Archive for the ‘User experience’ Category



December 15, 2014

I got a parcel from Amazon the other day. It was a small packet of dye remover, about the size of the palm of my hand and it could’ve fitted inside a standard envelope. The packet had its own packaging and the contents weren’t fragile.

So why did Amazon choose to mail it in a small box, surrounded by ‘air bag’ protectors? All that does is add to the volume and space taken up in cargo freight aircraft holds, add to postage/shipping costs (on Amazon’s behalf — I had free postage on this item), and potentially add to landfill if the cardboard box and plastic bags filled with air aren’t or can’t be recycled.

There were further costs too. This box also wouldn’t fit in my post office box, so I had to go inside the post office when it was open, wait in line with my little red card, and then someone had to spend time looking for the parcel. While this was perhaps a combined 5 minutes, I was just one customer. Multiply that by everyone else who has to do the same thing and the costs start to mount up. Then there are the labour costs of those who put this item in the box and added the air bags and then sealed it.

This overpackaging is just ludicrous — and terribly wasteful of time and resources.




See also:



Dealing with food allergies and sensitivities

November 26, 2014

It must be hard for restaurants to deal with various food allergies, sensitivities, and preferences. Some add ‘GF’ for gluten-free or ‘V’ for vegetarian to their menu listings to indicate the items that suit those categories, but what about the rest?

One Chinese restaurant I ate at in Utah tackled it this way — they had an entire submenu for many of the main food allergies/sensitivities/preferences. I thought it was a good way to tackle the issue — it had to be easier than someone with one of those intolerances trying to scan every menu item looking for a particular code letter.



Codeshare check in at airports

November 25, 2014

I had two quite different experiences with codeshare flights on my recent trip to NZ and the US.

First experience

My flight from Sydney to Christchurch was listed on the ticket as a Qantas 4-digit flight number, but ‘operated by Emirates’ (I booked the ticket direct through Qantas, so I don’t know why the standard Qantas flight number wasn’t used and why they put me via Emirates). I arrived at Sydney International Airport in plenty of time (just as well). Because I’m a particular status of frequent flyer, I was able to use a premium check in counter, which meant that there was only one other person in front of me (also just as well). I got to the counter and was told by the Qantas agent that I had to check in at the Emirates counter as I was ticketed for Emirates! Nowhere on the Qantas-issued, Qantas-branded e-ticket did it say that I had to check in at another counter, which happened to be at the other end of the terminal. So I took myself to the Emirates counter, and again, because of my frequent flyer status, I was able to check in easily.

But so much of this scenario could have gone horribly wrong. Had I not been so early for my flight, had I waited in the general check-in line at Qantas for 30 minutes or more (not unusual) only to then be told to go to Emirates, and had I then waited in the Emirates line for another 30 minutes, I could well have missed my flight. All because a critical piece of information (i.e. ‘check in at the Emirates counter’) was NOT stated on the ticket.

I sent feedback to Qantas via their website suggesting that they add this critical piece of information to their codeshare tickets. I fly internationally more than many people, but I’d never encountered this before. And for those who fly infrequently, such critical information could mean the difference between catching the plane and not. And could lead to a lot of confusion and frustration both for the passengers and the check-in counter staff. It only requires a few words to be added to the ticket to eliminate this confusion and frustration.

Second experience

My next codeshare flights were in the US. I’d booked American Airline flights via the American Airlines website. However, some of my flights were ‘puddle jumpers’ and American Airlines uses differently branded aircraft for these (e.g. American Eagle). But they make it very clear on the ticket where you are to check in. There is NO confusion. And it’s there in black and white, so passengers can’t complain they weren’t told.


It’s not often I’d praise a US airline over Qantas, but in this case Qantas have made it harder for their passengers and staff by omitting such vital information from their e-tickets.

That’s just bad usability, Qantas.



Fix typing mistakes, only to make more

October 8, 2014


Read the last item first, then the second last one…

typo I think they meant ‘metric’.

It’s all about trust. How can I trust them to have ‘removed typing mistakes’ in the app when they make another one in their list of changes?

Did I download the app? Nope, for several reasons, but this one was the clincher. That, and the overuse of capitals for words that aren’t proper nouns.

(Seen on a developer’s summary of a Google Play app.)



Example: How documentation can save money on support calls

September 30, 2014


I have flights back to Australia from the USA in November. I leave from Salt Lake City (SLC), fly to Los Angeles (LAX) on American Airlines (AA) landing at Terminal 4  (T4), then have to transfer to the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at LAX to catch my Qantas flight to Sydney and my connection on to Perth.

Everything was fine until I got a message from Qantas that my AA flight from SLC had been cancelled and they’d put me on another flight. My original flight left SLC at 4:25pm, getting to LAX at 5:30pm, leaving me plenty of time to make my Qantas flight at 10:20pm. If you’ve never traveled through LAX, you may not realize that having PLENTY of connection time there is a MUST. Too many things can go wrong if you don’t — late arrival of your flight, time to transfer from one terminal to another, long TSA security lines, etc.

My new flight leaves SLC at 6:50pm, getting in to LAX at 7:45pm, which in my opinion is cutting it fine for making that connection, even though the Qantas staff said that the connection time was within their guidelines. (The only other flight out of SLC is at 12:50pm and that would mean a very early start from where I’ll be staying — some 2 hours out of SLC — and then a horrendous 8+ hour wait at LAX, all before another 14+ hours in the air, 5+ hours at Sydney airport, then another 4+ hour flight to Perth, followed by a 2-hour drive home.)

When I check in at SLC, I’ll be checked all the way through to Perth, so I’ll get all my boarding passes then and I won’t see my bags until I get to Sydney, where I have to clear Australian Customs before transferring to the Perth flight. So I won’t have baggage or check-in to contend with at LAX — just me and my hand luggage.

So what does this have to do with documentation and reducing the cost of support calls?

As so many things can go wrong to delay my AA flight out of SLC (weather: snow, storms, high winds over the Rockies — it will be mid-November, after all; delays: in take-off because of other flights, late arrival from wherever it’s coming in from, etc.), I’m skeptical that I’ll make the connection to my Qantas flight. So to mitigate some risks, I decided to find out if there’s some sort of transfer system for people connecting to international flights at LAX from one terminal to another without going through the TSA security lines again.

I searched on the internet but found mixed information (some dated information indicated that there used to be a tunnel between T4 and TBIT for international transfers, but it’s been closed for several years now). I also found some information on the Qantas website ( Although this web page told me that there was a shuttle between the two terminals after 4pm, it didn’t tell  me two important bits of information — whether I’d have to go through security again (thus carving off 10 to 45 minutes from my already tight connection), and how often the shuttle buses run. Both factors are really important for me in deciding whether to take the shuttle or run the risk of walking the 10 mins from T4 to TBIT and facing the potentially long TBIT TSA security lines, oh and going through Customs and Border Protection too.

Reading between the lines in the information on this web page (see screen shot below), the implication is that I won’t have to go through security again, but this isn’t explicitly stated. The first highlight in the screen shot states that you have to go through security in the first scenario, but the second scenario — the one that applies to me — doesn’t state whether you have to go through security again or not.


As I needed to know this information to make an informed decision, I called Qantas. It took at least 5 minutes for the Qantas rep to confirm who I was and to understand my question (she thought I was arriving from Santiago, not SLC!!). However, she didn’t know the answer to my question, so she put me on hold while she went to find out. Some 10 minutes later she got back to me and said that she spoke to ‘someone who’s familiar with LAX transfers’ and said that no, I wouldn’t have to go through security again as the shuttle bus is airside. After asking her, she also said that the shuttle was every 7 minutes.

Now, that’s pretty simple information but it’s NOT available on the Qantas website.

So what’s the cost of not having these two simple pieces of information on their website?

  • 15 minutes of a Qantas representative’s time on a support call that I wouldn’t have needed to make had it been written on their website in the first place; this 15 minutes includes her having to go off and ask someone else, whose concentration is also interrupted for some minutes
  • 15 minutes of my time on hold or talking to the Qantas rep
  • 30 minutes of my time trying to find information that didn’t exist on the Qantas website (nor, to be fair, on the LAX website or the AA website, both of which were even harder to find information on than Qantas’ website), and puzzling over whether the line ‘Proceed to your departure gate’ meant that I had to go through security again or not.

Two simple pieces of information could have ‘saved’ at least 30 minutes of wasted time (15 + 15), and possibly up to an hour (15 + 15 + 30). And that’s just for ONE person.

Extrapolate that out to the potential numbers of people who might need this information, and you can see how that time would add up very quickly. Let’s say only 500 people needed this information in a year (hundreds of thousands of people travel on Qantas from LAX to Australia each year so this is a very conservative number), and let’s say that they all spent 15 minutes talking to a Qantas rep (that’s a combined 30 minutes for the person’s time and the rep’s time), and finally let’s say that a Qantas phone rep’s hourly rate is $30 (I’m guessing all these numbers). That’s about 250 hours in one year spent on just this one question. Some 125 hours of that (i.e. $3750 at the $30/hr rate; $6250 at $50/hr) is for the Qantas reps’ time, so even if you just cost it from Qantas’ point of view (i.e. ignoring the cost of their clients’ time — and frustration), that’s starting to add up to a bucketload of money. All for two missing pieces of vital information to a person connecting from an AA flight to Qantas at LAX.

And now extrapolate out all these ‘little’ support calls they get that could have easily been answered on their website, and you’ll start to see how relevant and comprehensive documentation could save Qantas lots of money in repetitive and unnecessary support calls.

Bottom line: If it’s not classified information and if it helps your customers make an informed decision, stick it on your website and make it discoverable. Free up your support reps to deal with important calls, not annoying little stuff like this.


Further to this… I’m on a codeshare flight to New Zealand (Qantas and Emirates),  which was a ticket purchased direct from Qantas. Nowhere on the ticket that I could see does it tell you that you have to check in at the Emirates counters not the Qantas counter! I didn’t find this out until I got to the front of the line and was told to go to Emirates to check in. Fortunately,  the Qantas line I was in was short as was the Emirates line,  but had I waited in line for 30 minutes to be told this I wouldn’t be happy,  especially if I had to wait another 30 minutes in the Emirates line. And if I had a pack of kids and / or was running late,  I’d have been very unhappy. A simple note next to the terminal number on the ticket that said to check in at the other airline’s counter could have saved a lot of frustration for the customer… and the Qantas check-in staff who would be the brunt of customer frustration. Another case of good documentation saving money and customer and staff frustration.



Proofread before publishing

September 22, 2014

I stayed at the lovely Sydney Hilton when I spoke at a conference held there last month. When I was checking the hotel’s website prior to my trip, I clicked a link to a spa business on (or very close to) the premises. The link is so tied into the Sydney Hilton’s website that I initially assumed it was part of the hotel’s services.

This spa business promotes itself as high-end and their prices reflect that. Their alliance with the Sydney Hilton also attests to that.

However, I didn’t try any of their spa treatments. Why? Well, cost was one reason, but the main reason was the lack of care taken with their website and its content. While there may be no correlation with the quality of their website and the quality of their services, in my mind lack of care in one equates to potential lack of care in the other.

So what was so wrong with their website? Here are a few examples (screen shots below):

  • spelling errors, typos, and duplicated words
  • sentences that didn’t make sense
  • placeholder text instead of real content
  • photos that showed dirty fingernails.

How could they have fixed this before their website went ‘live’? Well, having someone proofread every page, every heading, every caption, and check every photo would have been a good start. And if there’s no-one in-house who felt comfortable doing this, then they could have hired an editor for a couple of hours to do it for them. A small price to pay to NOT turn potential customers away.

A sample of screen shots from this website — there were many more examples I could have used as the site was littered with them.


Typo in heading, and use of irrelevant placeholder text


Repeated words (‘for for’), one word split in two (‘I deal’ versus ‘Ideal’), and a sentence that just doesn’t make sense



Spelling errors and typos (‘form’ instead of ‘from’)


And you promote facial treatments by people with dirty fingernails? Ewww! If this was a stock photo, get another one. Better yet, get your own photos taken by a professional photographer.



Scary error message

August 13, 2014

Westpac, one of Australia’s ‘Big Four’ banks, has been rolling out a new online banking design across Australia for a few months. It was Western Australia’s turn recently. I’ve successfully used the new interface to make a couple of payments, but today I came to a screeching halt as my payment wouldn’t go through. I tried twice and got this message:


I followed their advice and called. After being on hold for about 10 minutes, I explained the situation to the customer service rep, and she asked if I’d received the SMS verification code. I hadn’t, AND I hadn’t been asked to enter it either — I just got this error message.

While she was on the line, I tried a third time and this time I was asked for the SMS verification code, which I received within seconds on my phone. After entering the code, it all worked.

So, why this blog post? Because the error message I got from the bank could well frighten some customers, particularly those who are being dragged kicking and screaming into online banking whether they want it or not.


  • Large, almost red ‘Access unavailable’ heading that tells you very little.
  • An indecipherable message: ‘Sufficient entitlements or verification is required…’ — What are ‘entitlements’ in this context, sufficient or otherwise? And what is ‘verification’? Yes, after I spoke to the customer service person, I learned that it was likely related to the SMS verification code, but that’s NOT what the message says.
  • URL that contains words like ‘error’, ‘forbidden’, and ‘entitlement denied’. Nothing like scaring your customers!

In their favor, they at least gave a phone number to call, but it’s a generic phone number for the entire bank, not a specific number for online banking or online banking using the new system — I had to press a few buttons and talk into the void to get that far, and then I was on hold for nearly 10 minutes before someone could answer my query. In the meantime, my banking session timed out after 5 minutes of inactivity on the site and I had to re-enter my password.

Overall, I don’t mind the new interface (see note below), and timing out and requiring you to re-enter your password after 5 minutes is a good idea too. But they really need to work on their error messages so that they don’t scare their customers if something goes wrong. Perhaps a list of possible reasons for this error message would help.

NOTE: One final thing: Although the new interface is clean and easy to use, it DOESN’T use responsive design!! While they tout that it’s for all devices — phones, tablets, desktops, etc. — the design for desktops isn’t responsive.  (I haven’t tried it on my phone or tablet, so can’t report how responsive the design is on those devices.) On my desktop PC, I have my monitors swivelled into ‘portrait’ mode to make it easier for me to work on long documents, but the bank’s design for desktop is a fixed width in the browser viewport, and I have to scroll horizontally unless I make the viewport much wider and spread it across two monitors. VERY BAD design. And yes, I’ve lodged a complaint about it.