Catastrophic failure of information design. At least twice.

01 Jun

OK. Passport stuff is now out of my hands. Mum and I went in and physically collected the certificate, then I completed a new form and had it and my photo certified (again) by the local pharmacist. It’s all been sent off platinum express post with a begging letter saying just tell me what I need to do and I will do it. It may arrive before I leave, or it may not, in which case
(1) I will have lied on my application form (where I said I would be in Australia when the passport is issued – well I will be, if they do it in time); and
(2)  Fraser will have to bring it over to Germany for me. With a signed statement from me saying that he’s doing it with my permission, etc etc etc.

Now all I have is some bad photocopies to show that I have had a UK passport, ever.

Now that the deed is done, I can identify some failures of information design (and failures of me, to appropriately take in information).

Let’s start with the Victorian Bureau of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

Their website says, you can now apply online for (list of types of certificates). You beauty, I said, and clicked to open the application form.

What I did not do, and what I think is reasonable to not do, is read past the end of that list. To the sentence that says, you still have to send us proof of ID.

There was no reminder of that at the conclusion of my application.

There was no e-mail to me, reminding me of that. (Or, in my case, telling me)

And so, they processed my payment on May 13th, and happily did nothing while I waited for my certificate, unaware that they were expecting us to do something. 


If I had chased it up last week, I would have had it already 😦

My cock-up, definitely – but as a professional information designer, I give their listing a fail.

Anyway, then comes the UK government. Who are so good at web stuff in general, but just failed here.

In applying for a passport, there’s a web page with information about what you have to supply. That page includes links to a downloadable form, downloadable notes on how to fill out the form … and a checklist.

BUT that web page – it turns out – also includes information that is not on the form, not in the notes, and not in the checklist.

Bad information design. You download the form, the notes, the checklist, then work from them. At least, that’s what I do. Double ugh. I spent half an hour searching their website this morning and missed that stuff every time.

ALSO – when do you read a checklist? I read it at the end of a process, when I am CHECKING that I have done the things I had to do. 

And so, I read it today.

The UK Passport form says “Must be completed in ink” – so I did. Blue ink.

The very very last item on the checklist page says “Check that you used BLACK ink to complete the form.”


The very officious person at the passport office said “Oh but ALL forms and official documents have to be completed in black ink these days.” – and refused to even acknowledge that it is reasonable to consider that the category “ink” includes “blue ink”.

Try telling that to the Victorian Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages, where I completed a form using their supplied blue pen.

Anyway. My application has been sent off. They got


  • 1 signed checklist;
  • 1 payment sheet, with credit card number for payment;
  • 1 original application form, with photocopy;
  • 1 original of my birth certificate, with photocopy;
  • 1 original of my dad’s birth certificate, with photocopy;
  • 1 original of my UK passport, with photocopy;
  • 1 original of my parents’ marriage certificate, with photocopy;
  • 2 photos, 1 certified;
  • 1 colour photocopy of my driver’s licence and medicare card;
  • 1 platinum express post return envelope, addressed to me; and
  • 1 cover letter.


They quote 15 working days for processing.

That would see my passport sent off on Tuesday 23rd, the day before I leave, in an envelope that guarantees delivery before 12 noon the next day.

My flight is at 11, so I will leave home at 10.

I now have two potential plans.

1. I included a pathetic, please please please note, asking whether there was any way if they would expedite processing the passport, even offering to fly to Canberra if that would help. (hope I have enough frequent flyer points!). They may, possibly, take pity on me. (Although the person I spoke to said that they only do that if there is a death … still, I said I need it to enrol my kids in school).

2. If the passport has been shipped (I have a tracking number), I will get on the phone to the  courier company and beg them to deliver it early, or offer to collect it from their depot or meet their courier somewhere. Or beg Fraser to fly it to Sydney for me – we transit there 🙂

Meanwhile, maybe I should start on the evidence requirements for long stay Schengen visas. That means:

  • Application forms, 2 completed copies. Per person.
  • 2 recent passport photos
  • Our passports
  • Visa fees (60 E each)
  • Copies of our return tickets and/or itineraries
  • An invitation letter from friends in Germany, or hotel/tour reservation (I think our lease would qualify here)
  • Proof of sufficient funds for the stay (3 months of bank statements) (probably also a letter from Fraser’s employer, confirming that he will be back to work in December).
  • Proof of travel insurance
  • Police clearance certificates (for the 4 of us) – at least these are the non-fingerprint kind
  • Doctor’s Certificate (certifying that you are a good state of health and free of contagious diseases)
    – A self-addressed Express Post Envelope or a Prepaid Courier Satchel for the return of your

    Doctor’s certificate, confirming that we are in good health. 

That’s what I’ll need if I don’t have my UK passport. It won’t hurt to have a police clearance and a doctor’s certificate (and maybe the children’s immunisation records), anyway.

It *almost* seems easier.

The lesson of the story: Even if I never travel again? I am going to always ensure I have a valid UK passport.


Posted by on June 1, 2009 in rant, travel


6 responses to “Catastrophic failure of information design. At least twice.

  1. Gerald

    June 2, 2009 at 2:07 am

    I’m glad my foreign travel is limited to Canada, from the U.S.! However, our passports are out of date, and we need to get new ones, if we plan to visit Canada next year. It’s a lot easier to do that than to go through your ordeal. Sure hope it all works out well for you.

  2. Melissa

    June 2, 2009 at 8:00 am

    You know, I think “always have a valid passport” is a good rule of thumb anyway. Renewals are – supposedly – much easier than initial applications. (My old passport is so far out of date, it is not considered a renewal)

  3. Klaus

    June 2, 2009 at 10:38 pm


    if you happen to need an invitation letter just drop me a line…


    • Melissa

      June 2, 2009 at 10:51 pm

      Thanks! I think I’m OK (it seems to be either a lease or an invitation letter that is required, and I now have a lease) but I will keep that in mind 🙂

  4. Linnaeus

    June 3, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    At the risk of rubbing salt in your wounds, I just got my own passport (Canadian for those readers that don’t know me) and I was impressed at how smoothly it all went. It was even processed and sent to me in less than two weeks from when I gave the government office my application.

    • Melissa

      June 3, 2009 at 9:08 pm

      Touch wood, the girls’ Australian passports (which have been witnessed & applied for) will be as simple as yours was.

      The only problem there was me being dumb and missing the declaration that the principal of their school had to sign.


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