction level of your customers with your current UI, as well as how your customers are going to react to the changes you implement, especially if they go in the face of current norms that permeate the web today. You run the risk of alienating the people you are trying to help if your designs are not truly intuitive to the people using them, or if you sacrifice familiarity for the next great design concept.

The last thing you want is someone on your website wondering why the turn signal is broken.

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Oh, the irony! Vacation off to a great start…

July 25, 2012 Leave a comment

So as a computer programmer I am all too aware of the potential for complete and catastrophic failure of a computer system at any time…and the ramifications that no doubt follow. Such an ironic occurrence, where my life gets a bit shredded by such a failure, occurred last night, when we arrived at San Jose Airport to catch our JetBlue red-eye flight to Boston for our family reunion.

All of the JetBlue computer systems at San Jose Airport were offline.

You can imagine the chaos that followed. The only thing we could do is check in via the online web-enabled kiosks. All of our luggage bag tags? Hand written. Boarding passes? Hand processed. Determining that everyone is on board? Let’s count the open seats. Assigned seating? Heh.

We arrived at 6:20 pm for our 9pm flight, and found ourselves stuck in line to get checked in for an hour; hand writing five bag tags alone took 20 minutes. The flight left late, landed late, and we had bets on how many of our bags were actually going to make the flight to Boston with us. Luckily those 20 minutes were well-used, as everything arrived as it should have. Thankfully the kids slept pretty much the whole flight, at least that part of taking the red-eye went according to plan…but poor Eli got sick at the end and spent most of the time while they were waiting for me to get the rental car with his face in an airsick bag. He’s doing ok now though.

In any event, I feel for those JetBlue employees last night. Talk about a tough job, managing that crisis. I’m just glad it wasn’t my computer system that failed on them!

Categories: Informational

So I have a bucket list…

July 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Lately I’ve been slowly but surely ticking things off my bucket list…you know, the list of things I want to get done before I pass on the the next existence, whatever that happens to be. Thought maybe I’d share some of my progress to date.

  • Played in a World Series of Poker event – check, although I may try again next year
  • Getting my college degree – in progress
  • Publish a book – check, although a second one is in the works
  • Cruise to Alaska -someday
  • Another vacation on Maui – someday

I’ll keep adding to my bucket list as I go but I’ve got things moving along!

One of the things I am struggling with is whether or not I’ll walk when (if?) I graduate towards the end of 2013 as I expect to. It would require a trip to Salt Lake City to do so, so I am not sure how many of my family could make it, but it might be worthwhile to do. What do you think?

Categories: School