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Moaning about NHS Mail’s terrible user interface

There’s a certain air of truculence on this blog at the moment. Yesterday, I took NatWest to task (again) over their awful customer charter, and only last Thursday, I slated Who Wants to be a Millionaire HD. And now, I’m about to moan again. Sorry about that – I know it’s spring, and perhaps my disposition should be sunnier, but there seems to be a queue of things I have to get off my chest at the moment.

Today, I want to moan about NHS Mail. This may seem utterly irrelevant to those outside of the NHS, and, in fact, to the majority within the NHS who choose not to have an account, but actually I hope it gives a reasonable insight into how not to design a user interface.

The user interface of NHS Mail is bloody awful. Really, really terrible. It’s designed by Microsoft, which perhaps goes some way to explaining that, but even for them, it’s bad. Let me give you a tour.

Firstly, the homepage, conveniently located at nhs.net. This looks utterly different depending on whether you are accessing it from an N3 connection, or a plain old internet connection. Neither of the homepages is particularly pretty, but the inconsistency bothers me in particular.

 

This is a bad thing for a whole plethora of reasons, but primarily because a lack of consistent branding surely presents a security risk. Anyone could knock up a log-in page in a couple of minutes, and a lack of branding would not make it appear untrustworthy.

Now, let’s look at that ex-net login page more closely. The password must be entered in two parts – the first three characters must be entered using the on-screen keyboard, presumably as some sort of protection against keystroke logging software. Yet this isn’t explained anywhere on screen, and it clearly reduces the accessibility of the site for those with disabilities. And the username and password boxes don’t even line up, which is just irritating.

You’re also asked to select whether the computer is private or public – but no explanation is given of the impact of this choice. It took me some considerable time to discover that the impact was actually that selecting ‘public’ prevents download of email attachments. This is hardly common behaviour for email systems – perhaps a little explanation might have been useful.

Assuming you manage to log in, you’re presented with this page.

Now consider some common – perhaps predictable – workflows.

Let’s imagine that  I want to send a new fax message. Where do I click? Logically, I would choose to click “New Message”. That sounds sensible. But it’s also very wrong. Perhaps the envelope in the blue bar at the top? No, that just reloads the current page.

In fact, the correct place to click is the “Spanner and Screwdriver” icon at the top – tool-tipped as “User Tools”, which brings up the following page.

From here, you jump to the icon at the bottom-left of the page labelled “SMS and Fax”, followed by a button on the top-left of the resulting page labelled “Create Fax”.

In precisely whose world is that a logical series of clicks?

Another example. We’re back at the inbox, as pictured above. I want to change my password. Simple – I click “Options” in the top-right. Wrong. On some pages, there’s a “Preferences” button appears the top-right, above “Options”. Is it there? No. Sharper readers will already have noticed from the above screenshot that it is, in fact, in “User Tools” again. Bizarre.

Something I frequently forget is the IMAP settings for NHS Mail. So where would one hope to locate those? Perhaps you’d consider clicking the “?” help icon? You’d be wrong. “User Tools”? Yes.

Perhaps you’d then be tempted to click on “Configure Microsoft Outlook”. That would be wrong. Perhaps you’d click “Help”. That would also be wrong. You must click “Guidance”, down on the bottom right, followed by “Training and Guidance” – not any of the other options, which include “User Guide”.

Again, something which should be really easy to locate is hidden away.

Frankly, the organsiation of the UI of NHS Mail is not fit for purpose. It’s virtually unusable, and I suspect that goes a long way to explaining why so few NHS people have NHS Mail accounts. And yet, I understand that Connecting for Health pays Microsoft £1.90 per user per month – that’s over £12m per year – for the service.

You’d think that, for that money, there would be at least some usability testing, yet it’s hard to see that assumption evidenced by results.

This 1,436th post was filed under: Health, Reviews, Technology, , , , , .

NatWest’s awful charter: Revisited

A little while ago, before I did all that App reviewing nonsense, I blogged about Natwest’s utterly unambitious Customer Charter.

You’ll probably have seen on TV ads and billboards nationwide that they’ve just published their first independent review of progress – it’s online here, and it’s well worth a read and a chuckle.

Let me share with you some of the highlights.

You’ll remember that one of the commitments I derided the most was “We will aim to serve the majority of our customers within five minutes in our branches.” They have two pages dedicated to this commitment in their follow-up report. The first is congratulatory, with big ticks heralding the arrival of more cash machines and a queue management system. Neither of those is the crucial outcome measure, though. That comes on the next page, with this pearl of wisdom:

We know … that there are times and places where customers have waited longer and we have much more to work on … We are testing a new tool to measure queues.

Their solution to improve waiting times is… to change the way waiting times are measured. Because, dear customer, this represents “Helpful Banking”. Presumably, you’ll stand in the queue for exactly the same length of time, but their report will look better. Fantastic.

Another promise was that they’d only piss off 10% of their customers: “9 out of 10 customers will rate us friendly and helpful.” How did they do?

8 out of 10 customers rated us friendly and helpful during 2010.

They failed. But, not to worry, they still include this congraulatory customer quote:

A 9 out of 10 customer satisfaction rate … does help to reassure me that they are serious about their commitment.

Not only would pissing off 10% of customers not go a long way to reassuring me that NatWest is serious about “Helpful Banking”, the fact is that they didn’t achieve it. So it doesn’t reassure anyone about anything!

Some quick-fire ones now.

Promise: “75% of our customers to be satisfied with the way their complaint has been handled.”

57% of our customers were satisfied with the way their complaint was handled.

Promise: “[We will provide] more than 22,000 days each year to community volunteering”

During 2010, [we] gave 7,547 days of volunteering to their local communities.

Promise: “We will answer 90% of calls in less than a minute.”

We answered 91.4% of calls made to our telephone banking centres in less than 3 a minute.

Hmm, that last one looks good. It looks like they’re meeting their target. And, in fact, they are.

I’ve included it because of the ludicrous way they define the target, which is curiously hidden from the main report.

Their published result makes it look like I can phone up, and my call will be answered by a real person within a minute. That’s actually not true, because there’s often an automated machine answer first. They have then gone on to exclude from the sample anyone who fails to get through the automated machine’s ‘screening’ of calls. If you can’t find out how to speak to an actual person, you’re excluded from the figures. If the machine won’t let you speak to a real person – perhaps because “lines are busy, please try later” – you’re excluded from the figures. Extraordinary.

I can only repeat my advice from last time: Switch.

Swtich to Smile. Switch to First Direct. Switch to The Co-op.

Switch to anyone who actually gives a damn about customer service, instead of waiting for change for a bank which clearly doesn’t know how to prioritise customer service, and whose solution to poor customer service appears to commit to more poor customer service.

Don’t put up with it. Switching is quick and painless. The more you put up bad service, the more these corporate idiots think its acceptable, and the more it propagates.

Please, for the good of us all: Switch!

This 1,435th post was filed under: Miscellaneous, , , , , , .

iPad App Review: Flipboard

20110329-111000.jpg Of all the apps I have installed on my iPad, Flipboard is probably the one that has had the greatest impact on my digital life.

Prior to getting my iPad, I used to view my Facebook and Google Reader feeds via Socialite on my MacBook, and Twitter via the Twitter App for Mac of iPhone, depending on where I was.

Flipboard has now taken over from all the above.

It sucks in all of the above feeds, and produces a personalised ‘social magazine’ that just looks great on the iPad. Twitter links are sucked in, so that the linked webpage is transformed into a magazine article, while non-linking Tweets just appear. TwitPics appear as pictures in my magazine. It really is quite incredible, and very fast – probably quicker to refresh than the Twitter app on my iPhone.

But, importantly, it doesn’t just look good – it is brilliantly functional.

20110329-111113.jpgFlipboard allows me to cross post anything anywhere, so I can share that interesting Tweet on Facebook or post that interesting article from Google Reader to Twitter with just a tap. You can also elect to ‘ignore’ people, without having to ‘unfriend’ or ‘unfollow’ them, which comes in handy.

Flipboard is now the primary way I interact with all of the above feeds. It’s brilliant.

Brilliant, but not perfect. I’d like to see threading of conversations on Twitter. I’d like to see whether Facebook statuses had comments without having to tap on them. I’d like Flipboard to see which Twitter and Facebook updates I’ve read and hide them, like it does with Google Reader (unless they have new comments). I’d really like Flipboard to learn what I like, and push those things to the front of the magazine rather than absolutely sticking to the timeline.

But still, Flipboard is great – in fact, I think it’s my favourite iPad app to date. I’m confident it will retain its place in my Dock for some time to come!


This is the fifth and final in a series of posts reviewing iPad Apps. Yesterday’s review was of Who Wants to be a Millionaire HD. If you enjoyed the series, let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@sjhoward), and maybe I’ll do something similar again sometime.

But that’s it for now… Stay tuned for more posts on different topics coming soon(er or later).

This 1,434th post was filed under: iPad App Reviews, Reviews, Technology, , , , , , , .

iPad App Review: WWTBA Millionaire HD

I’ve chosen to write about this App not because it’s good, but because it’s not.

That isn’t out of some kind of sadistic wish to be mean, but because I want to demonstrate how it’s hard to get an iPad App just right. But first, a little background.

When Millionaire first burst onto our screens in 1998, I was hooked. The very idea of giving away a million pounds seemed incredible to my teenage brain, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

Soon, the magic faded. I still watched, but mainly with the sound down unless someone got to the £32,000 “safe haven”. And, gradually, my interest waned still further, not bolstered by any revamps, clocks, or anything else that was thrown at it.

But one thing continued to preoccupy my mind – I badly wanted to play the game myself. I used to “play” the game with the quiz books and the CD soundtrack, but I desperately wanted a PC version of the game. Somehow, despite taking some time for the format to cross the Atlantic, they got their PC version out more quickly, and I was insanely jealous.

When eventually Celador got round to cashing in on the format, the resulting PC game seemed incredible to me. And when Version 2 turned up, and Chris Tarrant asked me the questions personally (after the first five), I loved it.

I also loved various Playstation versions of the game, and several phone versions – including the two I have on my iPhone at the moment. I even joined Virgin Mobile at one point because they had an SMS version of the game.

So I’m a bit of a Millionaire format fan, even if I don’t particularly watch the TV show anymore.

Naturally, when I got my iPad, I got the “Millionaire HD” app, which, like it’s iPhone cousin, bizarrely titles itself “2011” below the icon. And what did I get for my money? Essentially, a blown up version of the iPhone title. There really is no discernible difference between the two.

Now, by pure logic alone, that should be a good thing. I really like the latest iPhone version, and find it one of the most addictive editions I’ve ever owned. But it’s not an iPad App.

A screen the size of the iPad’s does not lend itself to blown-up display of a screen the size of the iPhone’s. It doesn’t work. It feels like a jumbo toy. And the great aspect of the iPhone App, which I’d guess you could call it’s “passiveness” in a loose sense, doesn’t work on the iPad. On the iPad, I want an immersive experience, not a passive one.

Now that’s really difficult to pin down. The difference isn’t obvious or clear-cut. Is it CGI video that’s missing, or would that just be deeply irritating? Is it the relatively poor use of music doing that’s stopping this being immersive? Is it the “clock” rushing me towards an answer? Well, no, it’s not the clock, because you can turn that off and it doesn’t improve things.

All the important things are there. The questions seem of the right level, the lifelines offer just the right degree ofdoubt, and even the graphics are slick if oversized.

But there’s an unknowable “something” that turns the iPad edition, in my eyes at least, from a “hit” to a “miss”. I just can’t bring myself to recommend it.


This is the fourth in a series of posts reviewing iPad Apps. Yesterday’s review was of the Sky News App. Check back tomorrow for my review of Flipboard.

This 1,433rd post was filed under: iPad App Reviews, Reviews, Technology, , , , .


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