Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Snooping on silver surfers - and their user experience

My neighbour Joy*, 77, asked me to help her look up train information online. I let Joy take charge of the mouse and keyboard so that she would (hopefully) learn how to use thetrainline.com.

It was a real eye opener for me as a content editor but frustrating for my neighbour, as she struggled to find out train times and fares.

The experience showed me how important it is to create 'no frills' content and a pared back design if you want senior citizens to use your site. Here are some of the issues we found.

Distracted by adverts

Adverts were a complete distraction for Joy, especially an advert for a new credit card, which felt totally unrelated to the task at hand - finding out train times.

Watching Joy click adverts several times by mistake, I realised that if you're not web-savvy, you can't always tell the difference between adverts and real, useful information.

An invalid station has been entered

Unnecessary words

As Joy worked her way down the form on thetrainline.com, she read every word aloud, line by line: 'Today? Tomorrow? Same day?" It brought it home to me that any unnecessary words on a form will add complexity for the user.

As usability guru Jakob Nielsen wrote in 1995: 
"Dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in a dialogue competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility."
See Neilsen's full 10 usability heuristics - they still feel relevant today for content design.

Drop-down menus

When filling in the form on thetrainline.com, Joy was not overly familiar with drop-down menus. For example, she was unaware that she could change the departure time from 17:30 to 17:45, or 17:15.

Subtle error messages

We managed to misspell our destination. And unfortunately the error message was too subtle to attract our attention. The error prevented us from getting our train times.

Pop-ups: how do I get outta here?

Journey summary screen on thetrainline.com
My neighbour got marooned on a pop-up while checking where to change trains.

The only way out - as she saw it - was to click on the picture at the bottom of the screen: 'Will this help me find out the ticket price?' But unfortunately it was an advert.

As I had to step in and troubleshoot, I'm not sure my neighbour will use the thetrainline.com site again on her own.

Could apps be the answer?

Could thetrainline.com's app be easier for Joy to master than its website? The app:

  • doesn't have distracting adverts
  • is pared back to essentials as it's built for a smaller screen
But then again, would Joy want to learn a different way of navigating? After all, she's used to keyboards and mice and can touch type. I'm not sure what she would make of small, touchscreen devices and one-finger typing.

*Joy is not her real name

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