Tag Archives: bad 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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Management Blog Posts From June 2005

Here are the blog posts from 3 years ago this month on the Curious Cat Management Improvement blog: From Mechanistic to Social Systemic ThinkingTargets Distorting the SystemDilbert and Deming.

The Dilbert site has learned to take advantage of the web and allow embedding of the strips on blogs and web pages. Good for them, but you really would have thought they would have lead this trend not delayed so long.

[Was displaying Dilbert strip from 21 January 1997 before pointy haired boss broke their service]

Update: Oh and now they seem to have broken the service. Not really a surprise if you figure the people managing Dilbert apply the pointy haired boss’ ideas to help them manage. Sigh. Scott Adams is not in any danger or running out to management lameness to ridicule.

Information Technology and Management

Dog Eat Dog [the broken link was removed, sadly even MIT can’t manage a website properly and they have broken the link] by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson

The CVS experience is a microcosm of a pervasive trend toward using IT to replicate not only digital goods and services but also business processes. This trend encompasses core activities such as customer service and order management, as well as support activities such as accounting and human resources. Once a company embeds its processes in IT, the processes are executed the same way not only across locations, but also over time. This means, for example, that a company can ensure that no large customer order will be accepted until a specific credit check is performed.

While creating an innovative business process is less visible than developing a new product or investing in factories, our research shows it is actually more important to a company’s success. Intangible process capital is changing the way companies operate and the capabilities they possess. As a result, it also is changing the way they compete.

This is very true. But while on this topic, I see people adopting technology as the end rather than to facilitate. IT solutions should support the organization and help the organization improve performance. The technology should not tie the organizations hands (as it can so easily do when implemented without an understanding of systems thinking, variation, process improvement, sub-optimization, psychology…). I believe in the value of in-house IT resources to create IT solutions that support the organization (rather than buying off the shelf solutions that end up making the organization conform to the software).

There are trade-offs that must be made (weighing the total costs of off the shelf solutions, customizable solutions and in house developed applications), but what I see is too much waste created through poor processes implemented in order to conform to software. Instead I think investing in some IT staff to help create IT solutions that aid the overall process improvement efforts would be wise. Often the best options are open source solutions that not only are cheap but normally much easier to customize and are easier to integrate with open architectures. And then have enough IT staff to do customization – I feel many organizations focus inordinately on shrinking the cost of IT staff. Instead they should focus on optimizing the overall system, even if that increase the costs of IT staff.

Granted I am biased having morphed into an IT person from my previous life as someone mainly focused on management improvement in general (but I did so specifically because of the great opportunity to improve performance through the proper adoption of information technology).

Related: Toyota IT OverviewAgile Software DevelopmentChange Your NameUsing Quality to Develop an Internet Resource

Change Your Name

Best Buy Asks Man To Change Name [the broken link was removed]:

Turns out if your last name is less than three letters, the online sign-up isn’t an option for you.

Companies often put up barriers for no reason, then leave customer service agents to try and explain. And then this happens:

When he called Best Buy one customer service agent even suggested he change his name

Now that is great 🙂

Charles Yu: “I said well, I think that is a little ridiculous – I don’t want to change my last name just to sign up for this.”

When 7 On Your Side contacted Best Buy, the company apologized for the problem saying… “We were aware that our online system for creating Reward Zone accounts does not recognize a name with less than three letters and the decision has already been made to correct it.” The company went on to say they have no definite timeline for the fix…

My advice. Don’t create stupid restrictions (in IT systems or otherwise). What do you care how long people’s names are? There are many people with 2 character names.

Also, have customer service personnel who are trying to improve the system, not trying to get the customer off the phone to meet some arbitrary numerical target. Most often the representatives seem most concerned with getting you off the phone. An effective system to discover what needs to be improved is not something that management has bothered to design into the system. Big mistake.
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Usability Failures

‘Smart’ phones, stupid punters?

A survey* of 15,000 “faulty” devices by mobile data provider WDSGlobal found 63 per cent of the one in seven new phones which are returned have nothing wrong with them.

I believe one in seven is the model of phone. I guess if you operationally define “nothing wrong” as a failure to work as the manufacturer intended that would be true. But is that what really matters? What is the number of defects that should be counted?

The design of the phone is broken if 63% of the returns work as intended and customers still think they are broken. Continue reading

Planet Kaizen


Toyota has a section on their web site called Planet Kaizen [the broken link to www.toyota.com/planetkaizen was removed, this is a rare instance where they are doing us a favor by removing this poorly designed application from the internet]: “what happens when you dig a little deeper and peel back the sheet metal to discover what makes a Toyota a Toyota.”

It requires Flash to view Planet Kaizen. I think it has amazingly bad visual controls (as do many flash applications). I can’t figure out why it would be done in flash – other than some marketing person, or IT person, thought it would be cool. I certainly don’t see how kaizen practices could have produced such an application. It seems to me one of the examples of how far Toyota still has to go.

Of course, as an automobile manufacturer failing to develop web applications well, is better than failing at manufacturing cars well. I would guess that this “planet kaizen” was not created by Toyota employees but instead outsourced to someone else. If it was done internally, I think Toyota’s management of marketing with technology may be in as much need of help as GM’s entire management is. In any case the non-manufacturing parts of Toyota, while some are managed well, still have plenty of room to improve.

BetterProcess Podcasts and Blog

Edited to correct links – people involved with web content really need to learn that pages must live forever. They broke them again, so I gave up trying to make up for their failure to follow good management processes.

BetterProcess Podcast and Blog [I removed the broken link]

I found a new source of podcasts [I removed the broken link] focused on manufacturing, charting, use of data and the like. Yesterday I wrote about the potential for webinars and last week I wrote about the value of podcasts to the transfer of management improvement knowledge. The biggest problem right now is finding management improvement podcasts so I am glad to find another source of podcasts on management improvement topics.

Topics of the podcasts include: Pareto charting, P-charting, Six Sigma (Measurement System Analysis) and manufacturing news.

All the podcasts end with a musical selection. This new technology allows individuals to create what they want. So we get a much more personal creations than were common in the past. I can’t imagine many video training sessions each ending in a musical selection. It also is made possible by thinking like that of the creative commons license (that allowing more use of your content may actual be wiser, in some cases, than prohibiting any use of content that you own).

The most recent podcast is part 2 of 2 (and the 12th podcast overall): Broken link an interview with Andy Sleeper a Master Black Belt discussing Measurement System Analysis.