The joys of communicating the wrong idea

I have an embarrassing confession to make. I got an interface totally wrong. Let’s say that there was a complicated VAT procedure that surgeries only needed to use if they had a pharmacy attached that sold old-style bottles of kaolin and the moon was pink. So it’s not done very often, and you need to know about adding the kaolin and the moon to the references.

I looked at the dialogs and went, why do you have pharmacy on this page and clay on that page and gibbous on that page? It’s just totally ridiculous. And I hacked up a new version of the dialog and scrawled red bits all over it and said it would make much more sense if it was like THIS!
And because I am the user interface designer and everyone thinks I’m lovely, they re-designed the interfaces to match what I thought it would be.
I’m going to digress for a bit (partly because I adore digressions). The most important thing you can do with any idea is record it. Keep a sketchbook handy, or an ipad or whatever you find a quick and easy method. Your phone will do. I like paper best because you never need to switch it on, the response time is minimal, and you have the best haptics. Yes, I could go on for quite some time about the tactile experience of pencil meeting paper. It’s also utterly flexible, you can sketch, write, explore. And then take photos of it to record it electronically. And when you’re recording a visual idea, record it visually. The big problem I find with people commenting on designs is that they write out their comments in an email, without pictures, and it is not obvious what they mean. When they say, put the checkbox together with the associated field, there is no clarity as to how you put them together, where they’re laid out and so on. Sketch it in front of them. At the low end of the scale scribble over a screen grab in Paint or draw boxes on a bit of paper. At the high end mock-up the work flow in a wire-framing tool. Just make sure that you have agreement what the idea is, before you decide whether or not it’s a good idea.
That leads me back to where I started. I’d communicated my idea on the mock-up. They’d implemented it. And the next time I worked through, I still didn’t understand it. You know why? It was the wrong idea.
I had totally misunderstood the functionality. I thought that they were developing an add-on contraceptive planner requiring the use of the moon and kaolin that was VAT-free, rather than a VAT calculator for kaolin sold during a gibbous moon. So obviously I’d put the wrong bits together in the wrong order.
And I’d made things much worse. 
So today’s top tip is remember the difference between efficiency, effectiveness, and efficacy. Sometimes you can go through all the right steps, exhibiting enormous skill, but you’re still going in the wrong direction.

Marketing, what marketing?

Someone asked me if there was a marketing department at this company, because they thought it was a bit implausible that there were that many engineers but no marketeers. Well, yes (you know who you are), but I’m not totally au fait with what they do.

Obviously I know about what they do: they redesign the website, they write blogs, they keep up a presence on twitter, they go to shows, they take out advertisements in appropriate places, they check whether it’s worth being in google AdWords, they buy lists of GPs, they talk to previous customers and so on and so on.

But I’m not sure what they actually do. Is this because I’m  incredibly lazy? Or incredibly uninterested? Or because the summaries that appear in the company newsletter are not terribly informative? Or because (whisper it) communication in this company is absolutely dreadful.

To be fair, communication in most companies is absolutely dreadful. People always thinks there are secrets going on behind their back. The urgent strategy planing meeting that had the head of marketing (Jeanette), Gavin and David in it and we never heard what decisions were made. This may, of course, be because no decisions were made, but I know that Jeanette was trying to get GandD to commit to what was going to be in the next product so she could splash out for ads in the Lancet…
And GandD wouldn’t bite.

Jeanette is one of those women who make me feel tired just to look at her. She’s slender and blonde and wears boots and looks amazing at all times. She can sell hot air to Parliament and bull terriers to babies. And she seems to be permanently on a motivational high. “Come on team, let’s see if we can get another ten orders by tonight” she’ll say, “Who’s with me?” And when she has a spare minute she’ll be running marathons for cystic fibrosis research or jetting off for a spa week on a Greek island to cheer up her sister-in-law.

Jeanette is busy seeing how we could alter the product so it would be suitable for care homes and private secure units. She’s looking at what regulation is coming out of the government about what these people will need and she reckons that there’s a huge untapped market.

And David agrees. There’s a whole lot of legislation that needs to be chewed down and flagged up, what your levels of staffing need to be, how many people you have on your books, where you can make things more or less efficient, how you rotate your on-call staff, how you can manage handovers effectively. We could integrate it with a little mobile note-taking system that doctors could carry with them when they go on call so they could…. And so it goes on. Questions of data security and encryption and touch screen infection issues….

And Gavin loves all that. He’s quite keen on encryption and security and new ways of setting it up. And can we get secured prescriptions sent directly to a chemist for an out of hours call… and so forth and so on. I don’t know the ins and outs of it. I would love to shadow a doctor or two and see what they actually did and what was really needed, but we don’t have time for that, says David, we know what they do, we know what they want, we just have to produce it. And if you developers weren’t so inefficient we’d have a product by now. Didn’t you estimate that it would be finished by September so we could test it in time for the New Year and it would be ready to go when people are spending their budgets left over from this tax year?

“Yes” says Ian, “But you’ve changed the spec four times since then.”