One big critical mistake…

September 13, 2007

I’m really in rant mode at the moment. I have just tried to buy a ticket from http://www.southernrailway.com/ and I suggest that you don’t try. I entered my details and it crashed, which immediately sent my blood pressure through the roof! Have they taken my payment or not? When the site came back it gave me the following message:

“There were ERRORS

You have recently made a purchase with similar details, order reference xxxxxx. If you wish to request confirmation of this orders details, please use the contact us form.

If you would like to continue with the current order, please click buy”.

The same order number that I used a few weeks ago! So, what is going on?

No, I don’t want to use their contact form for them to respond in 10 days, I want to know now, if I have made a booking or not and if they have taken my money.

Rant over, anxious feeling not. A lesson to be learnt by companies building transactional websites is don’t compromise on usability or performance when dealing with people’s money and personal details, it is extremely damaging to trust and credibility.

And no I won’t use them again.

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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.

http://www.uie.com/articles/kill_good_design

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
http://juicystudio.com/services/colourcontrast.php#contrast

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

I’m confused…

June 29, 2007

I’m looking to buy a new car, so I thought I would do a bit of online research. I went onto the Toyota website, which is quite a good site overall. However I was looking at customising a car and clicked on the options tab, where I was presented with what looked like it should have been a list of options, but instead there was one item ‘no options’ with a checkbox next to it. I really don’t get it. Why should I select no options? By not selecting anything then that is no options, isn’t it? Furthermore, why is there no other options to select in an options box?

no options list

Google mini error

June 20, 2007

I’m currently working on a project to improve search engine results of a website and we decided to go with Google mini as the technology that makes it all work. Google as a brand have a great reputation, however I’m disappointed with the product. We have encountered numerous issues with it and currently are unable to use it due to an error that keeps closing the connection. Not only that, Google’s help documentation is not particularly helpful and their support centre is slow to respond.

I would be hard pressed to recommend Google mini as solution in the future.

It would be good to hear if anyone has experienced any difficulties with the product and found a solution the following error message:

‘The underlying connection was closed: Unable to connect to the remote server’

Don’t forget the basics…

June 4, 2007

I recently tried to book a car using Avis’ online booking form. Great, they had a special weekend deal, so I clicked through, changed a few dates and car types ( the postbacks weren’t too annoying as I knew it was meant to be doing something!) and then I noticed a dialogue box (see below) telling me to read the terms and conditions on the previous page. OK, where is the link? After all isn’t this one of the advantages of the web; a connection of pages through hyperlinking. There isn’t one, so I’ll use the back button, but of course, it is no longer the previous page because I have searched for different car types and dates.

By not forgetting the basics; a simple hyperlink, would have made my experience much less frustrating.

Avis pointer text to terms and conditions

Web application design

May 30, 2007

I’ve just come across a book that looks quite interesting.

Designing the obvious: a common sense approach to web application design, by Robert Hoekman, jr.

I’m planning to read sometime this week and will let you know what I think.

Content governance in a decentralised authoring environment

May 23, 2007

Many organisations are now implementing content management systems (CMS), which allow business departments to publish their own content. However, sustaining content usability in a decentralised authoring environment can be tricky and as such it is important that there is some kind of governance over the content that is published.

A comprehensive styleguide is crucial in setting standards and advising content contributors on how to present their content. Additionally, CMS technology is powerful in that most of them will allow for some kind of workflow to be implemented whereby content cannot be published until it has been approved.

However, even with these controls in place, how can an organisation be sure that the content contributors and approvers are following these guidelines and taking their role seriously? Most of the time it is not a full time role, it is an additional role to their job profile.

I have had numerous conversations about content governance and how best to implement it. One suggestion being that the web team as the managers of the website/intranet perform ‘dip tests’ whereby on an ad hoc basis they review content and if it doesn’t come up to scratch they can delete it.

I’m not convinced that this is particularly helpful. By deleting a department’s content, you will run into a number of conflicts and alienate the content contributors. A better way is encourage authors to follow the style guide and keep communication flowing between all content contributors so that they are aware of what else is being published, which will help avoid duplication and/or inconsistent messages.

This could be achieved by having a monthly forum of intranet editors which includes:

  • A review of what’s been published that month;
  • The web team can present tips and tricks for writing for the web and using the technology;
  • It gives contributors a chance feedback what they think works and doesn’t work to the web team; and
  • will allow them to develop their understanding of the overall purpose of the website and communication strategy/ brand etc and the importance of these to an organisation.

It’s never going to be just one thing…

May 14, 2007

A good search facility is essential to good usability. I am currently working on a project to improve the search facility of an intranet and we decided to buy Google mini as the technology that sits behind the scenes. Great – it’s a powerful tool, (aside from the authentication issues that we had a headache trying to get round due to the unusable and pretty useless help documentation that is provided with the product) however, we are now presented with the problem that the search is now so good that it is finding and displaying huge amounts of out of date content that has been published without meaningful titles. For example meeting minutes from 1998 with the heading [Enter title]!

So now we have a clean up operation. Time consuming and a cumbersome task, but not too much of a big deal. What is a big deal is where we go from here with content governance in a decentralised authoring environment.