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Aside – My Number #1 Pet Peeve in Interface Design

Posted by Preston on 2009-12-20

At University, I had a fascinating lecturer. His typical mode of dress was a t-shirt, stubbies and to go barefoot around the campus. He had a great big bushy beard that barrelled along in front of him which at times looked like a mane. He had a reputation for reciting the entirety of The Ballad of Eskimo Nell (a rather ribald poem – I’m not providing a link) – though by the time I was at University, he could only ever be encouraged to let fly with a single verse.

None of this though made him fascinating.

What made him fascinating was his name. For your reference, his full name is:

Simon

That’s right, Simon. Just a first name, no last name. You see, at some point in the past Simon had decided to legally remove his surname. So he literally did not have a last name.

Simon was a fascinating case study in the implications of unexpected input in computer programmes. He was in fact a walking case study in the implications of unexpected input in computer programmes – almost exclusively due to his name. (This led me to having some joy in pointing out this XKCD cartoon to him a couple of years ago.) Every year, the people who made the phone book struggled to work out where to put him. He confounded registration systems everywhere, and turned compulsory fields on forms to rubbish. Simon was a walking lesson in the lessons of designing interfaces to handle unexpected inputs.

Not long after I finished University, I decided to change my name. Not anything so drastic as a removal of my surname; in fact, it was to add to my surname. You see, when my family emigrated to Australia several generations ago, they changed their surname from “de Guise” to just “Guise” so they could more easily assimilate. (So the story goes.)

Not being all that interested in blending in, and having an appreciation of the long term history of the name “de Guise”, I decided to reinstate it. (Some might question why I didn’t remove my middle name or at least change it from “Macdonald” – but that’s another story, to be told another time.)

It was at that point that I started to get an appreciation of the daily struggle Simon must have had in dealing with systems that were not adequately designed to work with non-conformist input.

I’ve learned therefore over the years that there’s far too many programmers with names like:

  • Mary Jones
  • Bob Smith
  • David Peterson
  • Jane Davidson

And far too few programmers with names like:

  • Simon
  • Preston de Guise
  • Carlos de la Cruz
  • Peter O’Toole

(I had already learned, by the way, that there were far too few companies that simultaneously employed a McDonald, Macdonald and MacDonald.)

So here’s my pet peeve in interface design, stated as examples:

  • I am not Preston De Guise
  • I am not Preston De guise
  • I am not Preston de
  • I am not Preston De
  • I am not Preston Deguise
  • I am not Preston DeGuise
  • I am not De, Preston Guise
  • I am not even, any longer, just Preston Guise (and I certainly don’t have a middle name of de).

There are too many lazy and/or inconsiderate programmers out there. (There’s also too many lazy and/or inconsiderate data entry operators as well.*)

If you’re a programmer, and want to get onto my good side in 2010, make sure your system gets my name right.


* In the past I have been guilty of name mutilation myself. In my last job I setup an account for someone, mistaking the first word of her surname as a middle name, and egregiously never got around to correcting it. It is actually something I genuinely regret.

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