Monday, October 24, 2005

Please Standby

Category: Work
Music: Groove Salad

I got included in an email chain at work late last week. To make a long story short, one of our customers was returning eMTAs (embedded MTA, a cable modem with phone lines built in) complaining that they could get dial tone but no Internet access. Our lab techs hooked them up to the test equipment, which reported No Fault Found. Upon further investigation, it turned out that somebody (whether a subscriber or an installation tech) was pressing the Standby button — which disconnects the Ethernet and USB ports from the cable network. The latest generation removed the Standby switch, since subscribers would also bump it unknowingly after installation, then complain that their service was out.

In some ways, we’ve made great advances and gone backwards simultaneously as far as user interface design goes. 40 or 50 years ago — let’s pretend personal computers were as available then as they are now for the sake of argument — a Standby switch would have been a big ol’ toggle switch on the front panel, clearly marked “STANDBY” up and “NORMAL” down. It would have been very easy to tell what mode the modem was in without trying to decipher a pattern of LEDs on the front panel. Product design these days is all about contours and smooth curves — a practical, easily visible toggle switch pokes out and just doesn’t fit today’s style.

Whatever happened to “form follows function”?

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