Ikea, CAPTCHA and 2meninaboat

Will be posting an article in the next couple of days about Ikea's move to high street stores. It raises some interesting customer experience issues (in-store ergonomics). One to look out for.

Another one to look out for is a piece on
CAPTCHA and usability. Basically, how do we strike a balance between presenting the user with an obstacle and reducing the volume of malicious scripts from reducing the efficacy of an online form? Most believe it's more of an accessibility problem.

This weekend I've continued to track
James and Ben. If you've got a social conscience and a bit of spare cash, donate to their Children in Need effort.


Read A Great Blog and Build An M3 GTR

Regular readers and friends may have noticed two things over the period of my blogging. I tend to have a rather erratic posting schedule and a fondness for my past endeavours of rowing. And so here it is, the third blog entry in 24 hours. But it’s here for a reason.

I’ve been following the Atlantic rowing race chiefly through the exploits of James Cracknell and Ben Fogle. Catching up with them via the Telegraph Podcast, their 2 Men In a Boat website and the official Atlantic Rowing Race site. Whilst their experiences are dramatic and an intense physical and mental struggle, what has fascinated me a little more this week are the tales of Chris Martin and his boat ‘Pacific Pete’.

Dealing with aching distances, fatigue, hunger, fear and technical malfunction when there are two or four people on board is bad enough. When there’s only one person it must be genuinely hellish. Then to read such pragmatic and entertaining blog entries from a guy going through it is genuinely inspiring. I have bemoaned rowing blisters, tendonitis and back cramps after intensive weeks rowing myself, but to multiple this by factors of 10 and add in all the other ocean-rowing factors is unimaginable and he has my utmost respect. I shall be glued to his, and the other crews, progress for the next two weeks to see what transpires.

As a starting point, read the entry for day 41 and work backwards.

On another note. A colleague obtained the first issue (‘only 50p’) of the much-advertised ‘Build An M3 GTR’ magazine series. It contained a chrome effect wheel, foam-filled tyre and a small plastic object. There are 95 issues in this series at a total cost of nearly £600. For that money I could buy a salvaged M3 and take I apart myself over 95 weeks. These things are a colossal waste of money. As typified by DeAgostini ... read the Watchdog report on DeAgostini here and the criticism levelled by Blagger.com.

That said, I could be swayed. By the end of the year I would be a qualified gemmologist, an expert in copperplate calligraphy and have Crimean War toy soldier collection that would be the envy of my friends and family.

In response, a friend writes:

“I find those adverts hilarious. It amazes me that people have so little going on in their lives that they might need a rubbish hobby generated for them.”

“[someone he knows] has been receiving "Build your own robot" by subscription for the last 12 months. I always have a look at it though the clear polybag when it comes. It’s hilarious. Last month it came with some kind of circuit board and some LED eyes. I don't know what it will do when it is complete. Presumably you will be able to press a button on the back of its head to make it say "I am a robot - bibbitty bibbitty bibbitty" and stamp its feet a bit.”

Lovely. Now go and read Chris’ blog.

Web Usability Seminar: London, 25th - 26th January

Posted to me on email today by David Travis of Userfocus:
This 2-day course provides you with tips, tools and techniques to help you apply usability throughout the development lifecycle. It will be useful for software developers, product managers -- and anyone else you want to convince to take your work seriously. Please pass this invitation on!

We have four places left on the seminar. One place is offered free as part of our pro bono work. More information about the course. To be eligible for the pro bono place you must work for a registered UK charity. More information about applying for the pro bono place

-"Practical techniques, clearly explained, which can easily be put into immediate practice." -"Lots of good examples of good/bad usability from real life, both web-based and others." -"Great practical tips to go away with."

--- ends ---


Poor Usability on GRO Website

About time I caught up on blogging. One of the dangers of doing this stuff – particularly when it’s closely linked to your job – is that you risk opening yourself and more specifically the people you work for to publicity. What I mean is that if I was to write about what’s interesting and occupying me at the moment, I would be talking about things that my employers haven’t agreed to being in the public domain. With that in mind, whilst I’m excited and busy with usability stuff, it’s not something I can readily talk about.

So, I am struggling to find time to blog on personal usability gripes instead. However as one cost me money this morning I thought I’d share. My fiancĂ©e and I regularly do genealogical research as a hobby and with the recent upsurge in interest anticipated by the forthcoming second series of the BBC documentary “Who Do You Think You Are?”, we thought we’d get busy on the popular sites and get some certificates ordered in advance of the rush.

Like most UK-based researchers, we use the excellent (RedWeb designed, hullo guys!) 1837online.com to source the reference number of the certificate. Now, I knew that there’s an official place to order certificates from but couldn’t remember the URL so I Googled for PRO (Public Record Office) and ‘official birth certificate copies’ but I quickly realised I was going knowhere (I ignore pay-per-click ads as they are a distortion of my intentions). A quick scoot onto 1837 and I found the link, GRO (General Register Office), by the way. So, armed with GRO reference number and URL I went to the site. I recognised it as we’ve ordered certificates before and I guessed I’d have an account. Logged in fairly quickly (once I’d selected from my mental database of online passwords…). Now I was happily clicking away when I reached the death certificate form. I was dismayed to find I couldn’t exactly reference the index number that I’d obtained from 1837. This was a pain as it ensures you’re more likely to get the particular certificate you want. Without this code researchers have to do a semi-dumb search using details such as age at death and location. Disappointed (as I’d remembered I used to add it in the past) I proceeded to payment. Another shock. The advertised cost of £7 per certificate was now £11.50. Annoyed, I assumed this was the result of delivery charges which should be included in the total price. I paid anyway – I needed the certificate.

Unhappy with this I went back through the process to find out what I’d missed (or rather not been shown) … so, this is my route:

> GRO home page (click ‘Deaths’ image)

> Deaths Page (click ‘Obtaining death certificates’ in right nav box). Why is the right nav box formed of sentences? There are only 6 links here but it looks like a paragraph of text and the links aren’t obviously clickable because they aren’t coloured obviously. Would it not be better on the left of the screen (the most obvious place) and re-titled:

- Register a death…
- Change a death record…
- Register a death overseas…
- Remove a body from England or Wales…
- Find your local register office
- Get a death certificate

(The order should depend on what the metrics show them are the most accessed links)

I then reached:

> Obtaining death certificates page (scrolled down and clicked ‘order certificates online’ in the body text)

> Certificate ordering service page (4 clicks in now… clicked ‘order a certificate online now’ … thinking “I’ve already clicked on something that said this … am I going round in circles?”)

> Log-in page.

> Certificate Choice page. Now this is where I had the issue, I missed the selection radio button after question 7. This is defaulted to ‘no’ (the most expensive option) so if I miss it, I’m on to the £11.50 form straight away. As this is a key decision point, it should be highlighted and made clear. Ideally it would be the first question asked as it determines the application route you should take.

Overall the site is flawed from a usability point of view and provides a good example of where accessibility and usability are not necessarily the same thing. Whilst it is perfectly possible and reasonable to access this site in a DDA compliant way, for it to be more usable the customer has to configure their browser to amend the style sheet used. The failure here is in not anticipating the customer journey and considering the ‘user’ box ticked in their sign-off simply because the site’s design has passed a number of accessibility heuristics.

Of course, I’m at fault because I missed it but, in the words of Steve Krug “Don’t Make Me Think”. Trouble is, I have to use the site because I have to get certificates.

Interestingly, I believe the error occurred because I approached it as a familiar experience, not a beginner. I spent less time reading the pages and concentrated my energies on the transactional process of obtaining the certificate quickly. A case or more haste, less speed, but it does show you that there are alternative routes through the process depending on levels of experience and as many of these as possible should be supported.