Thursday, March 17, 2011

Technically incompetent or just bad design?

Last week I suddenly noticed that the Dell laptop I use for certain contracts was no longer picking up my home office wireless network. In fact it was telling me it was connected to an unrecognized public network without internet access. No matter what I tried I couldn't get it to disconnect from that network and pick up the wireless.

On Tuesday afternoon I plugged the laptop directly into my ethernet cable and spent several hours disabling, and enabling network adapters, rebooting modems, and frantically googling various scenarios. Most of which told me the culprit was a well known Windows 7 bug related to a rogue ID file that showed up in the Windows Services menu. Except I couldn't find that file anywhere on my machine. In the end I just reset everything and resigned myself to spending an afternoon on a help desk call.

But first I needed to be on-site at a client's facility. Thinking the problem might be my home network, I took the laptop along hoping to connect to the client's wireless - no such luck. I mentioned the problem to several people, and no one had any suggestions.

Then about 5 minutes before I decided to call the Help Desk someone who has the same model laptop asked me if the wireless switch was off.

What wireless switch?

Ah that one!!

A switch that in the five month's I've had the laptop have never even noticed.

From a communications perspective a couple of things sprung to mind from this incident.

  • How about putting up a warning dialog on screen at boot up when this switch is switched to the off position (maybe with a location diagram) instead of leaving it to Windows to think it has connected to an untrusted network? Would have saved sveral hours of frustration. BTW when the switch is OFF it displays a red background - but let's face it, who looks at the side of their laptop on a regular basis?

  • How about making switches a different color, better labeled and slightly more obvious? Most people reading this probably know I'm a big advocate of using symbols to communicate. But make them big enough and clear enough. For a guy of a certain age who wears bifocals, how am I suppose to know what that is?

Oh and who puts a switch that can disable a major feature in a position where it can slide on and off through the process of picking up the lap top and sliding it into a case? Not exactly a well thought out design there.


Margaret said...

I've muted my cellphone because I accidentally pressed a switch on the side that I didn't know was there. And then there was the i-phone antenna design problem.

Most product designs are a group effort with various compromises along the way, but they all need more real user testing, and less auto-testing via scripts. I think the breakdown is probably in the integration testing, where all the components are tested together to find problems. When the hardware design is not user friendly, I agree that they really should have the software remind you to check the switch settings to determine whether one is set wrong.

Avi said...

I was in the same boat - before a STC presentation no less! Luckily my friend Todd DeLuca saved the day:)

I've since used the wireless off button to disconnect myself from digital distraction - that could be a marketing point for laptops with this button:)