As a consultant to business and government, I know my clients often see publishing as a project that has a start, middle, and end. Once they’ve published their app, their data, or their text and media, they often express relief that the job is finished and then want to forget about it.
The thing is, they’re not finished. If the app, data, or content is mission critical, they must not simply forget about it.
A story: Averting failure
To illustrate what can happen when people publish and forget, here’s a simple story. It’s from the perspective of a customer or “user” of some material that was published by others. In this story, I am one of those customers.
I wanted to meet a colleague near London’s Liverpool Station, so that we could attend a design event together. To decide where to meet, we used the internet to access a tool, data, and material published by others.
We needed to:
- look at a map of Liverpool Street Station
- choose a meeting location nearby
- have a look at the event brochure
We tried to choose a restaurant near Liverpool Station, but we encountered errors on the map—either with the app’s function or with the location data on it. Then, I tried to look at the event brochure, but I had to wait several minutes for it to appear on screen. Instead of reading the brochure, I instead relied on my colleague’s interpretation.
My colleague and I were in different places, so as we used the map and tried to view the brochure, we used a chat tool. Here’s our conversation:
We picked a restaurant chain. As it turned out, there were multiple locations near Liverpool Street Station. We both realised the potential for confusion.
While trying to be clear about our meeting place, we realised there were differences in our maps. Was it an error in the map data?
To clear up the confusion, my colleague sent me an image. We needed to make sure we were looking at the same thing.
Next, I added my own information to the image—I marked it up using circles and arrows—in order to confirm our meeting place.
We realised it took us longer to choose a meeting place than we expected. So, since we both work in user-experience design and content strategy, we joked a bit about about the user experience and the quality of the content.
Next, my colleague recommended I read about the event in the brochure. But she warned me not to use my phone.
I’m sure the paper version of the brochure looked great. The online version was so slow to load, it caused me to stop reading. (Of course, the brochure should have been reconfigured into an online product, rather than published as one PDF of large images. But that is not the main point of this blog post.)
“Publish and forget” can lead to failure
This experience is a good reminder for me, as a consultant, to ensure my clients don’t just publish and forget. After publishing, I need to help them follow up:
- After adding data to a third-party tool, such as a restaurant location in Google Maps, schedule a periodic review. And then correct any errors and edit confusing data.
- After publishing content, such as a brochure, test it on a variety of devices that have different sized screens. Test it on a variety of connections, such as a LAN cable, by Wi-Fi, and by mobile data. Check its compliance with accessibility standards. And then address any issues with speed, layout, or accessibility.
- After publishing an app, observe people using it, not only to find bugs in the application, but also to find recurring data problems that people have entered in the app. And then figure out how to resolve those problems.