Friday, March 5, 2010

If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It

Things get messed up, accidentally, all the time. It’s like going from good to worse. Sometimes, the updated version just does not live up to its predecessor. I wonder how this happens, did the designers get too cocky, did they pay no attention to the detail in the follow-up version, and did they fail to test it on actual users?

In the case of accessible technology, it constantly amazes me how rarely it is tested on the end user. I believed that there was some sort of protocol that requires testing your product before releasing it to market. I have been told by a software designer that he tested a program for people with low vision --- on himself and on his wife. The fact that neither is visually impaired, a minor technicality.

It surprised me to learn that a large manufacturer of elevators for skyscrapers had tested the accessibility of their newest product on only one person with low vision, and one person with no vision. Now this is an elevator that can easily transport thousands of people each day only tested on two for impaired vision…is that enough?

This morning I encountered, yet another, obvious testing faux pas. It’s disappointing, to say the least, that my favorite talking ATM’s at Bank of America, have been updated, but not for the better.

At first, as is typical, I blamed myself. In Donald Norman’s “The Psychology of Every Day Things”, he confirms that most of us think it is our fault when things don’t function properly. Our automatic assumption is that we are the problem, not that bad design is the culprit.

After a number of months, I was just not adjusting to the new audio prompts. They didn’t flow, seemed like too many steps, and literally got frozen after getting a balance, or a transfer between accounts. The point of an ATM is to get money quick, right? Well, the new talking ATM gets stuck and beeps 53 times, while you are waiting for it to end the transaction. During the prolonged beeping, you can push Cancel, Clear, and every other button on the keypad, and it just keeps beeping and won’t stop until it has beeped 53 times.

I must ask Bank of America, how many people with impaired vision tested this baby?