Tag Archives: customer experience design

Avoiding human error with good design

3 Jun

Recently we designed some shiny new business cards to go with our new website brand that we will be launching soon. So when the new cards arrived, we all crowded round in anticipation as the box of new cards was opened.

Spelling mistake business card

Spot the spelling mistake

 

With an ‘ooh’ and an ‘aah’ we were all pretty happy with the design, until someone spotted that we’d spelt architecture wrong in ‘information architecture’. We all proof read them before sending them to print, but we all missed it. Gutted, we had to go back to the drawing board to create new cards and get them printed again.

Our mistake could have been easily avoided if Adobe Illustrator had a spell check feature which highlighted errors as you type. Sure this may get annoying and not everyone would want it, but how much more annoying is it when your new poster, website banner, leaflets go live with a whacking great spelling error that other people had missed?

It’s a relatively small inclusion in terms of design effort on Adobe’s part, and how many times would it save a designer from looking like he should have paid more attention in those spelling lessons back at school?

The fact is that as humans we will always make mistakes; ‘to err is to be human’ as the saying goes. The trouble is that most designs are pretty unforgiving when it comes to human error.  We’ve all seen harsh error messages blaming us for our stupidity, undecipherable error messages, and error messages which are hidden in obscure places in new technology. It’s the designer’s role to make the user feel confident and in control at all times, not to make them feel stupid.

Error message

Unhelpful error message

Helping users recover from errors is important in design. Making them aware of the issue and the steps they could take to overcome them is fairly easy with just a bit of thought and anticipation. What is much more difficult, but much more important, is to avoid human error in the first place.

Some time ago it was my job to help avoid human error from occurring in air traffic control. I worked in a team whose sole responsibility it was to spot potential human errors and avoid them through design and procedures. We also looked at errors that had been made and interviewed air traffic controllers to understand how the error occurred and what we could do to fix it. Although designers may not always have that opportunity, the philosophy of that approach is fairly simple: Any human error could be avoided through good design.

Petrol pumps

Petrol pumps all look similar

Let’s take a couple of examples.

A fairly familiar mistake to some is accidentally putting diesel in a petrol run car. Anyone who’s ever done this will know that this is not good for your car! What can be done about that error? Well you could label all the people who do this as merely stupid, and not do anything. Or you could have a bit more compassion for people who are tired, stressed, with lots of things on their mind, who might have accidentally chosen the wrong coloured nozzle at the petrol pump and design errors out of the system.

When you accept that design can help remove the error in the first place, plenty of solutions reveal themselves; different shaped nozzles for petrol and diesel that only fit in the right car, redesigned petrol forecourts to separate diesel from petrol cars and so on. Of course the only thing is many of these are quite costly solutions with some practical issues.

Google attachment alert

Google’s clever error avoidance pop-up

The great thing about software, apps and websites is that small design changes can be implemented relatively quickly. How many times have you sent an email without an attachment, only to receive emails back asking ‘where’s the attachment dumbass?’ Well, thankfully Google took the steps to tackle the problem by alerting users before the email is sent that they had mentioned ‘attach’ in the text but hadn’t actually attached a file. It’s a wonderful example of spotting human error and avoiding it from happening.

We can never stop humans from making mistakes, and some mistakes contain fantastic learning opportunities for us. But there are plenty of small mistakes people make when using your website, app, or software that could be avoided. Let’s empower our users and make them feel great using your service, rather than make them feel stupid. All you need to do is take the time to anticipate potential errors, help users recover from them, and best of all help them to avoid errors completely.

How could better design have avoided errors you’ve made recently?

 

 

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Damian Rees

About Damian Rees

Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees

Does my iPad look big in this? How gadgets will shape the future of online retail

29 Jul

It is fair to say that the Web has changed shopping in some major ways over the years. From the initial rush to provide bricks and mortar stores with a wider profile and client base, to the monsters of Amazon and eBay, shopping has changed forever, and will continue to evolve.

The current problem is the static nature of e-commerce where most online stores use pictures and some descriptive text. That can be fine for books and boxed product, but there are many product types where a more immersive, higher fidelity experience is required.

Despite some high-profile attempts to change that (Boo.com, anyone?), it has taken longer for the hardware and the marketeers to catch up. But now shopping is ready to move to the next level, changing the user experience forever.

iPad Shopping Mock Up from Jesse Rosten on Vimeo.

Who says the pictures in your catalog  have to stand still?

New technology can make a big difference to user experience

As you can see, when selling clothes, having the ability to see how a dress hangs, how it floats or flows or how the cut of jeans looks can really help make up a buyer’s mind. Our usability research shows that online shoppers really want to see the product in the same way they can in a physical store. While this is only a mock-up, it won’t be too long before online retailers catch on to providing the kind of experience shoppers are hoping for.

It will also only be another couple of development steps to reach the point where an avatar of the buyer’s proportions can be used to show how the clothes will fit you and the exact size you would need to order.

Stores like Gap are already preparing tightly integrated apps for Apple’s iPad and the portable, instant-on nature of tablets and smartphones means that shoppers will be able to buy on a whim, just as they do when perusing the high street.

Retailers must remain focused on user needs and not just cool new features

User experience designers will need to work very closely with media creators to make their store look just as good as the top apps. Just as shoppers wouldn’t buy from a tatty, grubby store, they won’t buy from a poor-looking website.

Navigation will play a key part in designing a successful site where buyers will want to go freely from the dress, to the belt, to accessories (appropriate to the main item) without meandering through menus or hordes of unsuitable items. Retailers will need to remain focused on usability and information architecture and be careful not to get too carried away with exciting new technology.

Improving the user experience without overcomplicating things will take great effort. Portable devices like the iPad will provide experiences better suited to natural browsing but retailers will need to be careful not to get carried away with the technical capabilities and ‘whats cool’ and keep focusing on what users really need from the experience.

Have you seen any good examples of what online retail will look like?

Related service: e-commerce usability

 

 

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Damian Rees

About Damian Rees

Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees

ShopStyle iPhone App Usability Review

26 Jan

Nicole Cook from ShopStyle recently approached us for a review of their iPhone app. Following previous user feedback they made enhancements to the app, so we thought this was a great opportunity to kick off some more regular reviews of mobile apps on our blog. Let us know if you’d like your app reviewed.

We’ve put this review together following usability testing with a mix of regular iPhone app users and novice iPhone app users, as well as an expert user experience audit.

What is ShopStyle?

ShopStyle is an application which pulls together a number of different retailers into one place, allowing users to search and browse products on one app rather than visiting different apps or websites. Users can refine their searches to see all the products from the retailers signed up to the service, saving time and effort visiting different stores. Once a product is found, users are taken to the retailer’s site to complete their purchase.

The Good

  • Saves users time searching through different retail sites for products
  • Good categorisation of products
  • Users can quickly mark an item as a ‘favourite’ to build a list of items they can look at in more detail later while they browse
  • Users can discover products from brands and websites they may not have heard of or would not have found on the web
  • Very visual way to browse through products which supports users high street shopping behaviour of flicking through clothes racks
  • Refine options show how many items match the search criteria

The Bad

  • Loading times can be slow as the app downloads lots of images in one go
  • Even when users have refined their search criteria, there can still be a lot of items to scroll through.
  • Some of the prices in the app are not accurate when clicking through to the website
  • Prices are excluding delivery so it’s difficult for users to get an accurate view of how much they are likely to spend, instead users have to visit the website and find delivery costs and returns policy information
  • When scrolling through a number of items it is difficult for users to tell how many more items are left as there is no scroll bar
  • Refining options can be a little clunky if users want to refine a number of different items at once
  • Accessing product information is a little unclear
  • Some product images include model shots and other don’t which can give users a slightly disjointed experience

Our Top 3 Usability Improvements

  • Limit the number of images loaded at one time –  Because the app is so image heavy, it can take a while to download all the images when users are on the move.  Flickr deals with this by downloading 40 thumbnails and then users can ‘load 40 more’ which allows the application to load a smaller number of images quickly

  • Give users more control over filtering and sorting by price – Most users are price conscious and therefore rely upon price filters when searching for suitable products. With ShopStyle, users are forced to select a predefined price category when refining by price. Users however, want to search between their own minimum and maximum criteria e.g. John is willing to spend between £45 and £60 on a pair of jeans but has to search through a selection of jeans priced from £25 to £100. In addition, users need the ability to sort the results returned. We feel that allowing users to sort by price would be very useful for users.

  • Improve button placement - When users wanted to refine their searches by more than one criteria users tended to select the filter, then click ‘Done’, which took them back to the products listing. They would then realise they needed to go back to ‘Refine’ to add another criteria. We feel that this problem could be solved by improving  button placement and labels. Bringing the two options closer together and labelling them ‘Refine more’ & ‘Done’.

Other Usability Improvements

  • Add a scroll bar to searches
  • Improve navigation options to make it clearer how to move left and right, and how to see product information
  • Add a feature to allow users to compare details of the items listed in their ‘favourites’
  • Allow users to save their personal preferences such as their shoe size, waist size etc. to provide personalised searches
  • Add user ratings to searches and encourage users to add their own ratings to products
  • Allow users to filter results by stores offering free delivery

Conclusion

Overall, we found the ShopStyle app offered users a good experience and users found the app to be extremely useful to them. The app does have some usability issues but none are showstoppers. Despite this, we feel that the improvements we recommend above will make significant enhancements to the overall experience and will become more important as more and more retailers sign up to ShopStyle. We look forward to seeing the improved version

Do you have an app you’d like us to review?

Related services: Usability testing & iphone app usability

 

 

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Damian Rees

About Damian Rees

Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees

The effect of bias in DIY usability testing

26 Mar

DIY usability testing

We’re seeing a lot of people talking about conducting their own usability tests in house. The topic of DIY testing has been around for some time now with advocates such as Steve Krug and Jakob Nielson. The general principle being that any testing is better than no testing which is an idea we fully believe in.

As a company who offer usability testing it will probably come as no surprise that we would put forward an argument against companies doing their testing in house. But, before I do that I’d like to add that I think its excellent that people are taking user centredness so seriously these days and if teams feel that they want to take testing in house then that can only be a good thing for the future of the industry. If internal development teams feel so strongly about getting usability and user experience right, then of course we would fully support them in doing so.

My concern with what appears to be a rise in DIY usability testing is one of bias. One of the main benefits our clients get from using us is that we’re independent (combined with the fact we’ve been usability testing for nearly 10 years now).

Our word of warning to all those people looking to test their own projects is don’t underestimate the power of bias when testing your own stuff. When we come into a project and observe users interacting with a product or service we don’t have any of the baggage of internal politics, why it has been designed the way it has, who made the decision to put that button there, why its not possible to do this. We simply see things from a fresh, independent perspective which allows us to really see what’s going on.

When a project team comes to observe us testing their product or service with users, at the end of the day when we talk about the findings what they saw is often quite different to what we saw. They saw the detail rather than the bigger picture, they picked up on evidence to strengthen their own pre-existing beliefs, they played out discussions and arguments they’d had when designing it. We didn’t. We had the luxury of seeing what was really happening.

Not being able to see the wood from the trees is something we can all identify with at times. When we are in the day to day detail its really hard to step back and see things from a new perspective. Testing the project you’ve been working on carriers the danger that you may just see what you want to see. You may see things that you instantly dismiss because of the history of how it has been developed, but the real key to improving the experience may be hidden here and you simply can’t see it. Sometimes it takes someone else to spot the patterns going on right in front of your eyes.

Overall the increase in DIY testing has to be a good one because ultimately the winners will be the users. An increase in awareness and appreciation for improving user experience is something we would fully support, so for people with no budget to bring in independent consultants we’d fully recommend giving DIY testing a go. But, DIY testers must be aware of the dangers of only seeing evidence to support what they already believe to be true. Sometimes an independent expert review can be more valuable than an DIY usability test, but that’s a post for another day.

Is your perception of usability in your product or service accurate?

Related services: Usability testing, and User experience audit

 

 

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Damian Rees

About Damian Rees

Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees

Forced restaurant service charges can damage the customer experience

7 Aug

Forced restaurant service charges can damage the customer experience

In recent months I have experienced behaviour from restaurants which I can’t quite fathom. When I receive the bill a service charge has already been added. And not just at my usual 10% rate, which I thought was standard in the UK, but at 12.5% or even 15%.

A tip should reward good customer experience

I am not a skinflint, but I have my own rules for paying a tip. The waiter/waitress has to be a bit special, by doing something nice that makes me enjoy my experience that little bit more. It’s not difficult to wait on me with a smile, to be there when I need a new bottle of wine, to provide a recommendation, or to know where my food is sourced from. And I am happy to pay 10% in cash to the particular waiter or waitress who has made my eating experience a good one.

So when I sit at a cramped table, eating average quality food that I could have made at home, and have difficulty in attracting the attention of the waiting staff (or receive too much attention), I don’t feel inclined to leave a tip. But wait. This already expensive meal, of average quality, has a 15% service charge automatically added to the bill.

The credit card machine provides no obvious option to remove the service charge from my bill payment. The only way to do this is to request it, making the process more confrontational for customers. I’m sure leaving a tip used to be a discreet affair!

In true British style I decide not to make a fuss. But I muse on it for days. Who decided to change the rules? Who has suddenly decided that us Brits are always happy to pay a tip? Who decided that this tip was to be 15%?

My answer? I won’t visit this restaurant again and I’ll warn my friends of it.

Delivering beyond customer expectations must become a priority business objective

I believe this is a case where internal process and business objectives have become the main focus without considering the customer. Yes, the business needs to make more money, and yes the waiting staff would like tips. But surely you are more likely to build loyal customers by focusing on the experience and the food? And surely the customer should have the choice to leave a tip to waiting staff that have waited particularly well?

There are reports that take-away food is becoming more popular as customers “Trade down”, by wishing to spend less with the economic uncertainty that looms. So a restaurant that automatically increases its pricing by adding a 15% service charge is not going to entice customers.

It is also important for restaurateurs to ensure their customers know what will happen to the tips they leave. It is disheartening to think that my tip is being used to top up salary. So it is comforting to see that the law is being updated. However, the choice must remain with the customer.

Understanding customer needs, meeting their expectations, and giving them the choice to tip is far more likely to encourage repeat visits. So companies must balance the business and customer objectives to ensure a sustainable and successful service.

Have you pushed forward your business goals without considering your customers’ goals?

Related services: Customer Profiling, Customer Experience Research, and Customer Requirements Capture

 

 

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Ali Carmichael

About Ali Carmichael

Ali (or Alasdair) is an experienced project manager who loves his Gantt charts and milestones! He has over 12 years' experience managing successful online experiences for world class brands. Ali is responsible for ensuring our clients love what we do for them. Follow Ali on twitter @AliJCarmichael

5 reasons to improve your website customer experience during a downturn

30 Jul

5 reasons to improve your website customer experience during a downturn

We’ve been trying not to talk too much about the ‘credit crunch’ on our blog because quite frankly we’re sick of hearing about it in the headlines every day. But, if it’s something our clients are worried about, we felt we should provide some ideas on what to do during these uncertain times.

So we’ve created a list of reasons why you should improve your website customer experience:

1)  Rising fuel costs and household bills could mean more people turn online to save money

Instead of driving to the store to shop around, customers are more likely to research and purchase online in an attempt to save costs.  Research suggests that retailers are seeing an increase in online sales at a time when  there is a widespread decline in the high street, making the web a good channel to focus upon during a time when customers are more frugal.

Low cost customer research can yield small changes to a website which can have a big difference in improving customer experience.


2)  Lower numbers of customers with money to spend means finding better ways to improve conversion

With a predicted economic downturn all over the headlines, consumers are likely to restrict their spending and become more considered when making purchase decisions.

Through usability testing you can understand your customers’ newly formed needs and provide an online experience to meet their expectations. This will give you the advatange over yout competitors during this period.


3)  Getting your website in order now means you can have confidence in your site if your budget is reduced

If you have budget now, but you feel it could be sparse in the near future, it’s a wise investment to  ensure the site is delivering what your customers need, and what your board demands.

Understanding the barriers to online conversion now, and knowing how to remove these barriers, will allow you to make strategic changes to stabilise the customer experience.


4)  During periods of restricted budget it is even more important to get your prioritisation right

When budgets are tight, prioritisation becomes a critical decision making tool. All too often, website owners make prioritisation decisions based on business goals and available resource. It is critical to understand your customers’ goals and ensure that you include customer priorities in your thinking.

Having a site which focuses only upon your business goals in our experience is the best way to provide a poor customer experience because you can easily lose sight of customer needs.


5)  When times are tough, people seek experiences which make them feel good

During an economic downturn, marketers have noticed an increase in lipstick sales. The term ‘lipstick factor’ refers to phenomenon where women turn away from the more expensive shoes and clothes towards the less expensive items that make them feel better about themselves. During troubled times people have a greater need to feel better about themselves, so making customers feel good by providing small ‘pick me ups’ during their experience with your site is a way to thrive during the ‘credit crunch’.

Is your website catering to current customer needs?

Related services: Customer Experience Research, User Experience Audit, and Usability Testing

 

 

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Damian Rees

About Damian Rees

Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees

The online gambling user experience fails to support ‘newbies’

27 May

Betting user experience

According to a recent article I read, there are over 5,000 people employed in the UK online gambling sector today. Judging by my recent experiences, few of them have ‘user experience’ in their job title. What amazed me was how most of the sites I looked at were clearly not focused upon the novice gambler experience. Maybe they work seamlessly for a seasoned gambler, but for a ‘newbie’ like me, it was so painful that I gave up in the end.

Betting on the next Chelsea manager

Before this weekend there’s been a lot of debate among fellow Chelsea fans over whether Avram Grant will still be Chelsea manager next season. So much so, that I began to feel pretty strongly about the whole thing and in a debate I was challenged to put my money where my mouth was. So that’s what I decided to do. The idea of going online to place a bet felt a lot less daunting than walking into a betting shop, so I started working my way through a few of the more well known gambling sites. Before long I found myself very confused.

Most, if not all the websites I looked at have no ability to search, which I found distressing as they assumed that I knew exactly what I was looking for and where to find it. Finding the Football or Soccer sections seemed to be a struggle and, even when I did, I found nothing that would allow me to bet on the next Chelsea manager. Overwhelmed by the bombardment of ads, promotions and betting options, I struggled to find a betting site that would guide a new user to make clear decisions. I found that I could bet on almost any competition I liked that was happening now or in the immediate future. I could even bet on who would win the Premiership next season, but there was absolutely nothing on future manager predictions. Since this weekend where Grant was sacked, many of the sites now have clear promotions to the various betting options leaving me frustrated that these weren’t clearly available only a week ago.

Little support for gambling ‘newbies’

Intrigued by the online betting user experience, I decided to continue my investigation by looking at the betting for Euro 2008. Although most of the sites listed the betting options in order, from the favourites to the least favourites, I still managed to get myself confused when trying to work out odds like 13/8. Like most other betting ‘newbies’ I just want to know how much I can win if I bet a certain amount, but very few sites let me work this out without forcing me to take the bold step of actually placing a bet.

Many of the sites listing Euro 2008 betting options required a certain level of understanding of gambling terminology with terms like ‘Antepost Betting’ and ‘Double Chance’. These sites made me feel like I didn’t belong, but even worse, they made me feel stupid. As a new user, I required: good navigation allowing me to quickly find what I wanted to bet on, some tools to help me decide which bets might be sound than others (e.g. links to football statistics), a clear way to understand the different betting options, and a method of clearly working out what I would win on each bet.

Poor online user experience

It’s predicted that in 2 years time, the UK gambling market will increase to £1.6bn with 2.1m active gamblers. This growth can be achieved much quicker if these sites paid more attention to improving their user experience.

Customer acquisition and retention are key in the online betting market with the number of sites competing for business. The sites which take the biggest market share over the coming years are likely to be those investing in customer experience for people new to online betting. I found it surprising the barriers customers have to overcome before converting.

Understanding customer requirements and improving usability is not an expensive endeavour, but all too often we see websites that fail to meet the needs of large groups of their audience, and on the face of it, the online betting market appears to be no different.

Are you meeting the needs of your customers online?

 

Related services: Customer requirements capture, Usability testing, and Customer experience research

 

 

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Damian Rees

About Damian Rees

Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees

Multi-channel retail experiences don't live up to expectations

20 Mar

multi-channel retail experiences

Within the retail market there is a lot of talk about Multi-Channel, where services are provided via multiple touchpoints. Most commonly, this refers to a website and a shop floor. So it was interesting to see that one of the UKs largest retailers is still experiencing gaps between what it offers in-store, what it promotes online, and what level of understanding its staff has.

This example was experienced as a bit of research I was undertaking to review the online experience of buying an affordable suit. I was testing the website, but as part of the user journey I needed to visit the store to reach my goal. Here’s what happened:

The website promoted a suit, shirt and tie combo for £32, which was exactly what my user profile was looking for but it wasn’t available to buy on-line. My user profile was not fond of shopping, and certainly didn’t want to go all the way to the store only to find they had no stock. So I called my local branch. The polite lady that I spoke to was not aware of such a combo offer, and informed me that their in-store stock was often different to that on the website. So my journey ended there and I hadn’t reached my goal. Well, out of character, I decided to pop into the store to have a look for myself. And guess what? I found a suit for £26, a shirt for £4, and a tie for £3. A suit, shirt and tie combo for £32.

So what has happened here? If your retail website does not allow you to buy the products online, then users will expect them to be available in store, and will also expect that when you mention the online products to the sales assistants then they will know what it is you are referring to. The key mistake made in this is example is that the retailer did not provide sufficient information and training to its in-store staff about the products and promotions currently live on the website. The impact of this is a potential online customer, happy to buy in store, is let down when he crosses channels. The retailer loses out on a sale, and the customer has to begin their journey again and go elsewhere.

Successful companies will need to provide its services across multiple touchpoints (shop floor, web site, call centre, brochure, etc.), but those that will come out on top will review all their touchpoints together as one solution and roll out each channel to provide a consistent experience and enhance the customer journey.

Is your multi-channel experience consistent across all your touchpoints?

Related services: Customer Experience Research, User Experience Audit, and Customer Journey Mapping

 

 

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Ali Carmichael

About Ali Carmichael

Ali (or Alasdair) is an experienced project manager who loves his Gantt charts and milestones! He has over 12 years' experience managing successful online experiences for world class brands. Ali is responsible for ensuring our clients love what we do for them. Follow Ali on twitter @AliJCarmichael