Saturday, February 23, 2008

Errant Error Explanations

You are on an airline’s Web site, one where you’ve registered before. You want to log in, and it asks you for your email address. You enter the email address, but the site says, “Invalid email address.”

You look at the email address. It is correct. You try again. “Invalid email address.”

At a recent conference I attended, a speaker told this story from the airline’s point of view. The engineer responsible wrote the code to look up the email address provided. Anything other than a match returned “Invalid email address” because, from the engineer’s perspective, that’s what it was.

However, a significant number of people were entering valid email addresses, just not the ones they registered with. Many people got stuck there, thinking the site was somehow telling them they didn’t know their own email addresses.

Having discovered the problem, the airline did two things:

  • Changed the error message to something like, “We don’t recognize that email address. Did you type it correctly, or could you have registered with a different email address?”
  • Reviewed all other error messages on the site with customer-facing professionals.

The lesson: What happens when things go wrong needs as much consideration as what happens when things go right.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Extracting That First Piece of Cake

Problem: You’ve got a circular cake, and it’s time to cut the first piece. In this era of “I’ll just take a tiny slice,” how often have you seen someone struggle to get that first piece out cleanly?

Solution: Cut two or three pieces before taking any out. Then take them out together.

This works because when you extract multiple pieces at once, you are working with a wider base yet the height has not changed. By improving the width-to-height ratio compared to a single, tall and thin piece, you get greater stability.

[Thanks to Sharon the restaurateur for enlightening me on this.]

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Airport Usability: Where Is My Baggage?

Arriving on a flight to Chicago O’Hare International Airport, I saw this:

A few notables about the sign:

  • It’s obvious. The sign is the first thing you see out of the jetway. It is impossible to miss.
  • It’s concise. The sign tells you where your baggage will be. It does not waste your time by telling you where other flights’ baggage will be.

Surely this is better than the normal routine of wandering around the baggage area searching for clues.