User Experience Theorist. Writer. Epicure.

ESPN.com’s New TV Campaign

March 16th, 2009

ESPN recently redesigned their website (not sure exactly when) and has launched a new TV campaign to promote the site. If you haven’t seen the ads, watch below, then read:

In general, I find it interesting that they have chosen to promote the subdirectory URL (i.e. espn.com/somethingyouareinterestedin) aspect of the site, since, in my experience, novice users don’t always fully understand how to use those URLs (and clearly ESPN has to appeal to the entire population). Though I’ve found that people tend to find “domain.com/subdomain” clearer than the other method — “subdomain.domain.com”, in general they are far less likely to use a subdomain than to just go to the main site and look for the content they seek.

In spite of that larger issue, I noticed some other minor issues that could create big problems for the worldwide leader:

The voiceover states (verbatim), “espn dot com, slash… Bill Simmons, The Celtics, The Fighting Irish, Mike Golic, Serbian Table Tennis Sensation Biba Golic…” However, typing in espn.com/THEceltics does not work (caps for emphasis only). Nor does espn.com/THEfightingirish or espn.com/serbiantabletennissensationbibagolic! Ok, so maybe that last one is a bit of a stretch, and when they quickly run through the URLs at the end of the commercial, the “the” is gone (as is the “serbian…”), but still, shouldn’t the voiceover state the URL correctly?

I suspected another flaw was that they showed spaces in the names of multi-word items (i.e. Bill (space) Simmons), but typing the space into the URL actually works! Clearly somebody was thinking of these types of issues, so how did they miss the announcer stating “The Celtics”???

Another issue I noted is that when you go to espn.com, it automatically redirects you to espn.go.com, a relic of Disney’s failed “Go” network of the late 90s. From the homepage, however, if I type “slash” billsimmons on the end of the espn.go.com URL, it does not work. Only when I type the full URL from scratch (i.e. espn.com/billsimmons) does it point me to the right place. It took me a minute to figure this out — and I’m quite good at this stuff. Would a normal user try more than once, or figure it out if they did? Doubtful.

Even if users are ready for the whole “slash” concept, these minor inconsistencies will surely create problems for some people and force them to have a negative impact on the overall campaign. It would certainly be enlightening to see how these commercials do in terms of audience response and traffic to the website, though I guess the only way to find out would be if some ESPN employee (you know who you are) would tell me.

Project Complete

November 25th, 2007

The majority of my time over the past 6 months have been spent working on the new release of the website for the company I work for. As I rule I do not talk about that here, but after everything we did, I feel the need to at least point out what we did. As with everything else, there are things I like and things I don’t.

[the site]

The Big Issue with Google Docs

October 21st, 2007

I’ve been using Google Docs lately to write papers because it is so much easier to move from computer to computer than with traditional word docs. Once you get used to the interface, it really is just as effective… save for one major problem — there is no way to determine how much you have written!

Paul Stamantiou says it much better than I, so I suggest reading his post here.

“The problem comes with the fact that it is damn hard to get a real sense of how much you have written in Google Docs due to the lack of a proper, ruled page layout view. I have gotten to the point of frustration; continually copying and pasting my documents into a real word processor…”

Guest Blogging

September 9th, 2007

I am currently guest blogging on “Notes on Design”, the blog of sessions.edu.

I’ll post all the links within this post.

Check back for more soon…

Alternatives to Evite: MyPunchBowl

September 9th, 2007

The most popular group of posts in the history of my blog center around problems with and alternatives to Evite, the mostly famous online party planning an invitation service. Recently I stumbled across a new service, MyPunchBowl, which is a Web 2.0 take on this service. I’ve only started to play around with MyPunchBowl, so it’s very hard to say that it’s better or worse than Evite at this point, and as with any web 2.0 application, MyPunchBowl is surely ripe for the typical AJAX user experience issues.

However, after a cursory look at this new application, it does seem to solve two of the major problems that I pointed out in my initial review of Evite. My biggest problem is the way the Evite interface puts undue pressure on the user to come up with something interesting to say in the message field when responding. Although it does offer an alternative where the messaging area is not visible at all to guests, this takes away the ability to see who’s going to the party, which is at least part of the point of it in the first place. MyPunchBowl handles this issue in two ways: first, it separates the messaging from the response. Users who respond “Yes” can then view the message board and post comments if they choose. The beauty of this is that the person is not asked to make comments while they respond to the invitation; as such they are probably more likely to quickly answer without worrying about saying something witty or funny or deciding to come back later when they think of a good comment. Users who respond “No” to the invite never even see the message board; instead, they are prompted to pass along a private message to the party host. I love this because it prevents those incredibly awkward and mostly annoying decline messages such as “Hey Mike, thanks for the invite your party, it sounds really fun, but unfortunately, I have to take my cat to the dentist next Saturday so I’m not going to make it!”

The other huge problem with Evite is that the invite e-mails are terrible. They provide no information about the party, and generally just waste a lot of space. MyPunchBowl, on the other hand, still has a somewhat cheesy graphical display, but at least offers the ability to show the description of the event in the e-mail itself (so the user doesn’t need to click to find out what the event is). I especially find this helpful with people who are at work, who might not want to click. The best possible scenario, and something that Evite alternative DarkGuest offers, is the ability to respond directly from the e-mail, giving people yes / no / maybe choices directly in the e-mail body. Despite not having this feature, however, the e-mail from MyPunchBowl is definitely a step in the right direction over the useless e-mail from Evite.

I should also point out that Evite has recently been giving me a ton of technical issues. Last time I tried to organize something, I had to set up the invitation three or four times because for some reason, every time I tried to set it up, it ended up erasing all the data I had previously entered. Perhaps I did something wrong, but a user like me should be able to figure these things out relatively quickly; to have this happen several times shows some definite usability issues.

So, in summary, combining these issues with the intriguing features of MyPunchBowl, I’ll definitely be trying this new service the next time I organize a gathering of friends.

This post was dictated using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9.

Yahoo Automated Search Links

June 20th, 2007

Yahoo! news has just (I think) added a new feature on some of their news articles that allows for an AJAX search lookup of some terms within the article.

It is a neat idea, although often much of the results overlay “window” appears below the fold of the page, especially if the link is towards the bottom. If they could somehow sense that and move the window accordingly, that would be nice.

It also makes more sense in some situations than others. In the great article I was reading, for example, it made sense for the linked text “Britney Spears” to bring up pages related to her. On the other hand, when I saw the text “The Smoking Gun” linked, I expected to be taken to that site.

Interestingly, when I saw this a few days ago, the icon next to the name was a downward arrow. Since then, they have replaced that with a magnifying glass icon, which conveys the “search” theme a bit better.

[Yahoo! News]: Britney and the Saga of the Bald Billboard

Don’t Forget Alternative User Paths when Testing

April 24th, 2007

I came across this page on bukowski.net, a site dedicated to the work of Charles Bukowski. The developers use the javascript “history.back()” function on the “Return” link, but because I hadn’t come from the index page, this did not take me there (it should take you back here).

Do you consider user paths from external links when you test your site?

Multiple Page News Articles

April 17th, 2007

Why do online newspapers and other publications insist on breaking up their articles into multiple pages? Is it some relic of the old dial-up days? A way to generate more ad revenue (via more impressions)?

Either way, it is very annoying from a reader’s perspective. At the very least, they should offer the ability to view the entire article (though it is often available that way by using the “print” button).

Check out how this Boston Herald article breaks up the two “pages” — what a waste!

(BTW, if you’re interested in the hilarious incident described in the article, video is here.)

Site Review: Bloomingdale’s

April 12th, 2007

I received an email the other day announcing the redesign of bloomingdales.com, so I figured I would give the new site a little review.

An Even BETTER Way to Do State Dropdowns!

April 6th, 2007

In Jakob Nielsen’s recent Alertbox, he talks about how annoying it can be to have to select something (in this case, state) from a dropdown menu while moving through a form. I agree — it forces the user to stop what they are doing and focus on the finicky dropdown menu. Personally, I like to tab through the fields, and, although it is possible to get through the dropdown without picking up the mouse, I often find myself having to do so to correct an error.

I do, however, think that Jake is being short-sighted with his recommendation to offer a text box that asks users to enter the two-digit state code instead. With all the advances we’ve made in AJAXy auto-fill form technology, why not use something similar to the USAIR airport code field generator that I mentioned back in August? There are only so 50 states, so a simple table of all the possible entries would be somewhat easy to build, and this way the user has instant confirmation that they are typing the correct state.

The auto-fill would be even more effective if it provided the entire state name; the one thing Jake fails to mention is the fact that users probably don’t know every state code (if, say, they are mailing something to a friend or family member elsewhere). It would be rather easy for someone to think MA was the state abbreviation for Maine, for example, if they were from New Mexico and didn’t think of Massachusetts (especially with the pathetic state of geography knowledge in this country).

OK to Put Cursor in Search Field on Page Load?

April 4th, 2007

I used to think it was a great idea to force the cursor into the Search field upon page load, but with the advent of the Firefox search toolbar (or Google Toolbar in IE), I more commonly encounter situations where this annoys me.

For a site like Google, where searching is the only option, this still makes sense. Does it for sites that aren’t totally search-based?

IRS E-File Letter

April 3rd, 2007

I got a letter in the mail today from the IRS encouraging me to e-file my taxes. Although it would be easier to e-file, I have steadfastly refused to do this over the past few years because they charge for this service. Why should I pay to make their lives easier? (Surely it is a cost savings for them when people e-file.)

But wait! Myth number one about e-file, according to this letter, is that 96 million taxpayers are eligible to use this service for free. Wait again! What about the other 200 million?

This reminds me of the Ticketmaster “TicketFast” program, where they charge you $1.50 to print your tickets immediately, but don’t charge at all to mail them to you. How is it better for Ticketmaster to mail the tickets? They have to be printed out, put in an envelope and mailed. The other way, they don’t have to do anything.

Instead of trying to convince me to spend money to save them some, shouldn’t the government be improving their service? How about creating a TaxCut / TurboTax clone and putting it on the IRS site and allowing people to use it for free? I don’t know much about the IRS, but it seems like this would be the best way to get tax information in a standardized format that would really cut costs.

Adobe Connect Needs Some Work

March 19th, 2007

It should be a neat tool, but for now there is a few issues. Here’s just one, for today: It told me I needed to install Flash 8 to continue, so I did. One problem — no way to continue!

(click image to enlarge)

New Rules for Scrolling? (A ScreenCap Video)

February 27th, 2007

I post a lot about specific web interfaces, documenting some of the decisions that have been made in interface design and the impact that they have on users. The only problem with this method is that you, the reader, can’t really see what I’m talking about. Sure, I can put up a few screen caps and links, but that doesn’t really cut it.

So, I had an idea. Why not use a screen recorder with integrated audio to walk through the screens? This way I’m able to speak to specific screens as you see them.

First installment: The new rules of scrolling

I’ve seen two new trends in scrolling: Automatic scrolling (on page load) and horizontal scrolling of DIV areas. In this video, we’ll take a look at a few examples and discuss how effective they are.

More Lotus Notes UI Disasters

February 25th, 2007

West Chester, PA — Utter devastation. We just got use of Lotus Notes webmail, and I accidentally marked every email address in my inbox as unread. I now am unable to figure out which emails I have read and which I have not.

How did this happen? Take a look at the menu:

lotus notes web screen

I was trying to mark one message as unread — my mouse must have clicked a few pixels too low… and there is no way to undo!

This is a great example of how a minor mistake can have major consequences.

Battle of the Zooms

January 23rd, 2007

I’ve noticed some interesting zoom interfaces on product-driven eCommerce sites recently — the web 2.0 of zoom, if you will. Three in particular stand out as being progressive: Nike, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Endless (Amazon’s new handbag/shoe shop).

Endless and Dick’s both use a dual panel design where the user controls the location of zoom (on the item) with a small box on one panel and views the zoomed in part of the product on an adjacent panel. Both cover part of the page with the “zoomed” panel, and Dick’s zoom panel actually slides out from “underneath” the product image (though you won’t be able to see that from my static image below).

(endless left, dick’s right)

endless zoom endless zoom

In both of these examples, some page content is covered by the zoom portion of the image — not a big problem but not ideal either. On Dick’s site, the animation of the zoom panel sliding out takes a few seconds, again not a major issue (and it does look quite “slick”), but still a waste of a few seconds. (On endless the zoom panel simply appears.)

Although the image quality is stunning in these zoom functions, it seems more difficult to me when a user has to control the image in one panel and look at it in another. The traditional zoom model allows users to simply click and zoom or scroll exactly on the image where they want to view.

Nike seems to have come up with an even better solution, allowing the user to click and zoom where they mean to view, not covering up content, and serving up a large, high-quality image.

nike zoom

This isn’t perfect either — in my review of Nike’s site I wrote: “The zoom feature can be a bit strange at first, as the product description and selection fields appear over top of the enlarged product. I think that this will become less befuddling after repeated use, but I was thrown the first time I saw it.” That said, I still think that Nike has come up with the best solution because it shows a stunningly high-quality image without forcing users to learn new behaviors or focus on more than one point on the page at the same time. Nike also offers multiple levels of zoom, allowing the user to view a broader or more focused image, another nice option.

Article: World Usability Day Philadelphia

December 30th, 2006

I wrote an article recapping the Philadelphia World Usability Day event that took place in November.

Read it in the UPA Voice.

Read it in the STC UUX Newsletter.

Favorite Posts of 2006

December 27th, 2006

Well, 2006 has come and gone and my blog is still a sorry excuse for a traffic generator, but we’ve had some fun. I noticed Jeff Veen had a “favorite posts of ’06″ post, so I thought I’d steal the idea here.

My 2005 series on Evite remained popular, especially with the addition of a review of Mark Hurst’s Goovite. I even got an email from Mark saying that he liked the post and was implementing two of my ideas: from address as the sender, and allowing commenters to choose whether to share their comments.

I expanded my reach a bit this year, posting articles on both Digital Web (Preparing for Widescreen), and UPA Voice (Remote Usability Tools).

I started a feature called Topic of the Week as a way to drive traffic and commenters, but it didn’t really work. Still, these are some of my favorite posts, particularly “Do Blogs Still Matter?“, Emotional Design and Automatic Audio.

Lastly, I declared September 12, 2006 to be a landmark day in HCI history. Will I be right?

Happy Festivus!

December 21st, 2006

In honor of the great Festivus holiday, today I choose to air some of my UX related grievances. In the infamous words of Frank Costanza, “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people!” Feel free to post your own grievances below.

To mog.com, for having the worst search engine ever. Searching for “roger clyne and the peacemakers”? That brings up nothing. But “roger clyne & the peacemakers” — we’ve got a match! (Just “peacemakers” brings up nothing too, btw, so we’re clear.) Cool site otherwise, though.

To Lotus Notes, for “finding” (Ctrl + F) messages off the viewable area of the screen, so I have to exit out of the “Find” dialog and scroll down to see if the message found is the one I’m looking for, and if it is not (usually the case), having to re-enter the dialog and start over. (I could have an entire list on Notes, but that’s enough for now.)

To the Chester County Library System, my library, for requiring “www” in front of their url, www.ccls.org. Typing http://ccls.org only times out. University of Richmond (richmond.edu) and Colgate University (colgate.edu) are two additional culprits (out of many, many more).

To MySpace, for putting my password in plain text in my account confirmation email. I just registered guys — I remember my password. Please don’t send it to me through one of the least secure channels on the entire internet!

To everyone who has a MySpace page that plays music when I visit it. Aside from a specific band’s page, I can’t recall ever enjoying the song that plays. Why must thou force it on me?

To every retail site that doesn’t remember that I like to “view all”. It is so simple to remember this — why make me click the damn link again and again???

To the new Yahoo! Mail, for — despite being the very best webmail — not having an advanced search feature, so everytime a person is copied on an email, that email appears in the search results. I’ve got 4,000 emails people, I need some additional search functionality! While we’re at it, why does it jump to the very top of the list when I sort by Name or Subject? How about jumping to the selected email? Even Lotus Notes can do that.

To Firefox’s developer toolbar, for only having “800×600″ as an option for browser resizing. Clearly developed by someone working at 1024×768, who didn’t think about those of us who develop at higher resolutions and want to test 1024 as well. Yes, I know that I can type it in manually, but that isn’t very convenient, is it?

To Comcast’s DVR, for not being TiVo. I like that you record HDTV and integrate into my channel guide, but after that it is all downhill.

To my DVD player, for not having a shuffle option when playing MP3 CDs. How am I supposed to celebrate Festivus without good music?

What problems do you have? Comment below.

Site Review: Gucci.com

December 18th, 2006

Gucci takes a bold step at capturing the emotion and feeling of the in-store experience on their website. Instead of providing search and navigation like most eCom sites, Gucci instead uses flash to display handbags on shelves as one might see in the store; the user can scroll horizontally (but not vertically) to browse through the entire selection.

Pros:

Gucci is a high-end luxury brand and this site establishes them as such. By displaying the product in this light, the designers are able to bring some of the emotion that one might get from shopping the store online.

Product details appear within the interface, sliding out and making it very easy for customers to view the details of several products without a pogosticking effect.

Cons:
The horizontal scroll is not typical of websites, and as such may not be clear to some users. (although the arrows and the overall design do afford that there is something more to the left of the viewable area).

This design idea clearly will only work for some companies and products; those with a deeper product line or less high-end product would never be able to pull this off.