Spent today fiddling around with Je-S. This is the web portal that a number of the research councils use to submit grants.

It’s a delightfully baroque and obscure piece of software. They appear to have worked very hard at the usability aspects — it would have been hard to make a system this unusable by random chance.

The system stores a grant in a two deep hierarchy with a small amount of information at the bottom of each. The end result of this is that you have to click down, then up, then down, then up to find out anything at all about exactly what is in the grant.

They also have this fabulous system for logins. Basically, if you login, and then don’t do anything for 20 minutes, Je-S will automatically log you out. This would be minorly irritated. The designers clear thought that this wasn’t good enough, so as well as loging out, it locks the entire system for another 20 minutes preventing you from loging back in. When it does this it tells you:

"This account is already in use. Please ensure other browser sessions are properly logged out before attempting to log in."

It clearly knows that you are not logged in because it logged you out, but obviously telling what you have actually done would be too much like hard work.

The whole idea of the portal is really good; we used to have to submit kilos of paperwork by post in quadruplicate. It’s amazing that some software engineers could take such a perfectly good idea and completely strangle it. They appear to have managed to make a user interface which is SO bad, that you hunger for the days of word docs and print-outs.

Originally published on my old blog site.