Bad Visual Controls Example: Software


I know this picture is a bit hard to see, but here's one for you software folks out there.

See the icons on the top of the screen? The developers got cute and put in little icons to represent common functions. The problem is, people couldn't figure out the icons, so someone took a label maker and put words on the monitor. The grouping of test tubes, of course that means “Patients”. The cute chart means “Calibrate”, of course.

I'd say this isn't very “lean” software, if I can use that term. I'd say icons and elements on a screen should follow the rule of Visual Controls in a lean setting: the visual controls should be clear and obvious to an outsider. That means using abbreviations or symbols that the average person can understand. Posted by Picasa

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. wow, that’s scary. can’t say I haven’t experienced the same frustrations a time or two myself (e.g. function not popping up after resting the cursor over it etc). Seems that many interface designers are into the creative rather than utility aspects.

  2. Interesting, but common. Even modern enterprise resource planning programs are slow to adapt lean concepts. It makes you wonder how much time is wasted and errors introduced into the process when programs like this are put on the plant floor.

  3. Bad visual controls are a common element in many lean manufacturing software programs. Visual controls need to be clear and concise to help eliminate waste and costly steps in the process. The key is clear communications that eliminate waste. I found this company Premier Autoworkers to be at the forefront of visual controls for lean manufacturing. They have im plemented visual control programs for General Motors that are saving GM millions.


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