User Experience 2006 Conference: What I expect to see/hear...

I’ve booked myself in for a day at User Experience 2006 on the 8th November to take part in Dan’s documentation session. As with most things NN/g you have to pay for the privilege of dealing with the most well-known and popular user-centric consultants so I hope I, and The Company get value from the session. (UPDATE: See Web Analyst, apparently John Boyd's session in Seattle left some people wanting)

Having been fortunate to have taken degrees in psychology and information processing I feel that the science behind UE is a given. Where I have had issues in recent years has been in converting my academic reporting and methodologies to corporate environments. A director doesn’t want to read a journal-formatted paper and it’s rarely appropriate to approach each project with academic rigour when the focus is on the baseline. Furthermore, your colleagues haven’t all come from the same background and so working together produces discrepancies in documentation and techniques.

The intention is therefore to consolidate my experiences to-date and emerge from this session with a standardised set of deliverables for real-world projects. Deliverables which will inform and empower the decision-makers and clients surrounding our projects with comprehensive data, insight and solutions.

Later on in the day I’m hoping to attend the session on Windows Vista. I think we have problems sometimes dealing with disparate teams across locations and so on but read this:
"...[the talk will cover] the challenges and ultimately the successes the user experience team achieved in driving product innovation and quality, despite their working in a largely engineering-driven culture, and having to collaborate, over five years, with several thousand people across multiple divisions at Microsoft Corp"
Crumbs. That's scale!

GRO Website Usability Improves

Took a look at the GRO website again yesterday after mentioning a difficult process last year in ordering certificates. Well, despite clinging on to the default ‘no’ option for the reference number (see original post for explanation), I’m pleased to say that they have re-structured the body content on the page to highlight certificate ordering within each registration category. In a delineated ‘shortcuts’ box you can click through to a generic ‘ordering’ page. There are still too many click involved from the homepage to get to that point but it is an improvement from having to dig around in text on the page.

Now, if they could just fix that right-hand menu on the category pages…


one Amnesty Announced

I hereby announce that most noble of things, an amnesty. An amnesty that is on the long-suffering staff of one, my commuting nemesis since 2003. However, before this officially starts I need to add a few qualifiers: that the amnesty lasts until at least December, that it exists notwithstanding a catastrophic service failure and that it begins only after I’ve had my final constructive words to say.

A couple of things have brought me to this point, this zenith of invective. Primarily, a desire to avoid being a one-track blog as the principle focus for it must be my day job, web user-experience. Secondly, frankly I could do without entering into dialogue with staff at one who are as impotent as I am at changing their corporate culture, even if they’re trying nobly. Their hands are tied by process, budget and management and until their bosses (Dominic Booth particularly) start reading this and understanding the pain, there’s very little point. Organ grinders and monkeys.

But, as I say, before the amnesty, one (ahem) last post. Yesterday I applied for my new season ticket. When you complete the bi-annual NX appraisal of one they ask you whether or not you’d choose to use the service again but, like many commuters, I have little choice and so, whilst disgusted by the service, I am forced to hand over money. Money this year which amounted to £4,480 (Chelmsford to Norwich annual season ticket) which is an incredible sum. To put this in to perspective this could buy me a reasonable second hand 2001 model Golf 1.9TDi, or it means that if you work as a one call centre advisor you’d probably have to work from January to mid April full-time on no pay just to cover the season ticket cost from your salary.

What does this get me? It gets a journey time of 1hr 30mins in the morning and 1hr 15mins in the evening at roughly £6.30 per hour. (There’s a cruel irony that when the journey time is longer I pay less per hour so perhaps I should be grateful for delays.)

Now, imagine I’d spent the money on that Golf. Imagine the frustration then if when I went out to drive it, one day a week it simply would refuse to open and let me drive it for ten minutes or so, without telling me why leaving me standing for an undeterminable amount of time. Imagine if, on the coldest, windiest days after work I turned up at the car park and it wasn’t there, for two hours. Imagine if when driving home it just stopped and sat on the side of the road without explanation every 10 minutes for a few minutes. Or as soon as the weather warmed up the air conditioning would pack up and be entirely unserviceable until October when it would work again. Or perhaps if I got in the car only to be told that I’d have to transfer to another one which would drive me somewhere else and leave me in a car park at Stansted Airport for two hours with several hundred other Golf drivers, little advice, no shelter and a requirement to push and jostle to get on a bus to go to another car park when the Golf would then be able to drive me home.

You’d be pretty irritated by your purchase wouldn’t you? But at least your £4480 would last for more than a year, probably – in the case of a Golf of that age - another ten years. With one, I pay for that level of service and it lasts me 12 months at which point I’ll have to pay over £4500 for the same again despite assurances that next year I might get new seats and someone would re-paint it.

I’m not saying that the Golf could get me to work in the same time, the drive from Chelmsford to Norwich is automotively grotesque and it would cost me money in tyres, petrol and maintenance. The point is to get some perspective on experience and service expectations.

The final subject of my criticism is the ‘one’ website. Yesterday morning I didn’t know the cost of a season ticket between Chelmsford and Norwich (blissful ignorance) so I thought I’d have a look on the web. I anticipated it would be a simple process of selecting start and end stations and clicking ‘Go’ or similar. Well, this is genuinely the route I took and the customer journey I experienced (download PDF document 670kb).

We’re nearly at the end now just to say that there are things that one get right:

:: The staff at Ipswich station. Before I moved to Chelmsford I commuted from Ipswich and the staff there were almost entirely excellent, friendly and helpful when things inevitably went wrong.
:: The ticket buying process at the counter/on train. With chip and pin this now takes less than a minute.
:: Delay Repay (-ish). Some recompense for delays but for annual season ticket holders not using season direct it would be nice to have the cash or vouchers for the on-board catering. A week of free coffee in the morning would be a nice touch.

Just think of all the things my £4480 could help to add to that list (reliable punctual trains, new information screens at every station, clear timely relevant announcements, exceptional delay contingency plans, full online ticket facilities, universally clean and comfortable trains, ticket barriers at every station to eliminate free-loaders, pro-active customer service culture from Director-level down …)

And that’s it, from this moment on one are immune, on this blog at least, from criticism.