Things go wrong. Things go wrong in complicated ways because they have to operate in complicated environments. When things go wrong they should degrade gracefully, not break abruptly when there is no need for them to do so.
I went to the post office at lunch time. Lots of other people did too, so it was quite busy.
For the last few years, this post office has had a fancy queuing system (though it now no longer seems to require a dedicated member of staff to explain the self service options, which is progress of a kind). I took my ticket and prepared to wait.
It’s easy to say we should start with the user. At one level, it’s self-evidently the right thing to do. But it isn’t always obvious why even well-intentioned efforts can go wrong if the starting point is even subtly distant from the users. Here’s a simple story of how that can be so.
Rules, we tell ourselves, are made to be broken. When strict application of the rule produces a silly outcome, we prefer to bend the rule rather than enforce the silly outcome. A rule which could cope with every exception and every special circumstance would be so complex and incomprehensible that it couldn’t in practice work as a rule at all. And so we muddle through.
How do you stop your stock of nuclear weapons accidentally blowing up the world? How do you devise a straightforward system for recording penalties on driving licences? Those sound like very different questions, but they turn out to have some unexpected similarities. Let’s start with nuclear weapons. Eric Schlosser has written an extraordinary book about […]
The question of whether there should be a local version of the Government Digital Service rumbles on. I wrote about it a couple of months ago, and lots of other people have too, most of them far more expert on the question than I am. That amounts to a lot of well-informed and passionate commentary, […]
Usability and familiarity are very different things. With enough familiarity, use becomes easy. But that should never be confused with usability being easy from the outset. And even to the extent that some things are more usable than others, familiarity still trumps usability, so adapting to the more usable thing will still be hard for […]
Customers are ruthlessly horizontal Joel Bailey
Quick question: what’s the dominant form of public transport in London? And an irresistible second quick question: what is wrong with this picture? We will come back to the second question, but if your answer to the first was the tube, you can be forgiven. That’s the most distinctive, most high profile part of what […]
I went to my local council’s customer service centre this morning. The service was broken, and it worked much better. That’s a slightly odd finding, with some interesting implications. I wrote about the same experience a couple of years ago, when everything was working as it was designed to, including the fiendishly clever automatic ticketing […]