Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Now, What Time is My Flight?

Image this. You're on the run at DFW airport (typically running between terminals) and you need to find out the status of your connecting flight. You look at the monitor and see this.

Fortunately, my flight to Oklahoma City scrolled up one line, so I could see the actual flight time!

By the way, notice how many flights were late that evening!

Of course, I'm a software tester, so I'm very used to seeing error messages, confirmation messages, etc. - even while making a presentation!

But I wonder what the people think who (like my mother, bless her heart) calls me to ask, "What does this mean?" I can just image someone screaming at the monitor "No!, Don't abort the script!"

Now I'm not bashing American Airlines or the good people who work at DFW. I just think it's interesting to see when the error messages pop up in major places (Times Square, etc.).

By the way, here is the enlarged picture of the message:

On a somewhat-related topic, back on January 25th, I posted an observation about why there's one guy working at the postal counter and another guy working the "automated postal center".
Well, last week I found out why. After standing behind a fellow for 10 minutes while he tried to mail a package, it became apparent that some people need training to use these things. It's not confusing or hard for me to use, but as this fellow apologized "Sorry, this is my first time using this." I offered my help, but he was still struggling. In this case, that other postal worker acting as a tutor would have been very helpful.
I don't know what all this means, but I know that:
1) Usability is subjective
2) Usability issues become fewer with more experience and/or training
3) Coaching can give a false impression that people can use software easier than they actually can use it.
4) Perhaps this is a long societal learning curve. As people get better using technology, maybe they won't struggle quite so much. However, as we software people keep pushing the envelope, the learning curve will keep moving.
As long as the confusion is at the post office or grocery store, not much can be harmed. However, think about the new technology being introduced into automobiles. That's scary!
Your thoughts?

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