Archive for October, 2008

AA Worst site in New Zealand?

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Yet again, I tried to use the AA Site. For years it has been the most useless site in the entire .nz domain. Even if you have logged in, it “forgets” who you are, depending on which page you navigate to. Today, I logged in, then went to renew my membership. It asked me for my details - even though they are all contained within the site!!! Another thing, they used to have a so-called petrol watch page. I wrote to them about a year ago and told them their prices were about two months out of date. I never receved a reply, of course. I now see that they do not have this page anymore. Or, if they do, it’s too hard to find, as I’ve just spent ten minutes searching.
If only there was some competition, like the UK. That would make them sort their ideas out. Time for a beer.

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.

MMP: too complicated and not consistent

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

Firstly, I fully support proportional representation in New Zealand. FPP (first past the post) was a crock - having lived in “safe” electorates there was little point in getting out of bed on election day. The danger in criticising MMP is that such criticism can be used as a justification for returning to FPP. There are better PR (proportional representation) systems out there - STV (single transferable vote), for example.

What’s wrong with MMP? Fundamentally, the two votes. These two votes are complicated for people to understand and they are not equal and have different effects depending upon the electorate you are in.  How you should place your electorate vote to achieve the end result you want in parliament can be completely counterintuitive as I will show in a minute.

The situation is further complicated in New Zealand with the presence of the Maori electorates. These present seven electorates that are only eligible for voting in by Maori. They have a far more homogeneous set of political tendencies than the population at large and so again these “electorate” votes and seats carry unequal weight. The Maori Party has a great opportunity to game the system which I will elaborate on in a later post and get representation in the house at a much higher level than their overall percentage of votes.

A further failure of MMP is the wasted vote - that is, a vote for a party that fails to reach the 5% threshold  in the party vote or get at least one electorate seat. The Elections website states the following:

A party vote cast for a party that does not cross threshold has no impact on the number of seats other parties will receive.  In this sense it has the same impact as a non-vote - exactly none - except that the voter’s electorate vote will have helped decide that particular contest. 

In other words, if you’re going to vote for a party that isn’t going to cross the threshold  you may as well not vote for the party vote. The effect is the same. If you’re in a “safe” electorate then not much point in voting at all. Couple this with the results of the recent Elections survey where only 34% correctly identified how the threshold is reached and you have 66% of the population with the potential to waste their vote.

According to the Elections survey 67% of voters now understand that the party vote is the more important vote. Unless, of course, you live in Epsom - where because of another of MMP’s anomalies (that getting an electorate seat enables a party to cross the threshold) - your electorate vote is more important as it affects whether or not the Act party may get 2 seats in the House (based on similar polling in the last election). Voters in Epsom effectively get the opportunity to have 2 party votes.

An effective electoral system should be intuitive - MMP isn’t. Consider a left-leaning voter in Epsom - what is their best tactical voting strategy to best ensure a higher proportion of “left” seats in the House? It’s completely counter-intuitive. Their best option is to vote National for the electorae vote to try and ensure that Act do not win the electorate seat. The best overall result (seats in the House) is achieved by voting for a party they wouldn’t normally vote for. The Labour party should perhaps be instructing their members and followers in Epsom to vote National for the electorate vote - a dangerous strategy, as given people’s confusion and misunderstanding of MMP they may well vote National with their party vote. 

How certain can we be that the make-up of Parliament is a true reflection of what the voters intended? With MMP as the voting system, not very.

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 labour08.co.nz 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.