ethernight
adventures in poor ux
August 2nd, 2009 10:07 pm
Like many other apartment buildings, my front gate features a confusing and unintuitive dial access system.

The dial pad itself isn't so bad. You dial the apartment number then the octothorp sign. The gate rings up some telephone number, and if you are very lucky someone answers and lets you in. Pretty straight-forward.

No, the confusing part is the directory.

The directory has two columns. The left side lists apartment numbers for the first through third floors, and the right lists apartments fourth through sixth. Next to each apartment number is a space for the name of the occupant. And since no one felt like maintaining the ever changing directory, it remains entirely blank.

It looks something like this.

100  400 
101  401 
102  402 
103  403 
104  404 
105  405 
106  406 
107  407 
108  408 
109  409 
200  500 
201  501 
202  502 
203  503 
204  504 
205  505 
206  506 
207  507 
208  508 
209  509 
300  600 
301  601 
302  602 
303  603 
304  604 
305  605 
306  606 
307  607 
308  608 
309  609 


Most of the time my visitors dial my apartment without incident. Every once in awhile though, a guest will instead call me on my cell phone and say that they tried the gate and it didn't work. And since in these cases I had not received a call from the gate, I could only assume that gremlins in the phone lines were to blame.

That is until one day when I had the presence of mind to ask a perplexed guest what code they had dialed. Then it all became clear.

You see, upon arriving these attentive guests would, rather than punching numbers at random, take the time to look me up in the directory. Finding my apartment number--say it's 203--they would then look to the adjacent number in the same row row, and dial it.

5-0-3-#


The apparently empty apartment would ring indefinitely, until the visitor gave up and fell back to a more reliable technology.

Now that the mystery is solved, I'm tempted to post a sign. But what would it say? A sign announcing that this directory is blank might cause more confusion than it resolves. Besides, everyone knows nobody really reads directions.
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