An Eye on the Present with a Glance to the Future

Some have said that 2020 is the “year of perfect vision” because when your vision is 20/20 you can see clearly. What are we seeing during this challenging year? We are seeing many things that make us distressed, hurt, anxious and upset. We fear for our health, our finances, our families, our neighborhoods. As faculty and administrators we are deeply concerned for our students. Our focus is on what is not happening (pandemic closures and restrictions) as well as what IS happening (civil unrest, injustice, racism).

Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

It makes for a confusing picture. We look toward our leaders to guide us through these difficult times. Some of those leaders are forthright and inspiring. Some seem to be more in disarray than we are. Everything is disrupted.

In a recent conference keynote I spoke about how to cope with disruption. One of the things I mentioned was that during a storm at sea, ships lower a sea anchor that drags in the water to help keep the ship steady. What anchors can you use to stay steady in such volatile circumstances? A trusted advisor, a wise loyal friend, a role model, or mentor can help you find calm in the storm. Good values such as honesty, faith, patience, diligence, service, and hope keep you on a steady track when life is swirling around you.

The social fabric of our world is being disrupted. We’ve been separated by distancing measures meant to keep us safe and reduce the spread of disease. But we are seeing important issues unfolding that cry out for our response. For those of us in the Media, it is distressing to see journalists assaulted while trying to report on events.

Racial tensions have led to protests and riots. The economy is in a precarious state. Our climate is at risk. Neighbors, friends, family, are frightened or in pain. Our own mental health is burdened and our usual forms of support are weakened or gone completely. The way forward is a blur.

What should we do?

  • Keep your eyes open. Question everything. Use your critical thinking skills to evaluate the information you are receiving. Is it true? Is it biased? Is it complete?
  • Make and hold space for our brothers and sisters of marginalized groups: Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, the poor, the disenfranchised. Seek to understand their situations and how you can help.
  • Raise your voice. Take peaceful, lawful action. Use your skills and talents to oppose injustice, counter racism, expose privilege, and generate change.
  • Tell the truth, act with integrity, demonstrate leadership.

What happens in the future will depend upon what all of us do right now. Mahatma Ghandi encouraged us to be the change we wish to see in the world. That means acting in accordance with the principles we hold dear: Tolerance. Fairness. Equity.

Black educator and social reformer Frederick Douglass said that if there is no struggle, there is no progress.

You can’t do everything, but you can do something. Do what you can. Stay safe. Stay informed. Keep talking. Keep learning. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Take every opportunity you can to learn from history, learn about the issues we’re facing, and learn what is needed to make our society work.

I believe every one of you has the power to be an example to others and lead us into a brighter future. We need you. Start now.

How Much is Lost Productivity Costing You?

Usability and User Experience (UX) are hot topics in the product development sector right now. The concept is that if you improve design, workflow, and other user-facing aspects of your product, leading to a better user experience, you will increase customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and predictably, revenue.

This is something technical communicators have understood and been working on for along time. When customers buy more products, because their user experience is consistently good with products from that source, companies understand the health that brings to their bottom line. However, there is hidden value in improving product usability (how the product enables users to complete their tasks): productivity.

When workers slow down, have to troubleshoot, have to call user support, can’t figure out how to complete their task, and need to consult documentation, they are losing productivity. When it takes multiple people to solve a software- or process-induced problem, that is productive time stolen from the business. If you think of a ballpark $100 per hour (wages, benefits, overhead, etc.) per employee, delays start to add up quickly.

Poor products and processes can cost businesses tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. The more a system is mission critical for your business, any downtime — whether technical or user-based — is very costly indeed.

To paraphrase Peter Drucker: If you think good usability is expensive, try lost productivity.

Failure to Fix Causes Stress

In tech comm, we often talk about “customer support liabilities”, i.e., product issues that make a customer call for support (which is expensive for the company). Task-oriented design, usability, and good user testing can prevent these costly flaws in a product. In addition to the expense of paying for technical support, there is lost productivity and greater user frustration which companies frequently don’t figure into their analysis of their bottom line. Here’s an example of a fixable issue that causes people a LOT of problems.

A large western college has an online testing system that only works in Internet Explorer. (That’s problem #1.) The only correct way to exit the testing system is to click the small Logout link in the upper right corner. If you close your browser, exit using the X in the corner, your computer crashes, you close your laptop, or exit the system in any way other than with the Logout link, the system _locks you out for a minimum of two hours_. This also happens if there is another login to the testing system on your account from a different machine.

Supposedly, this is a security “feature”, but in reality, it is a huge problem for the users. Students being who they are, they leave their test to the last minute, and then, stressed and anxious to finish, they can easily become locked out.

In the student materials there is a note about the flaw in the system, but it’s easy to miss or forget. You can imagine the problems this design flaw — because flaw is what it is — causes for students, faculty, and customer support.

Does it take money to fix this? Of course it does. But that cost is far less than the overt and hidden costs of it working the way it does. In this case, they have downloaded the liability onto the students, who are least able to deal with such a problem.