What isn’t forbidden is compulsory

As a usability specialist and user experience designer, I live to make things easier for the user.  It’s what I do.  I hate products and processes that are difficult for no apparent reason.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of them roaming our world just waiting to pounce – causing anxiety, sleepless nights, or worse, feelings of inadequacy.

The New Yorker Magazine, Feb. 16, 1976

The New Yorker Magazine, Feb. 16, 1976

I don’t know why this is – perhaps someone never actually used the product or stepped through the process?  Or perhaps it is a power play on the part of the “designer”?  Maybe (and more likely) it was never “designed” at all.  (See above cartoon.)

Or perhaps, in our litigious society, the difficulty arises from an effort to avert blame – it’s more important that the product or process be “legal” than it be usable.  (I.e. the infamously unreadable EULAs – those end-user license agreements that go on for dozens of pages that you always check that you read but never actually do.  And everybody knows this, so what’s the point?)  But I digress…

Let’s take the visa application process, just as an example, now that I know more about it than I ever wanted to know.  First, you must fill out an online application.  You can even upload your photo online. (Cool!  That makes life easier!)   But wait, not so fast.  Now you must print the form and sign it and send a physical copy.  Because you can’t sign the online form.  Well okay, you do need to send the passport, so that seems reasonable.

Make sure you follow all the instructions exactly right or the process can be delayed, even if you asked for it to be expedited.

  • make sure there are at least 2 blank pages in your passport (is that 2 “sides” or 2 “pages” – meaning 4 sides?  Not clear.)
  • the 2 pages at the back don’t count for visas (why not?  Not clear.)
  • you can add extra pages to your passport, but they can’t be used for visas, only stamps.  (What?  Why?  Don’t ask such silly questions!)
  • when you sign the form, make sure to keep your signature inside the box or it will not be accepted.  (Sigh.  I won’t ask.)

Oh, and by the way:

  • if you are applying for a visa to India, DO NOT make your flight reservations until you have your passport back in hand.  (Ok, thanks for that advice.)
  • if you are applying for a visa to Kenya, you MUST provide a computer generated itinerary of your travel.  (What?  How can I do both?  Buy refundable tickets, you say?  Really?  Have you checked the price of those lately?  Oh right, that’s not your problem.)

P.S. I have to add that the internet has made things, if not easier, at least more transparent.  It was easier to obtain the rights to use the above cartoon – took just 30 minutes over the internet including emailing back and forth with a real person.  When I tried this pre-internet, I had to write a physical letter and wait, and never did get a response.  In the case of the visa application, I admit that this process took less time (hard to imagine) and was more transparent than it was pre-internet.

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