Archive for the ‘Usability’ Category

10 business days for a reply

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

I emailed the New Zealand Stock Exchange (NZX) with a usability suggestion for their website.

The automatic reply:

The message you sent to has been received, NZX Information staff will review your message and will endeavour to reply to you within 10 business days. If your inquiry is urgent, please phone +64 4 472 7599.

Ten business days for an email response in the internet age - may as well just ask people to call the number and don’t offer the email address.

MMP knowledge nears all time pre-election high

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

This is the title of a recent news item from the Electoral Commission. And what is that “high”?

“67% correctly identified the party vote as more important than the electorate vote in deciding the number of MPs each party gets.”

In other words 33% have no idea which is the more important vote (as a generalisation). What hope of them understanding that in some electorates (e.g. Epsom) that the electorate vote may help or prevent a party to cross the threshold which potentially affects more seats in the House than just the electorate seat. What chance that voters understand the benefits of splitting your vote? And just how many realise that some New Zealanders on Election Day really do get two meaningful votes while the rest of us only get one.

What certainty is there that the votes cast by a voter really do achieve the voter’s intentions?

Note: I’m tagging this blog post under “Usability” because MMP has a major usability problem.

Branding: the enemy of legibility?

Monday, October 6th, 2008

A nationwide franchise operation has recently rebranded - strong visual, communicates core message well, distinctive, modern. The predominant colour is a shade between maroon and a deep pink. So what’s the problem. The problem is that their brochure has the text in white with the pink/maroon as the background colour on glossy paper. Look at it from a distance and it’s attractive - try to read the copy and it’s a struggle.

Further to this, they have settled on one of the complementary colours being a pale grey - not a problem in itself - but a complete failure when used for the contact details on the business cards (as they have done). Nice form, zero utility.

Reverse text is always somewhat problematic from a legibility perspective as it needs extra font weight to achieve the same visual weight. The kiwibank logo is a classic example where the reverse text “kiwi” is in a heavier weight (”bold” if you like) than the “bank” to create an overall balance.

A contra example is on the Labour Party’s new election website where the white text on the red background in the middle panel of changing messages is very tough to read. As it turns out - it’s worse than that - the text which matches the current item is white and the other three items are pink. You can actually click on those items to show the relevant info in that panel. How the average punter would know they are clickable (no visual link or button cues and the cursor doesn’t change) or why they would even want to is another matter. A clear case where the text needs to be of heavier weight to be legible.

Brands and visual identity are powerful tools for shaping perceptions of an organisation. However, when branding makes information difficult to access the customer’s perception will probably not be what was intended. Skillful design first focuses on and retains that focus on utility then on aesthetics.

Mindset then methodology: for usability & accessibility

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

I recently presented on the subjects of Usability & Accessibility to Software Quality New Zealand. My thesis - that the root cause or at least a strong contributing factor to websites being difficult to use and/or inaccessible is a failure of mindset not methodology. We examined a number of websites to see how customer centred they were - a key plank of usability in my opinion. You had to be there - but the presentation below, courtesy of Slideshare may be useful. The slides in themselves may not communicate much - but there are notes behind them if you go to the Slideshare site. Alternatively, the full PowerPoint presentation will be available on the SQNZ site very soon.

If your site is one of my examples, thank you - there were so many to choose from.

Mindset then Methodology 

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: usability web)


New mobile offering - what is it exactly?

Monday, September 1st, 2008

TelstraClear are offering a new mobile service to compete with Telecom and Vodafone. There are some basic details available in the media - so I though I’d go checking to see if I might be eligible and perhaps save some money on my mobile bill.

First challenge - the TelstraClear website - will it tell me what I want to know? Having got to the “mobile” page I try the links to the pdf documents “About Mobile brochure” and so on - the links are broken to all of them. Tested? I don’t think so.

What’s my big issue? My mobile number is on business cards, websites and more importantly stored in other people’s cellphones and address books. Can I keep my cellphone number if I switch?

To find that out it seems I’m going to have to call them. I don’t have the time to sit in their call centre queue. Waste of time for me and costly for them to service my enquiry by call centre when it could have been handled by the website. Not a great start as far as I’m concerned.

How does this happen? It’s a mindset failure - a focus on the new product/offering and not on the customer.

Is the “Windows Key” a WOMBAT?

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

What is the Windows Key you ask? In that case it’s currently a waste of space on your keyboard. The Windows key sits down on the bottom left corner of your keyboard between the “Ctrl” and “Alt” keys. You’re not using Windows? Well, you’re probably stuck with using a Windows keyboard and a useless key. If you’re a Mac user then you have the Apple Key - and you can smugly know that the Apple key spawned the Windows key.

What does the Windows key do? Press it. It kicks off the Start menu - yes, as some wag (not this kind) pointed out Windows is the operating system where you have to press Start to stop the system.

However, the Windows key has more functions available if you use it in combination with another key on your keyboard. For example, pressing the Windows key and “D” will minimise all the open windows and if you press that combination again it will restore them exactly how they were. Pressing Windows key and “M” will minimise all windows but not restore them.

Uber geeks probably already know that the Windows key plus the “Break” key brings up the System Properties. How memorable and useful is that?

The combination I use frequently is the Windows key plus “E” as this kicks off Windows Explorer showing My Computer.

Here’s the full list of Windows key combinations:

  • Windows key (Display or hide the Start menu)
  • Windows key + BREAK (Display the System Properties dialog box)
  • Windows key + D (Display the desktop - press again to restore windows)
  • Windows key + M (Minimize all of the windows)
  • Windows key + SHIFT + M (Restore the minimized windows)
  • Windows key + E (Open My Computer)
  • Windows key + F (Search for a file or a folder)
  • CTRL + Windows key + F (Search for computers)
  • Windows key + F1 (Display Windows Help)
  • Windows key + L (Lock the keyboard)
  • Windows key + R (Open the Run dialog box)
  • Windows key + U (Open Utility Manager)

If you like using your keyboard instead of your mouse all of the time and you can remember the key combinations you set up, then Winkey is free software that you can easily download and install that allows you to set up other Windows key combinations as you like - like Windows key + W for Word or, as on my computer, Windows key + O for Opera and Windows Key + X for Firefox.

For most people the Windows key isn’t very useful (except for Windows key + E) - but it can be if you like using keyboard shortcuts.

Repeat this - the F4 key is your friend

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

If you work with Microsoft Office products (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook) there’s a keyboard shortcut that can be very useful, especially if you want to repeat what you’ve just done. It’s the F4 key.

I’ve been working in Excel quite a lot recently and needing to insert multiple rows. The quick way to do this is insert a row and then press the F4 key as many times as you need. (If you know a faster way, add a comment or email me.)

You want to draw 5 identical size boxes - draw one then press F4 four times. You add some text to one of those boxes and want to add the same text to another - select the other box and press F4. You want to change the text from Times New Roman to Verdana - do it one, select the text in the other box and press F4.

Seems that most people have become very dependent upon their mice these days - pointing and clicking and right clicking. Don’t forget keyboard shortcuts, they are often much faster.

Misleading traffic lights

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

Do road engineers drive over the roads they’ve altered and check that everything is in order and nothing is missing?

The road layout where Webb Street meets Willis St in Wellington has been changed in the past few months to allow two lanes to turn left into Brooklyn Road for better flow south. If you take the outer lane, be careful not to follow the traffic light that sits right in front of you as it is missing the set of lights indicating the left filter. It would be all to easy to swing left and not see a pedestrian crossing with lights from east to west (towards the hotel willis) until it’s too late.

Ambiguous traffic lights - the right light is missing the left filter lights

The question that intrigues me is who, if anyone, looks at roads from the drivers point of view and not the engineers point of view? And - do they do a check afterwards to ensure it’s all OK? Unlike software which usually doesn’t affect life or limb, failures and omissions in road engineering can have serious consequences.

Accidental hospital deaths plummet from estimated 750 to 40 actual

Monday, February 25th, 2008

This is either a remarkable improvement or the figures are understated. To say they are understated is itself an understatement: we’re talking about more than a tenfold understatement. National party health spokesman Tony Ryall said “the committee’s figures vastly understated the size of the problem”. He’s not wrong.
The NZ Herald article states,

“Committee member Dr Mary Seddon, the clinical director of the Counties Manukau board’s quality improvement unit, said there were more preventable incidents than had been included in the report.”

I’d expect that “more” to be maybe 10-20% more. What was the real number? Will we ever find out?

A May 2007 report into accidental hospital death (The Press, Christchurch) put the figure at an estimated 750 each year (see our original blog post) but the recent report released stated only 40 deaths in the past financial year.

40 preventable deaths from 834,000 admissions is a fantastically good result - a pity it’s not the real number.

How about we take a look at the report? Where do we start - Ministry of Health or the Health and Disability Commissioner?

Let’s try the HDC first - go to Publications - then Other Reports where we find the Safety of Patients in New Zealand Hospitals: A Progress Report known here as the “plethora of policies” report. OK - that was October 2007 - nothing since then.

Must be on the Ministry of Health website - go to Publications and Resources and Find by Date. Not there! OK - so since we’re there let’s have a look at Quality Improvement since it’s a hot topic. Quality Improvement - Publications - nothing since 2004 (could this have anything to do with “slow and patchy” progress?) However, under Toward Clinical Excellence is a page Toward Clinical Excellence: Learning from Experience. This page tells us that in September 2001 -

“The Sentinel Events Project Working Party members have been brought together from throughout the health sector to make recommendations to the Director-General of Health on the feasibility of implementing a mandatory event reporting system for health and disability services and related matters.”

The page links to their report that includes a number of recommendations. Here is Recommendation 3:

“Implement a national system (to be called the Sentinel Events Reporting System) that requires health and disability services to report a defined list of events (to be called Sentinel Events) to the Ministry of Health for review.”

The recommendation was made in September 2001. The initial report was published in February 2008. The data it published is neither accurate nor standard. Meantime, preventable death and harm occur. That’s a WOMBAT.

Seven years to get an incomplete report - how long to get some effective interventions?

And where do you find the Commentary On Sentinel & Serious Events Reported By District Health Boards - 2006/07 report? On the site of the Quality Improvement Committee - a sub-site within the Ministry of Health. Don’t bother trying to find it easily from the Ministry of Health website (it’s buried in there somewhere) - it also needs some quality improvement.

Six-sigma not a guarantor of success

Monday, February 18th, 2008

Motorola, the founding organisation for the “six sigma”  process improvement methodology,  is hitting hard times in the cellphone market.

This should not really be possible for an organisation that has been using and developing the “best” process improvement technology for over 20 years. Skeptics of quality improvement methodologies have produced statistics that show no correlation between improved EVA (economic value added) and adoption of these methodologies.

From my own experience, the RAZR cellphone I own is pretty but fails to “wow” through poor usability and strange rules that leave me annoyed and very unlikely to buy a Motorola cellphone in the future. It’s not as though cellphones are new at Motorola, they have been producing them for at least 15 years now. In that time you’d think that they would have got to grips with the basics of creating phones that are a delight to use - but perhaps in the rush to be cool the basics went out of the window.

Microsoft have embraced the concept of “good enough” software - routinely shipping software with bugs (but knowing these are relatively unimportant) - and it’s hard to argue against their EVA. Why are they successful? Because the value of the software they provide is high as usability is always a priority in their product development.

So, let’s not forget “it’s better to do the right things than to do things right”.