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Usability Lessons from the Hospital

Usability isn't only for Web design. It's also applicable in the real world as things aren't always well-designed. Paying attention to real world design can help you think through usability for Web design. For instance, there is an elevator in New York where the numbers are in three columns. The numbers go across, but in this elevator they go from right to left instead of left to right. It's in English not Hebrew.

Elevator in NY:

10 9 8

7 6 5

Most elevators:

8 9 10

5 6 7

This concept can be applied to a Web page by assuring numbers, letters, and other meaningful groups of information are sorted in a logical order.

I also saw a school speed zone sign where it said to slow down during the following times:

7:30 AM - 8:15 AM

2:45 AM - 3:30 PM

Hmm... figure out what's wrong with this sign? This one can also teach a lesson for Web design usability. What lessons come to mind?

Donald Norman talks about such design in The Design of Everyday Things. While I was in the hospital twice in a little over a one week period, I discovered a few usability problems.

The room I was in last week had a small TV, the kind that hangs from the wall like those you see at the blood centers. It had no captions, but the law (Television Decoder Circuitry Act (TDCA)) only requires TVs 13 inches are captioned. NBC didn't work on that TV. Go figure... it was the only channel I could enjoy without captions because the olympics were on and sports are easy to follow.

The one good thing about that small room was the button to call the nurse. It didn't have a speaker, so no one would try speaking to me when I called. She would just come as soon as she could.

My first room for the second visit's adventures had a brand new flat screen TV. The only way to get the captions turned on was to fiddle with the options on the side of the screen. Could not do it from bed. Thankfully, tall Hubby was there to do it. Not everyone has the luxury of having someone there to do it or even with the know-how.

The TV remote control was on a remote with three buttons: call nurse, light on / off, and TV. I could only go one way in changing the channels. If on channel 5 and wanted to be on channel 4, I had to go through all the channels to get to channel 4.

The second room had the same TV and remote set up. Once again, tall Hubby had to turn on the captions. This time, when I called the nurse, she talked back through the speaker. We had to remind every shift and multiple nurses on that shift that I couldn't hear over the speaker.

Luckily, I had family with me to help talk to the nurse. But I was alone all morning and without my implant. So I could not even hear any sound coming from the speaker where I could say what I needed and hope they caught it. Thankfully, I had a nurse who came in often enough that I didn't need to call.

Meryl K. Evans is the Content Maven behind meryl's notes, eNewsletter Journal, and The Remediator Security Digest. She is also a PC Today columnist and a tour guide at InformIT. She is geared to tackle your editing, writing, content, and process needs. The native Texan resides in Plano, Texas, a heartbeat north of Dallas, and doesn't wear a 10-gallon hat or cowboy boots.


Website Design Competition  Michigan Council of Women in Technology

Design Studies (Minor) | College of Liberal Arts  UNH's College of Liberal Arts

Michelle Belleville  Science@NASA

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