Avoiding Over-Engineering the US Navy Way

At the hospital, we (the web team) are often asked to create a web-based this or that, such as a form or some kind of app. In the majority of cases such requests represent a huge amount of over-engineering based on the user requirements of the form or tool and the amount of use it is likely to get.
For example, creating a web-based form involves a fair amount of work for the developer and a not inconsiderable development time as there things to include like emailing a copy to the person completing the form and making sure it prints properly. It usually takes several iterations to get right.

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“Help” Is a Waste of Time

My wife recently took back a cordless phone because it didn’t work. She had left it in its charger over night like she was supposed to but the thing just wouldn’t produce a dial tone. I looked at it briefly, pushed a few of the buttons and agreed that the thing was dead out of the box.
Back she comes with a new phone, and as I’m opening it, what do I see on the back of the phone but a large sticker with large words to the effect “Before doing anything plug in the battery!” Oops. Somehow, my wife had managed to remove the sticker on the previous phone without reading it and thus realising that this simple but essential first step was required to make the thing work.
Which just goes to show that people don’t read instructions. Actually, I do, but only as a result of painful experience. By the way, I don’t know what the manufacturer could have done to make their instructions any more obvious–I guess they’re just screwed.

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Make Internal Links Scroll Smoothly with JavaScript

There’s an interesting article over at Sitepoint about using Javascript to enable jump links to scroll you smoothly down the page to another location. According to the author, the reasoning behind this is that:

When they’re navigating through a long document, users often are confused or disoriented when they click a link that jumps to another location in that same document.

Are they? Based on what evidence? In all the usability testing I have done, never once has a user complained to me that having a link take them to another location on a page is confusing.

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Vendors: Tell Me How Much It Costs

I recently visited the web site of a company that provides conversion to and hosting of streaming video. We’ve been looking into doing this at Children’s, and although we are running a pilot with one vendor, I was interested in seeing how this other company might compare.
We’re a non-profit organization and so are always looking to do things in a cost-efficient way. Consequently, price is an important factor for me in purchasing decisions. However, nowhere on the site could I find any mention of pricing. As Jacob Nielson has rightly said:

Price is the most specific piece of info customers use to understand the nature of an offering, and not providing it makes people feel lost and reduces their understanding of a product line.

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Text Field Spell Checker for Internet Explorer

One of the problems with blogging and entering information into text fields in general is that it’s a hassle to spell check what you’ve written. Of course, if you’re posting a comment on a bulletin board or a blog, or writing an entry, you can preview what you’ve written, but it’s easy to miss typos.
Fortunately, there are a couple of free IE plugins that solve this problem: Hot Lingo and IM Translator.
I’ve tried both but have settled on Hot Lingo as IM Translator (as the name implies) provides a lot of additional translation functionality which I have no need for. Although on the Hot Lingo site it calls the free version an ‘evaluation’ version there’s no time limit to how long it works and no limitations on its functionality. How handy is that?!