The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Function following forms

Designer Josh Gee spent two years trying to put Boston city government forms online:

Getting city workers to accept online submissions rather than traditional paper ones is the bulk of this work. On average, it took me about 30 minutes to make a digital form and five weeks to meet with, earn the trust of, and get buy-in from the employees who would use it. Even if they were excited, the nitty gritty details took a lot of back and forth.

While I avoided a bunch of process change, there were some takeaways that I think are useful for anyone working to move government forms online:

  • There is huge demand to move forms online — I had expected to drag departments online kicking and screaming. Instead, the majority of departments were eager to move things online and thrilled to have a partner with the technical knowledge, mandate, and tools to do that.
  • Flexibility about form structure and questions — I initially thought there would be a strong demand for submissions that look exactly like current paper forms. That hasn’t been the case. In all but one or two cases, I was not only able to move forms online, but also suggest changes that made forms shorter, more clear, and more accessible.
  • Excited about future change — Early on I began to notice a pattern. A few weeks after I moved a form online, some departments would to reach back out and ask for tools to help them manage digital submission, “This has been absolutely amazing. It would be great if I could approve it and then send it to Steve for his signature”. I thought a lot about the phrase salami slicing. If I tried to change everything about the way these departments worked right off the bat, they would have resisted every step of the way. Moving just a part of their workflow online made them eager to go completely digital.

This is close to home as my company is right now engaged in an effort to do this sort of thing for the U.S. Military Enrollment Processing Command. It's not easy.

Why I hate the suburbs

I spent over 3 hours in my car today in principal because there were no public transit options to my remote, suburban destination. That, plus all-day meetings, means that instead of outlining what I'm planning for the weekend—I'll do that tomorrow—I'm just going to line up some articles I want to read:

I now have to pack. Parker will be unhappy with this.

Lunchtime links

Too much to read today, especially during an hours-long download from our trips over the past two weeks. So I'll come back to these:

But more seriously:

Lunch break is over.

Software frustrations

I'm on the Board of Directors for the Apollo Chorus of Chicago, and information technology is my portfolio. Under that aegis, I'm in the process of taking all of our donor and membership spreadsheets and stuffing them into a new Neon CRM setup.

So far, it's going well, and it's going to make the organization a lot more effective at managing membership, events, and donations.

That said, in the last 24 hours I've logged five bug reports, including one of the most frustrating user experience (UX) bugs possible: a broken back button. This UX failure is so well-known and so irritating that we were talking about it when I started developing Web apps in the late 1990s. Jakob Nielsen called it the #1 web design mistake...of 1999:

The Back button is the lifeline of the web user and the second-most-used navigation feature (after following hypertext links). Users happily know that they can try anything on the web and always be saved by a click or two on Back to return them to familiar territory.

Except, of course, for those sites that break Back by committing one of these design sins:

  • opening a new browser window (see mistake #2)
  • using an immediate redirect: every time the user clicks Back, the browser returns to a page that bounces the user forward to the undesired location
  • prevents caching such that the Back navigation requires a fresh trip to the server; all hypertext navigation should be sub-second and this goes double for backtracking

Neon, however, has made some alternative design choices, and even has a FAQ explaining how they've broken the rules.

Seriously, guys. It's a good product, but wow, is that irritating.

Understanding music graphically

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has created brilliant listening guides for audiences:

Hannah Chan-Hartley is the managing editor and musicologist at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO). She oversees the production of the orchestra’s various printed programmes, from designing layouts and writing and editing content, to the creation of its intriguing ‘listening guides’ with graphic designer Gareth Fowler.

A deft mix of text and graphics, the guides can be read while listening to the performance, their layout visualising the thematic progression of the music, indicating the keys in use, what instruments feature and, using morse code-like notation, their duration.

Check out the graphics themselves on the Creative Review or percussionist Chester Englander's Twitter feed.

That said, since childhood I've really enjoyed Peter Schickele's approach:

Too much to read

I'm totally swamped today, so here are the things I haven't read yet:

Twenty minutes until my next meeting.