Category: Usability

Don’t make your users think…

March 17th, 2014 — 10:30am

I use as a dashboard for my web activities.  It’s pretty nice, and helps me keep organized.  However, last week I was confused when I tried to login to the site – The “Login” button / link was gone!  Here’s what I saw:

Wow – how was I supposed to “Login”?  It’s a core function required by existing customers.  It had to be there.

Well, after a few moments of puzzling, I figured out that the “Connect” button is really the new login button.  I guess the designers got a little cute here, thinking in social media terms (although, even there, “Connect”  is not the same as “Login).   But that is where I needed to go.

There are a few points I want to make here:

  1. Be very careful changing the language and location of critical functions on your site.  Your regular users are used to it and could be disoriented if you alter it.
  2. Don’t get cute with wording.  Use terms that everyone else is using.  So don’t use “Connect” when everyone else is using “Login”.  It may make sense to you, but you will lose / confuse your users for at least a while.

I’ve seen these mistakes a few times over the years with clients.  They think that varying the wording will make it “Stand out” more, or that it’s a better way to describe the function.  But most websites are about function first.  Design is important, but your users are coming to your site to accomplish a specific task – research, purchasing, etc.  Don’t let design get in the way of that.

There are many good books on website usability, but a classic (relatively easy read), is Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think”.  This is a good place to start, but you can glean a lot by just looking at the most successful sites on the web.

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Learn from the failure of

October 21st, 2013 — 11:01am

By now, we all know that the website for the “Affordable Care Act” (aka Obamacare) is a mess.  Not “was a mess”, but still is, 3 weeks after it launched.  Here’s an article with screenshots, and comments on various errors encountered.

As programmer, a major lessons can be learned from this failed rollout:

  1. Make it work – even though the initial failures were blamed on the high volume of users, it’s become clear that there are functional problems with the code and databases.  If it were purely a capacity issue, after a few days that would have subsided as the volume decreased.  Instead, problems have persisted.  Now we are hearing that the whole thing might have to be rewritten and insurers are complaining about getting mangled data from the system.  Luckily, the government has a monopoly here, and “customers” have no where else to go.  If you launched your website in this way, you’d be finished.  If the site isn’t ready, delay the launch until it is!
  2. Make it simple – in order to see any pricing for the various plans, you need to give pretty much all your personal and family information.  That means many screens of data entry to get to the pricing.  Any e-tailer will tell you this is a kiss-of-death.  You need to show customers the pricing up front, including shipping, return policies, etc.  Nobody wants to go through a lot of hoops only to find out they don’t want to buy.  Again, in this case consumers don’t have a choice, but in the real world you can’t operate that way.
  3. Settle on the design early – one complaint I heard (and I believe it) is that the programmers on this project were dealing with constant changes to the requirements – requiring whole sections of code to be rewritten or discarded.  While it’s important to be flexible on functionality, at some point (long before the launch date), you need to make solid decisions and stick with them.   Better to launch with an imperfect user interface, than to launch with something that is buggy or doesn’t work at all.
  4. Beta test – big companies like google and facebook routinely “roll out” new features to a select group of users, usually by invitation only.  Then after a few weeks, they expand the rollout to everyone.  I didn’t hear about any such rollout plan for  Instead, they chose the “Big Bang” approach – and when the big day finally came, we got a big “thud” instead.
  5. Don’t forget Security – I’m not sure the site is “insecure”, but I worry that it is.  Why?  Because all the errors suggest that the programmers were scrambling to fix basic bugs, and functionality errors.  That means that any “security testing” that was done was incomplete.  It had to be, because the site was changing up until the last minute.  It’s like inspecting the wiring in a building while the electrician is still there working.  You can see what’s been done, but you can’t vouch for what is not complete or needs to be changed.

Many of these may seem like common sense, but it’s easy to lose sight of these when you are working on an exciting new opportunity.  It comes down to simple execution of the fundamentals.  The internet has matured to a point where user expectations are very high – so make sure your site meets them.

Comments Off on Learn from the failure of | E-commerce, Usability

A browser trend – IE use is waning

April 2nd, 2012 — 7:08am

I remember the days (late 1990’s) when Netscape navigator ruled the web browser market, and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was a joke. In a few short years, however, Microsoft dominated the market, wiping out Netscape, and taking over 90% of the browser share.

This domination continued even as new upstarts, like Opera, Safari (Mac) and Firefox entered the scene. However, users increasingly frustrated with Explorer, started testing out the alternatives. By 2007, when Google Chrome came on the scene, MS was steadily losing market share.

I noticed a shift over the years in development work as well. It used to be that anything I did “had to work / look right” on Internet Explorer. If it didn’t work so well on Firefox, or Safari, the client didn’t usually care. But over time, I noticed clients becoming more concerned about other browsers. In fact, now I have some clients who don’t care about IE, but focus on FF, Chrome, and Safari. Today I saw an article about this company (not a client) saved precious startup money by not supporting – IE – in any version.

So why the change? The fragmentation of the market really increased the need to standards compliance. This means that code should function and render the same on all browsers. For a long time, MS went their own way, forcing developers to deal with their implementation of javascript, html, and other web languages. They had the muscle to do it, because they owned the market. But now they are stuck – developers are increasingly frustrated with code that works everywhere but IE, and clients are starting to shrug their shoulders. Because IE’s market share is now in the minority down around 40%. With the rise of mobile browsers and devices, it’s more important that the site work across as many platforms as possible. It IE is the main / only outlier, so be it.

It’s interesting to see how the ground shifts over time – hopefully Microsoft will get in line with upcoming versions of IE – if not, they face going the way of Netscape, at least in the browser market.

Comment » | Usability

Some comments on the Mobile Web

October 19th, 2011 — 10:54am

In a recent usability study, users were asked to complete some normal tasks using mobile web sites.   Using standard smartphones, the users could complete 62% of the tasks assigned.  That seems reasonable for these small and slow devices…but I’d note two things:

1.  These were mobile web sites – designed specifically for users of these types of phones.  That says to me that we need to do a lot better with our mobile sites.  It also indicates that maybe smartphones are a little too small to use for everything.  Imagine if we did away with 8.5×11 inch paper and forced content to be communicated on 3×5 index cards?  It never happened, even though the “technology” was there.

2.  38% of tasks failed!  That’s a huge number if you are trying to sell something, or provide customers with information they need.

I’d also say that the future of the mobile web is very much a question mark.  Do all websites need to offer fully functional mobile counterparts, or some sort of hybrid?  Meaning that some functionality is available for a mobile site, but not everything.  It strikes me that the screen size is a bit limitation, and that people will realize that.  Perhaps future smartphones will provide some way to cast a virtual screen that’s larger, or something.  In the meantime, I think people will continue to use multiple devices and accept the limitations of each.

Comment » | mobile, Usability

Stop chasing SEO!

September 30th, 2011 — 1:41pm

Here’s a nice article on SEO, which lists the “durable” seo elements to focus on for your website:

An interesting revelation from Google CEO Eric Schmidt – google changes their search algorithm a little bit each day.  EACH DAY!  So jumping onto the latest hot SEO tip may backfire.

I’d summarize this article as follows – make your site user friendly and provide great content.  That’s it.  Serve your constituency well, and the search engines will reward you.

Comment » | Usability, Web Maintenance

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