Who can help me?

When we reached out to CHOICE members, someone told us about how they didn’t know whether to ask Apple or their internet provider for help when their Mac Mini wouldn’t connect to the internet. Devices like the Mac Mini have network diagnostic tools that can point to where a problem might be, but these often don’t have a view of everything on a network.

We sketched a service that helps people understand where the problem is. We imagined the service would sit on a router, because it’s an object that knows a lot about the overall state of our home network. If someone was experiencing a problem using the internet, they could turn to this service to find out what and where the problem was, as well as who to ask for help.

This is the sketch we built to explore this problem. Click on a device to see our approach to helping people contact the right organisation to fix a problem.

Router, connection or device?

We reflected on our own experiences with problems like this, and it usually involves trying things again, turning devices off and on and testing the internet on another device. This sketch aims to shorten the journey people go through to fix the connection.

Besides testing this service, we were also thinking about what datasets might be needed to support a product like this. A database of service providers and their contact details would be essential, something the Australian telecoms regulator has, but in a hard-to-use format. This sketch also gave us the chance to test the network map interface we thought about in our prototype of The Log.

To help us understand the process people might go through to identify the cause of a connection problem, we created a scenario and a user journey map. (Photo: Ian Hutchinson/IF)

How people responded

The most common piece of feedback we got was that people wanted more detail. There were two reasons why. Some people said it’d be useful to know what they could do themselves; calling a help desk or an engineer takes time and often doesn’t solve a problem quickly. Others wanted more detail so they could read that to the person they’ve contacted for help.

Some suggested that the service should try fixes for them, rather than just say there’s a problem. This touches on a bigger design question around how proactive something like this should be. We also found people wanted the service to be more confident in the way it described a problem. Using words like “may” made people feel uncertain.

As a test for the kind of interface we developed for The Log, it was really useful. Using a clickable symbol to represent each device didn’t feel natural to most people we tested this with.

These are useful insights that we used to refine our later ideas, but something else emerged that we didn’t consider before.

The sketch assumes that when people have a problem using the internet they’ll try and find out why. But a lot of people just wait it out. A few people we talked to said “I’d wait five minutes. Or turn it on and off again”. That was a prompt to think about how we could tell people about more serious or long-term connection problems.

The wireless diagnostic tool in macOS. It prompts people to “contact the network owner”. (Photo: Screenshot/Apple).

Trust is valuable

In our conversations, we found that many people don’t trust the way that devices tell them about problems. Why they didn’t trust them was really illuminating.

For some, the lights on their router or the diagnostic tool on their computer were alienating. They use jargon or design patterns that aren’t easy to understand, or seemed really abstract. They don’t usually give people advice about how to fix a problem, so they just felt like smoke and mirrors.

Others said they didn’t trust it when the tool told them the problem was somewhere else. For instance, if an Apple product tells you to contact your network provider, are they just shifting the blame? They also told us that they might not trust this kind of information on a phone or laptop. A router felt like a “neutral” home.

For CHOICE, I think this is a really valuable finding. They’re in a position where they can authoritatively say “The problem is here, not here”. To people in need of support, they don’t have a conflict of interest.

We considered these findings as we built our second design sketch, exploring the question “Is my broadband slow at particular times?”