Monthly Archives: October 2013

Visibility of System Status

The following a is a pretend re-enactment of how the following webpage, I think, came to exist as is. Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 4.47.53 PM

“Users are asking for the ability to have different addresses on their account. One to actually send credit cards to, one for statements and one for general correspondence. We have to enable that facility.” says Boss Man.

“Ok, we’ll put three address fields on the contact information section part of the webpage.” says Software Engineer.

“No, not enough people are asking for it that I think we should show this to everyone. We’ll only put one box up and give users a link to another page in order to manage the all three.” says Boss Man. “The contact information page will continue to show just one address. Say, the one for statements.”

“But what if there is a mistake? What if the addresses get incorrectly updated by a bug or human error?” Software Engineer protests, “How will the users find out?”

“They’ll be able to tell when they click the link. Like I said, all three addresses will appear then.” Boss Man says. “We’ll also change the title of the surrounding box from ‘Mailing Address’ to ‘Statement Mailing Address’ to let them know that there is more than one address. They’ll be fine!”

“But!” Software Engineer continues to protest.

“They’ll be fine.” Boss Man reassures.

And scene!

That, is what I thought of when I realized why my new credit card has been MIA for the last month. I didn’t get mad at the company, I didn’t get mad at the very, very nice and sweet customer service representative I ended up talking to. I didn’t even get mad at Boss Man. I felt for the Software Engineer that had to implement the website that let me go unawares that I had incorrect addresses in the system. Had I not been told an earlier attempt to send me my card had been thwarted by an “address unknown” error on the part of the Post Office, I don’t know that I would have noticed the link indicating that there were other address possibilities. I never entered multiple addresses before. I made just one update when I moved last. However, after I made said update, I had no visibility regarding the current system status and the newly mismatched addresses. Thus, no new card for me has arrived thus far.

Scenarios like these are why I care so very much about usability. Beyond Jakob Nielsen’s usability heuristics, I’m mindful of the “Pit of Success” as Jeff Atwood Defines it:

The Pit of Success: in stark contrast to a summit, a peak, or a journey across a desert to find victory through many trials and surprises, we want our customers to simply fall into winning practices by using our platform and frameworks. To the extent that we make it easy to get into trouble we fail.

Only modified to apply to usability, instead of development.

I used to be the type of designer that thought my interfaces were “Da Bomb Yo!” and users would just get them. If they didn’t that wasn’t my problem, my UI was great! Then I watched someone very close to me, who I take to be computer savvy, struggle with a UI I designed. That was the moment my ego regarding design got put out to pasture and I’m better for it. Now I listen to user feedback as valuable input into the design process. 🙂