Tag Archives: Usability

Take Two Google Accounts Into Shower?

Did you know that you can be logged into two Google accounts at once? This is particularly handy if your organisation uses Google Apps AND you have a personal Google account.

All you have to do to enable this feature is to go to your account settings and edit your Multiple Sign On setting IN BOTH ACCOUNTS. You’ll find you need to log out of the other account when you try to do this or because you have one foot in an multiple account world and one in the old fashioned single account world.

You’ll also find very funny things happening if you only do one. Funny if you like being logged out half way through editing a document.

Enabling the Multiple Sign On setting means you will get the ability to “Switch Accounts” from your account menu.

Warning: Being logged into two Google accounts is a bit cludgey. 

Once you’ve set yourself up to access two accounts, you’ll probably start coming across this dialog a lot. I do…

It’s a corker isn’t it? EVERY time I encounter it it twists my melon man because it’s almost not a double negative somehow isn’t it? The ordering of the two accounts in the message seems wrong ( or confusing ) somehow.

How was I to know which account I was trying to access my mail with? What SHOULD happen when I click “Cancel” – as it happens it redirects to a Google search page ( huh? ). I really don’t care what Google thinks I’m logged in with ( that’s their problem) , I simply want to do the thing I wanted to do.

And conceptually, Google are introducing a subtly different idea here, and that is, that although I can be logged into two accounts, when doing something like “reading mail”, there is the concept of there being the currently active account. I know this might technically be the case, and that instead of “reading my mail” I’ve actually tried to access a “read my mail URL that doesn’t exist for the other account” but the interface suggests that that is what might be going on.

Shouldn’t the dialog message go…

  • You are logged in with tom.smith@york etc..
  • But you need to be logged in to remarkability@ etc

[ OK – Go ahead and us to remarkability@ ] [ CANCEL – and take me to Google ]

A simple re-ordering, stating explicitly will happen when you click a button would make this crappy, mind-boggling UI much better. Or is it just me?

I’m reminded of the excellent work of Jef Raskin ( go read Humane Interface now ) because what he regularly managed to pull off was looking at something as ordinary as a error dialog and find a way to break conventional thinking and make it better. And using his “interface notation” idea, he’d be able to prove it was better…

So, with that in mind, and thinking about it for less than 5 minutes ( it might need work ) … isn’t this version better and more humane? It’s at least a bit clearer what is happening and what you might do about it.. the green is meant to show what you probably want to do as the default too. This would of course be off brand and optional.

Or is it just me?

My only reason for posting this is knowing that if York “go Google” then without a doubt we will have a shed load of people who want to keep using their personal Google accounts and make use of the Multiple Log In setting.

I have knack ( based on years of working on my own personal stupidity ) for knowing what will confuse people and I’m really not looking forward to trying to explain this one over and over again. I’m not sure if I’ve got the right solution, but at least it’s a bit less-is-more-y.

p.s I’ve just discovered that Google + doesn’t want to play nicely with the whole switching accounts idea… sigh…










The Man in the White Coat (or My Think Visibility Review)

This weekend I did a session at Think Visibility ( #thinkvisibility ), a mini-conference that brought together a great variety of people who’s lives touch the internet. From marketers to accessibility, geeks, seos and usability people.

All the talks I saw were brilliant and I heard the one’s I didn’t were too.

Who will ever forget Tim’s huge buckets of exploding juice?

I was surprised to discover that Chris Garrett, the blogging guru, is actually a real person and not an alien from the Planet Nice, he even has a northern accent! And he’s genuinely nice with it. I wonder why in my head he was so obviously Californian…

Peter Cooper riffed on Passion, Desire, Dating and Why Journeys are Important, Sales, Speed-Dating and the fact that he’s married. Lucky woman.

Dave Naylor, who I didn’t know as our very own SEO star ( I am celebrity blind ) gave a talk that had an element of jovial menace to it. The best kind of menace in my view. Something we need more of … round your way.

Tom C talked about how to do Reputation Management by taking skin-care seriously, changing sex, getting married and changing your name. He works with MPs you know, they really need this stuff.

Patrick Altoft gave a cool, calm and measured presentation about Supersonic Link Building, which was ironic.

Kieron, shared some of his ingenious ways to make money at Affiliate Marketing…

There are other people’s reviews of the event out there, including NorthSouthMedia, WebsiteDoctor, PoLR, AndrewBurnett, Linda Broughton and JamesWard’s (my own particular favourite review… ahem! which means I can put my hourly rate up a few pence).

Thanks to @Sk8Geek for the photos of the event.

I came away having perhaps drunk one too many, learned loads from the delegates, about more than just SEO, usability, marketing etc.  And a notebook full of great ideas and approaches I’ll be using in the coming weeks.

I reckon Dom won’t have any bother selling tickets for the next Think Visibility, he now just needs to find a venue big enough for the coming demand. See you there!

Less is More And Always Will Be (Unless You’re In Marketing)

One of my favourite usability horror stories (from 2002)  was how Tesco, having created an easy-to-use, accessible, light-weight version of their shopping site called “Access”. Unfortunately Tesco’s big wigs were disappointed to discover  that everyone was using it.

Everyone was using it because it was quick to load, was ad-free, simple to use unlike their real online shop. Building  your shopping list was such an arse-ache of a task, that doing it quickly and simply in the accessible version was a breath of fresh air, you’d have been daft not to use the accessible version.

So what did Tesco do? They deliberately hid the accessible version, making it difficult to find.  They actually stopped people buying stuff they wanted so they could market stuff that customers probably didn’t want. Genius.

In a similar vein, I noticed that the TVGuide site now has an iPhone version, that doesn’t have horrible ads, is clearer to use and quicker. I wonder how long it is before the marketing dept. shuts it down?

TV Guide UK TV Listings – UK’s No 1 TV Guide for iPhone.

Closing down sites because customers like it and because they work is one well-worn strategy for doing great business online but there are others. My bank recently decided that repeatedly cocking up the login/password on their bank accounts was one sure-fire way of making sure people didn’t actually take any money out. This credit-crunch beating genius is what I’ve come to expect from UK corporates . What will they think of next? I can’t wait.

p.s That’s a handy tip at the bottom isn’t it? Just knowing that little gem made my futile efforts to log in to my account so much more enjoyable…

Comics, Bigfoot and Coffee Cups in Business Meetings

You probably saw that Google published an introduction to their new browser called Chrome as a comic. How fab! It quite often baffles me that, when we set out to communicate something (well) that we cling so desperately to text. I mean, what has text ever done for us? Well, apart from the written word…  etc. I also just stumbled over some comics about science that encourage us to Learn graphically from MAKE Blog. Great stuff!

I think it’s easy to underestimate the seriousness issues lurking in using comics to communicate information.

Most information-oriented web sites (yes I means your web site) out there could be improved with just a little time spent thinking about how their existing information might be better displayed visually.

The reasons for doing this are threefold…

1. Because everybody is different (allegedly), some people will actually appreciate and understand what you are trying to say better. Imagine that text, for at least 10% of your users, is their second language. Perhaps there should be a move to give sites an positive accessibility rating only if they’ve attempted to visually represent their information.

2. The simple act of re-framing your information in a different format, which may be a sequential cartoon, or a mind-map diagram, or a flow chart will mean you understand what you are saying better. It’s hard to hide behind a pie-chart if you have nothing worth saying (note the lack of pie chart in this blog post).

3. Your web site or information will look nicer. Don’t laugh. It’s actually very important but in ways that are quite hard to explain. Lots of people spend lots of money designing sites and information where the site design (or wrapper) is the best-designed part of the page and the information, or the important bit, has been entered using a woefully inadequate web form… as text. It’s like buying a ridiculously expensive golden frame and hiring an artist who has to paint a picture with a dirty broken stick. And by “looking nicer”, I don’t really mean from a glitsy point of view, I mean that which ever way you look at text, a big lump of text is always a bad thing, this sentence is already too long and is showing no signs of ever finishing, if you see what I mean.

Using images (that mean something) gives you an opportunity to visually punctuate big lumps of text, to provide people with a recognition-factor when they return to a page (oh here I am) and simply to add a bit of variety to your information. And these are just the side-benefits!

I think you can spot when a web site has favoured the frame over the information because all the navigation and links are outside the main body of the information, as if the author has created this page in a vacuum, blisfully unaware of related pages on the same site. This is often true. In this article (by  CNN) about someone keeping Bigfoot in their fridge freezer, we can see the effect in action. A reporter has hurriedly written a report and some web-editors have added navigation. Many web pages aren’t as fleeting as a report about Bigfoot, they deserve more effort because they are going to be used and re-used again and again and the effort put into improving the way the page communicates will be rewarded (won’t it?).

As an exercise, take a quick look at the Bigfoot article and imagine how you might improve it (visually) .

So How Do I Add A Bit Of Visual Thinking To My Information?

It’s actually very easy. Work your way through your web site and simply try to represent the information using anything but text. At first it will seem a bit contrived, like trying to communicate the atomic structure of water using only mime, but stick with it. You are allowed to use charts, tables, diagrams… or perhaps calendars, timelines or how about sequential cartoons. Think about typography too… if each page had “one message” to get across – what would it be?

One cheat is, if you are writing about business is to use a photo that sort of resonates with your subject matter, like people in shirts sitting around a table in an expensive office drinking coffee and looking gorgeous. Try to avoid those sorts of cheats, they aren’t visual thinking. They don’t add any value to what you are trying communicate. They’re just lazy visual fluff. You may have seen lazy visual fluff on a web site near you.

Of course, not every page is easily translated into visual-ish, but you’ll be surprised how, with a pencil in your hand how you can easily improve your online experience, making ideas more approachable, concepts more accessible (in both meanings of the word) and ultimately, your products (whatever they are) more desirable.

Next week: Improving your SEO with melody.

Wonderful ZuiPrezi presentation

Recently, a GeekUp message rekindled my long-standing appreciation of all things zoomable. One of the problems with many zooming demos is just that, they’re only demos.

Like many visualisation examples, zooming works best when you it’s a tool rather than a media-type. You need to get your hands dirty, to fly around and play with your data rather than consuming someone else’s zooming media.

In the same way that reading a great book inspires you to write or seeing a fab painting makes you want to sketch or hearing a moving song starts you singing… In same way that writing bad poetry makes you appreciate the good stuff or painting an awful picture makes you visit galleries…

ZuiPrezi is wonderful! And not only is it interesting from a media consumption point of view, it’s a tool with which you can create your very own zoomable presentation or environment. I’m absolutely blown away by the potential of this….

For those without embedding, go here.

Modern Life Is Rubbish (Again)

Ironically, this post begins having been locked out of my Flickr account since Yahoo took it over, so I’ve not been dumping my phone photos like I used to. I’ve found that my phone camera is a sort of visual memory. I often look back at it, amazed at the sights I’ve seen, taken a picture of, and then completely forgotten I’ve been there.

Double ironically, I tried Twitxr for a while, but the forgotten password routine doesn’t work…

I was astonished to find a hand-dryer in Kennedy’s bar in York that actually worked! It fires a thin jet of air and you lift your hands up and down through it.

Note: Kennedy’s has crap beer btw. Why can’t pubs do good beer (for me) AND good wine (for Sophie)? Is it so impossible a combination to manage?

It’s amazing that a hand-drier that works has taken so long to be invented. I can’t imagine what the first demo of the very first hand-driers must have been like, with people nodding their heads and putting in orders for something that warmed your hands slightly but made enough noise to reassure the girls in accounts that you’d actually washed your hands. And then dried them on the arse of your trousers.
This joy at finding something that worked for once was tempered by the fact that a few minutes earlier I’d been subjected to one of my biggest usability hates of all time, modern taps.

Why oh why do people like taps that are so difficult to use and need de-coding and experimenting with before you spray a huge jet of water all over your groin? Something the lovely hand-drier above won’t be able to sort out unless you take your trousers off and lift them up and down through the fine jets of air.

So, then on to the station, where there used to be an independent coffee shop (that did delicious toasted bacon rolls…and not in a bloody microwave) which has now been replaced with a Costa Coffee (the one on the bridge with the big clock).

They’ve tarted the place up a bit, replaced bacon rolls with sellaphane and cardboarded breakfast solutions but worst of all, off-center saucers that make a cup almost uncarryable! I await the injury claim court cases eagerly.

And finally… Every little helps…. You know that the saying, “Every little helps…” comes from a victorian cartoon in which an old lady was taking a leak into the sea, uttering the now immortal Hoskins/Wogan words.

And knowing that somehow makes everything make some sort of ironic sense.

p.s There is also another footnote about the WYSIWYG editor in WordPress, which seems to have got to the pinnacle of Mount Good Enough To Use But Bad Enough To Drive You Bloody Loopy….

User-centred SEO and The Blueprint CSS Framework

I’ve been working with Jo at Track Surveys lately helping them with what I’m starting to call user-centred SEO (but then I do seem to think up crazy names for things).

By user-centred SEO I mean that optimising pages and link-building is all well and good but it’s dull work. A much more exciting approach is to get inside your customers’ heads and create content that matches their mental models. So Jo and I have been creating Personas, Mental Models and looking at log files to inform our Content Plan.

This approach takes time, effort and considerable skill (on the part of my clients), it’s often a completely new take on marketing for my clients, but it really does work from a Long Tail perspective (which can at times be quite difficult to properly measure).

The main point, I think is, that SEO is much more effective when there’s a whole heap of usability-related thinking thrown in.

360 Feedback Surveys

Jo’s blog (Track 360 Degree Feedback Surveys) was my first trail with the Blueprint CSS framework in WordPress. It’s a Beta blog and was intended to just be a first base design whilst Jo gets into the swing of blogging. I was amazed at how Blueprint makes it easy to overshadow CSS stuff, almost like CSS object orientation done right.

I have started using Blueprint on all sorts of sites, slowly adding the necessary divs to templates so that I can standardize on one CSS way to do things.

Stalking your users

Apart from Google Analytics and any number of log reporting tools, there seems to be more online services offering ways to help you understand your users…

…whilst I’m a fan of using data analysis at times, other approaches to producing great sites and services might include being fab or listening to your customers.

Wikis vs The Usability of Online Document Editors

I have just had a quick play with site builder WetPaint, and made this… everythingability page. I was impressed with the tools but it really got me thinking about the future of wikis. Do wikis have a future at all given certain developments in online document editing? Factors such as…

  • Wiki syntax is meant to be simple but always ends up not so. Online WYSYIWYG Web2.0 tools are getting better/easier to use than any wiki syntax ever could be
  • People always need layout… eventually. Of course you can start an raw text but as soon as you have more than 20 pages you start to want to be able to navigate both your site and the length information contained.
  • Most wikis need moderation, the idea of “anyone can edit this page” doesn’t work in the real world… unless you are Wikipedia I guess… and even then….
  • Tools are starting to appear that take into account that fact that people want to create networks of information not pages. That’s traditionally where wikis have always been strongest (over online document editing tools) but they are now losing that ground.

As WYSIWYG editors are getting better and better, they are stealing wiki concepts along the way. If they steal enough what IS a wiki (versioning, collaboration etc.) then what IS an online editor/CMS and what IS a wiki will become difficult to call.

All online document editors, including Writely, FCKEditor, TinyMCE or WetPaint or any of the many others have failed to steal the wiki’s crown jewels, namely, the WikiWord.

The WikiWord is there to be stolen. It’s not big but it is clever… very clever indeed.

A WikiWord is a beautiful and magical thing that means you don’t need to copy URLs (as well as the link text) when creating links…this lets you link to things on-the-fly… quickly… and a lot of the time it is not the information that is most important, it’s the links between items that is important….

A WikiWord let’s you create-going-forward (rather than having to leave a page to create the page you want to link to then go back to the original page and create a link to the page that you just created).

A WikiWord lets you add links (or place-holders saying “we need to create this later”) in the text, not using a tool, you don’t have to change “mode” from keyboard to mouse… the place-holder factor needs playing-up, it is hugely important…
The first online editor to assimilate the WikiWord ( and therefore a network-information editor rather than a document-centric editor) will be hugely successful.  All the editor would need is…

  • a hook so that WikiWords can be recognised as you type (so the editor needs to know it’s own information context, in other words, no document is an island… )
  • a hook that handles what to do when clicked (create a new resource or go to the named resource)

… once you have that… this editor could be dropped into WordPress, Blogger or GMail or any custom CMS. It would change the way we blog, how we communicate or create online information. It would mean that more information was “better linked”

Getting from A to B: Usability is not dead

There are times when actual, real, dyed-in-the-wool usability ebbs from what I do. It’s always a core value, a passion but at times, I like many others have seen its significance and relevance fade and usability bows down to other actual and real things like business needs and cold hard dosh. There have been a lot of times when although being really pissed off, I have shrugged and known deep down that hey it’s not perfect but it’s shoddily good enough. There have also been times when I would rather have eaten my own eyes than go along with totally shite usability design. Or to put it another way, I have felt extremely passionate about good design and also completely blase at times about average design.

So.. here’s a usability challenge for you. Not that you will accept it, but I am pissed off enough to at least try. By the way, you are disqualified from this challenge if you know the answer already… you have to, like me attempt to find it out.
The Challenge

I have an appointment at Newcastle Freeman hospital tomorrow at 11AM. The car is playing up (dodgy battery maybe?). I could go on the train. I know there’s a Metro link from Newcastle station to a stop near the hospital.

The challenge is this. What time would I have to get on a train in York to make the appointment. I’m not expecting an answer just hoping that someone will share this pain… go on humour me… you will spend a few minutes walking amongst wonderful usability horrors such as…

  • The GNER site (sucks) doesn’t let me enter what time I’d like to arrive somewhere only what time I would like to set off. Assuming I have no idea how long the journey is how am I supposed to guess.
  • The Newcastle Freeman hospital seems focussed towards justifying it’s exitence, not actually getting there (unless travelling by car)… and even then, the PDF of directions is hilarious…
  • The Metro site is laughable…

As I’ve said… at times, when I’m wearing my jaded usability jeans I assume that “we are nearly there” somehow… and squeezing the last 5% out of the usability stone really isn’t worth the effort… but then, this really sodding simple task of getting from somewhere to somewhere else really brings home how much work there really still is to do… Lots and lots of hard work.

The reason why the experience struck home so hard was that often, we find ourselves piecing sites and services together to collate the information we want, and in this case, GNER, Newcastle Freeman and the Metro site are individually so spectacularly below average that the sum is a hole.

So… I really don’t expect you will attempt the challenge… or even try half-heartedly… or probably give a damn… but that’s not the point. If there is a point it’s that … oh bugger it… either you get the point or you don’t…

Spiral Calendar

Should it start at the middle or the edge? Which is best/makes more sense for you? Is this circular calendar more useful?

I also like this Compact Calendar because I REALLY hate it when tools like iCal show months (as if life happens in months) and I always get a shock because something which is tomorrow was on the next page/month…argh! Lazy interface design Apple!