Searching for faucet parts, or, tapping into results

Job aids are part of a broader category called performance support.

Performance support is a tool or other resource, from print to technology-supported, which provides just the right amount of task guidance, support, and productivity benefits to the user—precisely at the moment of need.

– Marc J. Rosenberg,
At the Moment of Need: The Case for Performance Support
(eLearning Guild membership required).

The faucet in question
The faucet in question

I came across a great example of effective performance support thanks to… a loose faucet handle.

That handle on my kitchen faucet needed to be in just the right position or the faucet would drip. I noticed some wear and wondered if I could get replacement parts.

This is a Moen faucet, but I didn’t have the model name, and I couldn’t find the part number.

I went to Moen’s website, and I was impressed enough with how it dealt with my situation that I’m discussing it here.

If you’re supporting performance, you start with the performance you think needs some support. At a minimum, this means you need to know what gets accomplished and who’s going to accomplish it.

I think it’s helpful to explore why (as in, what’s the result for, and likely, who’s the client or recipient of the result), but that’s a topic for another post. This time, the ultimate client is me, a person with a leaking faucet.

Moen’s approach to performance support

At the bottom of Moen’s home page, you find this:

Need support?
Need support?

Moen can find a product by name (the Align faucet) or by model number (the 7565 series). The box on the left has a link to help you find the model number.

These are the fast paths to finding information: assuming you’ve got the right name or number, you’re well on the way. But I didn’t have either of these things, so the right-hand box was waving to me with its practical button, “Identify my product.”

Let's start by finding your product
Let’s start by finding your product

I could think of many ways to categorize faucets and related parts, but this is a truly consumer-focused question: what room are we in?

Which room are we in?
Which room are we in?

“Kitchen” was the choice, of course. (I don’t know if Moen makes outdoor faucets, but if that’s what I was looking for, I’d choose the “laundry and utility” category and see.)

Two things I noticed at this point. First, we’ve only got those Moen products you’d find in the typical kitchen: faucets, and garbage disposals.

Less obvious, at the top of this image, under the word category: there are 1868 possible items. That’s a lot of stuff to sort through. I clicked “kitchen faucets.

What kind of faucet?
What kind of faucet?

I really like this combination of text and images to help guide me in refining my search. Just by choosing kitchen faucet, I’ve reduced the possible items by a third (from 1868 to 1222). I might not have been aware of what a pot filler faucet is, but now I have an idea. And if I’m not clear on the difference between a kitchen sink faucet and a beverage faucet, I can always choose “not sure.”

Kitchen sink it is.

I’ve eliminated another 50 possible faucets, and the invisible expert nudges me along. I don’t have to know much about plumbing to count handles. My own faucet (remember, the one with the leak?) had one.

Pull out or pull down?
Pull out or pull down?

Continuing down the logic path, we’ve eliminated about half the possible matches from that first screen. As far as I can tell, the big difference between pullout faucets and pulldown ones is the height of the faucet. Mine was clearly a pulldown.

Select a finish
Select a finish

Only 314 faucets, and only 10% of them have a chrome finish.

36 chrome faucets
36 chrome faucets

When I scrolled through the results, though, I didn’t find my own faucet. It turns out Moen was prepared for further inquiry, which I probably could have chosen earlier.

Show discontinued products
Show discontinued products

More responses this time. I paged through the list, and if you compare the photo I started with with this result, you’ll see I have the discontinued Trianna faucet.

Is this a job aid? And if not, does it matter?

Job aids are one form of performance support. My definition is that they contain information external to the performer, used on the job to reduce the need for memorization while enabling results.

Moen’s support page definitely supports the goal of finding a particular faucet. All the information is external. In a sense, there’s no memorization, assuming that you know what a faucet is, what the rooms are, and so on.

Moen’s search isn’t intended to guide plumbing professionals so much as consumers. For them, digging out faucet information is not part of their job. It’s a potential obstacle on the way to a result like finding faucet parts or locating a family of models (say,  to find kitchen faucets that match the bathroom ones).

So the difference I see is relatively minor. The performance is infrequent, and nearly all the information got built into a system such that the search (and the guided decisions) seem like part of the task, rather than explicit suggestions on how to go about the task. The built-in aspect is a different way of handling “external information” than placing it into a job aid that someone uses along with the system or tools that enable the accomplishment.

What’s common to either approach is a highly detailed analysis that in this case made the faucet search flow smoothly.



How to write instructions (Dana Chisnell’s field guides for voting)


A few months ago, I came across a series of “field guides” related to voting. These were developed by Dana Chisnell of UsabilityWorks as a result of research she conducted with Ginny Redish for the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

I’m particularly interested in this topic because I worked as an election judge (the Maryland term for a precinct worker) during four elections, including two as a chief judge (one of the two chiefs at my precinct).

I’m pretty sure most voters have no inkling of the multitude of tasks and procedures that precinct workers — almost always volunteers, despite a small stipend for their effort — must try and carry out in order to ensure that people can exercise their right to vote.

The Field Guide series, “essentials that local election officials” can use when trying to apply ballot design guidelines to real life, have been edited by Dana Chisnell of UsabilityWorks. From Civic Design’s site you can download PDFs of four guides:

Designing usable ballots
Writing instructions voters understand
Testing ballots for usability
Effective poll worker materials

I want to highlight some of the recommendations from “Writing Instructions Voters Understand.” These make great sense in most job-aid and performance-support contexts, and the Field Guide provides detailed examples for the individual recommendations.


You can’t tell easily from the PDF, but in the printed Field Guide, illustrations and examples appear on the left-hand page, and instructions on the right, like this:

example voter instruction field guide pp 8 9

So you see the example in context on the left, and then you get details about it on the right.

At the beginning of the ballot, explain how to change a vote, and that voters may write in a candidate.

I think of this as a “before you begin” instruction. The voter might not be thinking about making errors or changing her mind; having this notice at the outset increases likelihood that she’ll recall it during the voting process.

Put instructions where voters need them.

This advice could sound like “be nice,” but the Field Guide gives specific examples:

  • Break instructions into groups. (No lumbering blocks of text.)
  • On paper ballots, put turn-over instructions at the bottom right-hand corner.
  • On electronic ballots, put instructions for writing in a candidate on the write-in screen.

Include information that will prevent voters from making errors.

Here’s a before-and-after approach that shows the stark contrast between insider focus and customer (or voter) focus:


If you tear, or deface, or wrongly mark this ballot, return it and obtain another. Do not attempt to correct mistakes on the ballot by making erasures or cross outs. Erasures or cross outs may invalidate all or part of your ballot. Prior to submitting your ballot, if you make a mistake in completing the ballot or wish to change your ballot choices, you may obtain and complete a new ballot. You have a right to a replacement ballot upon return of the original ballot.


If you make a mistake, ask a poll worker for another ballot.

Use short, simple everyday words.

While I do enjoy the occasional eyeroll in the director of St. George of Orwell’s prescriptionism, Chisnell’s definitely on the right track.

Particularly with the example: Avoid jargon, such as “over vote,” “under vote,” and “partisan.”

Write in the active voice, where the person doing the action comes before the verb.

Note that this guideline is itself an example of avoiding jargon. The average person isn’t good at providing an example of an active verb as opposed to a passive one.

Write in the positive.

Directly from the guide: Tell voters what to do rather than what not to do.


If that oval is not marked, your vote cannot be counted for the candidate.


You must fill in the oval for your vote to count.

When giving instructions that are more than one step, make each step an item in a numbered list.

It’s a lot harder for people to keep track of where they are in a bulleted list than in a number one.

When steps are a sequence, number the steps. That’s what the numbers are for: showing each item’s place within the sequence.

If sequence is not important, then use bullets.

An everyday example: the ingredients in a recipe appear before the steps. The ingredients are usually listed in the order you’ll use them, but they don’t have to be, because (presumably) the steps in the recipe will tell you when to add the carrots and when to add the vinegar.

My thanks to Dana Chisnell for agreeing to have the Field Guides included in the Ensampler.