Data input annoyances

Jacob’s latest column is pretty much on the money.

I’m super busy with Earth Hour at the moment, so these comments will be brief.

  • At NETaccounts, a huge amount of effort has gone into (and continues to go into) making sure that the user can type in values, and we encourage that by using auto-complete and other mechanisms where possible. We did this because we watched how experienced and inexperienced users used NETaccounts and other software. Providing lists helps and hinders, depending on the user. Answer – intelligently support both.
  • I currently use a site that was developed by someone else. Care was not taken with data input (e.g. not auto-including “http://” at the front of URLs when not entered by the user) and it is costing us days worth of human-hours to fix.
  • Drop-down menus are pretty sucky on Mac browsers (Firefox and Safari both make them difficult to use, especially for mouse-less navigation – Camino get’s it right). Even more reason to avoid them.
  • Sites that don’t allow spaces and basic punctuation for phone numbers really annoy me. +61 (0)2 9123-4567 is a valid phone number – even for a local person. Allow for more than 10 digits to allow for international numbers. Strip the punctuation on the server side if you need to, but let the user enter in what they want. This bites hard, particularly on highly trafficked sites.

Anyone got any other usability annoyances they want to share?

Bad usability

Priscilla points to the Be the full stop campaign site. I decided to give it a whirl.

Firstly, it has to be said using Google maps to select your location is a very, very time-consuming operation. The facility they provide for non-UK residents took about 2-3 minutes just to find my location. I also got my location wrong on the first attempt, and I had to completely delete my profile to update my location.

But the biggest usability issue is this one:

Bad gender selection mechanism on Be the full stop

Firstly, I think there are probably many users of the site that wouldn’t get the subtle distinction between these two icons.

Secondly, this type of icon/widget is used on the Mac OS (and I suspect other sites/operating systems) to signify an avatar (an icon you can use to identify yourself – usually a photo or some kind of character icon). I initially missed that it was a question about gender and thought it provided the ability for me to upload an image.

Lastly, what do you need to know my gender for?

Anyways – it’s a good cause, so worth checking out despite these flaws – just be sure to get your location right first go 😉

Everything Sensis touches turns to…

I read the other day that Telstra is betting on Sensis as a way to increase their profits by becoming a “media” company. I nearly spat my coffee out.

I can find the contact details to a business or restaurant quicker using Google than I can using the Yellow or White pages websites.

I tried to list something on the Trading Post website, only to come up against an error in the site that stopped me from becoming a customer. I reported the issue. Three weeks later the issue had not been fixed and I had to phone the order in.

Directions on WhereIs are simply broken – don’t trust the times they give. And when I access the site using Camino I get a big “your browser isn’t supported” – Camino uses the Firefox rendering engine, so is virtually identical. But when I get into the site – because they use graphic buttons, I get two whopping great blank buttons beneath the address form. I’ve learnt from trial and error which one to click, but this is a simple, simple, simple thing that they could fix with a tiny change to the site.

But what prompted me to post this? The recent “upgrade” to CitySearch.

Gone are the simple tabs and navigation that have worked so well (instead replaced with some hybrid that places more importance on the weather than usability). Gone are the clean URLs (which replace this “” with “”) – not only that but they didn’t even have the foresight to remap the old URLs to the new crapness. Gone is the good performance (it runs as slow as a dog at home – and my connection isn’t that slow). Now when I go to the film section it asks me to install a plugin (and I have most common plugins already installed, so that’s saying something). And gone is the simple and easy way to find session times and cinemas.

I wouldn’t be so negative if I actually saw some value in the changes that they’ve made to the site – but I honestly can’t see how it’s better than the old one, so the net impression I get is that it’s a step backwards.

So I wouldn’t be counting on Sensis to be Telstra’s saving grace somehow…

Pet hates about websites

One thing that really bugs me (although it’s not a huge drama in the scheme of things) – product websites that don’t include a “Pricing” link, but instead include “Buy” links everywhere. (I’m not the only person in my office that finds this annoying.)

The question I ask in my head when I see this is “If I click this link, am I going to be taken to some secure server to enter my details, or to a pricing page, or what?”

One site, for a conference, has “register” links everywhere, with no listing of the price. Click on the “register” link takes you to a page that asks you to fill in the price! What’s up with that?! Now, maybe this was some new “self-pricing” system where you choose, but somehow I don’t think so. (After digging around other pages on the site I eventually found a price, but only because I was so intrigued by the whole affair.)

So, my advice to anyone thinking of putting a product site together – make sure you have a clearly labelled “Pricing” page on the site. In your main nav bar, and accessible from your home page. Even if your product is free – put the link in and say “this is free”, stating any relative terms and conditions. It will save your audience a little bit of time, and help your potential customers find the information they’re after.