The details of (bad) design…

Scott Adams (the Dilbert dude!) put up a post recently on Bad Interfaces.  He starts innocently enough:

The other day I tried to change my address through a company’s web site and it wouldn’t accept my new address because I “already have a phone number.” WTF??? I tried various workarounds including no phone number, and a fake phone number, but it insisted that once you have a phone number, and the system knows it, you can never change your address. So I asked myself, am I the first person who ever owned a phone and wanted to change his address?

Then he continues talking about all the dumb designs in his new house:

Our new light switches have light indicators to tell you when a switch is turned off. That’s right: The “on” light indicates that the switch is off. At least that’s how my brain has interpreted it nine hundred times in a row. I understand that they want to make it easy to find the switch in the dark. But did they ever test how people use these things?

Now I agree with the address change.  I’ve moved many times and kept the same phone number.  But I’d challenge Scott on the light switch thing.

He asked if they ever test the use of these things?  Well maybe, maybe not.  I bet what they did do, is test if people brought them or not!

So Scott I’d ask you this:  How did these get installed in your home?  What was the process there?

(I’m not picking on Scott here.)  Take mobile phones.  Personally I used to be very pro Nokia.  I once switched  to an LG and hated it.  Then along came the N95!

A great phone with lot’s of positive reviews – but the thing was just too cumbersome to use!  Features like GPS or Camera or some applications are great, but if it takes me 6 – 10 button clicks then its too hard and I loose interest!

Its interesting how some people feel it is absolutely necessary to choose visual detail like the right carpets, tiles, bathroom fittings, but will neglect some of the more cerebral elements.

Why is the iPhone so popular?  Why do people love Dorf Taps in their bathroom?

If this type of thing is pushing your buttons, then perhaps you should take a look at what you like and why?  What don’t you like and why?

Rock on!

Seth Godin's 2%

Seth recently put up a post on 2%

To summarise, Seth suggests that regardless of what you do (crystal clear instructions, ALL CAPS) 2% of people will still stuff it up!

He finishes with:

Technologists hate this choice, but it’s true. We have to plan for human failure and part of our job is to have the resources and back up to allow these people to remain in our tribe even though they’re unable to follow a simple instruction.

To me, you can read this one of two ways.  Put your Microsoft hat on.  Windows Vista has 15 different ways to turn off the machine.

Now put your Apple Mac, iPhone or Facebook hat on.  What is the 2% there?

How do they plan for failure?  What does “failure” mean for a Twitter user?

The difference here is that the “barrier” for use is so low (open a web browser, make a phone call, update your Facebook status).  2% for a Facebook user seems very very high…

Hello World Wave

A couple of weeks ago, I was luck enough to be given an invite to Google Wave.

I clearly remember using Gmail for the first time some 5 or 6 years ago.  Gmail was (very!) fast to use, the design was simple and it just worked!

Gmail is email in a browser.  Nothing more.  At the time, it’s competed with Hotmail and Yahoo Mail, so the learning curve was quite easy.

My expectations were very clear and it was easy to meet them.

Wave is entirely different!  What is it??  Even the Wikipedia article is general and non specific:

equal parts conversation and document

I was reading another review by Cathie McGinn which got me thinking.  I certainly agree that it feels like you are drowning, not waving.

From my understanding, she is using Wave as a collaboration tool, with her focus on the people she works with.  She raised some privacy and general usability issues

Usability I am going to leave.  If you take into context what Wave is doing (realtime collaboration with +100 people at a time) in a web browser, I don’t think there is a whole lot you that can be done right now.  I would give it at least 12 months for the technically and logistical challenges to be fixed.

Her point on privacy was interesting (branch off a conversation as private, but then no ability to approve who is) is a tricky one.

For me, when I first saw Wave, the immediate appeal was for personal, not professional.  Think of Facebook without the noise.  I don’t care if the content in Wave is only updated once a week, so long as it was relevant, accurate and without spam – I would be happy!

What do you think?

TPG, Telstra & Flexstream

I’ve recently moved house and had a nightmare trying to get an internet connection.  I thoughtI’d share my experience in the hope it helps someone else

Background:  I’ve moved to Kensington, in Sydney Australia.  My ISP is TPG and Tesltra is my telephone provider.

On the TPG portal page, I logged onto “Your Account” and went through the Change of Location process. Every day I checked the ADSL Installation Statusand nothing changed.

After 7 days, I got nervous and rang TPG Customer Support. I was told that there was a mismatch between the address I supplied and what Telstra is showing. I should ring Telstra and just ask them to update their Flexstream Database. “Jay” said that TPG had tried to contact me several times but there was no answer.

I asked him what number TPG tried to contact me on, and he obviously realised it was different to my home number.  I asked him since he also had my mobile number and TPG email address why that wasn’t used. He had no response.

I went back and forth between Telstra and TPG. Telstra saying the details were correct, TPG said they weren’t.

I rang again and spoke with Jay. I asked who I should speak with at Telstra, what number I should call, what department I should ring. He said he didn’t know and to check the white pages.

Since I have no way of independently verifying what the status is, I was still not sure who is at fault: TPG or Telstra?

Finally I said to Jay that I should just go to another ISP. He said that he would be more than happy to accommodate this???

Lessons learnt:
1. I had the best result ringing Telstra on 13 22 00 and asking for Connections. I was on hold for around 20 – 30 seconds. When I rang Faults or other 1300 / 1800 numbers I was on hold for well over 5 minutes and got no progress.

2. TPG, I don’t care if it is Telstra’s fault. Half the people I spoke with at Telstra hadn’t heard of Flexstream. They did not know or understand what it means to update the database. Those that did, said it was an old system no longer in use.

3. Since it wasn’t obvious to me how I should check the status of this with TPG, next time I will ring each day to check on the progress.

4. It wasn’t until I told Telstra to forget about it, don’t worry. Send the bill to the wrong address and we will see what happens. It was at this point Telstra knew something wasn’t right.

5. I found the best way to get a response from TPG, was to put up a post on the Whirlpool Forums.  Frustrating?  Yes!  But that seems to be the way it is.

Here’s hoping you have better luck than me!

Wave hello to Google!

I’ve just watched the Google Wave demo given at the Google IO Conference.

At first glance, Wave is a fantastic idea!

If you are using email to communicate with your family and friends, this will change the way you work.

Think in your mind what you use Facebook for. If you had to tell me this, 5 years ago:

I update my friends on what I’m doing. I can see their photo’s and comment on them. If I see someone I know in your photos, i can tag

So there are certainly obvious benefits. But I think what is of more value is the subtle changes.
– “Been” (sic.) Soup Spell check
– Drag and drop images
– realtime updates

And so forth…

Check it out!


I’ve been trying to tackle this monster the past week.

Here’s what I’ve learnt:
1. It’s implementation on the .net framework has changed a LOT! Most samples available are out of date and won’t compile

2. It’s potential is massive! For the first time, I can see Test Driven Development really working!

3. The current version does not work well with the .NET AJAX Toolkit controls

4. There are many parts to it! While the MVC Pattern sounds simple, it only works effectively with the Repository Pattern and Dependency Injection

Still, I’m hooked!