There’s snow need to worry!


Call me a cynic but I’m a little skeptical of most companies social media policies; usually they’re just another route for further direct marketing.

However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the use to which Blue Star busses and First Buses Hampshire have put their Facebook pages.

Throughout the recent cold snap both have used their accounts to give frequent updates about the road conditions and changes to bus routes affected by snow.

The staff have been manning the pages throughout the day and night, giving early warning of all changes and delays.

As a regular public transport user I’ve been very grateful, ensuring that I can get to where I need to go without much fuss.

Using social media platforms such as Facebook and twitter to support your customers, respond to queries and provide transparency is real world usability, straight out of book.

Anyone familiar with Jakob Neilsen’s usability heuristics will recognise the following:

1. Visibility of system status

The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.

2. Match between system and the real world

The system should speak the users’ language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.

3. Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors

Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.

4. Help and documentation

Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user’s task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.

The interesting thing is that the system, in this case is complex, made up of the delivery platform, in office business representatives, bus drivers and customers.

The platform is being used as an agent to ensure that the real word system notifies and supports its users in completing their tasks.

For a usability geek, the snow has been a lot of fun 🙂

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Bad UI – Bit.ly sign up form


Which form should I fill in to sign up to bit.ly?

Okay it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that the form on the left is the actual sign-up form. BUT when I was presented with the page I was immediately drawn to the “Tweet from bit.ly” pannel. I though, perhaps I could use my Twitter credentials to sign up.

Being the curious guy that I am, I decided, to just enter my details and click sign up. That when I got the customary error traps.

Hey Bit.ly how about doing a Five Second Test? I’m certain you’ll find the visual prominence of the “Tweet from bit.ly” panel overpowers your goal of getting people to sign-up to the service.

My advice

Move it to after the sign up process is complete or at the very least, reverse out the panels.

P.s. Why would I actually want to tweet from bit.ly what’s the sell?

Bad UI – Which icon is delete?


Web outlook task bar showing X and recycle bin for delete

Which icon should I click to delete a selected message?

  • If you chose the ‘X’ then yep you’re way smarter then I am 🙂
  • If you chose the Recycle bin then you’ve just emptied your deleted messages.

Two function on the page which do very different things but both use a standard visual vocabulary for the delete function. On the messages screen what is the most important function? To delete a message or to empty your delete messages folder?

Don’t make this mistake.

Think about the context a task exists in and simplify your UI to match the users mental model. Global actions should be reserved for an area of the screen which is away from contextual, task based actions.

Twitter usability – is it really a problem?


An interesting essay entitled “Experiment: Twitter Usability – A new users first experience” has been bubbling up on my twitter timeline today. It raises some interesting usability issues on twitter particularly regarding new users.

On face value these could be a problem but they aren’t and let me tell you why.

Firstly, the “new user” phase of someone’s engagement with twitter is fleeting. You are only a new user for the time it takes you to:

  • Sign up
  • Post a tweet
  • Follow someone for the first time.

From then on out you are a user. You want to keep up to date with your friends, let people know what your up to and to start building up your network.

Over time and through accretion you become an expert user. You learn to optimise your typing style to adapt to the restrictive 140 character limit, you use a short hand vocabulary that would make doctors seem as if they are speaking in plain english.

Twitter understands this and that’s why the site is designed to support users and expert users. Sure, they could make the sign up for a little easier but you’ll only fill that in once. You will however use the update control, and timeline as your primary view of the twitter platform constantly from then on out. Which is why they are the most prominent features of the site and easy to learn.

Here’s the rub – twitter is a messaging platform, one which most people engage with through other tools. A quick scan down my timeline show that no one is using the website to post messages. They are using: Tweet Deck, Tweetie, HTC Peep and countless other clients. So the “clunky” nature of the website is irrelevant to most users of the twitter platform.

Design of everyday things, Second Edition


Design of Everyday Things, Second Edition. Once Sociable Design is in its final form, I intend to update DOET (as DOET-2). The principles have not changed, but the examples in DOET-1 are stale.The world of everyday things changed and so too have I. I have learned much since DOET-1 that will inform, modify, and broaden the discussions. I’m looking for good examples.They have to be timeless. I want DOET-2 to last 20 – 30 years, so any examples have to be things that will be relevant decades from now. For example, suppose I would have had photographs of teletype machines in DOET-1: who today knows what they are? Doors never get obsolete.)

How very cool 🙂

Not only will there be a second edition but we can suggest example for Don to include.

UXExchange.com – Come and participate.


Introducing UX Exchange, a StackOverflow style Q&A site for User Experience professionals.

UX Exchange is a User Experience (UX) Q & A site that’s free. Free to ask questions, free to answer questions and free to read. You can register if you want to collect reputation points and win valuable flair that will appear next to your name, but otherwise, it’s just free.

Like StackOverflow (the platform this site is build on) We don’t run UX Exchange. You do, it is collaboratively built and maintained by your fellow practitioners. Once the system learns to trust you, you’ll be able to edit anything, much like Wikipedia. With your help, we can build good answers to every imaginable UX related question together. No matter whether you specialise in:

  • Usability
  • Accessibility
  • Information Architecture
  • Interaction design

A better more collaborative user experience community is our goal.

I’ve been using stackoverflow for programming Q&A’s since the beta and now that they’ve launched Stack Exchange (the platform that powers stackoverflow) I’ve decided to get off my arse and build a site for the the user experience community.

My goal is to make it the resource to go to for all your UX Q&A’s but obviously we need to reach a critical mass so even though there are a few design quirks (we need a logo for one thing) I’m anxious to get going.

So please join me in making UXExchange.com a success.

What is usability anyway


With 57% of the UK population having access to the Internet now has never been a better time to launch a digital product, but research also shows that users have become more impatient. It now takes only 4 seconds for a customer to make a decision about the companies they encounter on the web, and whether they will use their products or services or go elsewhere.

With this in mind, it’s never been more important for a company to create a product that meets their customer’s expectations. It is essential to create an online experience that will engage the customer so that they feel as quickly as possible that the company not only has the item they want, but they are able to provide it in a way that is quick and simple.

Traditionally, these challenges have been met technically by software developers, websites have become more complex, and through the advancement of web 2.0 technologies there is very little to distinguish between a traditional software application and a website. Alongside the rise of technology and the Internet, a legion of usability engineers have been quietly working to shape the web to become more usable; more inline with customer’s expectations.

We all experience the efforts of these usability engineers but the truth is that most people still don’t know what usability actually means and what measurable benefit it will bring to a company.

What is usability?

“Usability is an approach to product development that incorporates direct user feedback throughout the development cycle in order to reduce costs and create products and tools that meet user needs” – What is usability (Usability Professionals Association)

In short, a usability engineer works with product developers to test how easy it is for someone to use their product. This is done many different ways but the most common are:

User testing – a usability engineer will watch people use something and make recommendations on how to improve it to give better results for the user.

Expert review – a usability engineer will review a product and make recommendations on how to improve it to giver better results for the user.

Make sense? Usability touches every part of your life; think about it tonight when you drive home, get through your front door to uncork a bottle of your favourite Chardonnay and relax while listening to your favourite music. The fact that you drove home in comfort and safety, that you got into your house, that you uncorked a bottle of wine, that you can literally listen to thousands of your favourite pieces of music on your MP3 player without even thinking about it, is testament to how much usability touches your life.

Across a study of 863 projects it’s been estimated that you can benefit from a measurable increase of 135% by setting aside 10% of your development budget for usability , as well as other benefits such as an increased in brand loyalty and word of mouth marketing.

Products have come a long way over the past 30 years, but there is still much to do. One area of usability that needs to greatly improve is accessibility; from 1st October 1999 it became a legal requirement that “a service provider had to take reasonable steps to change a practice which makes it unreasonably difficult for disabled people to make use of its services”.

What is accessibility?

Accessibility is the term that describes a field of usability that aims to explicitly improve the usability of a product for people with disabilities such as visual impairment, dyslexia, hearing impairment, mobility problems etc.

It’s no longer acceptable for a company to create a product without providing equal access to everyone. Moreover it’s really bad business!! I can’t think of any company that wouldn’t want some of the £50bn that the 8.6 million registered disabled citizens of the United Kingdom have to spend – or the £175 billion the UK’s over-50’s have to splash out (most people over 50 have some form of impairment such as deterioration of their sight).

The secret here is that accessibility isn’t expensive either, as long as it’s designed into your website from the start. A few simple techniques, can give you access to a combined market of 225 billion pounds, and if that isn’t good enough…those same simple techniques will make it piece of cake for Google to find and rank your website because Google accesses your website in the same was a visually impaired user with a screen reader does. Optimise for accessibility and your search engine ranking is likely to improve.