Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Two More Usability Challenges for Designing Web Apps

Two more usability challenges ...

"(Editor's Note: Last week, Jared M. Spool compiled a list of three usability challenges design teams will want to keep their eye on when building web applications. In this article, Jared continues his commentary with two more challenges.)

At Boston Coach, it's clear they pride themselves on the quality of their town car service with a great on-time record, clean cars, and well-dressed, experienced drivers. Of course, that great experience needs to start from the first touch point -- when the customer books their reservation. That's why they invested in a sophisticated booking engine on

Unfortunately, the great online experience only happens for users that visit (at press time) with a later version of Internet Explorer. Users with Firefox, Safari, and other browsers are out of luck -- the site displays, but the auto-populating dropdown lists refuse to let users find nearby airports and other locations critical to booking the reservation.

Since Boston Coach mostly appeals to executives at large corporations, many of which are IE-only, most users have no problem with the site. However, with the gaining popularity of other browsers, more users will likely experience similar problems.

Designing an application to work well on all the popular browsers is just one challenge developers have. Last week, we discussed three challenges we suggest our clients keep their eye on. This week, we look at another two.

Challenge #4: Handling Contingencies and Exceptions

If you’re a TiVo owner, the company will occasionally notify you of a new service or software upgrade available for your recorder. The TiVo folks, knowing that you may be very excited to get the new features, gives you a chance to sign up for the priority upgrade list, allowing you to be one of the first in your neighborhood to get the newest and greatest.

Signing up is straightforward. The only information you need is your TiVo Service Number -- a unique 15-digit-and-letter code that identifies your TiVo subscription. What? You don’t have your number memorized? No problem. If you’re a TiVo Online User, the very same web site that is asking you for the number has it stored away for you to access. Visiting your account information has it ready for you to access.

The problem happens when users try to get a little clever and utilize a common operating system feature: copy and paste. If the user selects the service number, copies it to their clipboard, navigates to the upgrade page, and pastes it into the requested form field, the system will present an error message.

This is because the account page displays the number with hyphens, which the input field can't accept. We use hyphens and spaces in long codes and numbers to help us break them into usable chunks, such as when we're copying them down or reading them to a customer service representative. If we glance away from the number for a second, it's easier to find our place when there are convenient breaks."    (Continued via UIE, Jared Spool)    [Usability Resources]


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