Category Archives: Usability

I don’t do Voicemail

I have never liked voicemail.

I’m not keen on phones in general (there is a great Medium post, Why I don’t answer most phone calls, which explains why the telephone is my least-preferred means of communication).

But voicemail, ick. Unlike phone calls, voicemail has no redeeming features.

Here are the reasons why voicemail is evil and needs to be burned with fire:
Continue reading I don’t do Voicemail

Open letter to Vodafone

I recently switched my mobile phone from Vodafone (who I’ve foolishly stuck with these last nine years) to O2. I couldn’t resist firing a parting shot off to Vodafone’s CEO’s office, detailing my reasons for leaving:

I am writing to you as somebody who was a Vodafone customer for 9 years, but who has recently switched to O2 to due increasing dissatisfaction with Vodafone. I hope that you will be able to learn from my unhappy experiences, and improve your service to remaining customers.

The final straw which led me to abandon Vodafone was being asked to pay for a new handset which Vodafone offers free to new subscribers, even though it was more than 2 years since my last phone upgrade and 9 months since my fixed monthly contract expired.

I might have been tempted to avoid the hassle of changing operators, had I not just endured the hell of Vodafone’s “customer service” line. I assume that you have never used this “service”, so allow me to talk you through it.

On calling the “customer service” number, the customer is asked to key in their mobile phone number. I can only assume that the person who implemented this procedure has never used a mobile telephone: a mobile telephone is generally a small self-contained unit, with a keypad that is somewhere between the mouthpiece and earpiece. It is usually used by holding the device to the ear. This tends to preclude use of the numeric keypad, except for those lucky few who have fingers growing out of their ears.

Having keyed in one’s telephone number and waited for an indeterminate length of time, one is then put through to an operator. Without fail, this person will then ask the caller to give their mobile telephone number (the same number as was just keyed in using one’s ear-fingers). It is almost inevitable that this person will not be able to assist directly, but will transfer the call to another person, who again requires the caller’s mobile telephone number. Sometimes, before being allowed to speak to this second person, an automated system demands that one first key in one’s mobile telephone number. Often the second person will not be able to deal with the query, and so (after keying in one’s mobile telephone number) the caller will have to tell a third operator what their mobile telephone number is and, hopefully, finally get an answer to their query.

If you ever visit Sheffield, I would like to introduce you to my local minicab office. They have some sort of space-age system in there, I believe it’s called Caller Line Identification or somesuch, which means that as soon as they answer the phone to me they can tell me my telephone number. Talk about rocket science!

Joking aside, a company which claims to be involved in telecoms really ought to have an understanding of CLI. A company that repeatedly asks its customers to first key in and then recite their telephone number is not a telecoms company, it is a fly-by-night cowboy outfit. I would not trust such a company to drive my minicabs, let alone rely on it for my telephony services.

The final reason why I left Vodafone is its clumsy and antidiluvian approach to the Internet. In the days of Vizzavi, Vodafone’s Internet service was a very poorly structured “walled garden”. I assumed that things would get better with Vizzavi’s demise, but they got worse and have continued to go downhill from there. I now find it impossible to use “Vodafone Live”, as it takes me an eternity to navigate past screens full of adverts for ringtones and downloadable pornography. The whole site screams out that this is a company who lost its shirt gambling on 3G licences, and is trying to recoup its investment by fleecing its customers in any way possible. Even the recent deregulation of Internet services on Vodafone was overshadowed by the ridiculously high data tariffs.

As you can gather, I am no longer a fan of Vodafone. I am sorry to leave a company that I have had a relationship with for 9 years, but I am no longer willing to stick around in the hope that things will one day improve. However, I hope that you will take seriously the comments made in this letter, and that perhaps they will help you to improve the lot of Vodafone’s remaining inmates.

Yours Sincerely,

Dan Sumption

Ad Agency Toilets

At the risk of sounding like a toilet-usability-obsessive (following my post about train toilet usability), why is it that advertising agencies always seem to have such badly designed toilets? (I shouldn’t really single ad agencies – this is something they have in common with über-cool bars and other bleeding-edge over-designed buildings).

At Leo Burnett, we had to put up with unlabelled mono-taps, with no indication of which direction to turn them for hot or cold. Despite working there for three years, I never quite got the hang of them, and ended up with scalded hands on more than one occasion.

At Saatchi’s, where I am now, the taps are set too far back into the marble sinks. This would be fine for a dwarf with withered hands, but for me (not a large-mitted person by any standard) it means cramming my hands up against the rear of the sink in an attempt to direct a few splashes of water onto them.

There was a day (I imagine) when bathrooms were just bathrooms, sinks were fairly regulation white ceramic things with cookie-cutter chrome taps sticking out at the back. Sadly that’s no longer enough for most people: they have to have variation, innovation and, in nine out of
ten cases, bad usability.

Shit, I’m starting to sound like a grumpy old man. Somebody shoot me!

Usability Analysis of Toilet Roll Holders

Jeez… a usability analysis of toilet-roll holders by Don Norman. What’s even sadder that this is (a) the fact that I performed my own toilet usability analysis a while back, or (b) the fact that when recently confronted with a similar double toilet-roll holder to the one described, I went through all the analysis described in Norman’s essay before choosing the toilet roll (seriously!) and ended up feeling guilty for taking it from the bigger roll (which was easier than taking from the little roll and having it snag on the big roll) because I knew that sooner or later some poor sod was going to end up with a double toilet-roll holder but no toilet roll left. Ah well, perhaps there’s hope for me as a usability expert after all. And if not, I can always get a job in the lavatory trade.

Train Toilet Usability

Found another example of crap usability (quite literally… erm?) – Midland Mainline Turbostar toilets. Horrible places. OK, on the plus side that do they seem to work usually, probably because the trains are newer than the Intercity 125s where flushes and seat-catches are broken, towels run out or strewn on the floor, and water supply intermittent. They’re also nice and big. But on the minus side… everything’s electronic. So you can bet that before too long they will start going wrong. And they’re confusing as hell.

To get in, you press a pad on the wall outside and the door slides open. You then have to press another pad on the inside to close the door (once you’ve found it – OK, it was fairly prominently placed, but in that large toilet and in my hungover state it took me a while), and another pad to lock it. And then a red light goes on next to it. Because I pressed the lock straight after closing the door, I wasn’t sure whether this light meant “the door is now locked” or “warning! the door is not locked!” and the pad didn’t even have a nice click to it so that I could be sure I had pressed it hard enough. So I opened the door again to be sure. And closed it. And then the lock pad wouldn’t do anything – it didn’t start off red, and wouldn’t go red no matter how many times I pressed it. “Ahhh” I thought, “it thinks I’m outside the toilet now.” Despite the fact that I’d pressed the inner button to close the door, it obviously assumed that since I had come inside, closed the door, and then opened and closed it again, it had been through a full cycle. I quickly opened the door again just in case the toilet started spraying me with air-freshener or other noxious chemicals. Closing it a final time, I noticed the lock button was now flashing red, ahh, that’s the sign that I need to lock it. I did. And it went continuous red again. OK, so I’ve now got as far as locking the door.

The toilet bit was relatively painless (unless you take into consideration the size of… no, let’s not go there), although the flush mechanism was again triggered by a piddly little electronic pad on the wall, just waiting to go wrong.

Now wash your hands. Easier said than done. One of those all-in-one soap-water-hot-air under-shelf dispensers. The soap part was easy enough… now gotta wiggle my hands around until I can find the point that triggers the water… ah, there it is. And then, shift my hands across to find the hot air… gotta be here somewhere… maybe here… no… or here… ah, it was back where I tried in the first place, just gotta keep your hands underneath for a bit longer. All that remains is to massage my hands dry in the hot airstream while avoiding moving my sleeves under the water trigger… and then back to negotiating the door.