I have had a pretty amazing two weeks. On December 8th, my wife gave birth to our daughter, Rose, and ever since we have all been home together getting to know our new family. I’m lucky to have a job with a leave policy that has allowed me to take this time without too much trouble, and I wouldn’t trade these last two weeks for anything.
In terms of activity, our baby is like most of the others I’ve seen (except for the obvious fact that she is prettier, smarter, and clearly destined for greatness, at least in our eyes). She makes funny noises, hilarious faces, eats and subsequently runs through diapers like a champ, has skin softer than a pillowcase made of freshly laundered marshmallows, is continually surprised by her own hiccups, and sleeps like it’s going out of style. The closest thing I can compare to watching her in action is the experience of staring into a campfire — a miraculous, mesmerizing bundle of sudden responses to invisible stimuli that boggles the mind.
While spending two weeks with one baby by no means makes me an expert, I am now officially a user of the baby-caring experience. I have to say, I’ve been very impressed with the UI. From the moment of birth, it is immediately clear where food goes — watching her nurse instinctively in the first hour of her life was nothing short of amazing. And her post-digestive output makes itself pretty obvious too. If you miss the signs, don’t worry: an alert system comes standard. An ear-splitting, heart-wrenching wail lets you know that some form of discomfort is afoot and must be addressed pronto.
At this point, I’ve witnessed some pretty spirited cries. The effect this can have on the primal corners of your brain, particularly at 4am, cannot be overstated. Nonetheless, I’ve come to believe that babies get a bad rap when it comes to crying. In the movies, babies seem to cry all the time, for no discernible reason. But I’m not sure that’s a fair representation. When navigating the baby-caring experience, it seems to me — and makes intuitive sense, as all good navigation should — that when a baby cries, there’s a reason. It may not be immediately obvious, but it’s there somewhere. Either she’s hungry, she’s cold, or she needs to be changed. If it’s none of these things, maybe she needs to burp. Maybe her feet are cold. Whatever the cause, if you can suss it out and address it, you have a good chance of achieving your desired result: a happy, calm baby.
For example, when we first brought her home from the hospital, Rose would start wailing every time we changed her diaper. Now, diaper changing is never going to be a blast for anyone, but the extent of her distress over the whole thing was more than a bit disconcerting. After a couple of days, we picked up a wipe warmer, which plugs in and keeps the wipes at a nice warm temperature. Lo and behold, the wailing stopped. She’s still not exactly wild about the diaper changing process, but she’s a lot less bothered, goes to sleep more quickly afterward, and I imagine the neighbors must appreciate it too, especially in the wee hours.
Call me crazy (or sleep-deprived, take your pick), but I can’t help thinking there are some lessons from the baby-caring experience that could prove useful to those of us working to improve the value and usability of government websites. Lessons like:
- Communicate clearly and simply with your users
- Be sure your navigation makes intuitive sense
- Make it clear where users should enter information — and where they can collect it
- Form a bond with your users through social channels
- As with the wipes, a little warmth goes a long way
- When new content arrives, don’t just let it sit there — change your site!*
Overall, from the user perspective, I’m pleased to report that this baby of mine is pretty well designed. Although I reserve the right to take that back once she starts dating.
*Special thanks to Andy Gravatt for suggesting the final bullet in that list.
This post originally appeared on my personal blog.