Tag Archives: usability

Human Proof Design

Human proof design is design that prevents people from successful using the item.

cover of book, Design of Everyday Things

It is similar to mistake proofing except instead of prevent mistakes it prevents people from using it.

When you see human proof design you will often see signs to tell people how to use the device that has been human proofed. Common instances of this are hotels that have shower designs so opaque they need instructions on how to use a device most people have no problem using if they are not human proofed.

Human proof design is often created by a subset of designers that care about how something looks more than how it is used.

Most people prefer designs that are beautiful without being human proofed. The Design of Everyday Things is a great book on designing beautifully with customer focus.

A sign your design is human proofed is that a sign or manual is needed for people to use it.

Most human proof design can be identified very simply by having regular people try to use the item. Watch what they do and when they struggle to use it, many problems will be very obvious. You can’t use people in this effort that are significantly different from the normal users.

In several areas I see these failures quite often. Hotel rooms are a common source of problems. The light switches are often very odd and I have to search all over to find out how to turn on or off different lights.

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The Future of Quality is to Actually Do What People Talked About Decades Ago

In the current ASQ Influential Voices post, Laurel Nelson-Rowe, ASQ managing director, asks: What’s the Future of Quality?

The report they link to is hidden behind a register-wall. Hopefully in the future ASQ will have better User Experience (Ux) practices in place on the web site.

But it is a good example of the failures to adopt well known, decades old recommended practices. This failure to just do what the best experts have suggested for a long time is an example of the kind of thing we should hope to see eliminated in the future.

We don’t need fancy new ideas or breakthroughs. We just need to adopt what many people have been saying for decades. Read Russell Ackoff, W. Edwards Deming, Peter Scholtes, George Box, James Womack and Brian Joiner you will be well on your way to knowing what you need to know to help us to reach a good future for quality.

There are quite a few people that have provided very good material on lean thinking and the other ideas on management improvement. This list isn’t meant to say you should limit yourself to these people. I just feel you don’t need to go in search of new things, we have much better ideas than any new things being sold now from management experts that have been decades of material we would benefit greatly from applying today.

If you want a bit on user experience (given the importance of the internet and software applications today ) you can read: Signal to Noise, Boxes and Arrows and A List Apart.

If you want to appeal to those that think you must read something new you can read a bit of Eric Reis, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Dan Pink. They offer good ideas, Eric Reis offers the most concrete suggestions in this group (Dan Pink is next). And those that like shiny new things will be happy with your new names (for a while). The Ux people also will provide concrete ideas to use. I personally find many excellent management bloggers are valuable resources to managers.

We haven’t done nearly as much with all the great management concepts explained decades ago. Not much of what is said to be new in the last 20 years provides more value than the stuff we haven’t gotten around to doing yet that was laid out long ago. If we want better managed organization to provide better results to customers, employees, stockholders and other stakeholders would be wise to make the future of quality actually applying what Deming, Ackoff, Scholtes and the other provided us.

I think we will be able to make this the future of quality. We take a long time to adopt better ideas for management but we do adopt them (with lots of backsliding in many organizations, but over the decades the movement is in the right direction in most ways).

Related: We really need to change how we improve the practice of managementNew or Different? Just Choose BetterGood management is good management: it doesn’t matter if someone figured out the good idea 100 years ago or last week.New Rules for Management? No!

Magnetic White-Board Kanban Card Options

Just some quick ideas for Kanban whiteboard magnetic card options from a question I answered on Reddit.

Here is the best lean solution: Trying Out My Agile Kanban Board from Jon Miller.

kanban board with magnetic whiteboad  cards

Magnetic kanban board from Jon Miller.

Why, well mainly I am kidding about it being the best, but if you don’t read his Gemba Panta Rei blog you should! Go add it to your RSS feed reader, before you continue with this post.

Ok, welcome back. In addition to thinking his blog is great the solution from his blog is very flexible and easy – though it isn’t quite a packaged solution (as asked for on Reddit). Also that post provides some good insight into the thinking behind the board (as well as how to create your own).

More links with kanban board options: Magnetic whiteboard cards (50-pack)Physical TaskboardsI think just magnetic symbols (not magnetic white board card) but could use magnet with icon to stick paper to the board

Another silly site, that sells some sort of solution, blocked my access because they don’t sell in the country my computer reported being located in. So I didn’t give them a free plug (assuming their product was decent which it might be?). Very dumb design if you ask me; well even though you didn’t ask, I told you anyway.

Localization that impedes users rather than helping them seems far far too common in my experience. Mapping (and related – find closest…) uses are about the only localization stuff I find useful – country based localization I nearly always find annoying or crippling. And showing my location on a map is totally awesome (especially as I travel around as a tourist – or really in whatever capacity). Such bad design and poor usability decisions cost companies money.

Related: Visual Management with Brown M&MsMaking Data VisibleDeming and Software Development

Use Urls – Don’t Use Click x, Then Click y, Then Click z Instructions

In the 1980s software applications had to use click x, then click y, then click z type instructions to get you to a specific location in a software application (or at least they had a decent excuse to do that). Too many web application development organizations forget that they now have urls to direct people exactly where to go: and that they shouldn’t rely on ancient “click here, then there, then in that other place” type instructions.

Here is an example I wrote up on my recent experience with iTunes and their failure to do this properly: Bad iTunes Ux and How to Submit a Podcast to iTunes. I see it all the time, that is just one example.

It is so sad that Google can’t even offer mildly decent help for their own software nearly a couple decades after they started out with the goal to organize the world’s information. And lots of other software companies also point you to clicking around various gui (graphical user interface) click paths instead of just

  1. showing the url (say in a help email) – instead of the gui click path text
  2. a clickable link to the url in web documents

On top of the waste inherent in click path instructions they often fail because the interface has changed and no one bothered to change the click path or the click path depends on other things being a certain way and they are not so the click path breaks.

I really can’t comprehend how this usability failure is something I run across all the time. Urls are not some secret idea only PhD computer scientists have heard of. This is super basic stuff – click path instructions should never have been acceptable for any web application. It is pitiful they are still common among companies that see themselves as advanced software development organizations.

Using the proper urls also will help make sure you are using human readable urls. Another super basic usability concept that is ignored far too often by some web application developers.

Related: Usability, Customer Focus and Internet Travel SearchMaking Life Difficult for CustomersPracticing Mistake-Promoting Instead of Mistake-Proofing at ApplePassword Gobbledygook Instruction (more bad usability)What I Would Include in a Redesigned Twitter Profile (2014)

Your Online Presence and Social Networks for Managers

This month Paul Borawski asked ASQ’s Influential Voices which social networks do quality professionals use?

TL;DR My bottom line suggestion is to first start with blogs (get a feed reader and subscribe, read and comment on blogs). Next join Reddit and subscribe to the sub-reddits you are interested in, and participate. Next start your own blog. Then join Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+. Put your learning first; other measures are largely “fools gold” (such as number of followers).

photo of John Hunter at Zion National Park

John Hunter at Zion National Park, Utah, USA.

Blogs are the best way to use the internet to learn, network, share and grow. That includes reading blogs, commenting on blogs and writing your own blog. Thankfully there are tons of great management improvement blogs (especially on lean thinking) for managers to learn from. There is a great opportunity for six sigma blogs as the field is not crowded with high value blogs on that topic.

Writing your own blog is the very best online way to create a brand for yourself (and to learn and grow). Given the workplace today, and how the future seems likely to unfold, building your own brand is a valuable career tool. Writing your own blog also builds your understanding of the topic. As you put your thoughts into words you have to examine them and often build a more complete understanding yourself before you can write about it.

You also build a network as you read and comment on other’s blogs and as others read and comment on your blog. YouTube can be used in a similar way (though I would use a blog to add text to the webcast and encourage comments on the blog rather than YouTube). Using an RSS blog feed reader is the first social network tool you should use (way before you sign up for Twitter or Facebook or anything). Podcasts can also. I have done a few podcast, most discussing the ideas in my management book. Videos and audio connect more deeply to people so they are wonderful methods to reach people. I should get some webcast up on YouTube; it is one of my plans that I haven’t gotten to you yet.

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5s at NASA

NASA did some amazing things culminating with landing on Moon. Much of what they did was doing many small things very well. They used 5s, checklists, gemba thinking, usability, simplicity, testing out on a small scale and much more.

Here are a few photos from the Smithsonian Air and Space museum in Washington DC. I also have some nicer NASA 5s photos from the new Annex near Dulles Airport, but, ironically, I can’t find them.

photo of container labeled with many compartments for NASA

These kits were used by NASA astronauts on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Obviously NASA had to have everything that might be needed where it was needed (picking up something from the supply closet in building 2 wasn’t an option).

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Learn to Code to Help Your Career

I believe there are big benefits to knowing how to code (programing, software development). What is possible for your organization is often significantly impacted by understanding how to properly use software (and create it, coding, when needed). The lack of understanding of software is a significant problem not just for those wanting a job coding (that are available for those with the right skills) but also for those making decisions about what the organization should do.

The profound ignorance (meant not in a pejorative way but in the descriptive way) of software is a significant problem for managers today. The critical role of software in our organizations is only growing. And the importance of understanding software (which coding provides in a way no other learning does) is only increasing. My guess is a decade or two or three from now a understanding of coding will not be nearly as critical for managers. I am just guessing the nature of coding will be significantly changed and not understanding the details needed to code will not be as critical as it is today. Maybe I am wrong about the importance of understanding coding fading over time (it is more a feeling than a chain of logic I can clearly explain easily).

There are many indirect benefits of learning to code. In the same way that those with an education in engineering do very well in their careers overall, even if they take a path where they are no longer engineers a background in coding prepares you well for your career. Actually, similar to engineering, part of this effect may well be those that can graduate with an engineering degree and those that can be employed for several years as a software developer have skills and abilities that would have made them successful even if they didn’t pass through those experiences (still I think, those experiences to add to their success).

Good programmers have a strong tendency to think in ways that those interested in management improvement need (and, sadly, often lack): systems thinking, customer focus, efficiency focused [good coders often hate wasting their time and naturally despise non-value added steps], a willingness to speak up about things that need to be improved, a desire to make a difference, passion for what they do…

If you work along side good programmers these traits will be reinforced every day (this was my favorite part of my last job – working with great programmers that pursued these principles and re-enforced my doing so also). Yes there are also things you might have to temper in dealings with non-coders (being a bit kinder/less-direct about perceived failures, for example). Also some coders can be so engaged they expect an unsustainable commitment from peers (this is one of the great benefits of a good agile software development system – a focus on creating an environment for sustainable development [not expecting unreasonable effort/hours on the part of coders]).

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Customer Focus and Internet Travel Search

The internet should make finding airline flight information easy. Instead it is a huge pain. Hipmunk has taken on the challenge of doing this well, and I think they have done a great job. This video provides an excellent view of both web usability and customer focus. This is a great example of focusing on providing customer value and using technology to make things easy – which is done far to little at most companies.

Related: Innovation Example (Farecast – which seems to have been bought by Microsoft and broken)Making Life Difficult for CustomersConfusing Customer FocusJoel Spolsky Webcast on Creating Social Web ResourcesCEO Flight Attendant

Trust Your Staff to Make Decisions

The failure to give your organization the flexibility to serve customers is a big mistake. Many companies make this mistake. Often the basic problem is managers don’t trust that their systems to hire and develop people that will make good decisions. The solution to this problem is not to give your staff no authority. The solution is to manage your systems so that you can trust your people. This is not as easy to do as it is to say, I will grant that.

Southwest Airlines and Zappos are companies that do respect employees. And those employees then provide great service. But it isn’t a simple thing. To truly manage a system with respect for people isn’t as easy as just putting up some slogans. But if you want to provide good customer service this is one requirement. There are plenty of others: continual improvement, evidence based management, customer focus, systems thinking

These thoughts were prompted by a nice post, jetBlue Just Blew It

You see, when I booked my flight last night I used their online system (good) and made a mistake in booking the date for my return (bad). I’m going to Boston for the weekend and accidently booked by return flight a month later in August instead of the 4 days I was looking for.

Of course their site has a lot of bookings and almost no one makes an error like this. But any UI designer who looks at their site could see that it’s absolutly possible since the length of the trip is never revealed except for the flight dates. (I”m arguing that they could put in a little fading header that tells you how long your trip is for.) If’ I’d see anywhere that my trip was scheduled for 35 days I’d have immediately know there was an issue. (I could make a simple change to the jetBlue UI that would solve this problem for everyone within a day.)

Today when I looked at my emailed itinerary I immediately spotted the problem and went online to change my ticket. They have a $100 change fee which I paid thinking I’d give them a call and that surely they’d waive that. After all, it wasn’t a change I was asking for, it was the ticket I wanted in the first place. It was less than 24 hours and the flight wasn’t for a month.

But no.

In speaking to the customer service rep who ‘called’ a manager. I was informed that I had only a 4 hour window to make any changes and that after that, there was nothing anyone could do. You see, no one at jetBlue customer service has the ‘authority’ to refuse this fee. It was company policy that they couldn’t actually do anything.

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Joel Spolsky Webcast on Creating Social Web Resources

Joel Spolsky webcast on creating Stack Overflow (with the goal of providing answers to professional programmers) using ideas from anthropology. Once again he provides great information. This is particularly interesting for software development but also just a good presentation for understanding the importance of customer focus and systems thinking.

What they focused on and did:

  • Voting – Reddit… (see our management Reddit)
  • Tags – lets you see what you want and to block tags you don’t want to see.
  • Editing – letting users edit the questions and responses. For a technical question and answer system this is very useful (based on my experience).
  • Badges – people like to earn “credit” (psychology)
  • Karma – “people are willing to do for free what people are not willing to do for small amounts of money” (psychology)
  • Pre-search – provide quick view of previously answered questions
  • Google is UI – Assumption: “the front page is Google search” – build based on the idea people will search via Google
  • Performance – 16 million pages a month with 2 web servers. They are using the Microsoft stack, not open source.
  • Critical mass – they focused on getting a large user base on day one of the beta site

Related: posts related to Joel SpolskyDell, Reddit and Customer FocusInformation Technology and ManagementWhat Motivates Programmers?