Monthly Archives: November 2011

Make an alternate form to register for nanny taxes and increase state tax revenue

Ah, the nanny tax. Some quick Google searches show a range of 80 to 95% of people who are obligated to pay the nanny tax, simply don’t. (NYTimes, ParentDish.com) That’s a pretty whopping statistic.

As I’ve been finding out, it would certainly be easier to just skip it. This past summer I hired a nanny for about six weeks. And, wanting to do the right thing, I decided I would deal with the paperwork and expense, and just pay her as a household employee and deal with the taxes. And that’s still the right thing to do.

But, wow, do I hate paperwork, and this stuff is over the top.

Thumbnail panels of form 518

Form 518 from the State of Michigan was a bit over the top. I just wanted to pay taxes for hiring a nanny for a few weeks.

For the State of Michigan, I found out I have to fill out form 518, Registration for Michigan Business Taxes. The title of the form alone caused some trepidation. As I proceeded to fill it out, I found myself frequently scratching my head, thinking things like, “Why are they asking me about acquiring a business in the past four years? I just wanted to pay taxes for hiring a nanny.” Or, “But I’m not a business. I’m not buying or selling anything. This is a money losing scenario for me. I just want to pay what I have to for hiring a nanny!”

So, there was form 518, plus two additional forms I had to fill out, just to jump through some hoops to register for Unemployment Insurance taxes.

It’s pretty obvious that those forms are meant for real businesses, not private individuals who want to pay a household employee. I was so close to hiring a lawyer or accountant, but that just seemed unreasonable to me, so out of proportion with the fact that I just wanted to pay a nanny.

Upon having gone through the paperwork, nearly all of it was completely irrelevant. The relevant pieces were mostly my name and address or oddly specific. For instance, I nearly didn’t find the SIC number that applies to my situation. On the second page of SIC codes, about two thirds of the way down the fourth column of codes I found 881: Private Households – Domestic Employees, Cleaning, Baby-sitting, Private Nursing. I’m glad I found it, because I was really close to just leaving that field on the form blank.

Perhaps to the government, paying a nanny is just like owning a business. But, to me that seems like a dandy of a one-size-fits-all blunder. If instead the only form that a private individual had to fill out in order to register for nanny taxes was a quarter-sheet size form with contact information, perhaps more people would actually fill it out.

Maybe it could be a special edition of the 518, called 518-PH, for Private Households. The rest of the pertinent 518 information could be presumed on that form, simply because people filling it out fit that profile. (For instance, it would imply SIC # 881.)

How many people looked at the paperwork, freaked out for a moment, and then just decided to skip it? The current form is quite simply a roadblock to tax revenue and to people who would like to do the right thing.

Much ado about phone numbers

Four approaches to styling phone numbers.

Here are four approaches to styling phone numbers. Which looks best to you?

Lately I’ve been thinking about formatting phone numbers. Of course, there are plenty of options in addition to the ones above, but these are some common ones, although the thin spaces option is perhaps not too common. I added it because I’ve been wondering about the value of the separator characters, and if we can just not use them in favor of a little white space.

Here is some of the thinking.

  1. The conventional formatting of (123) 456-7890 will obviously be a phone number to most Americans.
  2. I’m no fan of the dashes.
  3. I’m okay with the periods. However, are they needed?
  4. Which led me to try the version with thin spaces between each set of digits.

I like the thin spaces, but I don’t dislike the conventional version. So, for obviousness, I lean towards the convention. For aesthetic, I lean towards the thin spaces.

But part of the decision of which approach to go with will depend upon the context. For instance, is the phone number labeled with an obvious word like Telephone or Phone? If so, I might opt for the thin spaces version.

However, if the context is unclear, say in the absence of clear cues about what that number is, the conventional approach would be best. Otherwise, the number could be misinterpreted as some other number, or it might simply take the reader too much mental effort to recognize it as a phone number. No need for that sort of rudeness.

Clearly, this is all just my opinion. Do you have a preference for how phone numbers ought to be styled?

How can MI UPA, IxDA groups, and MichiCHI work together?

UX practitioners in the state of Michigan have an enviable problem. We have so many active professional groups that it’s easy to get confused by which one is doing what, exactly.

Which groups?

Each group organizes events for practitioners, students, and academics to gather together in order to network and learn from each other. It’s great!

But it is also a bit much to keep track of, and I’m not always clear on which group is sponsoring which event. After all, a great many people in the UX field do usability research and evaluation, interaction design, and are interested in research and theory. Thus, we tend to see a lot of overlap in attendees for events from any of these organizations.

So, during a conversation at work today, Caitlin, Alaina, and I hatched a rough concept. (Disclaimer: this post represents what I personally took away from that conversation. I invite Alaina and Caitlin to chime in on the comments below to correct my thinking and/or to add to this post.)

Here’s the gist: Loosely coordinate the efforts of these organizations by factors of geography, frequency, and approach to UX.

Factor: Geography

MI UPA is a state-wide association, so we hope that MI UPA events will be big enough to draw people from a wider area of Michigan. Of course, it is difficult to draw people from as far north as the Upper Peninsula (there are UXers up there, right?), but for a great deal of people in the state, an occassional drive to Lansing, Ann Arbor, Detroit, or Grand Rapids is acceptable if the event will be good enough.

However, IxDA is based on local groups. IxDA-Lansing, for instance, tends to draw people from the Lansing area and nearby areas like Owosso and Flint. IxDA-Grand Rapids will likewise draw people from that area.

MichiCHI is similar in geographic reach to MI UPA.

Factor: Frequency

Because of the geographic constraints, having frequent meetings is easier for IxDA local groups because attendees simply don’t have to drive that far. So, IxDA groups could meet monthly with greater ease, and they would be more relaxed.

However, because people would need to drive further to attend events by the statewide organizations, they could do better to meet perhaps quarterly or even less, leaving the more frequent get-togethers to the IxDA local groups. The expectation is that these less frequent events would be a bit more polished—more of an event than a meet up.

Factor: Approach to UX

What I mean by this phrase is whether the UX focus is more academic (MichiCHI), more focused on usability work (MI UPA), or more focused on interaction design (IxDA). Of course, because we’re all in the same general field, this breakdown should be taken with a pretty heavy grain of salt. But while we tend to operate as generalists in part, I personally appreciate opportunities in each area, so I think there is value in this distinction.

Coordinating events by these various groups

Sketch of idea for coordinating MI UPA, MichiCHI, and IxDA local groups in Michigan.

Sketch of idea for coordinating MI UPA, MichiCHI, and IxDA local groups in Michigan.

So, given these thoughts, here’s a proposal.

1. We embrace the IxDA local groups

Perhaps we could even create more. How about an IxDA-Detroit? IxDA-Marquette? IxDA-Houghton? (Trying to represent the U.P.) These IxDA groups would sate our appetite to meet frequently for networking, idea sharing, and teaching each other how we can do our work better. In the meantime, MI UPA and MichiCHI purposely slow down the pace and encourage participation in the more frequent IxDA events.

2. we help the state associations with less frequent, more formal events

These frequent IxDA groups can help generate the presentations that could then be shared state-wide at larger events sponsored by MI UPA or MichiCHI. The coordinators of each IxDA group could stay in touch with the events committees of MI UPA and MichiCHi and recommend excellent presentations. And these IxDA groups would help promote and recruit volunteers for the larger events put on by MI UPA and MichiCHI. These organizations are already putting on some awesome events like the annual Internet User Experience conference. Let’s pitch in and help them be even more awesome.

And how to coordinate between MI UPA and MichiCHI?

Beats me. Perhaps some of you have ideas?

Conclusion

We have a really great group of practitioners in Michigan, and we’re lucky to have these organizations actively promoting our field. With a little coordination for each group in light of the others, I think we can tune our professional organizations to work even better together.

Do you do UX work in Michigan? What are your thoughts?