[The Sandoval Signpost (Web edition) is pleased a punch (diet punch that is) to bring you the humor and insightful human observations of Daniel Will Harris, author of My Wife and Times. We continue this entertaining series with Daniel’s observations about the quality (or lack of same) of the service from his phone company. —Ed].
How Bad Design Kept Me Awake at Night
By Daniel Will Harris
It's 3 a.m. I'm asleep. And suddenly, I hear something. "Your bah," a broken voice says. I wake up. Why am I hearing voices? Is someone in the room? Am I dreaming?
Instinct takes over. I freeze. Silence. I must have dreamed it. Scenarios bounce around my brain. Burglars. Here to steal my column before the FuseLetter goes out. OK, now I am dreaming. I'll go back to sleep.
I'm at that half-asleep point where you sometimes think you're taking a step and losing your balance—and I hear it again, "Your bat e." I'm awake again. What's going on? I'm "bat e"? Maybe I am. I listen again. Nothing. Was my wife talking in her sleep? It sounds like something she might say, but she sleeps as if she's in suspended animation.
I think about getting up, turning on the light. If it's an intruder, maybe I'm better off pretending to be asleep. I can hear my heart beat. I can hear my watch tick. I can hear that high-pitch noise you hear when someone turns on a fluorescent light (but that doesn't count, because I can hear that most of the time even when the lights are out).
I must be dreaming. Was it something I ate? Am I just nervous because I haven't written the FuseLetter yet and don't think you'd appreciate it if I sent you a blank e-mail?
I fall back asleep. I dream I am an e-mail. It's like being "Beamed up" in Star Trek. I hear that familiar sound and I get all sparkly then disappear. For some reason I remember that the beaming up effect was really created by swirling Tang in a water glass.
And then I hear the voice again. "Your batter eis." And I wonder why I'm hearing this. I lay there thinking must have been having that dream about playing baseball in Cuba again.
Now I'm getting annoyed. If there is an intruder in the house why can't they at least be quiet. It's like when I was a kid, at home by myself at night. I'd hear the toilet flush at the other end of the house and wonder if it's a nervous burglar in the house or just our bad plumbing.
I feel around for the flashlight I keep next to the bed in case of emergency. I find a cough drop because it sticks to my hand. I feels something that might be a mouse and decide not to explore any further.
Now I hear a whirring noise. Then the voice again, louder—Your battery is low," it says. And it all becomes clear. It's my little purple laptop. When its battery gets low (which takes all of about 90 minutes), it doesn't turn itself off to save energy like any smart machine would. Instead, it turns itself on just to tell me turn it off. I've heard that technology can keep you up at night, but this is ridiculous.
This is just one of the many questionable design decisions made in this little computer. This machine has an anti-ergonomically designed keyboard, and a particularly nasty button right on the side that can both put the machine to sleep (in this case, it's more like a coma, since it never awakens and you end up losing everything) and turn it off so you lose everything. When technology goes bad I show it who's boss and unplug it. But in this case, it's not plugged in, so I yank out the battery.
Now I'm awake. I find the pen and paper I keep by the bed and start writing this. Sometimes old technology is a relief. Pens and paper rarely speak to me (out loud, anyway).
And it all reminds me of the importance of design. Not so much the way things look, (because this little purple laptop could hardly be better looking), but the thought behind it—the thought that makes something pleasant and easy to use, as opposed to beautiful but dumb.
So what do you need to do to make your site smarter? Start with _ commonsense. Use your site yourself. Ask your friends, and visitors. Learn when to listen and change things, and when to realize you can't do what everyone suggests.
Remember—you don't want your site to put people to sleep, but you don't want it to keep them (or you) up at night, either.