Thursday, August 21, 2008

At some point in their careers, IT people start deliberately designing interfaces to piss you off. Here's why:

As one of my many part time jobs, I do Random Website StuffTM. My most recent brief was for another department, who wanted me to create a Google Maps-based application for their website that shows the fieldwork locations of everyone in the department, along with little info bubbles giving the researcher's name and some other details.

So I did this.

Then I released it to a small group of their profs to get some feedback. Here's some snippets from the emails that ensued:

1. "Please remove the titles "Dr, "Professor" and so on before our names. This looks wanky on a website."

[I do so]

2. "Please put "Dr, Professor" and so on before our names. A website is a public face of the university and needs to look official."

[Sorry dude, over-ruled: the guy in #1 was your boss]

3. (From the guy who originally requested I base the map on Google Maps because he likes the way it looks): "Can you make the sea less blue?"

[I'll just ask Google to dump some bleach into the ocean before they snap their next satellite shot, shall I?]

Then yesterday I made the page live and sent an email to the whole department that prominently (i.e. right at the top) included the following:

If you wish me to move the location of your marker on the map, I need you to send me the latitude and longitude of where it should be located. (Small villages in the Pacific are generally not marked on Google Maps, and sometimes I had to guess about the location.)
Today I received nine requests to move markers. Guess how many gave latitudes and longitudes? (If you guessed "one", then you're giving them too much credit.)

Here are some representative samples of how much information they included in the requests:

"Can you move my marker a bit further south?"

"My marker should be about halfway between [two villages that aren't marked on the map]"

"My markers aren't quite in the right position. Can you fix them?"

"I think [other prof's] markers are wrong. I don't know if they should be further east, but definitely they need to be by a river. One of the big ones."

I replied to these, saying, "Can you please send me the latitude and longitude of the correct position?"

So far I've had one reply: "I think it's probably in Wikipedia."


liina said...


I have to deal with 'issues' like that on a daily basis. It's fun.

Anonymous said...

1. yes, yes I can.
2. mark the towns above and below
3. rename, "a little further south"
4 mark a river next to it.

flossie said...

OMG. Clueless!

Bardiac said...


But this sounds oh, so typically professorial. (I hang my head in shame, and promise to try to actually give information as requested.)

Ianqui said...

Teehee. This is funny. I can see certain people in my department acting the same way (but not everyone, actually).

layoder said...

Oh my gosh... I completely know the frustration/stupidity! I've worked so many part-time/temporary jobs (imagine that: needing to supplement my HUGE grad student stipend?! pff.)... One time I worked at a call center that had an automated system whose instructions were led by the recorded voice of a woman named "Jenny." She would lead callers through the steps to open mailboxes, record names, etc.. I cannot tell you how many times people called back, asking to speak to "Jenny." They actually thought she was a REAL person. And they were so disappointed to find out that she was merely a recording...

Like finally finding out Santa Claus doesn't exist...

Jana said...

Styley, what application do you use to create websites for these various departments?

StyleyGeek said...

Jana, I saw your blog post, but I can't help. I hand-code everything in a text editor. I'm too much of a control freak to trust a WYSIWYG editor and most of what I do is in javascript or similar and not just html.