Archive for the ‘usability’ Category

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 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 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.

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!

lose the fluff… users don’t see it

September 7, 2007

I was just thinking about whether I find the new hotmail login page slightly annoying or not. You now have to click over your account name to reveal the password input box, which is kind of unnecessary, let me see where I need to type straight away in order for me to complete my goal; logging into my hotmail account.

However, what also dawned on me is that I look at this page, probably daily, if not every other day and have no clue to what the two columns that precede the login box are for. I know they are there by remembering the page’s visual layout, but I have never read any of the detail.

Just brings home the point that it’s crucial to keep your pages task and goal focused. I’m not saying that the hotmail page doesn’t do this, because now I’m intrigued I’ve taken another look and can see that the one in the middle is about signing up to hotmail. However, I have forgotten what was in the first column already?

barriers to usability

August 22, 2007

Just read a great article, Ten ways to kill good design, which is well worth a look.

It is really important to explain the benefits of usability and steps involved very clearly. I think that for some organisations that take on board the concept of usability there is still a lack of understanding of what it is. I have often heard Usability referred to as making something ‘easy to use’, although this is true it doesn’t allow for a fuller understanding of what it is or the steps involved.

When I have come into a project that has already commenced (already a bit too late) I find myself having to redefine or educate people about what usability actually is as they speak about making it easy to use and what they think is easy to use. This can be a dangerous place to be as personal preferences and opinions have already been accepted as part of the design from people that are too close to the product and have a deep understanding of how it should work.

The customer, however, doesn’t usually have the same understanding when they first use a product.

Business reps that see usability as making something easy to use or being about what people do and don’t like can cause problems as their lack of understanding will influence the timescales given to and at what stage the ‘easy to use’ bit is scheduled in the project plan; usually far later than is beneficial.

How much does usability contribute to credibility?

July 26, 2007

I found this fantastic tool to test the contrast between colours used on a website

I have been relying on this tool and using the findings to form a base for my arguments in accessibility audits that I have carried out.

What struck me is that I haven’t really invested any time in deciding whether I trust these findings or not. They have placed the W3C recommendations as a guide about acceptable tolerances of colours:

((Red value X 299) + (Green value X 587) + (Blue value X 114)) / 1000

This really doesn’t mean much to me. I haven’t taken the time to understand what this means or in fact read it in any detail, I have just taken it as fact that the tool is using this algorithm and is producing accurate results for me.

So what has made me trust this?

  • a word of mouth recommendation; and
  • its reference to the W3C

What makes me use it and keep on using it?

  • the subconscious trust I have as a result of the above; and
  • it gives me results, fast