Friday, 19 November 2010

HCI (Human Computer Interaction) in jeopardy?

This week I've spent hours on the phone complaining about poor interface design on diverse web sites that I've tried to use (for personal use) in all honesty – and failed. I failed in my complaints too! In the end I've realised I'm talking to the wrong people. If you go through to the Helplines noted on the web sites you get through to Customer Services and all the people want to do is ignore what you say, sell their products, and get on with the next call.

What I was trying to achieve was a change in the interfaces to help the User Experience, lower the companies' complaints and increase their service/product conversions. No one listened, no one recognised that mine was constructive criticism, no one offered to put me through to their web designers. I've given up.

The first issue arose because a company only allowed you to choose one category of definition for a training course when our training courses don't fit because they are cross-discipline (iMedia Project Management and related courses, I'm talking about here). I genuinely couldn't stretch the categories/sub-categories to suit - with the best will in the world . You either had to be Business and Management, IT and Telecommunications, or Design and Media.

This narrowness would have implications of how people searched to access information about the courses and we cross all - taking into account the people who have attended in the past. Added to that issue, although the company did allow online courses, they insisted on you putting in a number of hours, days, weeks that it would take someone to complete a course. That's an oxymoron for online as people can access and complete as they want. I'd have been happy for a range of hours but no, it had to be a definite number! And so on...

The second issue involved me trying to buy a product online but the number of personal questions I had to complete for the shop to form an account was off-putting, and then their Terms and Conditions made it so hard to opt out of the details being sent to all and sundry, that I aborted the transaction. Yes, you guessed it. The company contacted me by email anyway asking if I'd had trouble with completing the request! That just confirmed my poor opinion of their online ethics.

Finally: the most frustrating. I'd received documentation (from a supposedly Top 100 company) indicating that a service I'd had offline for years was now online if I wanted. Yes, good, I thought. But when I tried to register online, the info in the document bore no relation to the online screens. Really, I mean as basic as the words Password and Account Number were not called those names on the screen when in fact that was what they wanted in the end to start the process. When I muddled through by trial and error expecting to be accused of trying to subvert the system at any moment (hacking?), I was finally told on screen that the second stage would take 5-10 days to be posted to me. No mention of a two stage registration process in the documentation and I haven't got that amount of time left to register now because I hadn't thought it was time sensitive before my service period runs out!

Sorry about all the whinging but too much in too short a time for me to throw off! And, I did try and rectify the situations as best I could by speaking to the organisation. Where are the interface designers? Where are the trials with genuine users? Or, are the professionals not being allowed or paid to do their jobs? After all, online is just business now, isn't it, nothing special!?

In the spirit of and on behalf of the HCI professionals, I'll end on a positive note. Take a look at Joshua Jonson's article: "The difference between good design and great design", Sept 2010.

I found this through a great site for HCI – or UX (User Experience) if you prefer, called InspireUX. InspireUX have a strapline explaining their mission as:
User Experience quotes and articles to inspire and connect the UX community
They have amalgamated loads of relevant material. Hope you can use some to influence your clients.