I have migrated this blog to uxcube

August 19, 2009

I have set up a new website uxcube.com which now hosts all of my blog files. It’s still wordpress based, just a different domain.

Please visit http://uxcube.com/blog to continue reading my blog updates.

and http://www.uxcube.com to check out my portfolio or request, website design or optimisation services.


NNG Information architecture: navigation design

May 26, 2009

I recently attended the NNG Information architecture 2: navigation design seminar in London. It was very informative and particularly useful in getting you to think about those crucial questions when deciding on how to implement a navigation system. For example; is it appropriate, intuitive, accessible, coordinated, and consistent etc, what are the benefits of using this type of navigation and what will be the issues?

Here are just a few of the high-level points that came out of the seminar:

The navigation system does not exist in a vacuum; it is a system that supports the objectives and tasks of users of the site

Ok, this may seem pretty obvious but it is easy to get caught up in new design trends and then try to shoehorn your navigation into those designs. You need to make sure that the navigation model you choose is appropriate and fit for purpose.

For example, the carousel/film strip type navigation works for Disney’s website because the purpose of the site allows for a bit of fun, however deciding to use the filmstrip for a banking website perhaps wouldn’t be the most appropriate choice.

Consider the bigger picture

You may select a navigation system that will make your site more usable but will negatively impact on your SEO, consider which one is losing your company more revenue. The obvious choice for me would be one that has high usability and a positive impact on your SEO, but if this is not possible then of course you need to go for the option that is going to do less damage.

Less is more

Too many navigation options will impair interface usability. It is easy to think that it is more helpful to give the user a number of ways to find the same piece of information or product, but this is actually more confusing. The user has to analyse each option and can be bit overwhelmed by all the options;  just a give a clear and simple way in.

If you wouldn’t do it for ‘real’ then don’t do it online.

April 20, 2009

Businesses really must think about matching the online customer experience to the offline world.

Real life scenario

Imagine that you went to your local travel agent to book your summer holiday.

You told the travel agent the holiday you wanted and paid a deposit. The Agent then gave you a booking reference and told you when to pay the outstanding amount.

You return to the same travel agent to pay the outstanding amount on the due date. However, the agent tells you that because you have booked a sun holiday, you can’t pay for the outstanding amount there; you need to call this number or go to our other shop in the town.

I chose to go to the other shop in town and enquired how I get to the other shop. The agent gives a me a map of France, which is a little pointless because I’m in the South East of England. When I complain that the map is incorrect, The agent tells me “In this instance you will need to call reservations”.

No travel agent would allow this to happen in one of their shops, so why do they allow it to happen on their website? Apart from being completely frustrating, this is exceptionally bad customer service and would put me off going back next year to book my holiday.

How to make it better

Just three simple changes would make me a happy customer who would think about going back.

1. Allow me to make a final payment online. After all, I could make the deposit payment or I could have paid in full first time, so why can’t I pay the rest online while other types of holiday makers can?

As far as I could see from the web form, the booking reference was in a different format to the one allowed. If the issue is just as cosmetic as it seems, then this is really bad.

If it is database rules, then these too are easily changed. When I did eventually find my local shop to pay, the agent just entered my booking reference in to the system gave me the chip and pin device and it was done. It took all of 2 minutes (except the 20 minute walk to the shop).

2. Fix the map functionality online, just in case I do want to go in store

3. And finally, when I point out that the map isn’t working, don’t tell me to call reservations, it has nothing to do with reservations – I just want to use your map.

Business benefits

From this example there are a couple of clear business benefits:

1. Happy customers mean possible repeat business (who can afford to let their customers go to the competition?)

2. Reduced process costs – Was it really necessary for the shop staff and website customer service to be involved as well as the telephone reservation team to be on standby for one simple payment?

Usability, persuasion, emotion, and trust…

October 8, 2008

I was quite surprised when recently shopping on Amazon.co.uk to experience a few usability annoyances as well as buying a camera that I hadn’t intended to.

I was doing a bit of research on a particular camera I had seen elsewhere to see if I could get it cheaper. I was pretty convinced I was going to buy it; the decision was now from where. However, this changed when I spotted the user reviews. They ended up being pretty mixed, and someone suggested an alternative. So I checked out the alternative, which had all positive reviews and I ended up buying it.

This was totally against my initial intention or expectation and my decision to purchase was based upon my emotion as I was led by the user reviews.

However, basic usability was not great, what an awful screen where you enter you card details:

  • The layout felt weird, as the entry fields were laid out horizontally for, card type, name, number etc etc; and
  • There was bad error feedback: I missed something out (I think) because when I hit next/submit (whatever the button was called to get me to the next screen) I got an error message telling me there was something wrong with my details. So it cleared everything I had entered and didn’t tell me where or what was wrong, so I had to fill out all fields on this page again. How annoying:-(

It’s not a catastrophic usability error because I still completed my purchase, but it was annoying all the same. Maybe I made allowances because it was Amazon; because of the Brand I kind of trusted them a bit more, but if it a smaller and less well known site/company I’m not sure I would have continued.

Check out http://beyondusability.humanfactors.com/ where designing for persuasion, emotion and trust is thought to be essential when staying ahead.

Fitts’ law – ‘the science of the obvious’

March 6, 2008

Fitts’ law is about size and distance. The bigger and closer something is the easier is it to reach or in terms of screen design the easier it will be to click, whereas if it is smaller and further away it will be more difficult.

For example, when designing a form your primary action should be bigger and nearer, whereas something that you don’t want the users to click easily such as an undo or delete button (which could have catastrophic consequences) you make smaller and harder to reach.

Action buttons

If you want to know more listen to Jared Spool’s podcast at:

Calculate ROI on usability improvements

February 29, 2008

Just found these really useful calculators that work out the return on investment for you usability projects. The calculators can be used to measure things like:

  • reduced reliance on helpdesks
  • increased conversion rates
  • reduced training costs

The calculators have been put together by Human Factors International. http://www.humanfactors.com/training/roi.asp

A quick way to provide comments on a design

December 7, 2007

I just found a firefox extension called fireshot which is a really useful tool for grabbing a screenshot of any webpage and then allows you to add comments.

Performance is key to web usability

November 27, 2007

You can put up with poorly grouped information and bad design (to a certain extent) but make sure your customers can actually get into your site. Poor performance not only prevents customers from accessing your site, but also seriously damages credibility.

It has been my mission for the past week to try and access www.hm.com/, not because I want to shop (I may have wanted to in the beginning or at least browse) but because I tried to access it the other day and don’t think I’ve ever visited a website that has taken so long to get into. The site is flash based and takes an age to load.

Ok, I’ll give it a chance; maybe it’s just high traffic visiting the site or my broadband connection is a bit slow (even though I can still watch videos on you tube). So I’ll try later. Later came and I still couldn’t access it. Just get a flash loading bar that doesn’t move.


 I eventually get past the loading bar to get the following:


  Very helpful 😉

usability testing

October 30, 2007

I have been running a series of usability tests and I know I’m stating the obvious but you can’t underestimate the importance of them. I guess this is especially true for me who is the usability specialist that sits on the design team – of course I end up getting too close to the product.

I’ve tried not to get too close and remain objective. However, this has manifested itself in me being overly critical, where I was beginning to get seriously worried that we were way of the mark and with very little time to deliver, yet having the opportunity to run some tests this week with real end users has brought me back to a sense of realism.

September 19, 2007

I’ve just been trying to figure out the best place to position error validation messages on a data entry grid that looks like:


I would say that a validation message under each relevant field would be the most functional and is immediately clear to a user which field needs looking at. However, because of the restricted space it’s not very aesthetically pleasing. The problem here is that being aesthetically pleasing is also crucial to the user experience and more importantly to those that will sign off the application from a brand perspective.

Maybe a fresh pair of eyes will help tomorrow!