It's World Usability Day!

As I learned via Scott Berkun: Today is World Usability Day:

World Usability Day promotes the value of usability engineering, user-centered design,and every user's responsibility to ask for things that work better. The Usabililty Professionals' Association is doing that by encouraging, organizing, and sponsoring 36 hours of activities at the local level around the globe, all occurring on November 3, 2005. (About World Usability Day)

Scott Berkun contributes to the occasion by offering free UI reviews. Good one!

I am going to spend the rest of this post making note of usability issues in my most immediate environment: The desk area in my home office.

  • Above me, I can see a sprinkler. Occasionally, I still have nightmare visions of it going off by accident an thus turning my entire office into an unusable pile of trash. The only opportunity to turn off the water of the sprinkler system is downstairs. Must. Not. Think. About. It.
  • I have not invested in a nice office chair at home yet. Sitting at the desk at home over longer periods of time, I notice slight discomfort in my knees: The chair is not big enough and I cannot adjust the height.
  • The whiteboard behind me is a great tool for brainshorming sessions. Why does it have to be so hard to clean it up, if any text was left on the board for a couple days though?
  • Next to the white board, I have one of those dry-erase calendars. It let's you keep information for up to four months and is really, really practical. Again though, it's an absolute nightmare to erase any text on it. To tell the truth, I can still see the outline of some text from April, which I was never able to completely erase.
  • Close by is a paper shredder. It certainly does its job: Shred. Having only one button which we can slide around between auto, forward and reverse (notably, there is no off-position), the device seems easy enough. After I entered the room once to witness the shredder noisily operating without anyone actually intending for it to shred anything, the shredder remains unplugged most of its time now. Yes, it should be possible to simply leave it in auto-mode, but that failed once and we have lost faith since. The slightly burned smell at the time naturally did not help this either.
  • Also in somewhat close proximity: Bookshelves. I keep lots of research journals, trade publications, computer science texts and software development books in my office. I still have not figured out a decent sort order though. Yeah, I have a short row of those texts that I most recently used within reach. Other than that though no sort order has ever proven completely satisfactory, which leaves the collection largely unstructured.
  • The desk? Never, ever big enough. There's simply never enough space.
  • Yesterday, my keyboard started misbehaving badly. Pressing some keys resulted in displaying whole strings of characters. Other keys appeared to have no function. The Num Lock key prompted the machine to enter sleep mode. Connecting the keyboard to a different computer showed the same phenomenon. The manufacturer's website or the help system helped in no way. I had to unplug and use a different keyboard.
  • Another item on the desk: A label maker. It's a useful tool. However, the buttons are made of a soft rubber material and do get stuck every now and then. Lots of keys serve two or even three purposes and the small display does not feature a high enough resolution to present an accurate preview of the actual printed text.
  • Every so often my anti-virus package refuses operation and requires activation. I have lost count of how many times I have actually activated this software by now. Every time I do that, I need to disable my firewall!

The oldest item on my desk: A pocket calculator. It is a Casio fx-991s. Really nothing fancy, you can't even really program it, nor does it have graphing capabilities. I have had it in use for at least eight years though! It just works. I never even had to change the batteries (it has solar cells and a rechargeable battery). The calculator looks slightly beat up, but I really cannot see myself parting with it. It is a real success.

We'll need more like that.

In the meantime: Happy World Usability Day. Feel free to agitate yourself and others by analyzing the usability problems in your immediate surroundings. I do not think you will have to look very far.