Dumb and Dumber: a usability lesson from the phone system.
Not terribly long ago the local telephone company in Kansas City introduced ten-digit dialing. Up to that point, phone system users within the Kansas City metro had been able to ignore the area codes that divide the city, dialing only the significant [and significantly easier to remember] seven digits.

I’m certain that I’ve been using the ten-digit system for more than a year, and still I find it bothersome. There is some part of my nervous system that has associated dialing a three-digit area code with placing a long-distance call… and accordingly dials a 1 first, and then the ten-digit number. When I do, the call is answered by a scratchy tape-loop [almost certainly an old analog recording that was digitized, replete with pops, hisses and scratches] informing me that it’s “not necessary to dial a one or a zero or [incorrectly] an area code when dialing this number…” Would I “please hang up and dial again?”

Clearly, the phone switching system understood precisely what I intended to dial… after all, I didn’t fail to provide dialing information, I provided more than was necessary. Why, then, would the design of the system refuse to actually place the call? Do what I meant!

I’m certain the intent of this scheme is to educate the user. Such an education could be accomplished far better by playing a speedy and cheerful “Remember, there’s no need to dial one for a local number…” and then completing the call.

I feel foolish for making the mistake already. Don’t make me feel worse by lecturing me… and don’t give me the opportunity to make the same mistake all over again by forcing me to hang up and redial.

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