User Interface Design, and my neighbor’s Voyeur Alarm.

You know that sound the TV makes when they do the Emergency Broadcast System test? It’s specially designed by Science, to make everyone hearing it stop what they are doing, and LOOK. (The involuntary adrenaline dump is a free bonus)

A family living across the street have an alarm system, and that sound is part of the noise it makes. Only very, very loud. This sonic backdrop is interrupted, every few seconds, by a computerized voice saying something urgent but unclear.

The cats hate the noise, and so do I, so I go look out the window to see just wtf is going on. I hear a loud, computerized voice say, “VOYEUR! VOYEUR! VOYEUR!”, and then the baseline noise comes back.

Um, ok. That’s kind of interesting… I’m suddenly fascinated by the idea of a voyeur alarm, given that (I think predictably…), now *everyone* is looking. There are even people leaving their yards and walking over to, and then around, the noisy house. Everyone seems very interested.

I didn’t just fall off the truck, and in this age of cell phone video, I refuse to walk over and look in the windows of a house that’s yelling “VOYEUR! VOYEUR! VOYEUR!” every few seconds, as several of the neighbors are now doing. (“Dateline”, anyone?)

I hear sirens approaching. I begin to regret that my cell phone doesn’t do video.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, the entry-level computerized voice is actually trying to say “Fire”.

If you are designing a security system, and the intent is to alert people some distance away, make sure you can actually get the message there, and that when it arrives, the recipients can figure out just what the hell you want.

Take a moment to consider how this information will be received, as Laurie Anderson does in her excellent piece, Mach 20.

 

Anything else is just bad performance art.

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