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Bad usability calendar

Published by Martin Kleppmann on 28 Jan 2008.

Photo of the Bad Usability Calendar at Ept Computing’s office

Netlife Research, a usability consultancy from Norway, has come up with a neat humorous way of pointing out some design elements which can help improve usability (or rather, design errors which can render a product pointless for most of its potential users). They have put these handy hints together in the form of a calendar – the Bad Usability Calendar. You can download it and print out a copy for yourself. Such as I have done, see the photo (which includes a gratuitous reference to potted plants). Thanks to Johannes for pointing it out to me.

Amusing though the exercise is, it proves once again how hard it can be to practise what you preach. The Bad Usability Calendar website, although apparently designed by usability experts, doesn’t actually work. I was going to enter their prize draw for an Amazon voucher, for which a required step is to provide your address. This address appears to be used to look up your longitude and latitude, so that they can plot a little pin on a map. I tried four or five variations of my UK address, but unfortunately none of them was accepted by the site. It failed with a badly written error message which gave me no clear indication as to how I would have to construct the address so that it would be accepted. Well, I would have even been perfectly happy to find Cambridge on the map myself and stick a virtual pin into it, but no, that wasn’t a foreseen option. Moreover, the option for uploading a photo didn’t appear to work either – and there wasn’t any error message at all, just no picture. So unfortunately I was excluded from the prize draw.

At least I’m glad to see that nobody else from the UK has managed to place a pin yet. You know, bad usability always makes you feel stupid (even if it’s clearly somebody else’s fault, not your own), so it’s a bit of a consolation that nobody else has figured out how to make the site accept a UK address. Now I am wondering whether something like that could be incorporated into other products. Some means by which users can see that they are not the only ones who are grappling with a dysfunctional product, maybe by social network or something like that. Not that it makes the product any better; it just makes its users feel slightly better.

Edit (29 January 2008): Meanwhile the issue has been sorted out and we have been placed on the map manually. The address search also seems to be working now, and we’ve even been joined by another UK pin in London. Netlife handled the matter very quickly and nicely – thanks!