Usability in mainstream news

Usability war stories hit the news twice yesterday. The first report detailed a software project gone bad in NSW hospital emergency departments. Its worth reading for its examples of non-existent user research practices, and the clear failing to gather the requirements and define the business rules specific to the audience and environment the software was designed to operate in. One can only assume there was no quality assurance testing to boot.

The project … had proceeded too fast – apparently because of contractual obligations – for clinicians’ feedback to influence it, Dr McCarthy said.

FirstNet, commissioned in 2008 from the US health computing giant Cerner in Missouri, insisted on redundant information, such as confirmation that male patients were not pregnant, Professor Patrick found. But it obscured essential information, forcing users to click through six screens to find the phone number of a patient’s GP. Excessive system downtime led one department to revert to a whiteboard to ensure basic patient information was accessible.

— Julie Robotham, 7 March 2011, smh.com.au

Worryingly this project is “part of a 10-year electronic medical records plan”. Hopefully lessons have been learned that will be carried across the programme.

In other news MediaWatch outed itself and other television stations for badly designed closed captioning. I occasionally put on teletext when the house mates are too noisy but the footage illustrates just how frustrating it must be to be hearing impaired and watch television.

MediaWatch do close the story with an example of closed captioning done well on Channel 7. Closed captions, like IT software design projects can be done well. All that is required it seems is a will and a budget to deliver a satisfactory experience.

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