Peter Marklund

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Usability on the Web and Embracing Simplicity

I just booked flight tickets for the christmas holiday and it got me thinking of usability. People depend on websites so much these days and it's a shame to let them suffer from poor usability. Of course, usability has improved quite a bit over the last couple of years. Indeed SEB finally uses a date widget, and I think even suggests a sensible default (the next working day), when you do payments through their online bank. For the longest time they left the user with a bare bones YYYYMMDD text input widget.

Booking tickets on the web is often a series of frustrations for me. This is in spite of the fact that I am a skilled web user. For example a form won't submit and the validation error is hardly visible. The user is left wondering if the form submitted at all, if there was a validation error, and if so, where?

When I am booking tickets I am almost always in a hurry. Buying a ticket shouldn't take more than a few minutes, and it should be a simple and streamlined process. You want to reduce complexity, minimize the number of options and thus the likelihood of the user being confused.

When ordering my tickets I chose to become member of a frequent flyer program. I checked my email and found about five different confirmation emails from the airline. One of them contained my account number which I eventually found, only I couldn't use that number to log in, I had to figure out myself that I needed to strip the first two characters (leaving only digits) for it to work. I then had to dig out my password, I think from a different email. Once I had logged in I was offered to change my password. Only I couldn't use my standard password that I have memorized, I was forced to choose a new four digit password that I may end up forgetting.

In the midst of usability shortcomings one can of course always take comfort in the fact that online bookings are still better than their offline alternatives. We still have a long way to go with web usability, and as usual, I think most of the answer lies in embracing simplicity. It has struck me again and again through my different endeavours - programming, writing, UI design - that simplicity is key. With simplicity comes focus and a clear goal. Embracing simplicity is something most people can agree with in principle, but putting it to practice takes courage. It is all too easy to go with the main stream complex solution, it seems so much more sophisticated and professional and makes you feel competent and special. After all, you are one of the chosen few who can understand the solution. Therein lies the problem.

1 comment(s)


Valerie said 2006-12-21 14:19:

Does this mean you'll place a search box on your site so we can find your Test Driven Development piece? Please?