Who Was Sitting In On THAT Design Meeting?

July 20, 2011
by: Tom McCrystal

The Navy Times reports:

According to the Navy, all it took was a technical glitch and an errant keystroke to initiate the self-destruct sequence in an MQ-8B Fire Scout earlier this year.

Graphic: Hit the space bar to self-destruct.

Earlier this year, as one of the Navy’s new MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopters was flying a mission, the wire on the operator’s headset pressed down the space bar on his keyboard and and initiated the self-destruct sequence!

Seriously, what were the people who designed the control software thinking?

Over the years, we’ve been asked many time what goes into “UI” and “UX” design. (That’s User Interface and User Experience design for the uninitiated.)

The common perception is that UI and UX design is about pretty pictures and button layout, but there’s a lot more that goes into it than that. In a nutshell, one of the major issues is making sure that, metaphorically, reaching for your coffee shouldn’t cause something as catastrophic as self-destruction of a twelve and a half million dollar vehicle.

It’s not rocket surgery, but IS all-to-often missed. Nor is it a new concept – way back in 1985, Apple’s user interface guidelines embraced what might be called “safe interfaces”:

“The most dangerous commands should be at the bottom of the menu, preferably isolated from the frequently used commands.” (Inside Macintosh, Volume I, p. 51.)

At Creative Perspectives, we spend a considerable amount of time sweating the details of User Experience Design for every project. Internally, the process can become quite adversarial, as in “Ellen, prove to me we need that extra mouse click!”, or “Tom, why is the path to feature X so hard to find?” Our clients rarely if ever see the process, but what they get are applications that work as well as they look.

And seriously, we’ve never almost blown up a twelve and a half million dollar unmanned helicopter.

(Fox News is also covering the story.)