Tag Archives: usability

A Review of Google Inbox

New Google Inbox - the names and subjects have been blurred to protect the guilty
The new Google Inbox. The names and subjects have been blurred to protect the guilty

Last week one of my Endava colleagues came over to my desk in the office and caught a glimpse of my Outlook Inbox. The way I organise my email is really simple – unread emails in my Inbox constitute my Items To Do. Once I’ve acted upon the email, or strictly speaking, the item-to-do, I then delete the email. I could just rename the Deleted Items folder as Done – to me it’s the same thing because I keep all the emails in my Deleted Items anyway.

To my Endava colleague, my extra simple organisation of Inbox and Deleted Items was alien – they preferred multiple folders, and Follow Up flags, and categories (which I do use in the Calendar, but not email). In fact, she was most upset that most of her emails appeared in my Deleted Items folder – because I’d acted upon them, and not filed away in a project folder .

Continue reading A Review of Google Inbox

Windows 10 one week on

Last week I handed over my perfectly working Surface Pro 3 to our IT department who upgraded it from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10. Here’s my report after spending a week with Microsoft’s latest operating system on Microsoft’s latest tablet/laptop.

Firstly, it’s stable. I have used beta versions of Windows before, from XP to Vista to Windows 8. They all have their own niggles, but Windows 10 is fine. I haven’t had a single crash, despite plugging in all sorts of displays, docking stations, printers and USB devices. Continue reading Windows 10 one week on

Fortnightly web reading list

Here’s what I’ve read over the last fortnight.
One thing I experienced over the last fortnight is that we take cloud services for granted. When I upgraded my work laptop to Windows 10, I lost a few days worth of web pages stored in OneTab because I assumed the bookmarks were saved in the cloud – my apologies.
China tourist visas: user research | Government Digital Service – some great advice and experiences on user testing, and the need to do it face to face sometimes.
Warc – Contactless payment takes off– Contactless payments grew 108% in 2014, but as a new technology, should we be expecting an even higher use?

Continue reading Fortnightly web reading list

21st century support

Bradbox WordPress error
A frustrating way to finish a weekend

If you’d visited this blog over the weekend, you’d have received a WordPress error message. I only discovered it on Sunday evening when I checked the site for feedback. Google Analytics revealed the outage started from about 1am on Saturday morning.

I tried fixing the problem. I tried everything I could to fix it. One limitation I faced was that I have been brought up on Microsoft technologies (.net and SQL Server) and not php and MySQL – the technology that this blog runs on.

Frustrated, I went to sleep on Sunday night knowing the site was still unavailable.

After work on Monday I returned home and tried a few more things. I reached out to a WordPress guru I know. He offered some advice but I’d already tried everything suggested.

And then I came across one of the new types of one to one support websites where specific experts help other users.

I’ve always been interested in this area of consumer support. Graduating in Computer Science a couple(!!) of years ago earned me the natural honour of fixing anything within my extended family that had electricity flowing through it. Since my degree I’ve been asked to ‘programme’ the clocks in various cars, fix a microwave, tune in a TV and set up speakers – my university course appears to have been highly practical from an external perspective.

When family or friends call for help with real computer issues such as domain names, broken hard drive, email configuration, or Google Apps, I wonder who people call if they don’t have access to a friend or family member with a technical computer background.

So there I was on Monday evening, urgently wanting my site fixed, on Wizpert.com. I thought I’d give it a try. The sign up process was fast, and within a few seconds I was talking to a friendly chap from Romania (yes… I wondered whether there was an Endava link too, but no there wasn’t) who was one of their WordPress experts. At first we were chatting on Wizpert’s chat screen, and then I offered for him to remote on to my screen using Chrome Remote Desktop.

Naturally I was sceptical, and thought at some stage he might try to install some spyware somewhere, or change some passwords for access at a later stage. I watched carefully as he moved around my virtual server.

Just under two hours later he had fixed the issue and after thoroughly testing the solution I was a happier man.

The issue wasn’t straightforward, and required two types of solutions. We were still puzzled at the end about how the problem had started on the Saturday night at 1am – our assumption is that one of the WordPress components ‘auto-updated’ and broke the MySQL installation.

Not everyone uses Amazon Mayday for support
Not everyone uses Amazon Mayday for support

Wizpert is one of a number of new support models arising in the peer Internet age such as Amazon have with the Mayday button.

On Wizpert, payment to the expert is discretionary.

If you do decide to pay, users buy ‘coins’ using a credit card or PayPal, and then send these coins to the expert who helped. There are recommendations during the chat process “Most users who this expert helped gave x coins to thank them”.

I doubt these support models will be used for enterprise clients, but as devices and applications become more complex – and certainly more essential to our daily lives, end-user support will transform from the current model of phoning anyone you know with a Computer Science degree, to being able to ask someone sitting a few thousand miles away for some help and advice.

What is Digital?

Self-service - a key trend in digital projects
Self-service – a key trend in digital projects

Many organisations are finding themselves asking “What is Digital?” It’s a difficult question which sounds easy at first. After all, isn’t everything that we do today that involves electronics, digital in some shape or form?

If an organisation has a CTO (Chief Technology Officer), why does it also need a CDO (Chief Digital Officer)? If an organisation already has an IT department, why does it need a digital one too?

So what is digital?

To me, digital is a mindset. In the 1990’s we’d have called it a paradigm. It’s all about thinking slightly differently to classic IT. Continue reading What is Digital?

A British review of US sports and media offerings

Possibly the easiest signup form, presented by Fox Soccer
Possibly the easiest web signup form, implemented by Fox Soccer

This week I’ve been working from our newest sales office in Atlanta, USA. It’s been a great week, and we’ve met some really interesting (and super friendly) people and companies.

During the visit, I spent some time looking at the consumer media offerings over here. The US has often been ahead of the UK market when it comes to television, but the UK leads the world in some web offerings – such as grocery shopping and BBC’s iPlayer, so I wanted to see what the US has to offer. And it’s difficult to do this from the UK because so many sites are geo-blocked. Continue reading A British review of US sports and media offerings

Digital Finance Masterclass London, 2014

Earlier today I gave a short presentation to the Digital Finance Masterclass in London. I only had ten minutes, followed by 8 sessions of pretty intense ‘Digital Surgeries’ – a great format, but quite tiring.

Before the event, I had been told that the Digital Surgeries were like speed dating – thankfully I got married before speed dating, because I can’t imagine going through that process in a relaxed, sociable setting.

With only ten minutes for the first presentation, to a varied audience across Financial Services, I focussed on the following topics, shown in the attached Slideshare presentation:

  • Putting the User First
  • Development
  • Cloud
  • Mobile first?
  • The future

Continue reading Digital Finance Masterclass London, 2014

What constitutes a first class digital experience for banking customers?

Endava has been helping a UK IT industry association with some thought leadership pieces recently, and I’ve been permitted to share my contribution before the report is published. We’ve contributed to two essays, and when they are released in early 2014, I’ll post a link on this site.

What constitutes a first class digital experience for banking customers?

Autocomplete text box on Bing
Autocomplete text box on Bing

In order to create a first class digital experience for customers, we should first look at the user experience, i.e. how the user interacts with a bank inside a digital channel.

Fundamentally, users expect the same level of quality for the design and functionality of banking systems as they receive on a social network. For examples, users expect functionality such as autocomplete – where a text box provides a number of options based on what the user has started to type.

When a user is looking for a transaction in their online or mobile banking app, the text box should help them find the item, rather than a non-functional text box waiting for the user to press the search button before helping.

Banks have a wealth of data on their customer’s accounts, so it’s a surprise that the levels of personalisation is so basic. Banks should upsell savings, overdraft or loans products based on individual’s account activity.

Banks should offer targeted promotions based on a customer’s purchasing history (“You visit <xyz> coffee shop twice a week, why don’t you try the new <pqr> coffee shops and receive a 50% discount?”) – this could be funded by the competitor brands. Or, the loyalty could be rewarded by the regular store.

Banks are good at adopting new technologies, less so on the user experience side. New technologies are often adopted as an alternative channel for the same functionality, rarely for innovative services which maximise new functionality offered by the new channel.

For instance, one high street retail bank which offers a smartphone app still provides a text messaging alert for low balances and suspected illegal transactions. Ideally the alerts should be part of their own smartphone app.

Historically, retail banking products have been built around branches. If a user wanted a new product from their bank, they had to physically go to the branch. Even the first ATMs were located at the branch site, so users still had to go to the bank. Web and mobile banking options rely on users going to the bank’s web & mobile addresses to access the systems.

However in the digital world, banks should consider moving to where the users are. Today’s users are found on social networks, so the banks should move into these environments.

The future

As a trend, financial services organisations are becoming “utilities” where customers visit third-party agencies for financial products (e.g. a loans, savings, credit cards, etc.), the cheapest one is displayed and the user completes the transaction.

This has already happened to most of the insurance industry. Users first flock to comparison sites and click-through to the insurance website once they’ve decided which policy to buy.

The most common time when a user sees their bank’s logo is when paying by card. As card transactions are replaced by mobile phone payments such as NFC, bank customers will have less awareness of their bank. This user experience will turn banks further towards commoditised utilities. Now is the time for banks to act.


Mobile first? Don’t believe the hype

Designing websites has never been as difficult as it is at the moment, and it’s only going to get harder.

Think about this for a moment – people born since about the year 2000 are unlikely to have ever walked into a travel agent or mobile phone shop. They’re unlikely to have been inside a bank more than a couple of times in their lives. Couple this with more than 10% of the UK still haven’t used the Internet.

In Q2 2013, AOL earned a staggering $166m from dial up modems. It’s fair to take a decent chunk of that revenue and claim it’s from ‘forgotten direct debits’ (now here’s an irony: a quick search for forgotten direct debits produces some interesting reading from AOL which claims over 2.5m Britons are paying for services they no longer need!).

So we have this strange anomaly where the Internet is being used by teenagers who have grown up using web browsers before they could read and over 75 year olds who are just starting to use the Internet for the first time.

And then they’re the range of screens: from a small Blackberry screen to iOS and Android (my S4 feels closer in size to an iPad Mini than an iPhone) to tablets. These screens demand large contact areas for fingers to select rather than small target areas easy to access with a mouse. Then on to desktops, which have a wider array of sizes than ever before. At work I use a square monitor with a relatively small resolution but when I work from home I have a large widescreen monitor where some sites look really nice and some look like a size zero.

Responsive design isn’t always the answer. I spend time battling against the marketing wave which convinces clients into believing every website needs to be responsive, to fit large and small browsers, touchscreen and mouse driven.

But responsive isn’t the only option. Fire up the BBC website on a smartphone and you’ll see the mobile site which is a quicker and easier to use than a responsive design. And it really comes into its own when you have a weak signal and want the latest cricket or football scores. A responsive design would be slower to download and use than the excellent mobile site. For high traffic websites it also reduces the cost of bandwidth delivery.

As well as fighting the responsive design marketing wave, I’m also swimming against the tide with mobile first initiatives. Yes mobile is increasing, however there are still very significant numbers of users using desktops. And what happens when wearable technology takes off? Or if TV apps really become mainstream?

The answer to many of these questions is to make sure that any digital platform has a complete API to support all these output devices. This can help multiple teams develop user interfaces in parallel. It also helps store the ‘state’ where users switch devices.

The best in class example of this is Facebook. Open the Facebook app on your phone and you’ll see the number of notifications in your activity feed. Click on some of them. Then look at Facebook on a desktop and you’ll see the new number of notifications. It’s the way it should be, but still so many sites struggle with these concepts.

So while it’s currently the hardest it’s ever been to design user interfaces, there are some great examples out there of how to do this properly, just don’t get too sucked into all the marketing hype.

Google Chromecast: This Puppy Changes Everything

This puppy changes everything
This puppy changes everything

In a technology trends report that I produced earlier this week I included a slide called “This Puppy Changes Everything” next to a picture of Chromecast, the USB dongle designed by Google which plugs into TVs and makes it really simple to watch web TV on a TV. Hours later, Iolo Jones also released a blog post called “This Changes Everything”.

My nephew has just competed in the Maccabia games. The opening ceremony was streamed live using a proprietary Flash player, so our family and extended family sat around a computer monitor in our house. 10 metres from the computer is our 40-something inch TV (with a comfortable sofa instead of chairs!), but hooking the computer up to the TV is a nightmare.

Chromecast changes all this. It will stream content from any iOS, Android or computer on your home network. There are apps for Netflix and YouTube, but the most powerful function is to duplicate your web browser (well, as long as it’s Chrome) on any device, on to the TV.

And Chromecast is a one off cost of $35 (less than £25). One of the reasons it is so cheap is that no remote control is required – the unit is controlled using your smartphone or computer.

Chromecast is a game changer because using a web browser is by far the most flexible and easiest interface available. Why would you subscribe to a premium TV channel if content is available on the web for a cheaper price?

Concentrating on legal content for a moment, monthly web subscriptions to say, sports content, is cheaper than equivalent TV subscriptions. When you include illegal content as well (I’m including YouTube here) makes it the game changer.

This is the most disruptive piece of hardware I’ve seen in the media industry since Sky+.