Teaching, Promoting, Cheering UX and SEO Since 2002

One Way Application is Not Usable or Accessible

I’m surrounded nearly every day with discussions both on and off line that cover Internet software and web site development. It’s part of my job to know what frustrates people. Sometimes the user experience is so pathetically bad that all you can do is try to grin and bear the ordeal and hope that someday, somebody, gets with the program.

Take EasyPass, for example. In the State I live in, some roads are not free to drive on. There are toll roads, which require that money be collected from everyone who drives the road. Bridges operate in the same way. On holidays, busy weekends and during rush hours when people are coming and going from work, toll booths get backed up with cars waiting to pay their fee.

Hence, some States in the USA offer a way to zip on through electronically with a gadget you attach to your automobile that’s scanned as you whiz on through the fast lanes of the toll booths designed for easier passing through. Your credit card is billed the amount for the toll.

It’s a nifty little device and comes in really handy on long trips or for commuters. My husband had one, since he uses a toll road to get to work. When we’d go on vacations, we’d grab the EasyPass device from his car and stick it on the motor home, so we could sail on through any toll booths that had an EasyPass lane.

You can order the device online. But as Eric learned, if you lose your device, you enter something resembling La La Land if you try to replace it.

Not long ago he went online to use the form that he hoped would let him replace the lost EasyPass device and also order two more. We’re traveling soon and taking another car along with the motor home. We’ll need a device for each car. He fiddled with the online application and told me in passing one day that we were all set. The devices would arrive in time for our trip. It was one less thing I would need to worry about.

On Saturday he got a letter in the mail telling him the State couldn’t assist him because he already had an account. So? We just stared at one another. Because he has an account, he can’t get a replacement device or order additional ones? Why did he get a form letter in the mail? He used the Internet for the transaction. Why did the software not let him know of any problem while he was there? The letter said if he had any questions, to please call. He wasn’t encouraged to seek help online and no email contact was made. It was all snail mail communication, although his contact and supposed transaction was made online.

There was no confirmation of his supposed transaction other than it wasn’t going to happen within our lifetimes without a fight. Eric uses his cell phone for calls, as well as it’s an appendage to his body. He uses it to remember every detail of every second of the day. I swear it’s glued to his hands. So when the letter said to call a number that looked like this: 234-iam-nohelp (in other words, it was a combination of numbers and letter) he ranted about how much of a pain it is to dial phone numbers like that with a mobile device.

He finally accomplished that task only to get the robotic voice directing him to the many options available. When he made his way to the right department, they still wouldn’t let him talk to a human until he had his account number ready.

Which of course, was not on the letter they mailed him. He was standing in the middle of the driveway, outside the house, nowhere near a computer that could have gotten him to their software application that may, or may not, have had the account number somewhere on it. The letter didn’t supply any warning that an account number would be needed for the phone call.

One of the few perks of being married to a SQA Performance Engineer is moments like this when he wants to scream to the high heavens about poor usability and I get more insight into user behavior, for free.

How can a government agency have done so poorly? Clearly, the online application isn’t working properly or wasn’t user tested. Eric says he can’t go in and edit anything except possibly changing his credit card information. He seems to be unable to order more devices or replace a missing one. He can’t talk to a human being without having the secret word. He’s heard there are ways to get devices in stores, which might be fine, but why bother to have a web site application then?

I have no idea the outcome of all this. He’s got it in his head that he figure this all out. Between me and you though, I have a feeling we’ll be slowing down at toll booths on our trip and cursing software development processes that aren’t usable or accessible to people because that’s what user oriented design people always do while on vacation. Right?

In Other News

On accessibility, Joe Dolson has some feedback on a recent article on e-commerce accessibility.

Richard Sedley’s What is your most powerful persuasive page on your website is a perfect podcast for persuasion designers. Did you know it takes 500 milliseconds to decide if something is credible or not? It covers “snap judgments”, momentum, conversions, human behavior, requirements based decisions and a great deal more, in a lively presentation. It fits in well with the book I’m reading now called “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell, author of “The Tipping Point”, which I also read. He also gets into influence and motivations people have.

One example is an experiment about how people looking up into the sky motivates others to do the same. This reminds me of an incident back when I was dating a student from Lehigh University.

A small group of us were walking up the “The Hill” one night, heading for yet another frat party. One of the other girlfriends of the guys had the idea for a way to annoy the people driving the winding road on campus that circled around the frat houses on the side of South Mountain, rather than walking, which was the tradition.

She suddenly stopped, stooped low to the ground and started yelling, “My contact, my contact! I can’t find my contact lens!” One by one, those in our group played along to get the gig going. I think I had too much beer because I could only bear to stand to the side laughing hysterically as I watched more and more people come running over to help look for the “missing contact”. A car pulled up, and the driver was asked to shine his headlights closer so everyone could see better. The girl did one of the best acting jobs I’d ever seen, as she expressed her distressed state at losing the tiny contact lens.

Within a few short minutes, people gave up because there was no resolution to this experience. They backed off or walked away. The driver got angry because there was a line of cars now behind him honking. The whole thing took less than a few minutes but it forever imprinted on me how easy it is to influence people into doing something.

Congratulations to one of the my students, Miriam Ellis, who won educational scholarship money from Cre8asiteforums. She completed my online usability course at SearchEngineCollege, as well as other courses to complete Pathway A: Certified Search Engine Optimizer. Usability is an elective for the certification path and I was pleased Miriam chose to add it to her search marketing course list.

Lastly, I visited Commerce 360 today to have lunch with my friends, Bill Slawski (my co-Admin at Cre8asiteforums) and Liana Evans. I got to meet some more folks at Commerce 360, as well as prove to myself that Bill really does work there now. Lunch was fantastic. They asked if I’m going to SES San Jose in August.

No plans yet. But I can bribed.

1 Comment

  1. June 25, 2007    

    Ah, Easypass – yes, I, too have driven on those roads.

    Well, not _driven_, per se. Been driven, yes.

    There is always another answer for government sites – they didn’t want Eric to succeed, of course. It’s not about getting things done – just about filing lots of paperwork! Right?

    Or is that my cynicism speaking?

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