Jun 092012

It’s crazy that I would start noticing strange designs everywhere, but once they start to appear, they just surround you.

Remember that my first and highest concern relates to what we produce in software, systems, reports and automated processes for business consumers. I don’t intend to call out these designs in everyday life as if we don’t do the same in the products and processes we produce and deliver.

Anyway, this morning I walked up to the drive-thru ATM at the bank around the corner from my house, perhaps a mile-and-a-half away.

Yes, I walked up. My son and I had driven up, but the position and design of this ATM prevents you from really reaching all of its controls from the driver’s seat… so I have stopped trying.

Before you think I am completely strange, I should share with you that I often go to this bank to see the car in front of me stop short so the driver can get out and walk up to the ATM as well. It is so normal that we sometimes nod and smile to each other, like our own special how-do-you-do…

Of course, it is probably just us users who are interacting with the machine improperly. Perhaps the target users are more flexible than us… or they are contortionists. (Remember, this applies to OUR products as well.)

A drive-up ATM for the vision impaired

Anyway, today I noticed something that may not even be visible to the drive-up user who knows better how to manipulate the ATM without walking up. Take a look at the picture to the right.

Sensitivity risk

Now, I am really concerned about being insensitive here. I grew up on a farm, and I know I had a pretty sheltered childhood. I’m often confronted with new things that I never considered before.

In this case, it was the phrase, “This ATM offers voice guidance for the visually impaired.” Remember – it’s a drive-up ATM.

So it could simply have been my ignorance that made me think this was a strange design. If so, please write it off as ignorance and not malice – a business coach of mine once said being ignorant is way better than other human conditions, because you can learn and get over it.

So after I thought about it for a while, it wasn’t so strange after all. Most cars have back seats, and people could drive up to the ATM and let the person in the back seat use it. I suspect for a visually impaired non-driver who needs to withdraw from an ATM, it makes a lot of sense and is a pretty normal thing.

Born in a barn, but not under a rock

So here I was, supposing that only drivers would use this machine and it must have been a bad design to suggest a visually impaired driver would be the user. You can see from my writing that I figured out why it might make more sense after all, but if I were initially designing the ATM would I have even considered it?

Sometimes we de-prioritize features or even entire projects because they affect a small population. I am thinking now of a couple features in our backlog that might only have a single user, and that user has endured a workaround for a long time. Their really important concerns don’t always seem to stack up to the needs of the masses.

Yet to those people, their concerns appear to always be de-prioritized, even though (bless their hearts) they can be very understanding and rarely complain.

As a counter example, we started a small project last week to automate the import of invoices for our A/P team… it only impacts three people, but it will save them so much work. It’s a big deal to them, and though they are a small group it will still make an impact on the flow of work for our business.

Where can your products produce significant value in the hands of a few people? It seems contrary to many other considerations, but sometimes a small community can help us really focus our product design.

Epilogue: Nevertheless, I still walk up

So I learned something new about myself today.

But did I mention I walked up to the drive-up ATM… and many others do as well? They may have taken care of the visually impaired, but it’s still a bad design for me. And that makes me a market for a better offer.

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