Usability Collateral Damage

  1. Posted on December 11, 2009 12:51:PM by Earl Beede to Practicing Earl
  2. Technique, humor, usability, Management

Astute followers of my blog (Hi, Mom!) will have noticed that all of my previous posts are now attributed to “Anonymous”. Same as my forum responses to date. Why? Well, I accidently deleted myself from the site.

“Smooth move, ex-lax,” my mom would tell me if she actually did read my blog.

A little background. This site has attracted the attention of a (some?) nasty little bot that is adding a lot of fake members. The controls in the then-expensive now-outdated software package we use give me little ability to stop them and keep an open site. My control plan was to delete them as fast as they showed up.

Not a problem but the software only allows me to delete one at a time. Not only that, but after it deletes a bogus member, the software refreshes the web page, resetting the order of members to an alphabetical list. The bot was not cooperating by naming all the faux members “aaaaa”.

So my procedure was sort, select, delete; sort, select, delete; and so on. Now I could have written a macro to do this but the software often didn’t finish the delete of one fake member until I was three or four additional zombie members to delete down, then a bunch would disappear from the site all at once.

On the fateful day of my own suicide deletion, in addition to the mind numbing repetition of deleting, oh, 50 or so of the buggers, I was also fighting a window placement that put my needed delete choice off screen. That is, a popup window would popup half off screen and nothing I could do could get it back on screen.

So it was me vs. the machine and damn if I was going to loose.

I lost.

Well, I DID get the delete choice back on screen but the software also did a resort of the member list and instead of deleting “Free Movy Downloads” I deleted myself. I actually had a moment of the little “victory dance” of getting the delete choice back before the, “OH #*%!”.

That, I think, is the essence of usability collateral damage. We get completely engaged in getting the software to do what, frankly, it so obviously should do in the first place that we miss some ramification of our actions.

That is partly what happened with the infamous Therac-25. Technicians, who got a lot of meaningless error messages, still had a job to do and pressed buttons away. Unfortunately, the usability collateral damage there was several people’s lives.

Alan Cooper likes to point out the most developers are really lousy usability designers. The only worse usability designers, in my opinion, in general, are the business partners that give developers the “requirement” to present the interface just like the partner wants. Both are ripe for usability collateral damage.

I agree with Cooper that usability, like project management, like business analysis, is a discipline that needs its own focus. Breathing is not enough qualification for these roles. The damage of screwing up these areas are just too high.

And, please, warn me if I am about to delete myself!

Usability Collateral Damage – Practicing Ear said:

December 11, 2009 2:42:PM

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HealthPRSpider – Loan: Bad Credit Unsecured said:

December 12, 2009 1:08:AM

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Earl Beede

Earl Beede, CSDP is a Senior Fellow at Construx Software, where he designs and leads seminars and provides consulting services on early project-lifecycle practices, estimation, requirements, quality assurance, contract management, and software methodologies.

With more than 20 years experience as a quality assurance representative, systems analyst, process architect, and manager, Earl has designed and written software development processes for companies across a wide variety of industries. Prior to joining Construx, he held quality assurance and systems analyst positions at organizations that include the Department of Defense, Boeing Computer Services and Verizon Wireless.

Earl has a Bachelor's degree from the University of Washington. He is a member of the IEEE Computer Society and a past coordinator of the Seattle Area SPIN (Software Process Improvement Network).


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