Keeping Up with the Changes

by Arnold Burian

While waiting in line to have breakfast at a local restaurant, I noticed an interesting and somewhat amusing set of instructions on a toy crane machine:

I couldn’t help but smile at the instructions telling me to press the red button when only two green buttons are available. There are a number of lessons we can learn from these simple instructions on a simple device with a simple interface:

  • Use the product. It’s possible that the person who wrote these instructions never saw or used the machine. If you receive information second hand about how a product is supposed to work, make every attempt to validate the input yourself.
  • Always test documentation on the final build. One of the major reasons a mismatch occurs between the instructions and the product is because of last second changes. Whenever possible, allocate the appropriate time to verify consistency between the documentation and the final build/version of the product.
  • Be proactive in driving quality in the product interface. The instructions indicate the buttons were intended to be red and green. In many cultures, the red/green color combination indicates a stop/go action or activity. In this case, there is no correlation between the colors and the actual activities the user will perform (which are more like “go” and “go further”). If you familiarize yourself with the intended use of a product, you can use your experience to help improve the interface.
  • Establish a relationship with the interface designers and implementers. The labels on the buttons indicate that there may have been a last second attempt to compensate for the lack of color differentiation in the plastic buttons. Depending on the rigidity of processes in your organization, implementers may be allowed to make interface changes late in the development cycle. Being a visible and active participant of the project team will increase the likelihood that you will be notified when this occurs.

Be cognizant of instructions around you. We can make the world a more user-friendly place – one toy crane machine at a time.

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