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Vodafone UK redesign – clean and simple on the surface, but it ain’t necessarily so.

New Vodafone DesignNew Vodafone Website design

Vodafone were certainly well over due for a redesign of their website, and so I was pleasantly surprised when I went to look up some contact details and found that redesigned they had…. and what a nice change. Compared to previous design (you can see more or less what it was like here), this design is calm and controlled and much less frantic. The old design used to make me feel stressed even before I started trying to negotiate it. My starting point with this new design is much more positive.

How have they achieved this? Dramatically cutting down the complexity and busyness of the old design and taking a much simpler and more cleanly structured approach. The clear division of the personal and business section certainly helps this, but even within the sections, significant work has been done with the information architecture to achieve this apparent simplicity.

But does the new design work better?

The thing that *really* aggravated me on the old website was the web interface for buying new ‘Pay As You Go’ credit, or Topping Up. I could find the functionality very quickly, but ended up caught in an endless cycle of error messages that never resulted in a sale.

So, I tried to perform this task on the new website and I found:

  1. it was much harder to find where I was supposed to go to ‘top up’. Perhaps this is low down on the Vodafone priority list (although I’d be surprised at this… a whole lot of Vodafone customers PAYG customers). The information scent around this functionality is much weaker than on the previous website. I assume, although I’m not entirely certain, that I would find it somewhere in the ‘Manage Your Account Online‘ section…. I tried this after I tried Shop and My Vodafone without success.
  2. it looks to me as though this design just re-skins the horrid software that I’ve battled with in the past to ‘top up’ my PAYG account (it certainly has the same look about it). I gave up when I struggled with the log in. Given that there is virtually no information provided as to what exactly I can ‘manage’ in this section, there is little incentive go through the registration process and maintain patience with the system.

So, from this quick evaluation, it seems to me that although the Vodafone redesign is, in some respects, an improvement on the previous site, particularly with regards to visual appeal, there are still plenty of opportunities for Vodafone to deliver a much more impressive customer experience online… perhaps focussing a little less on the flashy animations (yes, they’re still there, just on the lower level pages now), and more on supporting user tasks.

A step in the right direction though. I wonder if this design is now going to be implemented globally?

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A Sale Un-Made (snatching defeat from the jaws of victory at three.co.uk)

Three Store

It’s been a a while since I’ve gotten all excited about a mobile phone. Since I’ve been in the UK I’ve been getting by with a rather old Razr (awful, awful interface design) and a pre-pay account from Vodafone (don’t even get me started on how impossible it is to do an online top up). When I heard about the Three X-Series, the idea of a fixed price to take the internet with me absolutely everywhere, and with Skype and Messenger and all the good stuff already pre-installed… it was too much for me to resist.

Aaahh. The familiar tingle of gadget lust. I do love it.

So a couple of weeks ago I gave Three my email address so they could email me when the service was on sale, and this morning they sent me an email saying I could buy one of their X-Series phones… and off I went, with haste, to their online store. Hoorah!

Ahh. But not so fast. This was by no means a simple experience… and it’s not over yet. How can buying stuff online still be so difficult? Shouldn’t we be good at this by now?

Well, we are… and we aren’t.

Choosing my handset and package was made comparatively simple due to the fact that there was only one handset available, and four reasonably well explained ‘packages’. Then, onto the shopping cart. Here’s where we hit the first snag.

Just as I was about to hit the green button and go through to the checkout I noticed that they were telling me the ‘Total Monthly Rental’ was about double what I’d been told throughout the sales process. Insert red flag waving wildly. Trigger desire to abandon the purchase process. But no… I neither hit the phones nor abandoned at this point, instead I thought I might try their ‘live chat’ service and see if they could help me out.

Does anyone else use these live chat services? I think they’re great, but then you go to a whole other aspect of interaction design that can’t be programmed quite so easily… real human beings. Service can be variable. I got lucky and chatted to Glen, who was reasonably speeding in helping me out and assured me that they’d only charge me the amount indicated throughout the sales process and not the either inaccurate or misleading amount shown in the Trolley.

Ok. I decided to take Glen at his word and moved onto the form.

At this stage I’m thinking that so far the process is going ok. I would rather not have been confused by the trolley page, but I was also quite inspired by how appropriate and helpful a live chat feature is in the online buying environment. I used to always think this was a bit of an annoying gimmick, but in this instance it was genuinely helpful.

Three2

And so, to the form. It was a pretty clean and simple form, and I really liked the Help section in the RHS column which updated with contextual help depending on what field I was completing. Neat, helpful, very nice.

Now I’m feeling impressed with Three. They’ve thought about this. They care about my experience of their website, of the purchase process. This is good.

And then I hit the next page…. they wanted my address.

No problem. I give them my current address.

But I’ve only been here months, not 3 years, so they ask for another address… and that’s where the trouble really kicks in. There’s no way I can give them a non-UK address. Their form requires a UK postcode. This is not good.

I fire up the live chat again. It’s Glen, again. I ask him for help.

He confirms that they can’t take my address online. He gives me a phone number. Apparently they *can* take my address details if I call them. Or go into a store.

And that’s when I abandon.

And I wonder why on earth it was designed that way. Perhaps there’s a good reason. Might have been nice if they could tell me that.

Did I call the call centre to buy my phone?

Nope.

I’m going to go into town tomorrow and see if I can go get one from a store. (Given the stores in the vicinity of where I’ll be, Three are going to end up having to pay a commission for this sale now, as I won’t be going direct to them).

I really like ordering online because it’s convenient, and I don’t have to deal with people. And then, a day or so later, a little present arrives! It’s kind of like magic.

I’m not sure why, but ordering stuff on the phone does nothing for me. The only time I like to use the phone to buy stuff is when I’m getting Indian food delivered. Strangely… when I buy something online, I’m prepared to wait a day or so for my purchases to arrive. When I’m ordering on the phone, the same wait seems unacceptable.

Is this just a crazy weird quirk of mine or do other people get this too?

For me, if I have to go deal with a sales person, I’d rather do it in the flesh, and get the bonus of being able to have a play with the handset before I buy it, and the instant gratification of being able to take my phone home with me straight away.

So, that’s what I’m off to do tomorrow.

But…. before we completely signoff from the Three.co.uk Store, a few minutes after I’d abandoned my quest to purchase, I received this email:
Three3

I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen one of these kind of emails before, but I think it’s a great idea. It makes Three look smart, and it also creates the impression that they care whether I sign up with them or not.

I think they’re missing a great opportunity to get some golden feedback here though. They really should be asking *why* I didn’t end up making the purchase. I certainly would have told them my reason, and that would be a great way for them to better deal with this experience (and I’m sure I’m not the only person who has been affected by it!), and it would give me an opportunity to vent. (That’s something that’s really missing from the online buying experience… look at the length of the blog post I’ve had to write to make up for it!)

So, in summary. Tried to buy a phone from Three online. Couldn’t. But don’t think I’m suggesting that means the Three online experience is dreadfully broken. It’s definitely not. In fact, they’re doing a whole bunch of stuff I really like. My experience is probably a bit of an edgecase example, and it’s a shame they’re not handling it better.

This experience has really made me think, though, about how two way communication can be powerful in this type of transaction. Both me being able to talk to Glen at points where I may otherwise have bailed, and also the missing opportunity for me to tell Three *why* I bailed.

It goes to show how easy it is for even a well designed experience to have flaws that impact confidence and trust and that can turn an easy sale into a sale un-made.

I love like.com
(now this is what I call innovative search)

Like.com

Mary, my colleague who was in the room when Michael first sent me a link to Like.com can attest to how much I enjoyed playing with Like.com when I first saw it. And I’ve liked playing with it since then too! Within a short time from first hitting the site I had a few thousand dollars worth of shoes on my wishlist (I’m not telling how many of them I actually bought!). I’ve been looking at shoes online for a while now, and nothing else made me feel like a gal in a shoe shop as much as Like.com did.

You see, this is a site that *really* gives an online experience of what it’s like to try to find a pair of boots to buy that is anywhere near as rich as actually going to the shops and browsing (but without all the crowds and the hassle). In fact, it’s like being in the biggest and best organised shoe shop in the world. Your wish is their command.

I’ve been talking and thinking about the online shopping experience for ages now – talking (but strangely, not blogging yet!) about how the search and list style of presentation is so incredibly uninspiring, so empty, compared to the ‘toyshop’ type experience of real life shopping. In a real life shop, all the merchandise is arranged in a way that guides you into the experience, that moves you through the merchandise, that present similar types of merchandise together so that you can compare and contrast, and get a sense of what the current trends are.

Online shopping does none of this. Until Like.com, that is.

When I get to Like.com I have much more interesting paths into the merchandise than just choosing ‘boots’ or ‘casual’. Rather, I can get boots like Britney. That’s a much more exciting prospect. (Assuming, of course, that’s she’s not having a bad hair, track pants and ugg boots day!)

Then I get to see a whole stack of shoes that are kind of like Britney’s.

And then, I can tell Like.com to focus on a particular style of heel, and get me more shoes that have that kind of heel. Or I want that style, but can you find me some in red?

*sigh* It’s like having your own personal shoe shopper at your beck and call.

And as much as I adore the visual browsing (and I think it is browsing and not really searching), they then through in some fantastic faceted navigation, so that I can use a whole range of facets to further refine the range of shoes in view – from price range, to brand, to store, to heel style. So useful. So easy. Such a great way to finally find a few great pairs of boots.

(Sidebar: Can you see why all the boy bloggers have had so much trouble getting enthusiastic about Like.com? For once, they don’t have the domain knowledge to see how excellent it is. They much preferred the more geeky facial recognition that Riya was working on before.)

(Oooh, and while I’m tangenting, I have to say how the look of Like.com and the celebrity connection reminded me a lot of a great design/fashion site in Australia called Miijo)

Miijo

When I recently gave Ms Dewey a bit of a hard time, I got a few comments saying that I shouldn’t be criticising people who are trying to innovate. Well, here is an example of the kind of innovation I applaud. Here is a new way of approaching an old problem, of using technology innovatively, of taking a convention and making it better. And this innovation is good because it understands what the user is trying to do and it supports their experience and helps them achieve their tasks in a way that is better, more effective and more delightful than either the current online options OR the real life equivalent.

Go, have a play. Get yourself some Britney inspired boots. You’ll love it :)

what’s it like being a designer at Flickr?

I’ve wondered this myself… so I thought I’d use the PodCastJam as a great excuse to get in touch with George Oates, an Australian (ex Adelaide) gal who’s been working with Flickr since before they were Flickr (remember Ludicorp?).

So, in my podcast interviewing debut (and… yes, I need more practice. Want to be interviewed?), I’ve posted an interview with George on the PodCastJam site.

I feel very nervous suggesting this, but I can’t hide such a great opportunity to chat with someone who designs in such an interesting spaces…. so, go check it out!

(Does anyone else think I sound remarkably like Judith Lucy?! Surely I don’t talk like that all the time…. must be my special podcast interviewing voice. A cousin of my phone answering voice).

Personally, I’ve found it really interesting that despite all the different perspectives that people have been coming at Office 2.0 at the conference and the jam, two really loud recurrent themes keep coming out – community and collaboration.

I like that.

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