The importance of clarity

I wrote and now maintain a Pocket PC app for Imperial Tobacco (yes, despite supporting the ban on smoking in public places). It is important that the date/time on the PPC is accurate so part of the business flow is to get the user to check the date/time immediately after they log in.

Despite this step we were getting invalid dates back from their collected data, in all cases it was always one day ahead of the correct time. We have recently introduced various additional common sense checks such as “You have missed a working day, are you sure?” etc, but the change that will have the biggest affect is the one that was the smallest to change.

When the user enters the current date/time if it is less than the last known date/time on the server (sent in their database of work to do) I showed a message saying it was incorrect. The message read

“The date you have entered is invalid”

At this point the user looks at the date they have entered, thinks “but the date is right!”, they click it forward a day and the PPC accepts it, so they continue with their work. Because I used the word “date” the user was blinkered to the value in the date, and didn’t even bother looking at the time they had entered. The message now reads

“The date/time you have entered is invalid”

Hopefully this will be a bigger clue 🙂


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