Clear as Mud: Things We Should Have Learned from Steve Harvey

Over the Christmas break Imad, our resident techie, built a fabulous prototype for SettleIn. The app allows users to choose a module that helps them work towards a goal. For our protoype we trialled how to help a user can quickly identify the steps towards transferring a driving licence from overseas, registering for Medicare and getting a bank account. Within each module the user ticks off steps ranging from selecting the right documents to take with you, to booking appointments to online forms to ensure that users don't get caught out by complicated instructions. We learned a lot during the process of building the app. On a technical side we found that the process of connecting the user and the supporter around a goal would require the same underlying plumbing for each module.

However, for the actual content, each user is going to need clear and concise instructions that clearly explain and guide the individual towards a personalised goal. That is going to take a lot of work because, as it turns out, making things easy isn’t actually very easy.

This post was inspired by Steve Harvey’s achingly awkward mistake at the 2015 Miss Universe contest, where he wrongly crowned Miss Colombia the winner only to revoke her crown publicly just minutes later. The video is on Youtube, but I won’t link it here because it makes me cringe so much I can’t actually watch the entire thing (for reference - I used to watch The Office from behind a pillow). After Harvey made many, many headlines last year, The Hustle posted an interesting op-ed piece about how the instructions he had been given had set him up to fail:

In a high pressure situation would you know exactly what to read out? Image via @darrenrovell

The problem is that it’s easy to be lazy when we write instructions. Writing clearly, concisely and simply takes real effort – and should result in shorter, clearer writing. It can mean relearning what we expect to get out of our input, as although we may feel like we should have several pages of content if we have worked for several hours, several hours can often be better spent making complicated instructions cleaner and easier to use.

This month we are going to begin working closely with SSI case workers and clients in Parramatta. Our biggest challenge will be figuring out how we make the highly complicated tasks involved with settling in a new country very simple. The quicker we can get people through the multitude of tasks they need to complete when they arrive, the quicker they can get on with really living here, and that's what we care about.

Now if only we could get hold of a clear set of steps towards achieving that goal…