My Carnegie Mellon rec letter submission adventure

Try saying *that* three times fast. Also, keep in mind that Carnegie Mellon is actually a prestigious and well-respected university and dersrvedly so. That’s why the story I am about to regale you in is so bizarre. It just keeps falling down a HCI rabbit hole form which it never escapes.

I had originally intended to post something different for this week’s random design example, however yesterday I was asked to submit a letter of recommendation for one of my former students to Carnegie Mellon’s MSIT eBusiness Technology graduate program, which by itself is a mouthful.

No problem; I have done many of these before. Little did I realize that I was going to be in for an adventure.

Right off the bat, it had me submit my letter, which had to be either in Word or pdf format, which was their restriction. I uploaded a Word document, and was told that format was not valid. I converted it to pdf, and that worked.

Next, I was asked to fill out some pseudo-Likert-scale questions which is common, and at the bottom of the page was a button labeled [Save Info], as seen below.

Save info button

The thing is, when I clicked that button, it just reloaded the page, putting me back at the top with a button labeled [Return to Recommendations]. No submit, no send, just…return.


Clicking that took me back to the main page where I started, and where it still said “Select a student to provide a letter of recommendation.’ But I had already done that, and in fact it indicated the submission date right underneath, next to the student’s name. I received no confirmation, no clue as to the status of the application, or whether it had actually been completed and gone through. How many of Neilsen’s or Schneiderman’s rules does that violate?


So, being the person I am, I decided I would click the link labeled ‘Report a Technical problem’ at the bottom, not minding their free-spirited use of capital letters. Doing so took me to a page that declared in bright yellow highlighting ‘Invalid e-mail address.’ Keep in mind I had not entered an email address, I only clicked the link. Did something happen I’m not aware of? Which e-mail address, if any, is it considering to be invalid? Could it even be the one to which the form submits? On top of that, the text box is red! This just gets better and better.

Is that a red (pink, actually) text box?


To top it all off, the message I entered in the red text box above ultimately got sent to…you guessed it…me.

Well hello there


I sent another email to a contact email I found on the main page, and the follwing day received a response that all had gone through. What a travail. This was the most excruciating recommendation process I’ve ever experienced. I expect more from such a prestigious university as Carnegie Mellon. At least it made for a good learning experience for us all.

(Originally written for my graduate Advanced Design and Prototyping course at UCI).