User-centered design matters. Especially when missiles are involved.

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Zorroa is led by a design-centric approach to our product. We know that working with deep machine learning and millions of assets can be daunting — so we really focus on client feedback and user friendliness in our Curator.

We know that user interface design matters. 

Last month's missile scare in the state of Hawaii illustrates this on a much scarier level. Poor design led to an employee "pushing the wrong button" and causing a wave of panic. It was a dropdown menu with the two options, "Test missile alert" and "Missile alert". It seems easy to blame the employee, but it's not his fault. It's not okay in these situations to simply blame the user for doing something wrong. It's our job as software makers to guard against doing something catastrophic as much as it's our job to lead users through visual search.

We made this quick 10 minute mockup of what we'd put in the interface for a missile alert:

Missile Alert UI

Why this works:

  1. The preferred / most common action (Test Alert) is green, with the secondary action (Send Missile Alert) smaller and red. This hierarchy helps guides the user.
  2. The modal that would popup has a judicious use of red—an alert or stop color.
  3. The modal explains the consequences of the action.
  4. The modal has a double confirmation—a text input and a button to click. This is after you've clicked 'Send Missile Alert' on the previous screen.
  5. The text input requires the user to input an exact match phrase, with spaces and capital letters. This is a more difficult confirmation than simply clicking a button.
  6. The Send Alert button only becomes active after the exact-match phrase is entered.

False Alarms Matter

This got a little close to home for one Zorroa team member. His son was in Honolulu with his college diving team and they all got the alert on their phones. He called and they had one of those stay-on-the-line-in-case-we-never-see-you-again moments until the false alarm message came in.

We're all glad this was a false alarm, but those moments of panic and sadness stretched out. Ten minutes of solid design ahead of time could have saved one very embarrassed employee and cumulative hours of anguish for hundreds of thousands of people.