Bad UI Design = Catastrophic Data Loss

By Anthony | June 9th, 2006 | 12:02 am

Around the beginning of this year, the office where I work purchased a new hardware/software package designed to have an impact on workplace productivity. Throughout the year we’ve been hard at work mastering the machine’s protocols and entering data into the system for dozens of projects.

Earlier this week, we found that our data for one of the more heavily used projects had become corrupted – strings of meaningless numbers had replaced an orderly sequence of letters and digits.

A few coworkers gathered around as my boss tried to fix the problem. Rebooting the machine had no effect, and it became clear that we would need to erase the data for that project. My boss scrolled through the operational menus and found an option that sounded like it would clear out the data.

“But can we clear out the data just for this one project, or will it clear the data for all our projects?” someone asked.

“I don’t know – we’ll have to see,” replied my boss, as he pressed the button to select the option on the screen.

“Done,” he said.

“Done?” we asked. “What’s done?”

“That’s what it says – ‘Done’.”

“No confirmation dialog? No warning or alert?” we asked incredulously.

“Nope,” he replied. “Nothing.”

Because of a poor interface design – specifically a vague menu item and the lack of any sort of confirmation or alert screen – the system had just unceremoniously erased everything we had done up to that point. Nearly six months of effort was gone.

Interface design is important stuff. We have a lot of work ahead of us to restore all the lost data. But we are dedicated employees.

4 Responses to “Bad UI Design = Catastrophic Data Loss”

  1. Lex Says:

    Good God. I’m not much of a fan of civil litigation, and I’m sure no lawyer, but that sounds like it might be worth suing over.

  2. PotatoStew Says:

    Good point Lex. I’ll mention it to management, though I’m not sure how much traction the idea will get. When I suggested that we start making regular backups of the data on the machine in question, our tech guy just rolled his eyes at me. Go figure.

  3. darkmoon Says:

    I’m surprised those keep data. I thought that powering them off actually made the data go kaput? You must have one of those fancy high end models.

  4. PotatoStew Says:

    Yep – we’ve powered it off and back on many times, and it saves everything with no problem. Surprisingly easy to update with new “projects” as well – they come on a little usb flash drive which you plug into the machine and it downloads and installs them automatically.