OK, enough with the unsolicited design updates to the Hawaii civil defense notification system, please! While the UI design of the operator’s interface could be improved, considerably, that’s not the root cause of the problem.
For those who have been in a cave for the past week, a false alarm sounded through Hawaii last weekend, which has attracted no shortage of design critique and righteous condemnation of an unquestionably atrocious user interface. The fires of that outrage only grew stronger when a screenshot of the interface was published showing the UI used (later, it turns out that this was NOT the actual UI, but a mockup).
Now the State of Hawaii is saying the original screenshot shared with the media is merely an example and has shared a second image saying it is another example of the user interface. Neither screenshot shows the actual interface used by the operator. https://t.co/lVhYQYc30D pic.twitter.com/VFDXpvFiZd
— Honolulu Civil Beat (@CivilBeat) January 17, 2018
Jared Spool describes how such an interface came into being. Prof. Robertson of the University of Hawaii also offered this detailed outline of what likely happened. Since this post was first published, Vox posted an interview with a subject matter expert to explain how the system works in the national context.
The error was initially attributed to “Human (operator) error.” To which the UI design community (as represented on Twitter) pointed out that the system designers bear some (if not most) of the responsibility for the error by designing (or allowing) an interface that made such an error so easy.
— Nielsen Norman Group (@NNgroup) January 16, 2018
The article linked in the NNgroup tweet observes that, “People should not be blamed for errors caused by poorly designed systems.” I hope the appropriate authorities consider this when they determine the fate and future career of the operator who made the fateful click.
While, NNgroup’s article is titled, “What the Erroneous Hawaiian Missile Alert Can Teach Us About Error Prevention,” I would argue that it is preaching to the choir and is not teaching their readers anything they don’t already know. The article describes a list of design patterns that can help make errors such as occurred in Hawaii less probable, usability 101 stuff, yet misses the elephant in the room–the overall system in which the UI exists. If context is important, and it is, the context of the system, not just that one interaction must be considered before identifying any errors to fix or placing any blame.
Here’s this armchair quarterback’s view.
Continue reading “Hawaii’s alert was not the fault of a designer or operator”