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Wrench in the System: What's Sabotaging Your Business Software and How You Can Release the Power to Innovate

ISBN: 978-0-470-41343-2
272 pages
August 2009
Wrench in the System: What
Praise for Wrench in the System

"Look to Harold Hambrose to make significant contributions to safer health care records through interface design, product design, and data visualization. Wrench in the System should be the bible for corporate executives striving to gain a competitive advantage in these trying times."
Alan Siegel, Chairman and CEO, Siegel+Gale

"During the short history of computing, interface design has usually been neglected, resulting in software that is cumbersome and counterintuitive. In this book, Harold Hambrose calls for design where 'help' is helpful and where clutter is eliminated. He describes a set of commonsense principles and asserts the essential place of design in superior products. Together with thought leaders like Edward Tufte, Harold Hambrose reminds us that great design can change the world."
Tony Pizi, CIO, Asset Management Platform Services, Deutsche Bank

"Making computer information easily available to people in their work can help organizations meet their most important goals. This book recommends adopting traditional methods and procedures of design to do so, and suggests that turning data into accessible information could be a high calling for designers now. I wish we designers were as wise as the author considers us! But we, as much as computer users in business, can learn deep lessons from his confrontation of the challenges of information design today, and his demonstration of how our own techniques can apply to meeting them."
Denise Scott Brown, Principal, Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, and coauthor, Learning from Las Vegas

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FOREWORD DAN BOYARSKI XI

PREFACE THE INVISIBLE EDGE XV

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS XXIII

ONE IT’S JUST A PRODUCT! 1

The World’s Biggest Lemons 2

The Checklist 4

Failure to Communicate 5

Behind the Hype 9

The Wrench on the Front Seat 11

Inventing an Experience 13

Designed to Disappear 18

Just What We Need 20

TWO DESIGN TO DELIGHT 23

The Emperor’s New Enterprise System 25

Software’s Missing Feature 29

Who’s the Customer? 31

Security Solutions: A Better Set of Keys 33

Navigating Notre Dame 37

Communicating by Design 39

Teaching Etiquette to an ATM 44

The Human Factor 49

Form, Function, and Spirit 50

THREE SPECIFY INNOVATION 53

Stranded at Heathrow 53

Don’t Blame Technology 54

The Transparent Dashboard 57

When Green Means STOP 59

Listening to the Receiver 60

“People Are Different” 62

Removing Roadblocks 64

Easy as Pie: The Tale of a Tool 66

What We Need to Know 69

FOUR CONSIDER THE CONSEQUENCES 71

Lessons from the Underground 72

The Workaround Wizard 75

Continuous Education 77

Building on Assumptions 81

Sprinting toward Second-Rate 86

Automating the Status Quo 90

Frozen in the ICU 92

FIVE THE RIGHT TEAM 97

Designing a New Experience 99

The Science of Common Sense 102

A Tendency to Crash 104

Designers and the Art of Interpretation 106

Looking at a Project from Every Angle 108

The Other Customers 112

Analyzing the Workflow 116

What Your Staff Won’t Tell You 118

A Powerful Partnership 120

SIX FIND OUT WHAT YOU REALLY NEED 121

The Correct Definition 123

Missed Information and Lost Limbs 126

Beyond Technology 127

Meaningful Information 131

A Shortcut through the Warehouse 135

A Common Language 137

Hobos and Hieroglyphs 138

An Accurate Translation 140

Beautiful Data 141

What Business Hasn’t Even Thought Of 142

Channeling Rivers of Energy 146

SEVEN BELIEVE IT WHEN YOU SEE IT 149

When Prototype Becomes Product 151

Envisioning the Chrysler Building 152

The Hidden Costs of Guesswork 156

Charting a New Course 159

Breaking the Cycle of Failure 160

Leave Nothing to Interpretation 165

Rethinking and Redrawing 170

Survey the Landscape 172

Picture It! 176

Showing Why 178

EIGHT REFRESH THE SYSTEM 179

Find Out How They Really Feel 180

Check for Physical Evidence 183

Make Sure That “Help” Is Helpful 184

Watch Your Language 186

Rethink the Form 187

Eliminate Clutter 187

Consider the Context 189

Take the Measure of the Problem 189

Define Your Priorities 191

Get an Outside Opinion 192

NINE YOUR NEXT SYSTEM 193

What Is This Thing? 194

Is This What We Really Need? 194

A $100 Million Guinea Pig? 197

Will the Basic Model Do the Job? 199

Who Will Be Using It? 200

What’s It Like to Use? 203

Are the Information Displays Informative? 205

How Clearly Does It Communicate? 205

How Forgiving Is It? 206

How Will It Support Our Brand? 207

Is This Product Truly Innovative? 208

What Do Training and Change Management Really Mean? 211

What Real Information Does the Manufacturer Have about User Adoption and Effectiveness? 213

What about Those Service Contracts and Future Upgrades? 214

APPENDIX A MAXIMIZING YOUR DESIGN RESOURCES 215

APPENDIX B TOUGH QUESTIONS FOR CONSULTANTS 219

NOTES 223

ILLUSTRATION CREDITS 229

INDEX 233

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Harold Hambrose is the CEO and founder of Electronic Ink, a design consultancy he established in 1990. His company has transformed the operations of many Fortune 500 companies by showing them new ways to collaborate, innovate, and design low-cost solutions to some of their most expensive problems. His clients include British Petroleum, Comcast, Research In Motion, McDonald's, and dozens of other industry leaders, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies.
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"We pulled out a plum in this terrific book by the founder of a US-based design agency examining the vexed question of why business software tends to disappoint.

It’s a question that most of us have given up trying to answer. Because the wrong supplier got chosen? Because IT has no idea about business? Because business has no idea about IT? Because the wording of the RFP was bad? Because things changed partway through the selection or development process? Who knows, so we shrug and creep from project hell to the new world…of what also turns out to be project hell.

All of these attempted answers have some validity but it’s rare for a writer to come up with such a cogent, trenchant polemic as Hambrose manages here. As you might expect, Hambrose focuses on software design, suggesting that software given to users all too often fails to reflect the way they work or want to work. So it falls into disuse, is detested, or management comes up with some spurious justification for the enormous amount of money invested in it."
Martin Veitch, CIO Magazine

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