It’s 2012 – Where’s John Cusack?

It’s 2012 and after a hectic december It’s time to slip into the blogosphere once more. This year I’m looking to avoid the disasters and pitfalls we have been shown in such films as 2012 starring John Cusack (doing one for the money). I’m honing my skills, learning more and hopefully will have a job soon that excites and inspires me.

Creativity inspires me, working with others is something that shouldn’t be underestimated whilst working alone has some advantages but ultimately is unfulfilling.

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Help! I Need Somebody!

“We have reviewed  your CV and I’m sorry to inform you that we won’t be proceeding any further with your application.”

These are words that many of us will be greeted by as we try and navigate this thing called life. I have recently completed a course in Design Thinking in order to aid my knowledge and develop skills on a new career path. The notion of User Experience was first introduced to me two years ago when I got paid for sharing my opinions on using a banking website for an hour. What interested me from an online background is that there’s more to producing a succesful website than just hiring someone savvy to code and make your presence a graphical one. I have always worked along the lines that good customer service is valued above all else. That’s why the likes of Amazon are succesful, you trust them. User Experience explores the customer construct, what works and what needs to be where so your customer is engaged in your site, not turned off.

I have talked to people about UX recruitment before and brought up the subject of having a degree, this was always my stumbling block. However being told that ‘having an interest’ was a good alternative spurred me on. Having applied with examples of my design thinking work,  I’ve now found out that isn’t enough. It’s just my personal opinion but degrees are overrated. We are now at a point where information is easily accessible, give yourself a structure and you can learn anything. Most educational establishments are just giving structure and some official paper at the end of it. I would hope my experiences of working online, dealign with customers etc gives me an alternate stance on design rather than a great knowledge of technical jargon.

 ”We’re really sorry but as much as we’d like to we are unable to provide you with any feedback in support of our decision.”

Getting feedback on any application is always tough, I’ve had interviews where you don’t even get feedback so why would companies spend valuable time giving feedback to unsuccesful applicants.

So from this setback, I am still being proactive, still learning and trying and eventually something will break. I’m glad that I’m looking into an industry where there is a great deal of interaction and community and that the majority of people are very approachable. I still keeping at it and if I have to, I’ll go it alone.

What I would say to would be recruiters is that there are people out there with a genuine interest in your field, who can be moulded and would welcome the opportunity.


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Too Many Layers Get’s Users Hot Under The Collar

There was an article from This Is Money this weekend that caught my attention. Having been a user of HSBC’s new online banking security for a few weeks, I had been waiting for stories like those in the article to raise their heads.

We use online banking because it’s a help, you can access your finances from a computer anywhere in the world and make transactions with ease. It saves time, save’s you having to queue at the bank, make the trip to the bank or suffer the banality of elevator music as you wait on hold to speak to someone from Asia tying to get a handle on the English Language.

HSBC’s previous method of log in to their services was using a pin number and user name that the user would have chosen. But this in itself was not great from a usability standpoint. Each user would have their own ID, not something you yourself would have picked but rather a long winded letter/number ID. A cookie would remember the ID but wrongly enter your pass details once and this would disappear.Your option then to access your bank accounts would be to either phone HSBC or try and find the flimsy piece of card with the number on in your wallet.

So as technology progresses and our lives and online processes are meant to be made easier, HSBC have gone and added another layer of security to their online banking system. The result is something that is frustrasting, cumbersome and gives an experience that feels like it hasn’t been tested before being rolled out.

What you’re looking at is the HSBC Secure Key. It’s a small piece of plastic and akin to a cheap calculator you may find in a pound shop. Turn it on and enter your pin, press a button and you’re given a security code allowing you to log in to your accounts with a security question for added measure, interestingly this security question never changes. Let’s look at the usability of the device itself. Well touch screen it isn’t . The buttons aren’t responsive to touch and I’ve found the only way to get it to spark to life is to jam my finger hard into it. – not great.

It’s also not responsive to user error, if you’ve put your pin in incorrectly it will come up with an error code, having followed the instructions online, I found it still didn’t want to kick back into life – very annoying.

What annoys me most is the practicality of the device. It’s just another thing you have to carry around with you and due to it’s size it can easily be mislaid unless you attach to something like your keys etc. It’s a hinderance to making the accessible unaccessible.

The log in process is also extended, not simplified and doesn’t take into account that a user may be logging into their accounts from anywhere. Let’s take a scenario where you’re on holiday, you want to check your balance so you find a computer and get online. Most log in processes will rely on your personally set log in details, things you’ve chosen that are unique to you and memorable. The HSBC log in first requires your user ID, as it’s assigned to you and not really a memorable format then I guess your instant access to your online baking from anywhere in the world just became complicated. If you’re able to get your wallet out and get your ID, then move onto the next stage and enter a memorable piece of information that says “this is me, this is unique to me”…fine, that’s what we’re used to but then comes the ID required from your pocket security calculator…left it at the hotel? Well in that case….no online banking for you my friend and that bamboo panda will just have to wait!

In design there is a gap in the site layout of the log in stages  that gives instruction on how to use the Secure Key. Use the key once and you’ll know how it works so it doesn’t need to be interfering with your log in every time. Take into account the 30 second window you have before the device turns off and you have a spanner in the usability works.

For me and it seems a lot of other users, this is a step back in online banking. For a bank whose motto is ‘the worlds local bank’, they have introduced something that is really only making a user’s experience better from a security point of view if they’re sat at their own computer with the necessary tools.

Maybe I’m being too harsh but when something is introduced that has customers thinking about changing banks than you have to ask, were customers asked in the first place for feedback?



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A Big Fat Zero

Online Banking is great isn’t it – no longer to we have to wait frustrated in line to pay a bill whilst listening the drawn out chatter from the elderly customer sharing her life story with the counter staff. No, a few clicks and I’m moving money around, paying bills and seeing what’s going where, all from the comfort of my sofa.

But of course when you’re confronted with a message like the one above then simplicity is thrown out of the window and in comes frustration. So looking at this message above, as the user I have no idea what this error code is, it means nothing to me and all I’m left with is having to make a phone call. We all know what this means, waiting on hold to listen to easy listening pan pipes before having to go through numerous security checks, all of which you’ve been asked for online already. So having called Santander, I am told that is a problem they are encountering with internal transations and one which should be resolved within the next few days. We all accept that problems can occur and that they are being addressed. But this was the response I recieved nearly four weeks ago and the error code is still sitting there laughing at me today.

As a user experience, Santander are not really using basic fundementals of online banking and online use in general. It all comes down to simplicity and keeping the user informed. The cost of putting in an update informing the customer of the current problems is non-exisitent in comparison to the time and cost spent on call centre staff having to take calls from customers asking just what a 0000 code is. Time and money which could be better spent on dealing with other customer issues.

If I had to sit down with those in charge of online operations for Santander, my reccomendations as a user would be to implement news and service situation updates. I am also bemused at any online operation that doesn’t give customers the option to contact them by e-mail or via online chat. Having telephone as the only contact option totally negates the online experience.

So I dream of a day when I’ll be able to pay my Santander credit card from my Santander account online again. Until that day do you think they’ll just let me not pay until it’s fixed? (I highly doubt it!)


Tony Allen is a dabbler in E-commerce, online usability, design thinking and whether the retirement of the Coco Pops monkey in favour of Jedward will bring forth the apocolypse. He is based in Norwich, England and will consider any job offers as long as the money’s good and the tea and coffee are are modest.

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Get Shirty

ASOS has grown into an e-commerce giant. Had you invested say £500 in shares back in the early part of the century then your investment would now be very pretty indeed. So with this market share, big turnover etc, it’s refreshing to see that there’s still room for improvement in the way a customer can browse their site. One flaw I’ve encountered every time is in Firefox, the function to sort results by price doesn’t illicit any response. So you’re left going through the results or switching to Internet Explorer to get a working function.

More frustrating is that I find the ASOS site has a distinct nack of forgetting you. I log in and add items to my basket. If I want to continue shopping, I will click on the ASOS logo to take me back to the homepage, something which is standard practice in pretty much any web design. But by doing this I’m no longer logged into my account, everytime I approach the checkout process, I’m being asked to log in, typing in e-mail and password again. It’s a frustrating quirk in the system.

As a site, ASOS certainly has it down in terms of product presentation and browsing but if it had firefox compatibility with it’s search parameters and fixed the ‘around the houses’ log in/checkout/homepage/log in/checkout process then the customers shopping experience would be a far smoother ride.

Continue reading

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Got Milk? Got UX?

There’s nothing more satisfying that taking advantage of an online offer and getting stuff for free/discount. Last week I took advantage of milkandmore’s £10 discount for new customers. On saturday I recieved some goodies direct to my door. This part was great, however as a website and user experience, the site has some issues.

When you click to order a product you are greeted with a pop up window where you can select your delivery date. You have to do this everytime you add something to your basket. I found it a bit long winded, I would say that the large majority of users are going to place an order wanting it all delivered at once. This pop up window also had some bugs with firefox which meant I had to switch over to Internet Explorer.

When you add items to your basket, there is no running total of how much you’re spending. As I had a free tenner, I wanted to choose items up to the value of this, having to start your windows calculator to do your sums takes your attention from the website and really a subtotal of goods in a basket is pretty much standard on any e-commerce site and should be applied here.

Once you’ve placed an order, you’d expect to see it listed under your account details but it isn’t. Should you wish to amend or cancel you have to look elsewhere – again the majority of users will expect their order details to in an account section, as this is familiar practice with e-commerce sites.

So milkandmore is a nice little update to the old days of the milkman but the site needs improvement if it’s going to bring back customers who now get their dairy and grocery needs catered for by the big supermarkets rather than the local milkman.

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Social Media – I Got The Power!(point)

Turning the attention to social media, a fun way to engage customers and in my opinion probably a better way to market your business than splurging money on the ultra competitve world of ppc advertising. Here’s a brief overview of social media that I’m written. It really only skims the surface but if you’ve not got much idea then I hope it helps.

The Social Media Network

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The Beat May Leave The Street

For anyone who keeps tabs on the stock market, you’ll probably have noticed HMV’s share price heading south from around 60 pence to under half that amount in recent months. Taking into account the demise of other entertainment stores on the high street such as Woolworths and Virgin, I for one expected them to improve.

However as Amazon unveil their Android App in the UK, consumer power is literally now in the customers hands. Having established themselves as the main one stop shop for entertainment products online and having a solid reputation for price and service, Amazon can now attract customers while the customer is walking down the isles of another store.

So you’re staring at the latest blu-ray releases in HMV, a quick snap of the barcode using the amazon app and you’re met with a £22 price tag instore and a £15 price tag for the same product delivered to your door. Unless the need is incredibly urgent, where are you going to spend your money.

HMV have been moving away from the model of being a record store to being a one stop entertainment shop with electronics, clothing and catalogue titles at low prices. It’s now a struggle to find any older music releases in their stores as a result. Unless they can drastically compete on pricing instore which considering overheads on the high street would be a big ask, then it doesn’t look good for HMV’s future  share price and business model.

In this period of economic downturn, apps for online stores such Amazon are going to have major impact on their high street competitors. It’s up to them to adapt and survive.

What do you think? Leave a comment!

Last Song Played – Adele ‘Rolling In The Deep’

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Incentives Aren’t Enough

As an internet user for over a decade (uh makes me feel older than I am) I’ve often taken part in online survey’s in exchange for incentives be it cash or points to be redeemed against rewards. As with the majority of surveys anywhere you’re normally only inclined to take part if there’s something in it for you.

But there comes a point when incentive shouldn’t be the only thing that engages your user. They’ve already clicked to take part as they like the look of what they’ll get out of it. It seems some survey creators are now assuming this will be enought to hold their user’s interest right to the end. The case in point is a survey I took part in this week online which came from ToLuna. The topic was radio stations and my views on the music they played, the presenters etc. This was all going swimmingly until half way through it went through a large array of questions comparing the music played on Radio 1 and Radio 5 Live.

Not only was this line of questioning tedious it also was completely irrelevant due to the fact you were being asked your thoughts on the music played on Radio 5 -  a BBC station which doesn’t play music. I found myself going through the motions as there was no true answer and this just kept in the same uninterested mindframe for the rest of the survey, giving quick answers with no thought as I’d already commited more than enough time to make me want the incentive but not care about the survey.

So from my experiences of online surveys I’d say there are some classic do’s and don’ts.

  • DO make sure your incentive is worthwhile for the user’s time
  • DO make sure your criteria questions are short and sweet, there is nothing worse than as a user spending five minutes on a survey only to be screened out.
  • DO make your survey as engaging and as simple as possible
  • DO make sure that the time you’ve estimated that the survey takes to complete is not in reality 20 minutes more.
  • DON’T make your survey a long endless grid of radio buttons. To the user’s eye these are not easy to follow and often lead to errors and missed clicks.
  • DON’T ask questions where there is no answer leaving your user to just give an answer with no thought.

So there you have it, surveys can be a money saving friend but they can also be a complete frustration.

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Close Encounters Of A Touch Screen Kind

Technology is a constantly evolving entity and the world of supermarkets have introduced a grand attraction to their customers. Saturday job students cried into their warm beer as they faced being replaced by machines which could allow customers to do their own checkout.

Now I’m sure these machines were developed to save customers waiting in line to buy two items. However the user experience still needs a lot of refining and brings up an interesting little experience I had the other day. It concerns touch screen interfaces, there’s no doubt in my mind that eventually the qwerty keyboard on a laptop will be a thing of the past, a mouse will be bypassed by touch screen etc etc. But if the software that controls these devices hasn’t been tested to the hilt then they’ll be a lot of user frustration, anger and potential loss to the providers of such services.

Case in point. I put something through the self service which has been priced wrong. Problem number one is the age old wait as the shop assistant hurries to the relevant aisle to check you’re not trying to get a cream cake for the price of a crusty roll.

Then the assistant accesses the touch screen control panel to make the necessary adjustments to the error. But the software throws a window in front of the numerical keypad, it can’t be moved or minimized rendering it useless for the intended correction. This is turn gives the shop assistant a problem, makes the customer wait, creates impatience in the waiting customers and makes the whole idea of self service being quick and easy a non starter.

So what should have been a simple checkout experience for me ended up in another 10 minutes of hanging around waiting for a solution to a problem and all due to a glitch in the touch screen interface.

I’d like to think that this software would have been tested in a large number of user scenarios but it made me think of the wider picture. As touch screen interfaces become more integrated into society’s use of technology then it’s absolutely paramount that a company conducts user experience and testing before rolling out something live. For every technology savvy user out there in the world, you’ll find 10 more who will not know how to encounter and approach the problem which means extra time for the provider in support, service and the all important customer service.

So for the future you supermarket gurus out there, treat your technology like you treat the cakes you sell…..or something to that effect.

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