Archive for the ‘User experience’ Category

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How long before this danger causes a problem?

May 31, 2017

In the ‘what were they thinking’ category comes this — replacing those moisture-absorbing gel packets in products with something that has a similar size, shape, and feel to the product!

I purchased a container of glucosamine tablets recently, and when I opened it, I found a blue plastic cap-like thing instead of the gel packet. Tell me it doesn’t look like one of those bullet-like tablets! How could a person with limited dexterity, compromised touch, or vision problems distinguish this blue thing from a tablet? Seniors tend to be those who take glucosamine, and they are more likely to have dexterity, touch, and vision issues as they age, so I’m just waiting for the news headline that says someone was hurt or injured or even died from ingesting one of these blue plastic cap things.

What were they thinking??? Did no-one see that you need to clearly distinguish the product from something that isn’t the product and shouldn’t be ingested? At least the gel packets were a different shape, different feel, and made from quite different materials, enabling them to be ‘not like the others’.

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The problem with ‘simple’ instructions

December 18, 2016

Bottom line: Simple instructions are good, but don’t make them TOO simple. Include key prerequisites. Users familiar with the product may choose to ignore the instructions, but new users will thank you for them.

The problem with ‘simple’ instructions is they often leave out critical information, assuming that the user already knows it. But what if this is the first time you’ve used a product? Or if you just don’t know (or forget) how it connects to other stuff?

What prompted this post? I have an under-sink water filtration system — the previous one required a plumber to fit the replacement cartridges, but this new system (Puretec’s Puremix X6 System) allows the user to change the cartridge ‘like changing a light globe’. The system has been in place for 12 months now, so it was time for me to replace the cartridge.

The only instructions on the new cartridge’s box were ‘Quick-change cartridge, easy to replace — just like changing a light globe.’ That’s it. I thought there might be instructions on a leaflet inside the box, but no. Nothing. There was an instruction on the new cartridge itself — ‘Twist old cartridge from head [what’s the ‘head’??] and twist new cartridge into head until firmly sealed. After installing cartridge flush unit for 5-10 minutes.’ But that was it.

How hard can it be?, I thought.

Well, at least for the first time, much harder than the instructions lead you to believe!

I pulled the new cartridge out of the box and found it had a blue cap covering the top — do you remove this or not? For those big water bottles you get delivered, you DON’T remove the blue cap, but that was the only reference point I had. And remember, there were no clear instructions to tell me what to do.

So into the cupboard under the kitchen sink I went, removing all the paraphernalia in front of the existing cartridge. I untwisted the existing cartridge to remove it — and water gushed EVERYWHERE!!! Why? Because they didn’t tell me a key step before changing the cartridge and that’s to turn off the mains water to that unit!!! Yes, I should have realised this, but I’ve been sick the past few days, so my head’s not in a good place. But if I was a young 18-year-old in a rental apartment and had to change the cartridge, would I know to turn off the tap first, or even how to find/identify that tap?

After a few seconds of water gushing everywhere, I turned off the mains tap. Then I spent the next 10 minutes mopping up — fortunately, we had an old bath mat under the water cartridge in case of any minor leaks, and it absorbed most (but definitely not all) of the water.

OK, now everything’s mopped up and the water’s off, so I untwist the existing cartridge and remove it. That was pretty easy. I saw that the old one didn’t have a blue cap on it, so I figured I needed to remove the blue cap on the new one. This required powers of extrapolation, which my brain wasn’t dealing well with at all. Off came the cap.

Next, to seat the new cartridge in place of the old. Not so easy. Why? Because there are notches in the top of the cartridge and you have to line them up precisely with the static part of the system (that’d be the ‘head’, I figured). Fortunately, we didn’t have quite enough room under our sink for the plumber who originally installed the system to screw the ‘head’ to the back of the cupboard (as per their images on Puretec’s website), which meant I was able to turn it at an angle where I could see the notches that had to line up. After a few attempts, I got this right and was able to seat the new cartridge and twist it to tighten and seal it. I then turned the mains water tap for the filtration unit back on, then the tap for the water filter spout (which gave me fright by spitting air at me for a few seconds before the water came through), and then ran the tap for about 7 minutes, checking inside the cupboard to make sure there were no leaks.

It shouldn’t be this hard! The box the cartridge comes in, and the cartridge itself, are large and there’s plenty of ‘white space’ on them. To add a few steps would have prevented the issues I (and no doubt others) encountered.

Here are my steps for replacing a Puremix X6-R water cartridge:

  1. Turn off the mains water tap to the water filtration system; this is likely inside the cupboard below the system.
  2. Take the new cartridge out of the box and pull off the blue cap. Note the single and double notches on the ‘shoulder’ of the cartridge.
  3. Twist the old cartridge in an anti-clockwise direction (left) to remove it from the head unit.
  4. Position the new cartridge so that the notches line up with the corresponding parts of the head unit.
  5. When aligned, push the cartridge up into the head unit.
  6. Twist clockwise (right) to tighten fully.
  7. Turn on the mains tap.
  8. Turn on the tap of the water filter spout — wait a few seconds for the air to clear the line and water to start running, then leave the water running for 5 to 10 minutes to flush the new cartridge.

As a final step (not listed above), I’d also add some information on how to dispose of the cartridge appropriately — including whether the water inside it has to be drained or is sealed in there.

 

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Noises in manuals

September 7, 2016

I purchased a new freezer this week. One of the first things I do when I get a new appliance is read the instruction manual. Yes, I know that only about 10% of the population reads an instruction manual, but I consider it a way to learn about the product AND a professional courtesy I extend to all those fellow technical writers who write them.

What made this manual different? It has a ‘noises’ table! After reading it, I think ALL appliance manuals should have one of these, if the appliance makes various noises during its operation. I know that products like UPSs have info on the various beeps and alarms, but this table listed the normal operating noises the freezer makes. So simple, and just brilliant.

noises

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The usability of gravestones and memorial markers

October 5, 2015

Not something perhaps you’d think about… But none of us is getting out of here alive!

A bit of back story… In some of my spare time, I transcribe information for various genealogical projects and digitized newspapers. I do this from my computer, so it’s easy to volunteer a few minutes here and there, and thus help add to the wealth of information available to the world.

Recently, I found a website — BillionGraves — that has the lofty aim of photographing, mapping, and transcribing the headstones and memorials from graves throughout the world. Although some cemeteries have their records online and are searchable, many don’t, particularly those cemeteries that are no longer used and are rotting away. BillionGraves uses the power of crowdsourcing to gather and process this information. In addition to their website where you can transcribe information on headstones, BillionGraves also has an app you can download to your phone or tablet so that when you’re out and about you can visit an uncatalogued cemetery, take photos of the headstones, and upload them to the site (the geographic coordinates upload with the photos). Then you can either transcribe them yourself via the app or website, or leave them for others to do.

What a cool idea for going for a weekend drive and picnic, and having a purpose for that drive! (yes, I’m weird like that…) BillionGraves has the locations of long-lost cemeteries on its website, so you can plan to visit one that hasn’t been catalogued and that you may not even know exists because it hasn’t been used in decades. For example, in Western Australia where I live, we have many bush areas that are peppered with graves from the early settlers. The houses and settlements have long gone, but some of the graves remain.

So what has all this got to do with usability?

Remember I said that none of us is getting out of here alive? Well, most of us (at least, most of us in the ‘developed world’), will be either buried or cremated and will have either a headstone or memorial plaque made in our honor and placed in a cemetery somewhere. A little bit of forethought as to how that memorial is designed and what goes on it could make it VERY usable for future generations researching your family tree.

What’s become evident to me while transcribing other people’s information is that so much of that information is not complete, is insular (making assumptions that readers of the memorial will be reading it in the same country and century it was made, for example), and/or is unreadable.

Recommendations

Here are some things I recommend (in no particular order) based on what I’ve discovered while transcribing headstones etc. and based on what genealogical researchers need to know. If you have any say in what goes on a loved one’s memorial (or your own), then consider these recommendations — future generations hunting you down will love you for it!

  • Good contrast is essential. Pink granite is an awful carrier for carvings and most colors used for text — much text is unreadable, and the color and mottled nature of the granite makes it hard to photograph. Gray granite with just carved letters and no color is nearly as bad, as are gold letters on mottled gray granite (see the unreadable images below).
  • List a date of birth AND death — you don’t need ‘died aged xx years’. A date of death is usually given on a memorial, and sometimes an age at death, but rarely is a date of birth given. Genealogists put a lot of store in dates of birth AND death, and an age is just not good enough. If you state that the person died on 15 June 1985 aged 76 years, were they born in 1909 or 1908? Depending on the birth month it could be either. A date of birth is likely fewer characters to pay for than a ‘died aged xx years’ statement, AND confirms to future generations that they have the right person AND provides a date of birth if it is missing from other records.
  • List the maiden (or birth) name of a married female. Maiden names (awful term…) of females are rarely given, yet they are crucial to genealogical research. So many women in family trees get ‘lost’ when they marry as their married surname is not known. And if they marry more than once, they are even harder to find. Including the maiden name helps identify if that person is part of your family tree.
  • Use four-digit years. Two-digit years are useless. Does 15 June 85 mean 1885 or 1985? Or some other year? Memorials can last for several centuries, so make sure there is no confusion as to which one. Don’t assume that a future reader will be from the same century.
  • Write months in letters, even if abbreviated. Numeric dates only are problematic for researchers and transcribers from other countries. Does 4-5-1962 mean 4 May 1962 or April 5 1962? Depending on where you went to school, it could be either! Better to use 4 May 1962 or 5 Apr 1962 to remove any possible confusion. Using a three-letter abbreviated month is fine.
  • Use the full name of the deceased, including any middle names. Middle names are important in helping distinguish many individuals in a family tree with the same name.

 

Examples

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Mottled gray granite with gold carved text — impossible to read from a photograph.

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Pink stone of some sort (likely a sandstone not granite, but I’ve seen plenty of pink granite ones as bad), with carving but no colour used in the carved text (or it has worn off). Impossible to read from a photograph.

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Good contrast, full name of deceased, has first name of wife (a bonus), dates of birth AND death, but uses numerals for the months (not too much of an issue in this case as they can be figured out by someone with a North American background and can’t be confused), and only two-digit years.

graves03

Great contrast, has dates of birth and death (with abbreviated months in letters and full years), has names of parents and siblings, has middle name.

graves04

Great contrast, has dates of birth and death (but only numerals for months so potentially confusing for a transcriber from a different country), full years, full names of both people (but no maiden name for the female), and then there’s some information that has no meaning or connection to anyone outside the family (i.e. who is ‘Pat’? a son, daughter, relation, friend??)

graves05

Even though I can’t read the language of this one (Russian?) and couldn’t transcribe it, it has great contrast, lists dates of birth and death (but months are in numerals), and uses full 4-digit years.

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Epic fail, Samsung

May 29, 2015

An epic failure of design and of support, and a waste of 2 hours of my time. And I still don’t have a solution.

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I was trying to change the battery in the Samsung mini remote control for my TV. I couldn’t remove the battery cover. So after checking the manual, getting my husband to try, and then checking online for solutions, I start an online ‘live chat’ with Samsung Support. After some mild pleasantries and discussion of what I’ve already done, we get to this (my asides in italics):

Support: Can you see a small space which can enter your nails to remove it?

Me: NO. Only the thin line between the compartment and unit. There’s nowhere to put a fingernail or screwdriver. No lip, No latch. Nothing. It should be easier than this!

Support: I do apologise for the inconvenience.

Me: Is there a YouTube video that shows how to remove it?

Support: I do apologise as we are unable to access third party website. Have you tried searching it?

Me: yes, for about an hour before I started the chat. What use is a remote control that doesn’t have an easy way to change the battery?

Support: I understand. If that would be the case, we recommend to have it checked by our technician.

Me: That’s ridiculous! Can I get a replacement mini remote?

Support: I sincerely apologise for the inconvenience this has caused you.

Me: Not your fault, but a SERIOUS design issue if the battery can’t be changed!

Support: If you wish to purchase a mini remote control, you need to get in touch with our major service centre for spare parts.

Me: So, there’s no way you can tell me how to change the battery? Why is it so tough to turn? Is it glued in? Can we prise the unit apart?

Support: Have you tried press the battery? Let see if it will bounce back.

Me: No, that didn’t work. (It’s the compartment I’m trying to open to get to the battery, so obviously it’s impossible to press the battery if I can’t open the compartment!)

Support: Have you also tried using your nails to turn counterclockwise?

Me: It’s already turned counterclockwise. Trying to use fingernails would wreck your nails. There’s a slot for a coin. I used a coin. As I told you at the beginning. It WON’T turn freely and once turned it WON’T pop out.

Support: What about clockwise? (BTW, the manual says counterclockwise!!)

Me: No. It wouldn’t go clockwise when I first tried, and now that it’s counterclockwise and with all the attempts I’ve made with a coin, it won’t turn clockwise now either as the slot is burred by forcing the coin. I give up.

Support: As we have exhausted the needed steps, it will best to have it checked by our technician. I understand just how frustrating this issue has become for you, and I apologise for the inconvenience.

(UNBELIEVABLE!!! Exhausted all the steps??? What steps? I’d already DONE the steps before I contacted them!! He offered nothing more and had no clue. His only solution was to send it to their techie. For an issue related to opening a battery compartment!!! What good would that do? We still wouldn’t know how to open it successfully.)

Me: what does that involve? Will you pay postage both ways?

Support: You need to bring the remote control on the service centre and our technician will check it. I’m unable to quote any amount. The cost of the repair will be provided after the assessment.

Me: Forget it. It’s not a repair! It’s a design fault!!! And I live outside of a country town. Do you have a service centre in XXXX, Western Australia?

Support: I understand. I am very sorry for the trouble.

(He then gives me an address in Canning Vale, Perth [Unit 3, 7 Mordaunt Circuit, Canning Vale, 6155; ph 08 6258 0000]… a 4-hour round trip for me. For a battery compartment that won’t open… I’ll take it into Harvey Norman’s next time I’m in XXXX to see if they can figure it out… This has taken nearly 2 hours so far and I still can’t open the battery compartment! Sheesh!)

Update 31 May 2015: So, the guy at Harvey Norman’s wasn’t able to open the battery compartment either!! However, he did give me some vital info and that was to match up the two tiny dots (one on the compartment cover and the other on the unit). That info was NOT in the manual. With a large screwdriver he was able to turn the compartment cover a bit more, but not enough to line up the dots. Again, the only other option was to force it open, thus running the risk of breaking it. He spent 20 minutes on it… With the cost of my time, his time, the Samsung Support person’s time, this has cost a LOT for no result. In hindsight it would’ve been cheaper ($35) to buy an after-market remote in the hope that it worked… My husband suggests sending the remote to the Samsung tech people in Perth, with a note explaining everything done so far – he reckons they might replace it. I may just do that.

Update 3 June 2015: I called Samsung Support in Australia. The guy couldn’t help me (and also said it shouldn’t be this hard) and referred me to the Canning Vale service centre. The lady there couldn’t help either and said they couldn’t repair it and I’d have to consider purchasing a new one from the spare parts division. She put me through to them. I could get a replacement remote for $30 direct from Samsung (I’d seen them online for $35 so thought that was a good deal), but when I enquired about postage I was told it had to come from Sydney, would take 7+ days (that would be 10+ days to get to me), and postage was $20!!!! For a tiny $30 item. Yeah, right. So I went online and ordered it for $34.95 plus overnight flat rate postage of $9.90 to anywhere in Australia. One of the first things I’ll do when I get the new unit is attempt to open the battery compartment to make sure I can do so without issue.

Sheesh!

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Breville: Why do you need my date of birth?

May 14, 2015

I bought a new slow cooker the other day. I usually register such products, either via the little card they provide in the packaging, or, more recently, via their online registration form as the little card seems to have gone the way of the dodo.

And so it was with Breville. I started their online registration process and was stunned to find that they wanted my date of birth. Now, why would an appliance company want my date of birth? I can understand them wanting an age range (e.g. 35 to 50), or even perhaps a year of birth for ‘marketing purposes’, but the full date? What’s up with that? And it was a mandatory field too. If I remember correctly, manufacturers don’t ask for date of birth on registration cards, so why ask it online? So I gave them an incorrect date.

Even more surprising, though, was the drop-down selection list of birth years. Instead of placing the focus in the middle of the list, or at the most recent year, they had it at the beginning of the list, which started at 1900!!! Breville_age There are probably only about 10 people in the entire world still alive today who were born in 1900, and none of them live in Australia (Australia’s oldest resident is 112), let alone are out buying a new Breville appliance and registering it online. Yet here was Breville Australia listing years of birth from 1900 onwards. As you can imagine, it took a lot of scrolling to get to my fake year of birth ;-)

As far as user experience went, this was a fail in two ways, Breville:

  • requiring my full date of birth to register a product (I immediately suspect identity theft when a company that has no need for this information requires it)
  • starting the selection list for year of birth at a date (1900) that predates the year of birth for almost 7 billion people on this planet.
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Very helpful, Australia Post… NOT!

January 5, 2015

A few weeks ago, I received an email about a parcel that had been sent. The email included an Australia Post tracking number, with a link to Australia Post’s tracking website.

I clicked the link and got this message: ‘Product not trackable’. Nothing else. So I went to Australia Post’s support section on their website and typed in those words, expecting to get an article about why some parcels are not trackable even if they have a tracking number. But I got this instead:

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Not one of those answers addressed the question. And the first and third answers didn’t relate in to my query (especially the first one). I expanded the ‘missing parcel’ option, but that had nothing either.

Good one, Australia Post. You have words on your website about products not being trackable but your support area doesn’t have ANYTHING for those words. #fail