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Bad UI killed the radio star

Rules, it turns out, are not meant to be broken. Especially by the person who wrote the rule about how to protect data

Who, Me? When designing a procedure for the operation of any system, the first and most important rule should always be: follow the rules. Unfortunately, this particular rule is often forgotten.

Take, for instance, our reader "Lee" – the protagonist of this week's installment of Who, me?

Back in the 1990s, Lee was managing a radio station in New Zealand, and was migrating the station's stock of commercials and features to digital storage.

Three machines, each with a removable drive, were laid in to help with the job. Another machine in the on-air studio also had a fixed drive. (The removable drives were Bernoulli boxes, which were very cool and a forerunner to cheaper and less bulky Zip drives, but we digress.) The process involved recording content to seven-inch-reel tape, then dubbing new audio content to a Bernoulli disk and uploading to the on-air system at the end of the day.

Lee spotted a potential problem, in that the storage units had only a two-line display and users had to select commands using a jog wheel. The limited display space meant some commands were cryptic. She also worried the input system meant that it could be easy to choose the wrong command.

Reformatting a removable disk was fine and normal. But Lee felt it would be easy enough for the unwary to reformat the fixed disk, which would be bad.

You know where this is going, don't you?

In order to avoid the problem, Lee instructed all production staff never to reformat a removable disk using the system in the on-air studio. Staff were told to only ever use one of the boxes in the News or Production studios. Don't risk the fixed disk. Sensible. Sort of rhymes even.

Until one day, when a client asked that their brilliant new content be uploaded to the on-air system as quickly as possible. Fine, just have to get a removable disk with enough space, right?

Lee couldn't find a disk with enough space. Fine, just reformat one.

Problem: the Production and News studios were in use.

You really can see where it's going now.

Lee surreptitiously crept into the on-air studio, inserted a removable into the Bernoulli box, and selected the command to reformat. She knew about the tricky menu system, of course, but the warning was there for the less-wary users, not her. Then her heart began to sink, as the process took longer than it ought.

Her heart hit the floor when a presenter in a panic opened the studio door to announce that all of the commercials on the drive were gone.

It's bad when you accidentally erase company data. It's worse when you do so because you didn't follow a clearly stated protocol. It's sooooo much worse when you designed the protocol in the first place.

If you have a similar story of messing up your own best-laid plans gang aft agley, let us know ab out it with an email to Who, Me? ®

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