Transforming lives through digital literacy.

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ere is an inside look into the experience of technology trainer Cordelia McGee-Tubb as she volunteers as a Teaching Assistant at the Canon Kip Senior Center basic skills computer class.

A few weeks ago, a woman came in who wanted help logging into her Gmail account and sending an email. I quickly rehearsed in my mind the short series of steps to complete this process so I could walk her through them as clearly as possible. But alas! Once we followed my outlined steps of going to gmail.com, typing in her username and password, and clicking Sign in, we were greeted not with her inbox but with a page asking us to associate her cellphone number with her email account. This screen was confusing for her because it broke our expected flow of logging in, viewing her inbox, and clicking the Compose button from the inbox. We read through the cellphone number page, determined she didn’t want to link the two at this time, found and clicked a button to ignore this setup step, and continued onto her inbox.

Now, I thought to myself, she can just click the big red Compose button and start typing her email! Easy! But again there was another blocker to our goal. The inbox loaded with a large box pointing out the new “Hangout” chat features, and in order to continue using her inbox, she had to click a button to close the box. The text in the box describing the new feature was very casually phrased, as if a young 20-something were explaining this new social feature to one of her friends, and I could tell it wasn’t clear how this was relevant to a senior citizen who was just trying to send an email. After she read through this text and closed the Hangout box, this woman could finally click the big red Compose button to start writing a new email.

The blank canvas for the new email popped up in the bottom right corner of the screen, a change from Gmail’s old behavior of replacing the inbox screen with the blank canvas screen. This change was a little unexpected, but she handled it well and was soon able to start typing her new email and, some time later, to send it.

Cordelia has taken her experience in the Canon Kip lab and is applying it to her personal interests. Let’s hear what she has to say in more of her own words.

I wanted to write out each thing that happened to show how much small “improvements” to commonly used services can affect someone’s workflow. For frequent users of Gmail, especially those well-versed with the constantly changing nature of websites, these popups are a minor nuisance but easily dismissed. However, for people who do not use Gmail regularly, these popups are disorienting and can distract one from one’s goals.

Lately, in my free time, I’ve been reading a lot about user experience, particularly how to design websites such that it’s easy for the site’s users to accomplish their tasks there. This tutoring session on Gmail was really helpful for me (and I hope it was helpful for her!) because it allowed me to see firsthand how the introduction of new features can complicate things for users, and it got me thinking about ways to make changes without breaking existing flows.

A big thank you to Cordelia for all her hard work as a technology trainer at Canon Kip Senior Center!

Volunteer Spotlight: Cordelia McGee-Tubb

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Arielle Helffrich