Bad UI killed radio star • The Register

Who I? When designing a procedure for operating any system, the first and most important rule should always be: follow the rules. Unfortunately, this particular rule is often forgotten.

Take for example our reader “Lee” – the protagonist of this week’s “Who, me?”.

In the 1990s, Lee ran a radio station in New Zealand and migrated the station’s inventory of commercials and features to digital storage.

Three machines, each with a removable drive, were provided to help with the job. Another machine in the on-air studio also had a fixed drive. (The removable drives were Bernoulli boxeswhich were very cool and a precursor to cheaper and less bulky Zip drives, but we digress.) The process involved recording content onto 7″ tape, then dubbing new audio content onto a Bernoulli disk and uploading it to the On-air system at The end of the day.

Lee identified a potential problem in that the storage units only had a two-line display and users had to select commands with a jog wheel. Limited display space meant some commands were cryptic. She also feared the input system meant it could be easy to choose the wrong command.

Reformatting a removable drive was fine and normal. But Lee felt it was easy enough for the unwary to reformat the hard drive, which would be bad.

You know where this is going, right?

To avoid the problem, Lee instructed all production staff never to reformat a removable drive with the system in the on-air studio. Staff were told to only use one of the boxes in the news or production studios at a time. Don’t risk the hard drive. Reasonable. Even rhymes.

Until one day a client asked for their brilliant new content to be uploaded to the on-air system as soon as possible. Well, all you have to do is get a removable disk with enough space, right?

Lee could not find a disk with enough space. Fine, just reformat one.

Problem: The production and news studios were in use.

Now you can really see where it’s going.

Lee snuck into the on-air studio, slipped a removable disk into the Bernoulli box, and dialed the reformat command. She knew about the tricky menu system, of course, but the warning was for the less cautious user, not her. Then her heart started sinking as the process was taking longer than it should.

Her heart pounded when a panicked presenter opened the studio door to announce all the commercials on the drive were gone.

It’s bad when you accidentally delete company data. It’s worse if you do this because you haven’t followed a clearly established protocol. It’s sooo much worse than you designed the protocol in the first place.

If you have a similar story of messing up your own best plans, please share with us by emailing Who, Me? With. ® Bad UI killed radio star • The Register

Laura Coffey

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