Tag Archives: usability

This is an Emergency: Chevy Cobalt Mirror

Flew into San Francisco Airport late last night and had to rent a car and drive to a hotel – thankfully, not very far. While still in the garage, I adjusted the rearview mirror so I could see out of it, then drove out into the dark to (eventually) find the entrance to Highway 101 Read More…

Flew into San Francisco Airport late last night and had to rent a car and drive to a hotel – thankfully, not very far.

While still in the garage, I adjusted the rearview mirror so I could see out of it, then drove out into the dark to (eventually) find the entrance to Highway 101 South. It was only when I got onto the highway that I realized I hadn’t adjusted the mirror for night driving, and was getting headlight glare from the cars behind me.

On most rearview mirrors, you put your thumb in the middle of the mirror and use your forefinger to flip a little lever which tilts the mirror for night view.

On the Cobalt, this meant that my thumb landed squarely on the button which activates the OnStar system. The mirror view didn’t change, but the car suddenly started talking to me, a smooth woman’s voice saying “OnStar system activated.”

I have a horror of making unnecessary emergency calls, so I searched frantically for a way to turn the thing off, all the while driving 60 mph on a fairly busy highway at night – I wasn’t in an emergency yet, but I was about to be. Repeated button punching accomplished nothing. It wasn’t clear what the other two buttons on the mirror (one marked with a cross) were for.

Eventually I heard the voice of a live young woman echoing around the car. “Can I help you?”

“I turned this damned thing on by accident and can’t figure out how to turn it off!”

“I have to disconnect for you.”

So she did. I’ll bet she gets that a lot.

And I still hadn’t adjusted the mirror for night view. I finally figured out that there is a little lever, as expected, under the mirror, but you have to twist it sideways rather than flip it.

Argh. Just argh.

 

I Can’t See You!

Visiting an old high school friend in Colorado last spring, we discussed our rapid approach (or have we already arrived?) into middle age. “Did it come on fast with you?” “Yeah, it just seemed to happen overnight. All of a sudden, I can’t see!” I’ve been extremely nearsighted most of my life. Now, to my Read More…

Visiting an old high school friend in Colorado last spring, we discussed our rapid approach (or have we already arrived?) into middle age.

“Did it come on fast with you?”

“Yeah, it just seemed to happen overnight. All of a sudden, I can’t see!”

I’ve been extremely nearsighted most of my life. Now, to my intense irritation, I am also farsighted: I can’t read small text.

I refuse – so far – to get reading glasses. I already have one pair of glasses on my face all day, having to hassle with two different ones”¦ well, let’s put that off as long as we can. (No, I don’t want bifocals – that would force me back to the great big lenses that were so popular in the 1970s and look so incredibly stupid now – I like my sleek little designer frames, thank you).

This new handicap has made me acutely aware of a fundamental problem in web design: it’s all apparently done by 25-year-olds who have no notion that everyone in the world isn’t exactly like them. Many sites, blog templates, etc. use small type, because the designer thinks it looks cool. Well, it does, except that I can’t READ it. If you have a message to convey via text, it’s passing me right by.

Where there’s text that I definitely want to read, my salvation is Ctrl + – the standard browser shortcut to increase text size.

However:

Some sites disable text size changes, apparently because the designer insists that I should read at whatever type size he finds comfortable.

On some sites text doesn’t exist as text – it’s a graphic embedded in a super-cool Flash image that cannot be resized (this is a particularly Italian sin – Italian designers love Flash way too much).

On some sites you can use Ctrl +, but parts of the page become unusable – lines of text run underneath other page elements and can’t be read, text in menus spills off the edge.

When a site uses fixed-size popup windows, text becomes impossible to read, and form lose their buttons – the window can’t be resized, and you can’t reach the button to Submit or Send unless you remember to Ctrl – (minus) to get the page size back down to what the designer planned for. This unnecessary extra step is off-putting enough that I’m not going to bother completing your damned form.

So, my advice to all you young web designers: someday you, too will be middle-aged and that 8-point type will become a blur to you. Start designing for that now, and you will find a grateful audience among those of us who are already there.

 

VirginMobileUSA – Missing Error Message

Every time I come to the US I have a cellphone problem. International roaming from Vodafone Italy works inconsistently, if at all, with US carriers. The first time I landed in Denver I spent a very frustrating half-hour trying to contact the friend who was coming to pick me up: the T-Mobile network that my Read More…

Every time I come to the US I have a cellphone problem. International roaming from Vodafone Italy works inconsistently, if at all, with US carriers. The first time I landed in Denver I spent a very frustrating half-hour trying to contact the friend who was coming to pick me up: the T-Mobile network that my phone logged onto in the airport would not let me call, and gave an irrelevant error message which did not explain why (“The caller is not enabled for this service” – since when does a phone owner not allow herself to receive a call?). I sent SMS, but adult Americans are not yet accustomed to using text messages on their phones, so my friend didn’t know how to read it.

Dan bought a phone for me and future visitors to use when here, but before I arrived this time he had realized that it was absurd to pay Cingular a dollar a day to keep the service active when no one was using it. So I had to figure out the most cost-effective solution for myself this time around.

I picked up phone plan brochures from a store and just as the young man at Circuit City had told me, my best bet was VirginMobile: they offer monthly or by-the-minute plans with no contract. I bought the cheapest phone they offer ($20), though I wouldn’t recommend this model (a Kyocera) – it’s the slowest phone I’ve ever encountered, taking a second to respond to a button press to invoke a menu. And the battery life is crap. But it took me a few days to perceive these shortcomings. Next time I won’t buy the cheapest.

When I got it home, I had to deal with signing up with VirginMobile. First I tried their activation website. I followed the clear and easy multi-step process to select the plan I wanted ($100 for a month, with 1000 anytime minutes and free nights and weekends).

After 5 or 6 steps answering questions and making selections, I was supposed to enter the phone’s serial number. Following the instructions on the site, I located it on a sticker inside the phone’s battery bay. It is printed in very small type, and there was one digit which could have been a 5 or a 6. I took a guess, entered a serial number in the text box on the site, and clicked the Submit button.

I suddenly found myself back at the beginning of the activation process, with no explanation as to why I was there. I knew the activation hadn’t been completed, because I had not yet been asked for any personal information, credit card, etc. But I had no clue what had gone wrong. Was the site simply broken? I tried twice more, with the same result.

There was nothing for it but to call the toll-free number to activate by phone. I had to do this from my friend’s cellphone, which cost her minutes. (I know most people don’t care about this, having far more minutes than they actually use every month – and Tin Tin certainly didn’t – but I’m always acutely aware of it.)

The automated phone system is done with a “hip” young voice, obviously designed to appeal to the majority of Virgin’s customers, which instantly grated on my bitchy-middle-aged-lady nerves. Having to g through a phone tree to make the same choices I had already made three times on the website was also irritating, though understandable. But I was not pleased when the cheerful recorded voice advised me, during a wait period, that I could do all this myself on the website! Believe me, honey, if I coulda, I woulda.

I finally got a live operator (who had a distractingly bad head cold but was nice and competent) and went through a bunch more choices. When we got to the serial number, she told me that number was already in use. This explained the problem I had on the website – it choked when I entered the wrong number. But instead of telling me that was the problem, it bounced me out of the process without any explanation. Not helpful.
Then it came time to pay. Uh oh. Here we go again. My credit card, though issued in the US, has a foreign billing address. Many or most American companies can’t deal with that. The operator I was speaking to spoke to a supervisor, but there was nothing to be done. I had to borrow Tin Tin’s credit card to pay for the phone. Which is ridiculous and humiliating for a grown woman who is otherwise completely capable of managing her own financial life!

 

Security in a Single Bag?

Even if you have not travelled through the UK recently, you may have heard of the annoying new regulation that passengers going through airport security there may have only one bag. Security people and signs remind you of this multiple times en route to the scanners. For me, this means stuffing the small purse in Read More…

Even if you have not travelled through the UK recently, you may have heard of the annoying new regulation that passengers going through airport security there may have only one bag. Security people and signs remind you of this multiple times en route to the scanners. For me, this means stuffing the small purse in which I carry wallet, boarding pass, passport, and iPod into an empty compartment of my large backpack – irritating, but not too traumatic.

For tourists who want to board with a large handbag plus a fully-stuffed carry on and a tube of posters, however, it can be a nightmare to learn this at the last minute. The solution some airlines are adopting is to give passengers a large plastic bag into which they can place multiple items.

The man in line behind me at Heathrow grumbled that this contributes nothing to security (which I can well believe), and is solely intended to speed up scans, reduce the need to staff some scanners, and thereby save costs. However, I’m not sure it even accomplishes that. The many of us who carry laptops are ordered to take them out and put them into separate bins, which is harder to do and takes longer when your bag is stuffed tight with things you didn’t originally intend to put in there.

 

British Airways Online Check-in

I love online check-in, where I can select the seat I want and take care of some formalities before I ever get to the airport. So I checked in online for my British Airways flight to Denver, but didn’t have an easy way (at my dad’s house) to print the boarding card. The site assured Read More…

I love online check-in, where I can select the seat I want and take care of some formalities before I ever get to the airport.

So I checked in online for my British Airways flight to Denver, but didn’t have an easy way (at my dad’s house) to print the boarding card. The site assured me that I could do this when I arrived at the airport.

When I got to Heathrow, several big and immediately obvious signs advised me that if I had checked in online but had NOT yet printed my ticket, I should proceed to a kiosk to do so. I was pleased at this rare example of clear instructions at an airport.

I went to the kiosk, punched in the number of my reservation, and got a screen saying: “You have already checked in.” And that was it – the kiosk returned to its original “check in here” state. I had seen no option to print a boarding pass, nor did the machine look as if it was going to do this on its own initiative. I tried again, and, even looking carefully, could not find any print option, though the screens were very clear and uncluttered. Fortunately, there was a lady standing behind the kiosks ready to help, so I asked her.

“If you’ve already checked in, go straight to the Bag Drop and they will print the boarding pass for you.”

…in flat contradiction of the instructions on great big signs all over the place!