Don’t get me wrong… it’s not that I don’t want to work with you. I’d love nothing more to help make sure that your design is great and people love to use your product.
It’s just… by the time you get to the part in your project plan that says ‘Usability Testing’, there’s not much I can do. You’ve left things too late.
Sure, I know. That’s when you do the usability testing, isn’t it? In that mad rush when you’re trying to get everything coded up and launched. I know, because it usually means that we don’t get much time to do the testing, and it’s usually not with the finished product.
And, you know… that probably would be ok, if we’d have done some testing earlier on in the piece.
OK, so you might not call it testing. You might call it research. Or you might just call it putting some ideas in front of people who might be using your product in the future and seeing what they think.
No, we don’t need your finished product before we can test. Not at all. We’ve tested with scraps of paper in the past and discovered we were heading down the wrong path altogether. We’ve learned a LOT about how our design should work even with some ugly wireframes.
And the great thing is that scraps of paper and wireframes cost nothing… compared to the amount you’ve invested in getting to the ‘Usability Testing’ line item on the project plan.
Compared to the amount you’ll probably have to spend if you want to implement any of the things we’ll probably learn if we do that testing now.
Of course… between you and I…. we know that’s probably not going to happen anyway, is it. There’s no time for changes. There’s a launch date fast approaching, and hardly enough time to finish the work you have already.
We’re just ticking a box here, aren’t we. With the best of intentions.
It’s a shame tho’. We could have been a good team.
We could have got to a kick butt design, one that we *knew* would work. We could have stopped all this coding and re-coding. We could have had good strong answers to questions that the business was asking. We could have taken so much of the guesswork out of it.
We could have been launching this thing with out the sneaking suspicion we’d be back at the drawing board (literally) in the very near future.
But I’ll tell you what I’ve found, and you tell me that you don’t have time to do anything about it.
And hopefully, next time, we can work together from the beginning.
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:
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.
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?
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.
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?
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:
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.
How do we make Good Design so important to companies that they ensure that it is a component part of the product or service they are taking to market?
Part of the fallout from World Usability Day was a question raised by Jared Spool – Is World Usability Day Harmful for Practitioners? Part of this question was the relationship between design and usability and the importance of promoting good design and not alienating the business who might engage us to help them create good design.
In a subsequent comment conversation I got to wondering, again, about what we can do to make good design more of a priority. How can we change business processes and product development cycles so that rather than design being an afterthought, the quest for good design moves up the food chain and becomes more of an imperative, a requirement than a potential differentiator.
Jared is concerned that the focus on usability (which in isolation from design, does tend to take an almost disciplinarian approach to how things work) has the potential to alienate companies who might otherwise be inspired to engage with good design practices.
I think he has a point… for a moment I’d forgotten that for some, usability DOES exist in isolation from design (where people specialise in finding things that are broken and rousing on the designers who designed it that way).
Jared says we should just keep doing good design work and that eventually, the balance will shift and good design methodologies will become part of the overall business process for more companies.
(how many times can I say ‘good design’ in one post?!)
But, and tell me if I’ve being overly optimistic and idealistic here…
I think that there might be other things that we can do to help turn the tide.
What if we spent less time talking to each other about how important good design is, and spent a bit of energy evangalising the power and importance of good design to the end user, the consumer, the man and woman on the street, the people who open their wallets to buy the goods and services designed by the companies who may or may not care about good design.
Can we help educate and inspire people who buy mobile phones and who catch trains and who buy their groceries online to expect good design, to DEMAND good design? And can we do this in way that likewise inspires businesses to see good design as an opportunity, rather than alientating them, shaming them, putting them in the corner like a bad student?
Can we harness consumer power to promote the benefits of good design? To make good design culturally entrenched? Just part of our every day life?
I reckon we can. Although I’m not quite sure just now.