History is here

I’m a lover of historical tales. In recent weeks I’ve been devouring countless historical podcasts. Listening to adventures of travellers lost (Amelia Earhart) or the epic journey of highwaywoman Mary Bryant from Sydney to West Timor in only a 6-foot boat in the late 1700s is the stuff of magic, bewilderment and enlightenment. References to these podcasts are at the end of this post.


Advertisement for The Silk Store, 1933. Brisbane Courier. Newspapers.com

Did Amelia and Mary consider they would make the history books at the time of their adventure? Or expect that their letters, diaries or journals of associates or friends become public record for any one to view. Or inspire countless novelists, playwrights or screenwriters? No, probably not.

History I’ve realised is not only in the distant or recent past. It’s right now, and we all play a part.

The State Library of Queensland recently put a call out for digital materials from businesses, organisations and membership bodies that detail how they are adapting to the momentous change brought about by COVID-19. The British Library is also collecting stories from the public on how the pandemic has affected them. Records likes these become a public record of social change, mobilisation and psyche on a massive scale – a goldmine to researchers and social scientists in decades or centuries to come.


The Evening Post, New York, 1809. Newspapers.com

As a new manager, I find myself contributing to history in my own small way every day. As is normal with UX designers, my team members come from different backgrounds – one being an ex-engineer and toy designer; the other, an ex-creative director from print. Over my 20-some years of experience in digital and web, it’s difficult to accurately place where I was or what I was doing when I acquired a little nugget of information that I now take for granted – how a front end developer thinks, or those universal design patterns that have grown and evolved right alongside the web.

A little nugget that makes me stop to realise, that my team has not had the same journey as me. A little nugget, that can now be paid forward to help them widen their field of reference.

And isn’t that what history gives us; a wealth of lessons of study to expand one’s perspective or to suggest that there are different alternatives to any challenge.

Podcast references

Luminary – Amelia Earhart
ABC Conversations – Mary Bryant

Watch out for pesky customer expectations

Expectations around online shopping has made lions of us all. We want to know where our packages are, when they’ll be delivered – right down to the hour, and holding a ready phone number to talk to someone if there’s a problem. Our purchases are crucial to us, so why don’t retailers care the same way?

Every corner is talking about the data behind the growth of online shopping in Australia and what people are buying – from industry publications to research agencies.

Some have nodded towards acknowledging customer needs: Australia Post – who has emblazoned on their trucks ‘Powering online shopping’ – wrote:

Shoppers demand a frictionless end-to-end shopping experience,
with easy access across all devices, simple payment options and
convenience across all touch points. They also expect flexibility in
delivery timeframes and collection locations.

As a result, retailers need to have a consistent offering on one
integrated ecosystem across online and in-store in order to
effectively compete and grow.

Inside Australian Online Shopping, Australia Post, 2018

Unfortunately, the report failed to examine what this ‘frictionless end-to-end shopping experience’ meant for consumers or outline the research available – or required – to find out.

Therein lies the rub

No one’s discussing consumer expectations of the entire online shopping journey.

Only this week, a retailers’ industry publication posted an article outlining ‘retail basics for a great customer experience’, but this falls too far short. A great customer experience does not end with the retailer and its’ variety of goods. Australia Post is right in this; customer experience begins from the moment the customer searches for a product to the moment they receive the product.

Whilst Australia Post outlined the dilemma, it didn’t examine consumer’s expectations of the end-to-end fulfilment journey – the act of receiving their purchases. For instance, a surprising practice witnessed in Victoria, is the part packaging of an order. An order of 3 items from Kmart or BigW may or may not arrive on the same day. So the receiver needs to be at the delivery address, an inconveniencing- and frustratingly-extra day to receive the orphaned delivery. Why isn’t it one delivery?

Furthermore, the retailer’s chosen delivery vendor has to pick up the slack. Their tracking system needs to provide ample notice to the receiver (and options for redelivery – for the orphan as well) in a timely and empathetic fashion. In this case, it didn’t.

Sure, it’s not easy

At the tail end of this shopping journey, a delivery vendor needs to breathe the same – if not better – value proposition as the retailer. This is the reason customers choose one retailer over another in the first place – whether it be their unsurpassed product knowledge, helpful staff, vast product range or great price. Retailers and logistics need to be inextricably joined at the hip – or give the appearance of such.

Recent experiences with London delivery vendors showed a wide gap in the customer experience between hemispheres. Communications from the likes of Hermes and DPD went like this:

  • date/time it’s received at their depot
  • email / SMS notification of the actual delivery day – typically a bigger window than 24 hours’ notice
    options available to the receiver to change the day of the delivery beforehand
  • on the day of delivery, a further email / SMS that the package will be delivered and if it will be morning or afternoon. In some cases, a 2 hour window is provided
  • online tracking enables down-to-the-minute driver tracking via map
  • in the case of DPD, drivers call the receiver when they have made the previous drop and are on the way, also with an approximate time of arrival
  • if you happen to miss the driver, a card will be left with an opportunity to make a second attempt at the delivery

Now tell me, who wouldn’t want this? This high level of confidence equals return business over and over.

We can do better

Whilst this might be the creme de la creme of transport logistics, this is already happening, and it provides lessons to be learnt to enhance existing processes.

Perhaps with the opening of Amazon in Australia, the customer experience stakes might be raised. In the northern hemisphere, Amazon has been trialling delivery via drone; its now promising that Amazon Prime Air could officially take flight as early as this year. Who knows what the behemoth has in its sights for us? Exciting, no?

Online shopping is still considered in its infancy here. Customers over time will see for themselves the differences between one vendor and the next, and start expecting the same from everyone. Retailers and supply vendors who have integrated some customer smarts upfront, will come out smiling in the profit stakes down the track.

Please let me know your thoughts.

That Trivago ad … again.

A sojourn in Australia over the Christmas break has exposed me to a lot of television. Too much in fact. And way too many, Trivago ads.

Much has already been written about the ‘merits’ of the Trivago advertising campaign. I’m not regurgitating the lack of creative here.

But its focus on the site’s usability as its strategy perplexes me as a user experience professional. Our role is to make the technology disappear. Enable a user to find what they want intuitively.

So why would an online travel site choose to use their site’s usability as the cornerstone of their advertising strategy? How their site works, is the same as how hundreds and thousands of other websites work. One particular ad talks up a feature that is already prevalent on Expedia.

Surely, the Trivago peeps don’t think their customers haven’t used the internet before? Or searched any website before? I’d be keen to see a breakdown of their user demographics.

There’s a code that is understood between all UX-ers – if you need to explain how to use your website, you’ve done a bad job as a designer.

Brain re-wired

Hotels are great aren’t they for wayfinding? A series of signs that take you on a journey of discovery, confident in your own ability to find your way around. Only to have your path halted mid corridor when all of a sudden you’re met with blanks walls adorned with work by the artist of the moment instead. TripAdvisor is littered with comments from guests of MGM Grand and the Venetian in Las Vegas getting lost in the 6000+ room hotels. Studies of those wayfinding systems would make interesting reading.

On the smaller scale, there are still challenges to overcome. On a recent trip, I stayed in a hotel of probably less than 100 rooms. Stepping out of the lift to my floor, I was met by this:

Now I might have been tired and weary, but it took me a little while to compute this. We in the western world read left to right. Yet this sign required me to read right to left, then back again. Firstly I locate my room number – 517 – then to see which direction I turn.

Having the arrows so close to each other didn’t assist scannability. Some space and distance could’ve helped with that.

Ok, so I turned right. I locked this away for future reference. Next time, I’d let my nose do the walking.

The next time I got out of the lift, I turned right. As I walked I perused the door numbers but they were not as I expected. They descended away from, not ascended to, ‘517’. What the…?

I returned to the lobby to discover 4 lifts – 2 x 2 lifts facing each other across a small lobby. And 2 room signs – one on either wall a mirror of the other. From one side of the lobby turn right. From the other side, turn left.

I got there in the end but I didn’t want to be dealing with this on holiday.

Agency Designworkplan outline 3 core principles that drive their work in helping people navigate in built environments. These include landmarks, orientation and navigation. A three dimensional rule that tells you where you are in relation to another place, how far you are from your destination and what direction you need to get there. Simple. City maps accomplish this easily with a helpful marker of ‘you are here’.

Based on this, here’s a suggested approach:

The amenities are fictional, to help illustrate the point that surrounding landmarks can help with orientation. A little more helpful than a batch of numbers tacked on to a wall.

Who’s your audience – free info tool from YouGov

Recently, a great new data tool for marketers was released from YouGov – the YouGov Profiler. Type in any search term – anything from sport, media brands, celebrities or food to find a comprehensive profile of the market it attracts.

Much hilarity ensues for search terms from Eastenders to Victoria Beckham. But looking a little closer, entrepreneurs and new business startups can find a great wealth of answers to their early questions of how to target customers with their hot new product or service.

YouGov states on their website: ‘It joins 120,000 integrated data points from over 200,000 of YouGov’s most active UK panellists to show how every single member interacts and engages with traditional (TV, radio, press, print) and new media (online, social, mobile) channels. This connected data is unique to the research industry and it means YouGov clients can mine its huge seam of information in real-time and understand more about their audiences than ever before.’

Of course, I wouldn’t suggest replacing targeted market research and customer insight with this tool. However I’ve seen personas created with a lot less ! 😦 But for those pre startup entrepreneurs who want information on their intended audiences, it’s not a bad place to start to learn about their habits.

YouGov Profiler data tool

Take a look for yourself. https://yougov.co.uk/profiler#/

App glut

How many times must I dismiss the download Yahoo Mail app interstitial when I log in via the web? I must have closed it a hundred times already that I would have thought Yahoo’s smart tracking to pick the behaviour up by now. But no, they haven’t.

I’m not old-fashioned; I just don’t see the need. I have the Gmail app and many other apps. So many in fact that I just can’t download another app to the device. So, I’m stuck with the annoying interstitial it seems.

So many apps, that I wonder we must be in an app glut. A sentiment shared by Kevin Tofel who raises a question of what must be next.

I’m further reminded of a recent experience of a friend of mine using a banking app. He was wanting to reset his password but had to not only switch between the app and the web version but between devices ! – first step on tablet / desktop, second step on phone. After several failed attempts where clearly devices and app / servers were not talking to one another, my friend resorted to phoning to speak to a human. Unfortunately there was no one on tech support to help as the time difference between the US and the UK was not in my friend’s favour. So much for mobile banking on the go…

I believe we must be fast approaching (or are already there) a crucial time for app strategy – a similar time when web design scaled back to introduce more flat and leaner code to avoid the bandwidth block of swfs and gifs. So what’s next after apps?

Perhaps the emphasis on apps will diminish along with the reliance on devices. Everyone talks about ubiqitious computing – so irrespective of device, shouldn’t we be able to we accomplish our goals on any connected technology already existing or not yet conceived? Whether it be a vending machine, ATM, kiosk or any other accessible terminals in airports, streets, in the air even. It shouldn’t have to be yet another piece of technology that we the user has to carry, wear or buy.

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Arts organisations caught in the olde world?

Everyone has examples of pointless links embedded in confirmation emails and yesterday I had a new one.

I needed a copy of the confirmation for a BFI film screening, expecting the email to contain the link to take me to my account.

It contained a link alright:


… unfortunately it was useless. The home page offered me no ability to log in to my account:


I searched all the drop down menus where I was encouraged to sign up to this and that. But absolutely NO signpost to an existing customer’s account area.

I found this arrogant. This high-profile organisation’s marketing strategy is lost in the old days where getting the sale is the most important thing. Everything else is secondary.

It was back in 2004, that Jakob Nielsen wrote,

The biggest challenge in e-commerce is to get the first order. Don’t blow it thereafter. Treating customers well after they place their initial order will vastly increase the probability that they’ll place more orders in the future.

After another minute of random clicking around the site, the lovely animating banner captured my attention. There in beautiful colour was the slide for the season for which I’d bought my ticket – Studio Ghibli. Clicking the banner took me to the subsite:


…. and there was the login link. In the time it had taken me to work that out, I’d been made feel like a second thought.

In light of this, I check how another arts organisation, Whatsonstage.com, does it. In the confirmation email I’d received for a previous purchase is an embedded link. Yet however, the same thing happens! The link in the email takes me to their home page, where again, I am unable to log in:


The onus is on me, the customer, to find where to find my account. First I click ‘More’ which doesn’t produce the desired result, then I click ‘Theatre club’. And there it is…as obscure as it is:


It’s a matter of principle. Neither of these organisations leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling that I would want to spent my money with them again. Do they think that because they have the great and exclusive discounts and offers they do, that is enough to make customers return?

On the plus side, I know that if I do, I now know where my account pages are hidden.

And the final word from Mr Nielsen,

It’s an old lesson: It’s much easier to close additional sales with existing customers than to acquire new customers. People who’ve proven willing to give you money will often give you more. This is true for all sales channels, but it’s particularly crucial for e-commerce because the first order proves your credibility if you effectively handle follow-up and delivery.


Mind the retail gap

Quite a relevant post from econsultancy this week on why retailers need more work on their multichannel offerings. Only recently on the bank holiday a friend of mine, we’ll call her Anna, had quite reluctant assistance in returning a non-functioning hair straightener – we’ll call it XYZ – to John Lewis. The whole episode emphasised a couple of design flaws but more on that later.

XYZ straightener had simply just stopped working after only a handful of uses. Even after allowing it to cool down it would still fail to turn on. Anna referenced a number of online forums to discover it is a prevalent problem. Calling John Lewis (my friend bought it online from the store), she was advised it could return it in store, rather than online.

Arriving at John Lewis Oxford Street, the XYZ counter was abandoned. When someone appeared, they were a XYZ representative, not John Lewis. Perfect, just the person Anna wanted. But no, the company salesperson was in store only for the day and couldn’t advise Anna what to do. ‘You can’t return it in store,’ Anna was told. ‘You need to return it to the manufacturer. You’d best find the store manager,’ Anna was told.

Rewind – Anna would have to what? You’re working in retail. You should know the basic principles. Anna didn’t move and quite rightly asked the salesperson to find the store manager for her.

When the store manager arrived, Anna repeated that she’s been told it could be returned in store. The store manager acquiesced and agreed JL would take care of it. Clearly the call centre and in store staff were ill advised and not aligned on return policy.

At this point, XYZ salesperson finally asked to see the non-functioning straightener – something she’d failed to do before. Plugging the straightener into power, the salesperson concurred that it was indeed not working. And advised that if the straightener heats up over the stipulated 185° it will shut itself off – forever. A key piece of information not very well communicated. Even on XYZ’s product care page, it is not mentioned. Now, I’m no product designer, but doesn’t XYZ have an obligation if they are manufacturing this type of appliance to design it so that it doesn’t overheat?

After learning this, I forget how many times Anna said that she’d just like her money back:
‘We could send it off to the manufacturers.’
No, I’d just like my money back.
‘The new model is coming out. We could let you know when it’s in store.’
No, I’d just like my money back.

Despite Anna and I having just visited the rather lovely roof gardens atop John Lewis, this experience left quite a tarnish on their name for us. Anna got her money back in the end, vowing to never buy XYZ again.

Fast, hassle free online donations

Recently friends of mine have been active participants in fundraising events for charities. Naturally quite inspired by their endeavours I’ve wanted to sponsor or donate to their chosen causes. But two sites most recently have shown vast differences in their online models, it begs the question that their website design are huge barriers to onboarding potential donors ! This is quite topical for me at the moment as I work to simplify online registration for a global beauty retailer that severely hampers visitors becoming members.

Firstly Oxfam Australia. A friend is competing in the Trailwalker hike. 100 kms. Wow, I want to support her team. I follow the link to their page where I see a clear Donate call to action. Clicking this button takes me to a form asking for my donation amount, name, email, physical address (why?) and finally credit card details with a final Confirm button at the end. Phew, all done. Yet clicking the Confirm button does nothing. The fields which I had filled are all in focus so I suspect that this is a validation exercise. So I recheck the details I entered and click Confirm again. Again, nothing.


I try this a number of times, wondering if my credit card also has been charged the same number of times. What I had been failing to see was a slimline drop down at the top of the screen which was asking me to login. What? Why allow users to enter all of these details if it’s necessary to be a member? Not to mention that I’ve never been to this site before – I just want to make a donation and go. I don’t have the time to register !

My friend who’s competing is a good friend so I persevere. I register and I get my subsequent registration confirmation email. Go through the motions and I’m back on the site to login before another attempted donation.

Now the site doesn’t recognise me. I retype the password I’d chosen and typed twice on the confirmation only a minute ago but to no avail. I’m getting well passed annoyed now. Every second I am re-evaluating how much of a good friend the willing 100km hike participant (just kidding, Ron !). My guilt gets me in the end and I click the Forgot password link. A temporary saviour arrives, I type it in and bingo, I’m finally recognised !

But before I try to donate again I want to check the Donation History to make sure my credit card hasn’t already been received or processed. This screen asks me to select the dates I want to check. Rather strange as a new registrant. Also the pre-populated date range seems a bit random – some date in November 2012 to June 2013. Today is 28 April 2014 right? I change the date to today and phew, no transactions display. Then I read the text above the date selector – “If you’ve made a recent donation, please note that donations may take up to five working days to appear.” Oh dear – a simple listing of donations made with a given status of ‘pending’ wouldn’t do here? So do I wait 5 days or go ahead with the donation?

The other site I’ve used recently is Virgin Money Giving. What a breeze! I don’t need to register. I don’t need to login. I select the charity, the amount and chose how I want to pay. Simples. Done in less than 3 minutes.

Multiply 3 minutes by the number of steps taken on Oxfam, amplified by factors of annoyance and frustration and that’s how many potential donors you’re missing out on Oxfam.

Stop and question how much you really need to know about donors. If you were selling raffle tickets at the local shopping centre you wouldn’t find out much at all. It’s called fund raising for a reason, not data collection.

Fundraising is hard enough – I know; my mother fundraised for charity for the best part of 20 years before the convenience of online tools. Use them wisely and be smart.

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