Thursday, March 13, 2008

What Happens When You Design Only For Happy-Case Scenarios? You Lose A Fleet Of Hybrid Buses In San Francisco

The newly deployed hybrid buses driven in San Francisco had to be taken offline recently. This is because kids have been assaulting the buses and drivers. That's not the reason they had to all be taken out of service. It was because the vandals were able to do this by turning off the power to the buses. They easily did this because of the very clearly labeled door on the side of the bus that says, "MAIN POWER DISCONNECT SWITCH." That's right, all caps and in very bold, black letters. Once opened, they were able to find the big, red knob next to a well-placed label showing them which way to turn it to cut the power.

To make matters worse, when the power is cut, the driver can't call for help. As one bus driver says in a TV interview:

"You can't call for help because you don't have no power."

Great feedback! Maybe the designers at Daimler-Chrysler will find this quote useful. Maybe during design of next year's model they might think of doing some field study work and interview some more bus drivers.

The designers of this bus had "happy-case scenario syndrome." How could they not anticipate the bus being driven through neighborhoods where people would actually try to do it harm? This reminds me of the designers of customer-friendly banks that have led to easy bank robberies by idiots in flip flops.

The city will be installing locks on these side doors, but I wonder if they will also be removing the visual cues leading the future hooligans to the power switch that may have bolt cutters on them.

So is this a UI design success or failure? Getting users to achieve a task easily would be viewed as success by Quality Assurance and Certification departments. Now you can aslo include the official seal of success from the punks terrorizing these poor bus drivers.

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