Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Challenge Your Assumptions

Today's brief post was inspired by my recent road trip with my wife from here in Vancouver, BC through the states of Washington and Oregon.

When it comes to road trips, I'm all about efficiency. Pit stops run like clockwork. The guys from NASCAR have nothing on me. That's why I prefer self service with pay-at-the-pump when stopping for gas. My fingers fly with precision as I fetch my card from my wallet, insert it in the machine and punch my way through the menu to start up the pump and select my grade of gasoline to begin fueling.

On my first stop of the trip, everything was running smoothly right up until I was stopped in my tracks by the following prompt:

Enter Zip Code:


Cancel         OK

Unfortunately for me, as a Canadian, I don't have a numeric 5-digit zip code. Instead, I have a six character postal code with a mix of numbers and letters. Try though I might, I could not find a way to enter my postal code or skip this prompt.

Edit: I've since been told that you can simply enter the numeric portion of your postal code followed by zeros

After a few moments of poking around at the machine, I eventually resorted to pressing cancel and walked into the station to speak with the cashier. Within a few minutes I was back on track (a lap behind the race leaders).

My experience with the zip code prompt was hardly life altering. Still, it illustrates some of the problems that can come up when your software makes incorrect assumptions (e.g. all gas station customers have a zip code). Challenge your assumptions and do your best to consider all possible users. Question whether all the information you prompt for will be available or match your expected format. If not, your software should gently guide the user on how to proceed.


Joshua Ganes 

P.S. Did you see the seventh inning of today's Blue Jays vs. Rangers game? It was well worth a second look! Go Jays!

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