Friday, 21 November 2014

Gone phishing!

I fear it's a fact of life that if you receive email you will receive junk mail of various types, ranging from the harmless but irritating to the downright dangerous: click at your peril!

Such things are very worrying for email users, because it can be very difficult to tell some of them from genuine emails. A sad but typical example has been documented by the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones, who managed to avoid falling victim to a PayPal payment scam while he was auctioning in aid of the Children in Need charity.

As a recipient you should be able to detect such things by carefully checking any links in the email. (Ideally you shouldn't click on links in emails but, hey, this is the real world.) Usually, by hovering your pointer over a link you should be able to detect the actual address to which it goes, not what the visible text says. If you are more adept you can explore what are called the long headers of a mail to see where it really came from and how it got to you. But some emails are sent legitimately from web servers or other addresses that may not have what is called a mail exchange (MX) record.

I am not a fan of HTML emails but they are here to stay with all the potential for trouble from hidden links and tracking images. I feel it's rather like insisting that telephone calls are sung, not spoken, just because it's nicer. With a text email, it's up to the mail client whether any link text is turned into a real clickable link ... usually triggered by an 'http://'.

Why is this relevant to us as developers and producers of interactive media? I think we need to think carefully about how our clients communicate when using emails to contact their customers, especially if they are asking for information. Our clients are not all banks (or PayPal) so the chances of a scammer sending out emails purporting to be from our clients are slim ... but do their emails always seem to be clearly from them?

Let me give an example. You may use a third party to manage a mailing list for a newsletter. Have you checked to see how those emails actually arrive? The 'Reply to' header may show your domain but the real sender address will be the third party company. The unsubscribe links may be to the third party company. All this is completely above board and I only mention it because there are genuine instances where some of the basic sanity checks on scam emails will fail with the genuine article. To ameliorate this you could be up front about it and say that your mailing list is handled by another company, which will explain the different email domain.

PayPal and eBay have a good technique. They always address you by name whereas phishing emails tend to start Dear customer or even Dear friend. The UK National Savings will send you an email telling you that you need to log onto your online account and read a new message: not particularly friendly but very safe. It's useful to see what other organisations do to help keep their customers safe online. Definitely something that's well worth doing and, coincidentally, good for business.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Digital Usability and Return on Investment

It’s been a while since we looked at this issue - September 2013 - and as in every digital sector, it has moved on leaps and bounds.

UX (User Experience) is now understood as a fundamental business concern for digital. Previously it had been a ‘take it or leave it’ addition. It was hard to identify in quantifiable terms how UX added to business benefits. This has changed too. It’s a discipline that has grown in knowledge that has been tied to business key performance indicators (KPIs). This is what has driven its recognition as a core component of any type of digital communication.

So, this discipline now has its own sets of awards covering various facets of communication. For example, UKUX Awards 29th October 2014 awarded in the following categories: Best Entertainment, Best Student Project, Best Not for Profit, Best Public Sector, Best Effects on Business Goals, Best Innovation, Best Learning or Education Experience, Best Information, Best Transactional Experience, Best Windows Phone App, Best User Experience, For more details of the winners and an explanation of why they won, see

It’s as well to note that a website or other digital applications may well not be able to show such business benefits straight away. It’s often in the refinement of the user experience in use that tightens up the experience and releases the business potential. This means ongoing observation. Will your customers pay for this? Do you have the expertise? Do you recommend that this happens? If you are not a usability company then these are questions you need to ask.

You also need to appreciate that the different digital offerings need different tests to demonstrate where they are not meeting customer expectations and what to do about this. There isn’t a one way solution! If you read Lee Duddell’s account of ‘5 Tips to Improve Mobile UX’ (20 June 2014) in ‘What Users Do’, you’ll see what we mean.

If you want to do some in-depth self-improvement (Professional Development?), there’s a one hour webinar, ‘How to Measure the ROI of User Experience’ by Dr. Susan Weinschenk, at ‘Userzoom’.

This is a field of expertise and unless it is our field of expertise, we can only appreciate whether our companies should be aware of the benefits it can bring, whether we are covering it with experts, and/or whether we have a duty to inform our customers about it. Yes, there’s so much to consider in projects, we know.