Notes on interesting things

Category: Design

To check or not to check.

Question : How to enable the data roaming?  Should you check the box or should you leave it alone?

Strangely the description depends on the state of check box status. Never seen such a thing before. Seen on Android 4.1.1


Toilet Pictograms

Norms, Not threats.

When British tax authorities sent letters threatening penalties for non-payment, nearly a third of recipients ignored them.

“I may start legal proceedings against you to collect the amount unpaid” – 68% responded

Payment rates jumped when they highlighted social norms instead. And the more focused the norm, the better the response.

“Over 94% of UK citizens pay their taxes on time.” – 73% responded

“Nine out of ten citizens living in your postcode pay their taxes on time” – 79% responded

“Over 93% of citizens in your town pay their taxes on time.” – 83% responded

Similarly, missed appointments cost doctors’ offices and this is how British clinics tried to avoid them

Obtaining an oral commitment.

“Will you call if you can’t make it?” – 3.5%  improvement in attendance

Adding a written commitment.

Asking the patients to write down the dates and time of appointment – 18% improvement in attendance

Using social norms. In addition to eliciting oral and written commitments, clinics posted signs to model good behavior.

“87% of patients arrived for their appointment last month.” – 31.7%  improvement in attendance.

(Source : HBR)

Taking cues, the quality of software can be increased by telling the programmers that;

“Nine out of ten programmers in the team do not break the build”

“When fixing bugs, nine out ten programmers look for similar bugs that may be present”

The list will be endless.

Defects and Schedules

IBM was the first company to discover that the software quality and software schedule were related. They found that the projects with the lowest defects counts were also the products with the shortest schedules. Looks counter-intuitive.

(Source : Steve McConnell’s Rapid Development)

Dumb Notification

I am trying to get familiar with Win 7 on my newly resurrected work laptop. It is taking time to get at ease due to some badly made software. The software in question is the utility by Intel and it’s notification system. It is supposed to save power or enhance performances as the need may be.

Save Power utility by Intel

The utility comes with ‘In your face’ kind of notification window, that cannot be closed, minimized or sent to background. It stays on for more ~5 minutes (I wonder what kind of actions takes that long to complete) right in the middle of the screen and preventing you from doing anything. This notification just derails the current thought process and increases the frustration levels to new high. The software gives no option to disable  notifications.  A good design will enable users to decide the level of notification that they wish to see.

Annoying notification window

Here is peek on how the software manages to increase the performances. It asks me to close the utility  ‘Increase Performance’. Now this  is pure commonsense, but  unfortunately it doesn’t have anything similar for saving power. Also it notifies that I can restart these applications after, which makes wonder what is hidden secrete sauce?

Making WAIT a little tolerable.

This post is about making waiting time at hospitals more tolerable, a simple solution is to display the current token number and the average time to examine the patient. These two information will help others who are in the waiting queue.

“…of all the hardships a person had to face none was more punishing than the simple act of waiting.”
― Khaled HosseiniA Thousand Splendid Suns

No one likes to spend time waiting, but it is inevitable, especially at places like hospitals, reservation counters etc.  It makes sense to make this waiting time more tolerable for people.  Business entities that take extra step to make this,  will retain their customers, while others will loose them.

There will be significant waiting time at hospitals due to limited resources, process to followed and type of diagnosis.  The first thing to reduce is the waiting time to analyze the workflow for bottlenecks and delays and those factors should be addressed.

The workflow should be analyzed to remove any kind of bottlenecks and delays that will increase the patient’s waiting time.

In recent twitter discussion, I shared my opinion about how to make waiting much more tolerable, by giving the necessary feedback to people who wait.  This blog post is an extension of that with some relevant topics.

Imagine waiting without any idea on how long it’s going to take, will you be comfortable with it? I bet not.  What if  download dialog window on your computer came without progress bar and an estimated time, how would you react to it?  This uneasiness that comes during the wait time is explained in the ‘Doorbell Effect’ (by Tom Kelly). When you ring the doorbell, there is this uneasy duration before which your call is either answered or not, during which you may try to ring again, take a peek inside, knock the door or simply walk back.  People undergo similar uneasiness when they are made to wait.

The doorbell incident is found at all places where one has to wait.  Some address this uneasiness experienced by the customer by making his wait time a little more predictable and enjoyable.

Coming back to hospital scenario, few of the hospitals do display the patient’s token number that is being serviced, but majority don’t. When this information is not available, there is confusion on how long one has to wait, and the major concern is that people don’t know who should go after whom. Having token number displayed fixes this issue, but there is some improvement that we can make.

In addition to the token number, it will be beneficial if the average time that a doctor takes to attend patient is also displayed along with the current token number. With these two piece of information, patients can now make a more accurate estimate for the amount of time that they have to wait. Knowing this information reduces the stress and allows the patients and those who are with them to plan to other activity during this interval. The average time can be constantly updated after each patient’s visit, there by making it more accurate.

At hospitals, it is good to have average patient time + token number displayed.

In addition to the above information, hospitals should also provide a means of distraction to people who are in the waiting queue.

John Maeda in his book ‘The Laws of Simplicty’ also talks about the issue of waiting, the third law ‘Saving in time, feels like simplicity’. The whole idea here is to reduce the total waiting time and make it more tolerable.

Typically hospitals start out to make the wait tolerable by providing newspapers, magazines and television to the patients who are waiting. What is generally observed is that they don’t stock new magazines and have television on mute,  due which television don’t serve the intended purpose.

In brief, waiting at the hospitals can be made more tolerable by

  • Showing the token number
  • Showing the average waiting time
  • Stocking latest reading materials
  • Any other meaningful distractions

Further reading:

  1. The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelly
  2. The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda
  3. Patrick & Puterman. Reducing Wait Times through Operations Research: Optimizing the Use of Surge Capacity.
  4. Study on Outpatients’ Waiting Time in Hospital.