The other day, my brother asked me to log in to his account on his employer’s1 “HR system” in order to make him some backup copies of information presented there (his existing copies of which he had needed to provide to his supervisor). On the login screen, I was still slightly shocked2 to see the following message:
(If you view the source, you can see that each of the
<a>s has an
id="ielink_001" attribute—not only incorrect, but perhaps a holdover from the days this particular website “supported” only IE?)
Seriously? It’s 2015 and your website is not only not compatible with any version of Safari, but it is only compatible with versions of Chrome and Firefox that are four3 versions out-of-date!? (Kudos for supporting versions of IE dating back six years, though!)
I forged ahead, because if the site claimed to work properly in a six-year-old version of Internet Explorer, it surely would work in a current two-year-old version of Safari (the just-released version 6.2.4 on 10.8/Mountain Lion). Nothing I had to look at seemed to look or function incorrectly—until it came time to look for his timesheets. When I clicked on the tab entitled “Timesheets”, a page loaded with no “content” below the row of tabs, except for a link to help me return to the site I was already on. Indeed, unexpected results may occur when using a browser other than the last four versions of IE or versions of Chrome and Firefox four versions out-of-date! Eventually, I realized that the problem was that loading the page was triggering a pop-up window(!?) with the website for the company’s scheduling system, and Safari was (silently) blocking said pop-up.4
Allowing pop-ups and forging ahead again, I looked at the scheduling system’s website, and it reminded me of a poor knockoff of the web as rendered by Firebird 0.6 or 0.7 more than a decade ago (eerie, that poorly-rendered, overly-fat Helvetica—perhaps it’s Verdana or Tahoma?—and
<table>s, lots of
<table>s!) Also, there was a menu that seemed to have no useful functions. Finally relenting, I launched Firefox 36, discovered the functional part of the menu was indeed missing (according to the Web Inspector in Safari, that part of the menu was being rendered off-screen and I think zero-height; given that Blink and WebKit supposedly haven’t diverged that much, I wonder if this critical piece of the menu would have appeared in Chrome, either, supported version or otherwise?), found the link I needed, and returned to Safari to print out pages of multi-page
These are websites/systems that are created and installed to be used by every employee of this company, from the convenience of each employee’s personal computing device, not systems that are to be used solely by the HR department on company computers where IT can mandate a certain browser and software combination. This is software whose purpose is to be used by everyone; why is it not designed to be used by everyone—compatible with current versions of the major rendering engines, avoiding unfriendly and abused technologies like pop-ups, and so on?
If the software is intended to be used by everyone (or, generally, people beyond those whose computer configuration you can dictate by supplying said computer) and it’s web-based software (or has a web front-end), then the company (or the company’s software vendor) needs to continually test the software/web front-end with new versions of major rendering engines, making changes (or reporting bugs in the rendering engine) in the unlikely event something breaks, so that they aren’t requiring employees to use six-month-old versions of browsers in order for the corporate software to work properly.
As for the integration between the main HR system and the scheduling system, if the two can’t talk to each other directly behind the scenes, then why not embed the scheduling system into the “Timesheets” tab with an
<iframe>s are already present in some of the other tabs). If an
<iframe> won’t work for some technical or security reasons, why not include a button on the “Timesheets” tab that the user can click to trigger the pop-up window with the scheduling system, thus escaping the pop-up blocker? It’s not as elegant in some ways as automatically launching, but pop-ups are already not as elegant as showing the data inline (and pop-ups are arguably not elegant at all), and manually-triggered pop-ups are more friendly since the human involved knows he or she is triggering some action and isn’t annoyed by blocked pop-up notifications. You also then get Safari compatibility “for free” without requiring users to change settings (and without having to tell them how to do so). If there are still legitimate reasons not to use a button or link or similar element, at the very least some explanatory text in the “content” section of the “Timesheets” tab is far more useful to anyone than a link to return to the very site you’re already viewing.
When I encounter software like this, I often wonder how it was built. Was there a user experience or human interface designer as part of the team? Was there any testing? Any quality assurance team involved? Or did some product manager just throw a spec sheet from marketing at the software engineers and tell them, “Not only do you have to write the code to make it do these things, but you have to determine how it’s going to do these things, too.” Or did management decide to ship as-is, perhaps over the objections of team members, in order to meet some deadline?
Design is how things work. Not everyone is a good designer, just like not everyone is a good programmer or tester (they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive, but many times excelling in one field means not learning as much about another), but every good piece of software needs all three skillsets, working in concert, whether in one body or more. Too often, “corporate software” like this seems to be missing one or more of the three, and that’s a shame, because with a little more effort, every interaction with the software could be improved. Then the vendor sells better software, the employees who use the software have a faster, easier experience and can get back to doing what they love and are good at, and the company installing the software can have happier employees. Everyone wins.
1 An unnamed major American restaurant group. ↩
2 I know, I know, I really shouldn’t be. ↩
3 In fairness, Firefox 31 is at least still in the ESR support window until May. ↩
4 Question 1: Why, in 2015, does Safari still not support a per-site control for pop-ups (and, at least as of version 6, still not provide any sort of notification of blocked pop-ups; granted the UI balance there is hard—and a subject for another post—but still!)?
Question 2: The better question is, why, in 2015, are sites still using non-user-triggered pop-up windows for critical functions, or any functions at all? ↩