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Flat Out Tired

Tire_Pressure_AmberAfter a long weekend with my daughter at a soccer tournament in Minnesota (she was the one playing, in case there is any confusion on the matter), I was ready to have a relatively easy week of catching up. So you can imagine my irritation when I noticed my tire indicator light was on yesterday on my car dashboard. Not wanting to drive around on a potentially flat tire, I called the dealership immediately to get my car in. The receptionist (who normally just schedules me without question), asked me "Well, have you checked the spare?"

"The spare?"

"Yes, the indicator light can also go on if the spare is flat; there's a sensor in your spare."

After checking the spare, I determined the pressure was indeed low and filled the tire. But to no avail as the light was still on. So, I called again, and they told me to come right into the dealership. My favorite service advisor noticed me and came right over to see what the trouble was. I told him, and he asked me if the indicator button under the glove compartment had been pushed?"

"The huh-what?" (I can sound really intelligent... unless I'm talking about cars or sports.)

He reached under my glove compartment and showed me there was a small button, that when depressed, would make the tire indicator light come on.

Chart001Here's where my imagination kicked in, and I envisioned two design engineers having a discussion.

"Hey, Bob..." (Engineers never have exciting names in my imagination)

"Yeah, Gary?" (See what I mean?)

"Why don't we put a button under the glove compartment that nobody can see, but that can be easily bumped by somebody's knee?"

"What would it do?"

"I dunno... maybe make it trigger the tire indicator light...."

"For no reason at all?"

"We need a reason?"

"I like how you think, Gary!"

Small_dataAnd so it happened. Okay, maybe not quite like that, but somewhere along the way, someone approved an irrelevant button on my car that cost me time and energy this week.

I started thinking about the old Standish Group statistic that I share with my students about how frequently features and functions are actually used. Depending on which of their research studies you cite, it can range from half to almost 2/3 of features and functions designed are rarely, if ever, used. Just look at our tire indicator light. Triggered by the spare... REALLY? Triggered by a button pushed by a rogue knee under the glove compartment... What the Fan-Belt were they thinking?

What is the biggest combatant of this? Well, as I discussed last week, empathy for the end user goes a long way to preventing unnecessary features and functions. Spend time with them. Live with them. Talk to them. Engage them. Observe them. And learn from them.

Which brings me to another book recommendation from recent reading: Small Data by Martin Lindstrom. It's a refreshing, engaging, and entertaining indictment of big data, which sometimes removes the human element from our decisions about features and functions. Certainly worth a read.

Bottom Line: Don't add any unnecessary indicators to your solution's dashboard. Your end users will thank you.


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