Fixing a Bad Design in Two Hours

Sometimes You Just Don't Have the Luxury of Time

A development group created a search screen for people taking problem reports by phone. The users were unhappy with the results.

The call center was taking 100,000 calls per day. Every additional 5 seconds per call meant that they had to hire another agent. The agent needed to locate a series of repair codes from a list of several thousand. It was a painful and mind-numbing task. What they needed was a rapid, easy to use lookup screen. What they got fell short of their needs.

Unfortunately the project was behind schedule and needed an immediate fix. There was no time for user interviews or usability testing. All I had was a few hours to look at the screen and come up with some easy to implement ideas that could make it better.

Here is the screen they showed me via Skype:

It's not a great design (to say the least) but I did see some ways to improve it.

The green and blue alternating stripes were intended to help visually but they don't. Part of the reason is that they used a gradient rather than flat colors. Also there was no visual link between the input the user typed and the results list.

Finally, I discovered that most of the calls were for common problems. So for many calls, there was often no need to search the entire database. All we needed to do was provide the agents with short lists of the most common problems.

Here is a revised screen I came up with in a couple of hours.




Problem solved? In some ways. My changes provided a quick way to calm the users but it begs the larger question of why wasn't the screen done right in the first place?

With proper attention to UX process up front, the developers would have had a clear understanding of the tasks the users were performing. They would have understood the users' needs more clearly. And they would have developed prototype screens for the users to test. This would have saved a great deal of time, money and pain.

That's one reason that Strategic UX is so important. It makes everything work better,