A person is smart, people are dumb

In my neighbourhood we’re getting a new garbage collection “cart” system.  You’ve definitely seen the large garbage bins on wheels I’m talking about, retail outlets have been using them for ages.  They’re unique in that they can be picked up with a machine arm from a truck so the driver doesn’t need to get in and out and sacrifice his joints to do his collections.

Over the last few months we’ve gone through the ordering process selecting the default or larger or smaller carts for our properties.  There has been lots of information available on the city’s web site and when our carts arrived, the green cart contained a complete, detailed summary of the new program.  It included everything you could possibly want to know.  When the program starts on our street, what to put out when, how far apart the carts should be and more.

This morning was our first garbage collection day since everyone received the new carts, but our first pickup day with the new carts is not until the week of November 11th for our street.  I know this because I read the materials provided to me by hard working individuals working for the city.  I also know that the garbage and recycling alternate weeks for pickup and that the green bin is picked up weekly and I also know that the bins should be roughly a metre apart so that the robotic arm can wrap it’s sexy claws around the carts to pick them up and dump them.

Because I know all this, I found it rather shocking to find the amount of carts waiting by the curb today, since they won’t be collected for 2 weeks. Because this week is the week where we get garbage and recycling picked up at the same time in our pre-cart system, many people had all three of their shiny new carts waiting by the curb, and only one will be collected in the new system. Most of the carts I saw were also closely sitting next to each other which means the arm wouldn’t be able to pick them up. And the best of all was the green cart sitting at the curb and the recycling cart two feet behind it.

All of this just reaffirms my previous thoughts building systems and assuming people can follow simple workflows or read written manuals.  The amount of time I’ve spent on writing instructions for systems has been mostly wasted as there’s only a very small percentage of people who read them, and an even smaller percentage who understand me. My default approach now when developing systems is to make them as simple as possible to navigate and eliminate the need for users to type.  The second you give users free-form typing is the instant you add chaos to your systems.  Instead of First Name, Last Name, you quickly end up with fiRST NAMe, LAST NAME! in your data and they’ve parked all three of their garbage carts in your form somehow.

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time with my new friend Twitter Bootstrap which Matt Sharpe introduced me to this summer, and we’ve been building and rebuilding many interfaces for some systems I use daily with focus on quick development and making processes simpler to tackle.  The hardest part is not rebuilding everything I’ve ever programmed ever.

It’s worth noting that one of my neighbours had all three of their carts out, but they were extremely gratuitously spaced out. (approx 1.5-1.75 metres apart) So they get a kudos for reading that the carts need to be spaced out, but still failing marks for not knowing when the program starts or that they only ever need to have two carts at the curb.

Author: Ian

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