Tag Archives: Usability

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) 🙂

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:

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Attentionīŧš

  • 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.
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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.

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! 😉

Usability? Your problem, according to Skype

Isn’t it great to be told that when a site does not work, it is YOUR fault?

I went to skype.com to download the latest release for my Mac, went to the downloads page, and landed on the default Windows download page. OK, I’m used to this and expect it, even though I thought they used to sniff out my OS and browser and deliver me to the MacOSX Download page automatically. (For those of you not aware, all browsers tell the webserver what browser and operating system the visitor is using. It is trivial for a web designer to utilise this when it needs to.) So I click on the well signposted MacOSX Downloads link and click on the helpful big green button saying Skype 2.7 for Mac OS X Download.

So far so good.

So you’d now expect to see a download progress bar right? No, I get redirected to the Windows download page, which does not allow me to download the Win version either. To my experienced eyes, this is a clear example of some logistical loop on the web server. Someone has tried something clever, some web redirect to make the site deliver the file according to the OS given, right? No problem, all developers are human so I pop over to the poorly signposted help button and several clicks later (where there is no mention of the possibility that one would have trouble downloading) I manage to get a message off to support to get some assistance. The form asks me my OS, browser, skype version, etc… and leaves me space to tell them I am trying to download the latest Mac release, and would like a direct link to the file or dmg as required.

Guess what the reply, 24 hours later, is?

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Hello Joe,

Thank you for contacting Skype Support.

You should try to download as follows:
Close your current Skype by clicking the Skype icon in the system tray (the green spot in the bottom right hand corner) and choosing “Quit” from there.

It is suggested to clear your web browser cache to make sure you don’t get the old version again.
How to delete cache in Internet Explorer:
Go to Internet Explorer –> Tools –> Internet Options –> General and under Temporary internet files select ‘Delete files..’
How to delete cache in Mozilla:
Go to Mozilla –> Tools –> Options –> Privacy –> Clear cache.

Go to http://www.skype.com/download.html
Click download -> Download File -> Open… and off it goes. *If you again experience the issue, please repeat the downloading process while using an alternate browser.*

Later when you have logged in, check Help -> About to see whether you have the right version

Please reset your firewall for Skype as sometimes the old settings may need to be completely refreshed after an upgrade.

*Please note, that firewall does not completely disable Skype from connecting, but may be causing this connection quality.

1) Make sure your status is set to Online. Go to Skype > File > Change Online Status > select “Online”. You can also right click the Skype icon in the taskbar > Online Status > select “Online”.

2) Download and install our latest Skype version found here: http://www.skype.com/download/

3) If you have recently upgraded or installed Skype then your Firewall needs a new rule in the exception list. Even if the previous version of Skype is already in the exception list, delete it and create a new rule for Skype. If you have more than one Firewall each of your Firewalls will require a rule allowing Skype to connect to the internet. Sometimes Firewalls allow Skype to connect for a number of days before blocking it.
For firewall setup – http://www.skype.com/help/guides/firewall.html

4) Another reason for that may be a proxy that is blocking your access to the Internet. Ask your Network Administrator to help you on that matter.

5) If none of the above helps and you fail to connect to the Skype network, it is likely that your firewall is blocking these connections and you need to open up some outgoing ports. Note that this refers only to outgoing connections, not incoming connections. In most firewalls, you have to specify a destination port or port range to open. There are four options for Skype to work:

*Ideally, outgoing TCP and UDP connections to all high-range ports (1024..65535) should be opened.
*If the above is not possible, open up outgoing TCP connections up to port 443 & 80. Some firewalls restrict traffic on port 80 to HTTP protocols only, in this case Skype can not use it since we do not use HTTP. With some firewalls it is possible to open up all traffic to port 80, not just HTTP, in this case Skype will work.

* If none of the above is possible, Skype can use a HTTPS/SSL proxy. In order to do that, you have to configure the proxy address in Internet Explorer options. Then Skype will be able to use the proxy as well.

6) You may also try the following:
* Close Skype
* Go to C:\Program Files\Skype\Phone and rename Skype.exe. E.g. rename it to Skype1.exe or similar
* Start Skype using the new renamed file (if renaming the Skype program file helped you then it is definitely a matter of a firewall blocking Skype.exe

Best regards,

Brigitta – Skype Support

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Those of you who know your way around a mac can see this is a reply for WindowsXP users. I’m not saying that Mac users, a clear minority, deserve top line attention. I do believe that if you do offer software and support to Mac users, you retain awareness they are using a Mac. So in short, Brigitta

  • did not read the form Skype creates, clearly displaying the OS
  • did not direct me to a direct download
  • sent me a stock answer, after I filled in a detailed form with my problem

So on my reply, where I ask them to both review my original support ticket and note that I am using a mac and therefore WindowsXP support instructions will not help, received the following reply:

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Hello Joe,

Thank you for contacting Skype Support.

Please try to download Skype for Mac OS X using Safari, if using Mozilla Firefox fails.

Best regards,

Mihkel S.
Skype support

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Once again, I ask them to send me a direct link to the download, after I tried Safari, Camino, Flock and Opera.

The thing is, I clearly asked them to test this link with a Mac from outside their network in my original email. I am certain that no-one did any such thing nor did they post a ticket to the web team to ask them to do so either. Most sites that offer downloads also offer options and direct links to the downloads as well as these automated options.

What one does not want is to be told the problem is mine, but to be told the problem is under investigation. Surely I cannot be alone?