Let’s talk for a moment about why I misfiled my tax extension. Melty Jello brain aside, bad software design almost cost my little family $2,500.
When I’m not wrestling a one-year-old into tiny shoes, I’m a User Experience Designer. This means I work with software companies to create easy-to-understand interfaces.
It also means that when I screw up my tax extension, I look very carefully at the software path that got me there.
It was April. I needed to file an extension. Like most Bay Area tech nerds, I hate mail. I consider it a personal affront if I have to print out a form, write an address, locate stamps, and put a letter in the whatsitâ€¦mailboxâ€¦thing. Naturally, my first step was to search irs.gov for “file extension online“.
Problem one: Too many results
The IRS site is too damned helpful. There were 948 results for my search. Many results were press release or blog type articles hinting at the existence of online extension filing, but containing no direct links. I wanted to find one or two good matches. Instead, I found a sea of irrelevance.
Problem two: Too many names
I hopped down a bunny trail for about ten minutes, searching for a feature alternately referred to as “E-file an extension”, “Free file”, “Freefile”, “Free Fillable Forms”, “Free File Fillable Forms”, “Free Federal Extension”, “Form 4868″, “Traditional Free File”, and “IRS e-file”.
Problem three: Inconsistent design
I eventually landed on a modern-looking site that seemed likely. I clicked “Get Started” and wandered through four increasingly less-well-designed pages which jumped from site to site, forcing me to read and parse options despite having already told the system what I wanted.
Problem three: Asshole account requirement
The eventual winner was a page called “Free File Fillable Forms” which required me to create an account and update my Flash plugin. I was already logged in to irs.gov, but that didn’t count. I created “a password that is different than my User ID, between 8 and 32 characters, and contains at least 1 number and 1 symbol”. All the eye-rolling gave me a headache.
Problem four: Misleading email
I received a spammy looking ALL CAPS email telling me my account had been created. I filled out the IRS extension form, which was the easiest part of the process. I submitted, and received another spammy ALL CAPS email saying “Your federal return was successfully transmitted”.
At this point, I fell on the bed and whined to my husband for several minutes about information architecture. Then I fell asleep, secure in the certainty that I had filed an automatic extension. Taxes wouldn’t be bothering us for a few more months, by which time we would certainly be getting more sleep.
appy news! I was invited to be a panelist at the South by Southwest Interactive conference next month, as part of their ScreenBurn track. I’m on a panel called “Funologists live and in person: Guerilla Game Research.”
I’ll share my experience starting some low-budget user research cycles for Second Life, and my work translating those frustrating observations into shippable engineering requirements.
There will be pretty pictures, and possibly cake.
The cake is a lie, but you should stop by anyway. There could be cake.
There certainly won’t be cake and not cake. Not at the same time, I can assure you.
I’m using a Firefox plugin called Scribefire to post this. Apparently I’m too lazy to fire up WordPress and write something for you guys, but if the text box is sitting at the bottom of my browser screen, I’m happy to start writing.
Usability. Go figure.
I spend every day trying to figure out little brain hacks like this, to make it easier for folks to use software.
We are such silly monkeys.
Firefox plugin for quick posting to Wordpress: Scribefire (thanks Jessamyn!)
ant $40? Got 90 minutes or so? Want to get paid to check out a 3-D virtual world?
My employer and I are looking for local San Francisco people with NO experience using Second Life to help us evaluate some possible changes, tweaks, and/or new features to our software and support portal.
Interested? At a minimum, you should:
- Be over 18
- Be able to get to downtown San Francisco
- NOT be an expert computer-user.
Still interested? Take a brief survey. As opportunities arise, weâ€™ll put the word out to those who fit our testing needs. I’m looking forward to meeting you!
Got me a portfolio. It’s just screenshots right now. I’ll continue working on it tonight.
Suggestions welcome. I haven’t even checked it out on non-OS X/Firefox machines yet…
Guess who drank too much last night? Everyone!
It’s hangover day here at South by Southwest. The panels are slow and attendance is low.
This morning I went to a panel debating the merits of ignoring users. It matched my mood nicely.
User profiles are taking a beating this year.
Guess who was the only woman in the gaming room playing Guitar Hero and shooting bunnies with the Wii? You may call me Token.
Reverend Billy and the Church of No Shopping are here. They’re staying at our hotel, which was kind of startling when I crawled out of the elevator this morning.
I’m going to try and find someone from the Creative Commons who wants to come speak at Cornell about using the CC in scientific publications. If you know anyone, give me a holler.
I tried out Cornell Library’s book-delivery service this week. A nice stack of David Foster Wallace books quickly appeared at my workplace yesterday afternoon, and I got a friendly call when they arrived.
If you are a Cornell student or staff, you can have library books delivered to any library-location of your choice for free. For me, this means walking upstairs to our sunny little ornithology library overlooking the pond, and sitting by the fireplace for a bit.
I’m an irredeemable Amazon.com addict, so I view as a right the ability to learn about a book, click a few links, and have said book delivered to me. Imagine my pleasure at being able to do this without paying for it.
Unfortunately, you pretty much have to be told about the service to find out about it, unless you are the type of user who clicks links labeled “requests” on library websites and enjoy library jargon. Like many public services in the country, the crucial step of communicating to humans was overlooked.*
*Many nonprofits seem to say to their clients: “Look, we provide a valuable and benevolent service. You could at least be arsed enough to jump through a few design hurdles in order to discover our valuable service that you don’t know exists because of our design hurdles.”
I’m not sure, but I think the Cornell Library Patron narrative is supposed to go like this:
- A student or staff member goes into the library catalog and searches for some interesting books, thinking “Hey, I’ll go pick these up at the five separate library locations where they are housed”
- The patron adds each book to her “bookbag” (navigating a series of hurdles involving ID numbers, multiple passwords unique to the library system, and cute-not-descriptive service names) to create a list of books she wants to get.
A MIRACLE OCCURS HERE
- The patron mysteriously knows that she can have her books delivered.
- The patron clicks into the catalog page for each book (students love catalog pages!) and separately clicks “requests” at the bottom of the page, knowing instinctively that book delivery is a “request”.
The patron chooses “Book Delivery Services (9996 available)” from a dropdown list conveniently located below the fold.
- Assuming the patron does not receive the helpful error message “Your Patron Initiated Call Slip Request failed. This item is not available for Call Slip requests.” like I just did (Patrons Love Call Slip Requests!), she enters her ID number again.
- The patron is familiar with the names