We changed our name! After 14 years of creating award-winning digital products & services, it’s time for a new identity that better reflects the human insights-driven, digital customer experiences we create.
We changed our name! After 14 years of creating award-winning digital products & services, it’s time for a new identity that better reflects the human insights-driven, digital customer experiences we create.

AIAIO: Our Blog

AIAIO: Our Blog

The pulse and reviews of Alexander Interactive

Posts Tagged ‘UX’

How Television Shows Can Ensure a High Quality Experience for Viewers

Whoever said television is dead, obviously hasn’t taken a cold, hard, look at a Roku… or an Apple TV, or an Amazon Fire Stick. Television isn’t dead, it’s evolving; moving increasingly fast in the direction of online, on-demand, broadcast. Thanks to streaming sites like Netflix, HBO Now, and Amazon Prime, binge watching has allowed TV fans to unwind anywhere, anytime. Yet, not only is it the act of watching 10 nonstop hours of Game of Thrones pleasurable, it’s also downright engaging; starting before the show begins and even after it ends. So much so that binge watching, or watching any amount of television at all, is no longer a means to an end for boredom, it’s a chance for show runners to engage with viewers like never before.

According to a survey by Conviva, a video optimization provider that was reported by Techcrunch, more than half of today’s binge watchers are unlikely to return to a series they’ve stopped watching due to a negative experience. Whether it’s from poor resolution, frequent interruptions, or an unavailable episode/season for long periods of time, the well over 100 million people binge-watching want just one thing: a quality watching experience. But how can television shows provide that, especially when they’re not in charge of what (legal or illegal) streaming sites they appear on?

There is only one answer: television shows need to focus on their viewers at all times, throughout every episode, across all channels. Seems difficult… until you realize that some shows have already achieved huge levels of success by doing just that.

Quality television requires a fan base — one that’s dedicated to the overall storyline, its characters, and the behind-the-scenes team that make it all happen. In return for their continual support, show runners often give something exciting back to their fans. They begin to focus on the wants, desires, hopes and dreams of their viewers, and sometimes actually implement their ideas into the storyline. This doesn’t mean by any means that every show has to have a main character like House of Card’s Francis Underwood that literally talks to the viewer, but it’s not like that type of dedication hurts viewership…shows just need to make sure they don’t go too far.

“At a certain point, as always happens in Hollywood or culture in general, a set of superficial things come to stand in for quality,” says author of ‘Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution’ Brett Martin for the New York Post.  Essentially what Martin is saying here is to never forget your audience’s standards. It’s inevitable that some viewers are going to get bored or disconnected and leave. If every show had the same viewing ratings as its premiere date, than no one would win an Emmy. But what’s important to remember is that although some viewers will leave, those that stay are the heart and soul of any show. Honing in on those users will allow the show to thrive – living a long and healthy life (looking at you, Law & Order: SVU, currently on season 18). But this type of lifestyle won’t last long without being shared.

Today, shows that see the light of day (aka a second season), take their experience to the next level… well, levels. Quality television shows are designed for shared experiences. Taking the action off screen and into the real world is what sets apart B-list shows, from A-list winners. Most recently, the #1 spot on the leaderboard goes to USA’s Mr. Robot. The mysterious drama revolving around an underground hacker society has gone to extreme lengths to tie in the viewer. From tweeting this seasons first episode a full 24 hours before it’s release (then deleting it shortly after), to launching a VR narrative experience at Comin-Con, to even secretly relaying messages in the form of QR codes on screen mid-episode, Mr. Robot  is the epitome of the total television experience for viewers. But if Mr. Robot is the King, The Walking Dead is quite obviously the Queen.

Debuted on AMC in 2010, The Walking Dead has some of the most dedicated fans of any television show. Viewers talked about the series so frequently that the network created a second show just to talk about it: Talking Dead. Various other series have too incorporated an after-show for fans to further revel in the shocks and rumors of each episode (Mr. Robot just debuted the after-show Hacking Robot, and Bravo’s live after shows often lead to some intense catfights thanks to the Real Housewives). But to push the experience even further, Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles, California created a Walking Dead Attraction, filled with professionally trained zombies. Yeah, it’s that serious.

So for other shows to catch even a bit of the viewer wave Mr. Robot and The Walking Dead are riding, they need to stay focused on the user across all digital channels and engage where their viewers do. Television isn’t on it’s last leg, but the way viewers watch it just might be. It’s time for shows to move past the realm of ‘the box’ and into the real world- where everything is shared. Television is in the big leagues of UX now, will your show be ready?


Selecting Tools for Moderated Remote User Testing

In my previous article, I spoke about how to prepare yourself for a moderated remote usability test. The tools you use while conducting a remote user test are just as important as being prepared. This article is meant to highlight my experience with tools I’ve used in the past for remote user testing.

Using Ethnio for Recruiting and Paying Incentives

Ethnio is a tool that allows you to create a screener, schedule participants and pay them for their time. When you create a screener, you place their JavaScript on your site. They also provide a mobile-friendly direct link for you to place in your Facebook or LinkedIn ads.

Once the user fills out the screener you can use Ethnio’s template emails to schedule the prospect’s test. Ethnio provides a way for you to show users the open testing spots for their choosing. After conducting your user test, you can automatically send the participants their gift cards by simply inserting the participants email and the amount you’d like to pay them.

Ethnio was quick, convenient, and gave us access to the actual users that use the site, not professional user testers.

Something to keep an eye on are their template emails. In the past, we had to contact each participant on our own since we wanted to send them specific information. Despite this, Ethnio is perfect when it comes to recruiting qualified participants quickly.

Prototyping with InVision

InVision allows you to share functioning prototypes with the participant easily and quickly. It helps simulate how the actual site will work. InVision gives you so much control over your design that you are able to make changes on the fly even in between user tests based on the insights you received.

InVision allows you to quickly create hotspots and hover states on your wireframes so the user can go through an experience. When prototyping for user testing, it’s important to make sure the user can carry out entire flows.

Presenting the site in a realistic context is key. It makes it more difficult to get insights when you’re asking the user to imagine what would happen if they explored a specific area of the site. It also helps to turn off the hot spot hinting and commenting while testing. That way you aren’t giving any misleading direction on how to navigate through the site or giving the participant access to view comments between team members. Below is a screenshot of how to share your InVision prototype with your participants.

Prototyping with invision

Remote User Testing with GoToMeeting

For a recent user test, we wanted to be able to view the participant’s screen and record the session so we thought GoToMeeting would be a good option. In the past we’ve used but we were having some issues with the audio and the screen sharing.

GoToMeeting is simple. The only thing the participants need to do is install the GoToMeeting Chrome plugin and from there all they need to do is access a link for their testing session. It’s easy to record our session and there’s no lag time between what the user is looking at and what I see on the screen which is an issue we had with other meeting software.

GoToMeeting allows you to view the user’s reaction and what part of the site they are exploring simultaneously. It helps gather behavioural insights as if you were in the room with them. You can ask participants to share their screen and if you want to view their actual facial reactions, they can use their webcam.

GoToMeeting Screenshot

These tools allowed me to moderate the test and experience the site with the user. I do recommend these tools but I would also explore other ones out there and see what is best for you. I also recommend trying these tools out before your testing sessions in order to make sure you know how to navigate them flawlessly. Once you do, it becomes easier to moderate and to keep your focus on the testing sessions.  



How to Run a Flawless Remote User Testing Session

A guide for planning and running a moderated remote user test

There are plenty of ways you can run a usability test. Most people would advise you to do them in person; others may advise you to use a service that will automate the test. This may not always be an option for your project, so running a moderated remote usability test is the next best thing!

Remote testing can lead to incredibly helpful insights. You get to experience user’s reactions on the fly; and access your own customer base—not a panel of professional user testers. Just like in-person testing, you need to prepare ahead of time, and that prep work is a little more difficult since technology is involved.

This article is meant to help you prepare for a remote user test by highlighting the key actions to consider:

  • Recruiting your own participants
  • Technical check-Ins
  • Scheduling
  • Managing incentives
  • Getting to know the user

There will be moments where participants may back out at the last minute, you’ll run behind schedule, or your software won’t work they way you hoped it would. That’s okay! Because this guide will prepare you for anything that gets thrown your way.


Recruiting Your Own Participants

Before you can run a usability test you need to find qualified participants. There are several ways to find the right candidates for your test: use a professional recruiter; recruit from your email subscribers; asking your Twitter and Facebook followers; or recruiting customers directly from your website.

For a recent user test on a client project we chose to use Ethnio, a remote recruiting tool,because they had a very specific user base and loyal customers that we needed to target. Ethnio allowed us to place a screener on the client’s website and ask questions that would help us rule them in or out.

When determining whether or not a participant is qualified for the test, ask yourself the following questions when evaluating their responses.

  • Does the participant have anything to do with the development or design of what you are testing?
  • Do they represent your personas that you developed or a target audience you are trying to reach?  
  • Are they already familiar with the website and subject matter?

Once you have your participants ready you should plan to conduct a technical check-in.


Preparing for Technical Check-Ins

Before you run the usability test I recommend conducting a technical check-in prior to the big day. Asking a participant for an extra phone call prior to the session can be seen as a waste of time. It’s important to remind the user why they signed up and give some details so they know what to expect during their testing session.

In order to make the testing event successful we know we need to do a 15 minute dry run a few days before the test to check the technology. We adjusted the language of our email to let the participant know what we expected of them. Here is an example email template we used for a recent test:


Hello [Name],

Thank you for signing up to participate in our research for X website! We can’t wait to hear your thoughts about what we’re working on.

We will reach out separately to schedule your 60 minute research session on Tuesday 12/8. During this session you will explore our site and get a $100 Visa gift card for your feedback.

But first, we wanted to do a quick technical check-in with you in order to test the software we’ll be using for the session. Are you available for a 15 minute technical check-in on Friday, 12/4 between the hours of 9:00am EST – 4:00pm EST?

There are a few things you will need to prepare for this tech check in.

  1. We’d like to make sure that you have access to a web browser like Google Chrome. If you don’t have access to it already, please download it before our call here:
  2. Once you have Google Chrome installed, please download the following extension so [moderator’s name] can view your screen: We will be using GoToMeeting to share screens. You can go to this link and click “Add to Chrome” to install the extension.

Thank you for your time and feel free to ask any questions.


[Moderator’s Name]


Conducting the Technical Check-Ins

For this testing session we used GoToMeeting to share and record screens. Many of the users weren’t familiar with GoToMeeting. We needed to make sure they had the proper plug-in installed and knew how to share their screen. Taking 15–20 minutes to do this saves time and decreases the chances of things going wrong during the actual testing session.

For those who didn’t end up doing a technical check in, we spent a lot of time trying to make sure the audio and screen sharing was working properly. There were times GoToMeeting just kept freezing or the user couldn’t hear me. During another session, a user didn’t realize that they needed to be on their computer in order to walk through the prototype. Running a technical check-in helps avoid these issues.

If you plan on using GoToMeeting (GTM) for user testing, you can follow these steps during your technical check in.

  1. A few minutes before the scheduled technical check-in time, open the GTM desktop app and log in to the meeting. You have to manually enter the meeting number.
  2. Dial into the audio via the phone then put it on speakerphone and mute the phone to dial-in your audio code. Remember to un-mute when your user gets on the line.
  3. You can see when your user enters the meeting as their name will appear in the participant list in the GTM app. You can also see whether they are connected to the phone or computer audio by the icon next to their name in the app.
  4. After thanking the participant, walk them through the screen share setup if they haven’t connected already.
  5. Press “Change Presenter” in the GTM desktop app. Normally, this will prompt them to download the desktop app, but if they have the Chrome extension installed, they won’t have to. Remind them to share their entire screen, not just the GTM screen.
  6. If you want to also see their face and they’ve agreed to using a webcam, direct them to the camera icon in the GTM in-browser view.  
  7. Make sure their web cam feed and their screen are visible on your desktop.
  8. Send them a URL via the chat function (something neutral like to make sure they can find and use chat. This way you’ll be able to send them links.

Now that you’ve done your technical check-ins, you can focus on scheduling the actual user testing sessions.



You should dedicate entire work days to user testing. That way you get in the flow of testing and won’t get interrupted by other tasks. For one of our projects, I dedicated two days to user testing with four sessions each day. Each session was an hour and I added time in between each session. When scheduling tests it’s helpful to give yourself 15–30 minutes in between sessions for you to debrief with your team. Take this moment to review your notes and figure out if there are any questions you would like to ask differently or explore different task during the next round of testing.

Since you are using an hour of someone’s time to conduct research, it’s important to provide an incentive to show your appreciation for agreeing to participate in your study.


Managing Incentives

Ethnio allowed us to use their site to deliver Visa gift card codes to the participants. When it comes to determining the value of the incentive, consider the value of the insights they will give you and how hard it was to recruit participants. If you know that the project you are working on has a very specific and unique user set, you may want to give them a larger incentive. Typically, we like to provide an $50 incentive for 30 minutes; $100 for 60 minutes. Don’t forget to include that incentive in the screener to attract participants.


Get to Know the Participants

The participant is going to be nervous. They have to speak to a complete stranger, answer non-stop questions and be recorded for an hour. In order for them to be comfortable and truly say what’s on their mind, the moderator needs to move the conversation past the typical “good morning” and “how’s your day going?”

Have a pre-interview script ready and ask them about  their experiences with the site. Get to know why they were on the site in the first place. Some questions we like to ask are:

  1. Name
  2. Age
  3. Occupation, if relevant
  4. How they discovered the site?
  5. What were they trying to do on the site? Read an article or purchase an item?
  6. What is their level of knowledge of what the site provides?
  7. How often do they go to the site?

Then ask them questions based on their answers. If they mention they were purchasing a specific item, ask them why or for whom. Following up based on their answers can help you figure out what experience the user was having on the site. From there on it becomes easier to walk through the prototype, make a few jokes and really hear about their experience with the design.

Once you follow these steps, and get through the first hurdle of getting to know a participant, you should be ready for testing. Following all of these steps will make your remote user test go smoothly. Now all you have to focus on is developing your script to facilitate the conversation. Good luck and get to testing!



Alex Schmelkin Speaks at IRWD

Our very own President and Co-Founder Alex Schmelkin spoke this week at the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability Conference in Orlando. Joined by David Kersting, Director of eCommerce Technology for Cycling Sports Group (CSG), he led a session entitled “For Designers: How to Get Your IT Department to Support Your User Experience Initiatives.”

Anyone who has agency experience understands how designers and IT professionals tend to differ in their way of thinking, communicating and their overall approach to a project (not to mention their opinion of who was the best James Bond). In their presentation Alex and David spoke on how to bridge those differences to get your design and technology teams working in unison.

Using examples from projects CSG and Ai have worked on together, including and, the pair showed specific instances of how our designers and developers worked hand-in-hand to create a customer-focused online shopping experience.

You can view a PDF of the entire presentation here.


12 Tips on Creating a Safe Online Customer Shopping Experience

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the following Thursday are just days away… Holidays are right around the corner. We’re not looking to change the world here at Ai, but we do want to play our part in making this upcoming year a safe, secure and profitable one. That being said, have a look at an article I recently wrote which was published in the B2C Marketing Insider.

12 Tips on Creating a Safe Online Customer Shopping Experience

“84% of polled Internet shoppers don’t think that online retailers are putting enough effort into protecting customers” (Forrester Research, Inc)

The E-commerce holiday shopping season is upon us and online retailers are busy implementing new shopping features, social campaigns, analyzing their test results, and redesigning their funnels from browsing to checkout.

The experts are out in force: Focus on usability! Optimize your product page! Come up with brilliant holiday promotions! Study the shopping trends! Yeah! Yeah?

No. Don’t waste your precious and ever-dwindling time focusing solely on usability and Ui improvements. Bottom line: If you don’t have your customers‘ trust and confidence, you won’t convert–regardless of all the improvements that your testing results indicated you should make.

This holiday season, make it a priority to ensure that your site is providing your customers with the sense of safety and security they are longing for in their shopping experience. Use our tips below to ensure your customers spend their precious time deciding which product to buy from your site, rather than then if they should even buy from you at all.

Prominent Contact Information

Contact information should be prominent and in a consistent place within your header and footer so that your customer knows where to go when they have questions or encounter issues. Display both phone number and email address so that your customers can contact you in the manner of their choosing.

Privacy Policy

Include links to your privacy policy on all transactional pages. The ubiquitous footer link is a good place to start, but too often overlooked. On transactional pages, make sure you have it prominently called out in the body of the page, above the fold. Spell out pieces of your policy as needed. For example, when asking for an email address, state your email usage policy right next to the field. Best Buy says this perfectly “Best Buy does not sell, rent, or trade your personal information to third parties”. Clear, blunt and to the point. As it should be.

Don’t Hide Costs

Transparency in shipping costs and delivery times is key – especially come holiday season. Be sure to provide all of the actual costs up front, including shipping, handling, and sales tax. These can have an enormous impact on the final price. According to OneUpWeb, 95% of customers want to know the exact cost of the order before proceeding into checkout. There is no better way to put the kibosh on a potential sale than to withhold additional costs until later in funnel.

When the user can expect to receive their package is enormously important as well, especially to shoppers cutting it tight during the holiday season. Show this information as early as possible as well. This is actually a deciding factor when it comes down to those final few days. Shoppers are willing to pay a premium as long as you can provide them with the security that it will arrive on time, as promised.

Return Policy and Shopping Guarantee

Shoppers want to know what their recourse is if their item arrives and is damaged, the wrong item, or just simply not what they wanted. Be sure to clearly spell out your return policy so there won’t be any surprises later. Do you have a shopper satisfaction guarantee? Nice! Again, place this prominently above the fold, and inspire your shoppers with confidence that they can’t make a wrong or irreversible decision.

Anticipate Their Concerns

Be mindful of the various sensitive touch points throughout the purchasing process.  Address concerns before they even arise. If you expect your customers to share private and personal information with you, you need to address the reasons why you need the information at the appropriate times.

  • A “We 100% guarantee your safety” link right next to the checkout button, and in checkout header that leads to a DHTML popup with your 100% satisfaction guarantee inspires confidence and keeps the user in the funnel.
  • “We will not share your email with anyone.” next to email field lets user know you aren’t going to sell their email address.
  • “Shipping details” tied with product, in cart and checkout, makes user aware of costs and availability early and often.
  • You can always change your order later” when tied to a call-to-action removes some of the hesitation associated with doubts on whether to commit at that exact moment.
  • Don’t be afraid to invite phone calls. A sale is a sale. Including “Prefer to checkout over the phone? No Problem. Call us at…” at the top of your checkout give shoppers a sense of security even if they don’t plan on calling you.

Apply the Human Touch

Ten other sites may sell the same product, at the same discounted price, and have the same safety features in place. Differentiate yourself by emphasizing a personal touch and telling your shoppers that you completely understand their concerns. Give them that warm and fuzzy feeling that they are in good hands by hitting the emotional aspects of shopping.

Using the right tone and personality makes a difference. It is comforting for a customer to see “Please don’t hesitate to call us with any concerns or questions. Your security is our sole priority.” compared to a simple link to the Help Section. Instill confidence in your customers by speaking to them like human beings, rather than unique visitors, throughout the shopping process.

Your “About Page” and Value Proposition

Part of converting the customer is making them feel confident that they are in good hands. The ‘about page” is an often overlooked part of creating a secure shopping experience.

Are you family owned? Are you quirky? Are you a huge company that started off with two people in a garage? Do you donate a certain portion of profits to charity? Don’t let “About Us” be one paragraph of fluff about commitment to selling great products. Shoppers will see right through this. Be yourself. Shoppers have a greater sense of confidence knowing that they are at a real store run by real people.

Make a Good First Impression

Visual design has a huge impact on new customers feeling safe. Shoppers will form an opinion of your company within five seconds of seeing your home page. Want them to feel safe, and not think you are a fly-by-night outfit? Invest in design. And it doesn’t necessarily need to be award-winning, gorgeous visual experience. The site’s design need to give an instant sense of credibility and trust to visitors. Even though customers may not be entirely conscious of it, good design inspires confidence.

Performance & Stability

A slowly loading page, a site that’s down, or obscure programming error messages can raise instant doubts in the shopper’s mind. It is likely they are in comparison shopping mode, so if they were to leave one site and arrive at a site that loads slowly, or not at all, then the experience comes to a quick end. If they see errors and messages they don’t recognize, they will doubt your professionalism and whether their information is safe on your site. A solid technical implementation is as important as a great design.

Badges, Tigers and Seals Oh My

Seals of approval from TRUSTe or Better Business Bureau Online are widely recognized, but remember that a seal is only a graphic; it can be counterfeited. To be sure, make sure you link to the certifying agency’s site that profiles the merchant information. Also, avoid the Times Square approach putting eight different seals on your site. It diminishes the effectiveness. If you really feel the need to bombard 8 seals on there, all I ask is that you use the animated graphics. At least your savvy visitors can get a laugh.

Sweat the Small Stuff

Be sure your site has been thoroughly reviewed and that there are no misspellings or grammatical mistakes. They may seem tiny, but they will immediately cast your professionalism in doubt.

Security Through Social Validation

Social validation is a proven factor in influencing how people purchase products, and it’s no different when it comes to influencing why they should shop at your site for these products. Customer dialogue, reviews and interactions (regardless of what is being discussed) brings instant credibility to your site. People want to know that other people shop at your store. They want to see activity and not just take your word for it.

Now more than ever, privacy is a huge customer concern. Between Facebook privacy issues, Google ego-searching, and countless ads aggressively targeting hackers and screaming identity theft shoppers are only getting increasingly more sensitive and aware of the how, why, and when their sensitive personal information is used.

As online retailers, it is our responsibility to provide a safe and comfortable shopping environment for the customer, both online or off. The most successful businesses are able to instill confidence in their customers, and adding a relatable human touch. They develop a trusting, ongoing relationship with their customers to ensure repeat purchases and loyalty.Look folks, lets not forget – it’s the holidays! Do your customer and your bottom line a favor by letting them focus on giving rather than worrying. So you better be good for goodness sake.


Why Redesign?

So you’re probably thinking to yourself right now, “Why Redesign?”

Gosh. Funny you should think that, because it just so happens I recently wrote a little piece on that exact subject, as a featured blogger on

Redesigning a website is a daunting task.  Budget, deadlines, resources, features, content, platform changes, brand perception, SEO implications – the list of challenges is a long one.  The potential impact website redesign has on your organization is as enormous and critical as the process.  Will conversion go up or down?  Will your new site attract more visitors or will traffic drop off?

If you want more detail on the topic, take a look at a deck from one of my presentations at Internet Retailer’s Web Design 2009 conference, Charting the Successful Redesign — A True Story About an Agency and Client Partnership. It gives a detailed account on the site redesign, specifically what led to the decision and the steps we took to execute it. It does NOT go into pancakes and the secrets behind achieving a remarkable fluffiness. Lets just make that clear from the outset.

Charting the Successful Redesign of an Independent Ecommerce Small Business — A True Story About an Agency and Client Partnership


Ai down under!

G’day mate! I am pleased (and a wee bit freaked out) to be flying to Sydney tonight to participate in Online Retailer, Australia’s leading ecommerce conference. With more than 4000 confirmed attendees, Online Retailer looks to be compelling and exciting.

I hope to be part of that excitement, as I am presenting at the conference on the ROI of user experience. It’s a frequent topic at Ai and one I’m looking forward to sharing. I am also doing live site critiques, my stock in trade at the Internet Retailer conferences, and joining in several other discussions and events.

If you’re in Australia, drop me a line, or swing by the conference and see for yourself.


The ROI of UX: Continental Airlines

I booked a flight to Austin for SXSW Interactive on Friday. Thanks to delays in planning and confirming my travel, I paid handsomely for the privilege: $674 for well-timed nonstop flights on JetBlue.

It didn’t have to be so pricey. For $419, I could have flown on Continental Airlines instead. But Continental’s booking system so frustrated me that I spent an extra $250 to fly another airline.

Some background: those who know me personally are aware that I don’t much care for Continental. But I’m also not one to splurge needlessly, so when I found out Continental’s EWR-AUS flight was a third cheaper than JetBlue’s JFK-AUS route–at similar times, on bigger planes–I figured I’d give Continental another shot.

I used Continental’s online reservations system to select my flights, then proceeded to the seat selector, which showed each flight at around 85% full. The return flight’s seat map (click to zoom):

The situation was the same each way. The flight had 15 seats available. Continental had declared all of them Premium Seating, even several middle seats, which meant I couldn’t sit in them. But the plane had no other seats available, which meant I’d be booking without a seat assignment.

More background: I’ve traveled enough to know that the guy with no seat assignment is the first to get bumped in case of overbooking. Continental had seats but wasn’t offering them to me. Worse, Continental didn’t have an alternative, just blocked, empty seats.

I understood Continental’s desire to hold good seats for its good customers. I’ve had preferred status on and off in the past and I respect the privileges that come with frequent patronage. But with the rest of coach filled, I couldn’t figure out why Continental wouldn’t give me an empty seat and confirm my travel. Besides, the map confused me: is seat 7B really a top choice of elite frequent fliers?

So I called customer service for help. The friendly Southern woman who took my call confirmed what I was seeing: yes, there are premium seats available; no, you can’t have them. I asked if I could pay extra to reserve those seats: no. I asked if I could get a seat assignment, any seat assignment, so I knew I would make it on the plane: no.

I eventually gave up my attempts to cajole customer service into helping me, and after a few hours of deliberation, I took my business elsewhere.

The user-experience takeaways here are twofold. One is pure information design: don’t share information that’s not actionable. All Continental achieved with the seating chart above was to drive me crazy, showing me that it had seats–some of them rather mediocre seats I’d typically avoid–that I couldn’t reserve. Had they just shown them as unavailable, by having me log in with my (non-elite) OnePass account before selecting seats, I’d have been far less frustrated.

The other, of course, goes to the heart of customer service: sell your goods to shoppers who desire them. Continental lost my business because corporate policy dictates that the booking system has to be ready to accommodate a dozen Elite-status fliers who might want to fly between Newark and Austin on a pair of weekday flights that arrive close to midnight. Why not acknowledge the demand curve and give a paying customer the seat assignment he needs to book his flight?

Even better, why not implement a policy that generates both revenue and customer satisfaction? Many airlines charge for preferred seating. Continental could have levied a $100 fee on me for its premium seats, and I’d probably have paid it, because I’d still have saved money over my JetBlue option.

Instead, I’m back on JetBlue, where I’m willingly overpaying for peace of mind and a guaranteed seat. Oh, and satellite TV in a leather seat with good snacks. Happy jetting.


Jakob Nielsen Likes Action (Envelope)

Michael Piastro, Senior IA/UXD

Nielsen recently featured Ai client Action Envelope in his Alertbox article
“Mega Drop-Down Navigation Menus Work Well.” The
usability guru is a fan of what he is calling “Mega Drop-Down
Menus,” as opposed to traditional DHTML dropdown menus, which
he warns against using. Here is a screen shot featuring the Mega Drop-Down from the article:

So: usability guru Jakob Nielsen , whose books, articles, and reports
I’ve read, whose evidence I’ve cited to clients,
and whose influence is hard to miss in the IA/UXD usability pond,
likes the mega dropdown Ai implemented for Action Envelope in our
last site redesign. By extension, he likes me. He really, really
likes me.

Seriously though, it’s not all roses and tweets. Mr. Nielsen goes on to
advise us not to put GUI widgets or other interface elements “that
involve more advanced interaction than simply click-to-go.”
Then the pain starts:

Envelope offers a complete login mini-screen within the navbar’s “My
Account” drop-down. It would be better to simply have a
one-click “My Account” link that takes users to a
full-featured page that supports login for existing users. (Better
still: put this link in the utility nav, which is where people
actually look for it according to eyetracking research.)

Ouch. Here is the offending Mega Drop Down, from the Action Envelope site (the same drop down appears if you mouse over Reorder Center):

Mr. Nielsen’s critique sounds like great advice, and problems with mouse over/mouse out scenarios on DHTML menus have bedeviled many a web site user.

that’s where the Mega in the Mega Drop Downs helps-by
virtue of size, these dropdowns may be less likely to suffer
than these types of issues. And there may be site-specific
considerations whereby a login form and a little AJAX in a mega
dropdown buys us some functionality that enhances site functionality
in a measurable way (namely, log in success, order conversion, repeat
orders, and AOV). The only way to know for sure is to implement a solution, and test.

Here is what you would see behind the My Account and Reorder Center Mega dropdowns if you were logged in:

In the original design, these logged in dropdowns would have used AJAX to populate the appropriate data without a page reload once the user
logged in (using the same drop down), and keeping the user in context
of the current page. In other words, user gets Mega Drop Down
with login form, user submits form, user gets relevant My
Account/Reorder dashboards in context, in place, and without a page reload.

To understand
why this approach was taken, and why it works so well,
you’d need to understand Action Envelope’s business and
typical usage patterns. Action Envelope is largely a
business-to-business site. Repeat orders are important and common.
Workflow associated with providing artwork for a customized envelope
or paper order is important, and typically a customer has one (or a
very few) orders that they would wish to reorder, or provide artwork

Oftentimes a user will submit an order, receive an email notifying them that they need to provide artwork for their order, and return to
the site within a few days. If they are still logged in, a simple
mouseover action will reveal their recent order that they need to take
action on.

the previous incarnation of the Action Envelope site (which Ai also
designed), the my account link was a small link in the utility
navigation, and exhibited a ‘standard’ behavior. Namely, you click it,
you go to a log in screen. Since the redesign, conversion is up,
average order is up, and reorders are up. Login success vs failure rate
doesn’t seem to have changed at all.

While none of these stats can be causally related to our design for the my account and reorder center
Mega Drop Downs (we haven’t A/B tested the simpler implementation in
order to be able to assign causality), our solution is based on the
specific needs of the Action Envelope site and its users. This, in
itself, is certainly a best practice Mr. Nielsen would recommend. So
perhaps Jakob does like Action (Envelope) after all.