Fun with computers – why the programmers should never design the user interface

Apparently, being the geek-in-residence at my school, I have been given the honor of bushwhacking my way through the new computerized check-in/check-out system, which the school has installed and actually started using, but which no one seems to really grok at anything other than a superficial level.

Enter Madame Mousetress (c’est moi). Since I am both geeky and in charge of collecting volunteer data (which this will be collecting in its data banks along with all the other visitors), I have been elected as the tech support liaison, user manual guru, systems configurationista and basic poker-around general.

I bitch, but you know I love it. I feel like Indiana Jones and the Proprietary Software of Doom. (Well, maybe Indiana Jones if he were a geeky she and wore a pocket protector. Okay, so I don’t really have a pocket protector – I mean, dude…email. Who uses pens anymore? – but you get the picture.)

Anyway…so far, I’ve plumbed the mysteries of why the volunteers can’t stay checked in (we have to pre-input the names of “certified” volunteers who’ve passed our screening process, after which they can indeed check in and stay checked in. Otherwise, they’re entering their own names, which punts them to visitors who are volunteering, rather than official volunteers, which is why when they go to log out from the volunteer screen, they’re not able to find themselves in the system. Making sense yet?), how to import our existing and extensive volunteer list (importable .xls files – yay!), the reason why we can’t get the “view reports” windows to open beyond unusably tiny screens (need to input a default printer before the reports windows will be functional…wtf?) and how to disable the Dymo label printer from printing a new (expensive) label for regular volunteers who already have badges, but still print one for visitors (simple checkbox buried in the system). And that was just this morning.

The annoying bit was having to track down the tech diva to log onto my computer with her admin passwords and install the video user manual for the system so I could learn how to work the system, since like all such software companies they can’t just create easy to use and generally available formats like Quicktime or whatnot. Nooooo…they have to have a proprietary video playback widget which doesn’t work nearly as well and involves an actual program install to view the video user manual, rather than simply playing a file.

As you might imagine, the interface of the system itself is likewise friendly, attractive and intuitive. Can anyone say DOS-based kludge-crud with a craptastic programmer-designed UI? I thought you could. (Note: link goes to an example of why programmers should never design the GUI, not the actual GUI for our new system. Thankfully, ours isn’t quite that bad. But it’s definitely a none-too-distantly-related cousin. For true jaw-droppingly evil GUI design nightmares, though, nothing beats the Steven King of bad GUI design, the FileMatrix. View at your own risk…)

Oh, and while I’m ranting – instead of hiring someone who is trained to do voice-over work and use a computer at the same time to record the video demos, or messing with all that pesky editing crap, why don’t we just get Bob in IT to run through the functions while dictating what he’s doing into a mike. And after he’s done, let’s not edit the demo at all but rather leave in every flub, every “uhm” and “er.” While we’re at it, let’s make sure he forgets to show at least one or two important functions that he then has to go back and re-do, and we won’t edit that out, either. In fact, we won’t even edit out the part where he clicks on a category of reports to demonstrate the reports system, only it turns out to be a category that we haven’t actually imported any demo data to, so he has to close out his windows and go click on another category that does have data behind it (leaving the audience in suspense as to how many categories he’s going to click on before he finds the one they uploaded data to, because, I don’t know, it keeps everyone attentive or something).

Word of advice, folks: Geeks do geekery. Designers design. Actors act. Voice artists give voice. Editors edit. Each of these jobs are separate professions done by separate individuals. Not by one or two inDUHviduals who took a course once or read a book about it. Capiche?

Anyway, yay me, I’ve managed to get it pretty much up and functioning the way the office crew wants it, and most of that was achieved in just a few hours. Still waiting to try out the report viewing and printing, since tech diva has to hook up the system to the network (I must remind her to set up an off-drive backup config somewhere, in case the whole kaboodle kicks it the day before monthly reports are due.)

*yawn* Methinks it’s approaching bedtime. Night, all!

mmmm, bedtime…

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