Fail: How NOT to do user experience design (II)

Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutes

Perhaps I should be more forgiving of people who really don’t know how to use “technology” yet. I try very hard to do that – when it is someone like my mother who’s never really had any need or use for it besides being able to surf the web and communicate with family.

BUT, we are rapidly getting to the point where NOT having access to the web and not having an email account is equivalent to living in North America in the 60’s and not having a telephone. Come ON.

I can also understand when someone who doesn’t really have any need to use the system in ways other than the ones described for my mom doesn’t know how to create and publish stuff online. Why should they? (Although I could also argue that this being the modern world and all, being able to do that is roughly equivalent to being able to write a traditional letter 40 years ago. So, get with it!)

These are mere annoyances. The ones that REALLY burn my toast are academics and administrative assistants who work in universities and colleges. I mean really. This isn’t rocket science. It’s been decades now since we started to be able to scan things, create and edit e-documents, and send emails (it’s been possible to do email at universities way longer than it’s been possible for the general public).

Here are a few items that top my list of bugs:

Sending an email invitation to an event and putting all the details in a pdf, Word, or ppt attachment. THEN when you take the time to download and open said attachment, you discover that the whole attachment consists of just a couple of lines, maybe with an image or two. Why, oh why can’t people just put those few lines RIGHT IN THE EMAIL? I wonder how much bandwidth this would save? I KNOW it would save a considerable amount of time as people wait for the thing to download, then wait for the application to launch, then hunt for the few little details they need to know. If you went to the trouble of making a pretty poster to advertise your event, then by all means include it as an attachment, but GIVE ME THE CHOICE. Sheesh.

PDF documents that are scanned images of pages THAT WERE ORIGINALLY DIGITAL FILES. Holy cow people. It really doesn’t take super intelligence to produce a proper pdf from a Word or OpenOffice document. Pdfs made from scanned files can’t be searched. THEY CAN’T BE SEARCHED. One of the universities I teach for produces its master timetable that way.  Please forgive me, but HOW DUMB IS THAT? I can guarantee you that the timetable information exists in digital form – probably some database-produced report. In order to produce the publicly available version of the timetable, they would have had to:

  1. generate the report
  2. print it out on paper
  3. scan EACH PAGE back IN – one by one
  4. create a PDF from the scanned images

Here’s another way to do this:

  1. generate the report
  2. print it to a pdf

A document containing timetable information for a university is usually over 100 pages when printed. Think of the time it must take to do this. Think of the time it must take for students to page through the ‘document’ (I hesitate to call this collection of photos a real document). What a waste. And all because someone can’t make the “leap” to figuring out how to use electronic documents in the most basic of ways.

For some reason people seem to be stuck in this notion that things they usually read on paper must get onto paper before they can become something different in the computer. I once had one of my kids’ teachers send me my kid’s marks this way:

  1. She opened the computer “grades” application that their district uses and got to my son’s record.
  2. She PRINTED that record on paper.
  3. She PHONED ME and sent me a FAX of that record.

Now both she and I have a paper version that neither of us needed. Not only is it a waste of time and bandwidth, but this is also a colossal waste of paper and ink. I wonder how much of this gets done every day?

I see this far too frequently when I look at PDFs of course outlines. They are scanned copies of the Word documents AFTER they were printed out on paper. Doesn’t anyone realize how absurd this is?

And here’s one I haven’t seen before:

The other day, I got another one of those Calls for Papers. This one was circulated by the head of one of the big wig research institutes at one of the universities where I teach.

Get this:

  1. There are NO details in the body of the email.
  2. There IS an attached Word Doc.
  3. The Word Doc contains ONLY one line of text indicating a deadline has been extended and an IMAGE.
  4. That image is a SCREENSHOT of the CFP. Judging by the standard text formatting conventions, it contains active links to the conference websites, but since all we have is a SCANNED image of this page, THE LINKS ARE PART OF THE PICTURE. You can’t even copy and paste them into your browser.

It’s just embarrassing. Universities should know better. If they don’t they should really learn. Check the year on your calendar. It’s not 1972 anymore.

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Fail: How NOT to do user experience design (II) — 1 Comment

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