Thursday, January 15, 2009

Automatic check-in machines (and third runway rant)

Speaking of usability, those automatic check-in machines could do with a redesign. Supposedly meant to reduce lines at check-in counters, a quick informal survey among friends, family and acquaintances finds that no-one uses them. The reason? Either they find them "confusing" (this from people who also find many web sites confusing) or they have had negative experiences, the worst one being completing the whole check-in process only for the machine to crash just before it has spit out the boarding pass. Result: you still have to go queue and have wasted time both doing something for nothing and because while you were doing this, other people joined the queue which is now much longer than when you arrived...

As far as the third runway and increasing the number of flights goes, the potential extra 220,000 flights will be good neither for the hundreds of thousands of people who live under the flight path (think noise overhead from 4 am to midnight), nor for the millions of passengers already confused by the five terminals, the warren-like quality of the endless corridors, the complexity of navigating from one terminal to the next when switching flights, the potential for delays due to increased flights (the domino theory applied to take-off and landing slots) and for luggage misplaced or lost during transfer (think fiasco at the opening of Terminal 5) - one could go on.

I can't think of a particularly "user-friendly" airport, to be honest, but Heathrow probably ranks up near the top of the list for worst airport experiences as a user.

What is your favourite airport and why?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Pet usability peeves

Happy New Year to all. Having just had a few excessively frustrating experiences online, I thought I would list my top usability peeves and try and keep track of improvements over the coming year. In no particular order, then:

- Any site that forces the user to watch animations without providing a "skip" option, with the worst offenders being those with music or speech that you can't turn off (actually this has to be one of the top peeves. God I hate those.)

- Sites that use technology that is liable if not highly likely to be blocked by firewalls. This results in users being presented with a blank page for the home page...I came across a site recently where part of the home page was considered by my firewall to be a pop-up, so that the name, brand logo, order phone line and welcome message were blocked; another one where the shopping cart did not appear and on which there was no other link to it (!)

- Sites that use bandwidth heavy items on the home page so that it does not load instantly, or loads in pieces.

- Sites that are not compatible with all the standard browsers (I use Firefox: surprising the number of times I have to switch to IE to get something to work properly) and O/Ss, including past and latest versions

- Sites that force you to create an account before you can buy anything, rather than letting you buy and then offering the option of saving your info. I've got quite a few "dormant accounts" out there, and I don't like knowing that my info is out there but there's not much I can do short of some time-consuming emailing and tracking.

- Sites that are not upfront about prices, P&P, any additional charges (such as taxes and duties one may be liable to pay when ordering from another economic zone e.g. US/Europe), resulting in sticker shock when you get to payment, or the delivery man actually holding the package ransom.

- Sites with poor search capabilities (especially important when there are a lot of products)

- Sites that send you too many emails and too many catalogs (you may opt in to receive these but that does not mean you want a daily special offer...or a weekly catalog...)

- Sites where customer service is lousy: either there is no phone number (or there is but it goes to an answering machine which does not tell you the delay for a call-back) or no internationally compatible phone number; or there is just a form (no email), or there is an email -but there is no automated response confirming your message has been recieved and providing a response delay.

- Related to the above, sites where customer service does not communicate after your purchase and you have to follow-up. They should tell you when an item ships and with what method and what the delay should be, so that you are aware of what to expect. I've had to follow up too many times on items that didn't arrive which turned out not to have been sent yet because there was a problem with stock/supplier/intern made a mistake and order did not go through/you name it...

- Sites that do not clearly provide shipping policy, or returns policy, or exchange policy.

I could go on but this is getting tedious. Too many companies rely on the fact they have (or believe they have) little or no competition to opt out of usability completely, too many companies have not yet twigged that long term, the way to retain and develop your customer base is to keep them happy by not only providing good products and services but also by making the experience of acquiring them a good one.

And too many users (including myself) are finding that putting up with these failures is still better for a lot of purchases than blindly trekking all over town (if you live in a large one) in search of one small item...that you may not even find.

And so it goes on.

Next I will provide a list of top quality experiences online...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ta da...this blog is now open.

So I've finally done it. After years of resisting, of saying I have no time (which I still don't), I have finally taken the plunge and created a blog - which I will publish, this time around, unlike two previous half-hearted attempts. However because I have little time I may not publish often, notice I am managing expectations here. I will be writing profound and not-so-profound things I learn as I go about my part-time consulting activities in Web analytics and usability evaluation and design, there will occasionally be ranting, and possibly some entertainment too.

Right now I have to sort out my own website, so now I have launched this bit of the puzzle, I will sign off.