Chapter Five Foolproof

Someone once remarked, “It’s impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.”1 True as these words are, when it comes to usability, you still should attempt to “foolproof” your stuff, frustrating as this sometimes is.

1 No one is quite sure who said this first—Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Martin Luther King—take your pick.

Basically, you’re trying to keep people from making mistakes and to give them a gentle push in the right direction when they need to do something. “Gentle” is the operative word because folks generally don’t like being told what to do; I’ll get back to this idea later in this chapter. That means you certainly don’t want to get in their way while they’re doing something—at least not in a way that they consider to be “pushy” or “intrusive.” On the other hand, you want to make sure that they don’t get into too much trouble along the way. Hence, your guidance needs to be as subtle as it is effective.

Achieving this kind of balanced experience is damned difficult, so consider yourself warned.

How the RAF can help win your battle

Over the years, I’ve relied on three key techniques to keep people out of trouble. Collectively, I refer to these techniques with the acronym RAF:

  • Remind
  • Alert
  • Force

Remind simply points out that people may have inadvertently forgotten to do something, such as saving a document before closing it or attaching a file to an e-mail.

Alert means flagging and tagging stuff that specifically needs ...

Get Usable Usability: Simple Steps for Making Stuff Better now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from nearly 200 publishers.