Category Archives: Usability

Analogue with a digital on top

Bought a guitar on eBay last week, out of some sort of desire to be a bit more analogue, and realised I had no good way to know if it was in tune. So back to eBay for a tuner from the US.

Now who’s an eejit!

Completely forgot I have an iPhone and that there’s an app for just about everything (there’s three fart apps FFS!!). So my new dilemma is do I just use the tuner coming in the post eventually from the US, or repost it on eBay and buy the app?

My loyalties to analogue are in conflict with my loyalties to my lovely new iPhone.

Guess who’s going to win!

Commuter pic of the day to follow.

BTW: played guitar for 40 minutes last night in an attempt to strengthen my fingertips. Can I just say the left side of the keyboard is my enemy this morning? fingertips over on the left of QWERTY is ouchy!

Just sayin’!

On the road

Yep, finally got my iPhone. So on the interest of usability I thought I’d try to blog on the train into work. Yes, the N96 is great and the blackberry does email like no other, but I have to say that the iPhone has them beat on usability even with the tiny letters on the keypad. Why?
Because you don’t need to RFM (Read the Frikkin’ Manual) to get things done. Not only does it put things where you expect them to be, it helps you understand the way it works while you use it without reverting to a manual.

So I only have 18 minutes for my blog so best be quick about it!

Usability is all about not forcing me to do all the work to figure out your device, your device should work hard to make me understand it without a manual. Like all our favourite tools do.

So to finish it off here is a pic from my view every morning as I step off the train.

(posted from my iPhone) 🙂

It’s the little things

I remember a Charles Bukowski poem, The Shoelace (AUDIO or TEXT), I may have mentioned it here before, but it’s the little things that drive people crazy, make them mad beyond the scope of the little thing. There’s no reason your broken shoelace drives you crazy but it does. Listen to people talk on the morning bus or evening after work drink. Before the personal stuff there is usually a story of how some meaningless inconsequential event, a late train, a missed call, a broken accessory, a lost earring, made their day that much more unpleasant.

I remembered this when I got my morning coffee today, lazy; didn’t make my own.

The coffee shop give out loyalty cards, you know the ones, buy ten, get one free; that sort of thing. Great! I said! Thanks!

But it won’t fit in the space wallets have for credit cards.

I stood there while the steam gushed through the ground coffee, smelling my morning Javanese fix getting closer and I was forced to think up new places to put this card, away from other loyalty cards, bus ticket, etc. Find a new place to keep the thing that was meant to make me feel better. You made me have to think about you when I was busy thinking about me.

My morning started with a problem, when I am on my way trying to solve big problems for other people that is worth a lot of money for them. The coffee was supposed to make me feel good, but I had a problem even before I plopped at my desk.

OK, it was a small thing but your small things shouldn’t get in the way of my enjoying your company, because it’s the small things that drive us crazy.

The difference between helping and hating your customer

One thing I am extremely passionate about, are sites that include a crucial process, like joining membership or soliciting feedback or making a purchase, that think about what I might feel about their process. I can’t stand form fields with conditions (i.e.: username requires special characters) that I’m not told about until the form fails, registrations that have a field that is required, yet is not marked as such, forms that don’t retain your information when they fail so you have to fill it out all over again… that sort of insult. That’s what it is, an insult. Terrible websites built by uncaring cowboys.

I just paid several dollars for the privilege of booking tickets that do not need to be posted and that I had to spend very many tries to get through the process; each time there was a difficulty, there was now way to return to the process except by leaving. The process was incredibly complex, involved needing to make choices I could not see, had no helper through the process, gave no indication what part of the process I was involved in, moved me through THREE different domains that had pages that looked different from each other and was generally the most uncomfortable process I have encountered in years.

Now I have made very complex purchases from dedicated or free Open Source-powered websites in the past, I have even set up an online shop or two myself and have some inkling as to what is possible and necessary. I do have to state that this particular purchase recently encountered was designed by a rude bastard who cared nothing for the people having to go through the process. we would be surprised to walk into a well-known shop that has the plumbing exposed, half-broken stock display units, dangerous wiring, etc, but we tolerate it in websites for some bizarre reason.

Whenever I encounter an online process like this, unless it is crucial I get it from them, I’d rather not reward them for their insult and look for it elsewhere, even if I have to spend an extra ten minutes of my own time to do so.

MOO Cards get it right.

From their attention to helping me find what I want, through a complex design and upload and selection processes that require no instructions at all, to fantastic delivery, communications process, perfect customer care to real love for me and my experience with them.

Get this, they quoted me free shipping erroneously, openly told me they would charge shipping later, which I assumed and agreed to anyway, made sure I saw the shipping costs and got my permission, and then they AUTOMATICALLY checked the process and decided that since one of four screens showed no shipping that they would refund me the shipping anyway.

Ordered, printed, delivered wrapped (with five discount coupons for friends) and received in 5 days, London to Sydney.

Guess who gets my custom again? And guess who I’m raving about to friends and colleagues?


The Tribe at WordCamp Australia

WordCamp Australia, Day 1

Only about 75 people here, in a small hangar like cavern, quite appropriately called the big red box in canal street, Sydney. (Sorry, gotta complete my wordpress upgrade before I add the images!)

On the bus home, hired macbook on my lap (don’t get me started on how my MacBookPro died after a simple Safari update on Wednesday!!), reflecting on a good day at #wordcampau.

Instead of some florid exponation of how cool it feels to be here (v!) and the quality of the people attending (high!) I thought I’d riff on Matt Mullenwag whom I never met before but got a good feeling from the second I met him.

If there is anyone I would like to run my business (or organisation) or run a business I depend on, it’d be him. Calm, humble in the face of talented critics, open-minded to everything that is mentioned, charming to both the thoughtful and ignorant in equal measure, I beleive Matt is a example of a good leader (in the Seth Godin definition) of a tribe. His real passion in both and, and in the desires and aims of the people who use the tools he and his company Automattic create and drive for us is tangible.

Contrast that with the arrogant, obnoxious, controlling nature of people like Steve Ballmer and it becomes very clear who inspires and influences grass roots passion and who is intent on control and manipulation.

Good to see and truly inspiring of confidfence in the WordPress future.

On a side note, special thanks to Adam Makda at Next Byte / Rushcutters Bay who got me an excellent mac to hire at a decent price for a week while their techies at Broadway branch repair my sick Mac Book Pro. Advice on how to restore from Time Machine and even an offer of his personal mobile number in case I needed tech support during he weekend. Another truly helpful, committed and passionate person who cares about what they do.

Contact me if you want to know how easy it is to restore a disk from Time Machine in record time with a minimum of fuss.

On to day two at Word Camp Australia!

IKEA and MSI and getting your customer right

I love IKEA!

That’s a big thing to say after blogging nothing for a few months. In particular since it has nothing to do with the www, at least at first glance. But it does, in a way, because, in my mind, almost everything has to do with the internet. It does have to do with understanding your customers though. Bear with me, friends.

For those of you who know me, you know I have moved from the UK to Australia over these past few months. Winding up work, packing up the flat, shipping it all out to Sydney, saying goodbye to loving friends, taking a well earned month off in Fiji in a hut with no electricity, (I know, hard work!) then landing in Newtown, settling into the house, buying furniture, getting listed and documented by various government agencies, sorting out broadband, telephone, finding interesting companies to approach for work, etc…..

*whew!* busy! but fun. So not much time for blogging, although I’ve been pretty busy in the Twittersphere and various IM tools like Skype and GTalk with friends and family from across the world, fun but busy.

So what’s this about IKEA? Right; IKEA gets me right. IKEA knows me and gets it right. No only me but many other people right too. They know enough of us to get most of us right. I’ve been supremely impressed by the amount and quality of information they can fit into their assembly diagrams without writing a single word. just pictures and numbers. For IKEA experts like myself, *blush* the information is straightforward and simple. For flat-pack newbies, it starts by telling you you can do it yourself, telephone them for help or have them walk you through assembly in the shop. It tells you what should be in the box, what tools you need and what skills you should posess. At the beginning of the document, where you need to see it. At every point in the assembly process where it gets a bit tricky, the information is more detailed and methodical; where there’s easy repetitive information, it all fits in one diagram. In some ways an IKEA instruction booklet not only tells you how to assemble this particular item but it tells you how to approach all flat-pack-furniture tasks. Brilliant!

This was a very different experience to this message from the MSI website where I simply wanted to report a fault:

You think they could pay a few dollars to ANYone who knows English to try and see if it makes sense?

Here’s the text to help you read it better:



  • To avoid being handed as small mail,the system will not reply to you by e-mail.
  • Before you issue the questions, we strongly recommend that you should fill out the following basic products info and system configuration.The more detailed you provide, the faster our technical staffs can handle your problems. Very sorry for your inconvenience!
  • For saving time, you can learn all about MSI products solution by visiting our FAQ where the most asked questions we have received from our customers.
  • If you solve your problem by yourself, we hope that you may supply solution to us for our reference.
  • “Online Customer Service” provides you an exclusive inquiring field. The question you ask will be your record.
  • If you have any further questions, please visit MSI Forum to find what others said in the good article forum written by moderators & power users.
  • Please use English to fill out the form.

Go to Chinese version.
There are so many instances of wrong in this I can hardly contain myself but a few pop out to me right away. It is not intelligible English, for a start, and it would have cost little to commission even an expensive copywriter. I particularly like how it asks you to return to the site (URL please?) and supply the solution should you find one yourself, before you have even asked them for help. It is a lot of confusing information that is mostly unnecessary. I seriously though of returning the computer as DOA and getting a refund. In fact a lot of the reviews for this otherwise excellent computer came with a warning about bad service ,already scaring some away from this particular product. I won’t go into the farcical details of the quality of further communications or how I finally fixed it myself just before they offered to have it returned for “repair” without offering some simple solutions first.

So why do so many companies take the MSI route over the IKEA route? Why do so many companies make it difficult to love their products and why do so many of them completely forget that happy people come back and the pissed off make sure they don’t?

This is what User-Centred Design (applies to a call centre or customer service website as much as a car, computer or kettle) is all about; what is the user experiencing and how can we make it a positive experience for them while making sure they part with their money with us for their next purchase?

Everyone I talk to hates visiting IKEA, they hate the maze, the massiveness, the shelves, the meatballs, the outlying distant-ness, yet it is highly successful and 4 out of 5 people go back again within 2 years for more. So they must be getting something right and I think it is the small things that bring people back, like the helpful instructions and useful website that do it.

Charles Bukowski once wrote a short story about the little things that drive people mad. Not the world wars or huge calamities, but the little things like broken shoelaces and loose handles and static-plagued telephone lines. I think it is the little things that keep people coming to you, like friendly staff, helpful instructions and looking at it from your point of view.

Don’t drive your clients mad, help them love you.

Freedom and dependence

What I want when I want it and all for free or with transparent pricing.

We have not had a television in the house since about 2002, partly as it was a TV I acquired from a flat I moved into in 1991 (!) and it was a bit tired, partly because reception got a bit crap when they repaired our roof but left the aerial dangling (!!), and finally, because we were too busy doing other things to really relax enough in front of the idiot box at the same time that something good was on.

And timing is everything these days. We don’t like swapping our personal schedules for the vagaries of the advertising markets and may want to watch Little Britain at noon, or Sesame Street at 7PM. And what exactly is wrong with occasionally passing on the news and watching a film at 6PM?

Last night we watched three episodes of a comedy program on the BBC iPlayer because we liked it and wanted to see it right then. There are several Live TV over IP offerings available like Zattoo and Joost and they are starting to get somewhere but no-one really has got it right, as the iPlayer has a short expiry rate (one week) and the two latter ones occasionally fail on decent network support, leaving you with terrible compression artifacts or no connections at all partway through the program.

TV will have to wake up and become aware that people will find it if the originators don’t offer it. The consumer world is now aware that you can get what you want and should be able to get it when you want it. Those that are aware of this will be the respected suppliers (whinge all you like, but iTunes, even with it’s restrictive practices and weird pricing structure, gets it right enough to use) who deliver a good enough proportion of what we want.

The issue is not Intellectual Property, really, it is about milking us for something we already paid for (how anyone in the US watches television I don’t know as there seems to be the same amount of advertising as program, even without the blatant product placement!) and the consumers WILL find a solution that fits. TV companies should be cognizant of all the mistakes of the music industry and be aware…

internet, outer space, open source and the new open space

I Read an interview with Mark Shuttleworth, a personal hero of mine, in The Guardian last night.

A fascinating story of how he wants technology to help people, but not in that overbearing, paternalistic sense but in a more fraternal, assistive way. Having done some very interesting things, like spending $20 million on a trip into space, he also started the company that oversees the Ubuntu project, Ubuntu, meaning, “I am what I am because of who we all are”. Ubuntu is about computing for people, about an environment not directed at the technically experienced but for people who want to get things done on their not so expensive anymore bits of plastic and silicon. This, to me. is usability and user-centred design in action.

Ubuntu is a very popular, respected (among the geekorati) operating system that is open-source and free. Basically this means anyone can come along and modify the code used to create it, unlike Microsoft and Apple, who lock the source code away. (To be fair, the essence, the kernel, to use the proper term, of the Apple operating system, OSX, is DarwinBSD, an open source flavour of UNIX.) I see open source as part of the next wave of personal computing, open, free and distributed, that sees the entire business model of software and digital activity in general, change dramatically. Gone will be the Microsoft model, thankfully, which is already suffering from it’s own market ignorance and inability to see where the rest of the world is going. MS is big, but they won’t be for much longer when I can get everything I need from an office application online and for free from one of a dozen diferent service providors, like Google, and others. OpenOffice Org is working on a mac port of OpenOffice (does what MS Office does but for free!) after being available for Windows and Linux users for years. Even Adobe is offering a simple version of photoshop online, for free, with 2GB storage and some very nifty graphics tools. I still haven’t figured out their business model, but I’m not quibbling when it is so easy to use, unlike almost anything I have seen MS provide.

The thing that really got me from the inteview with mark Shuttleworth was the concurrence of his expression and my realisation, just a few days earlier, that we do so much of our stuff online. I am now in a situation where the majority of my computing is in www, there is so little I do that is not at the very least, networked! I now spend a great deal of my computing time in the open space of social networking, online applications, web-based tools like the one I’m writing in now, and being entertained by streamed music to match my current moods, like with LastFM. This is in part seriously scary, but also amazing liberating, as long as I have a network connection! Why the internet is not supplied as easily as a telephone line I do not understand but surely that can’t be too far away? This is an exciting time both for computing AND the internet, when the two converge in ways that we could not foresee a decade ago.

BTW: did you see how I tied my title through the article? How open can you get! 😉