Beantin

James Royal-Lawson

UX and design

UXPodcast at UXLx 2012

During the 16-18 May I’ll be at UXLx in Lisbon. Like last year I’ll be travelling there from Stockholm along with Per Axbom. And also like last year we’re planning to cover the event in a few different ways.


Picture of the welcome sign to UXLx 2011

One of the ways we will be covering the event is through a number of on the spot episodes of UX Podcast.

Optimise or die

UX Podcast is a regular podcast for web professionals hosted by myself and Per. If you haven’t listened to it before, give our latest episode a listen. We interviewed Craig Sullivan (Optimiseordie on Twitter) about mobile websites and got some hands on advice based on Craig’s experience with Belron.

Broadcasting from the event

If you are at UXLx you might spot us recording an episode. Keep a look out for the UX Podcast rollup. If you see it, come and join us for a chat!

We are also planning to publish some notes, pictures, mindmaps, perhaps even sketches, with the help of other delegates on uxlx.posterous.com. If you’d like to contribute, let us know

And of course, there’ll be endless amounts of twittering from me using the hashtag #uxlx.

Lokaltidningen mitt i: minimising the user experience

I think pretty much everyone has an opinion about how the news industry should adapt in order to survive in the digital age. Even I’ve turned out a few blog posts on the subject.

Middle of nowhere

Local newspaper company Mitt i Stockholm publishes 31 newspapers here in the Greater Stockholm area and they have a rather peculiar puzzling terrible digital strategy which manages to minimise the user experience for a huge section of their target audience.

In this blog post I’ll walk you through a few parts of their digital presence and highlight some of the problems. I’ll also, in the spirit of free local newspapers, offer Mitt i some free advice.

Mitt i advert for their app on the Stockholm metro

Download our app!

In recent weeks Mitt i Stockholm has been pushing their recently launched mobile app fairly hard. There have been adverts in every Metro train, full page adverts in their own publications, plus other places, all enticing people to install the Mitt i app. The app promises you “piping hot news about everything to do with the capital city”,

I don’t think they thought things through from a reader perspective at all. I’m also not convinced that this idea has been built on clear business goals either.

What’s in it for me?

The adverts on the Metro system, and the full page adverts in all the editions of the printed newspaper give very little information. The app for iPhone and Android (but not iPad) claims to deliver a “unique news service about Stockholm” but fails to give any specific details.

Searching for “mitt i” and installing the app was pretty painless. Although reading the poor reviews didn’t give me high expectations. On Android it would appear the app didn’t work at all with the latest version of the operating system, Ice Cream Sandwich. It worked for me, usually. It did though crash and close itself on a number of occasions.

Everything needs to be tested and tested well. Use vistor data from your web site to help prioritise the devices and platforms you test. Make sure you keep an eye on reviews and comments to your newly launched app and make sure you’re ready to fix any bugs and quickly release an updated version.

Given that Mitt i is produced in 31 local variations, it was immediately puzzling that the app lacked any way of choosing my edition. You see news articles from all 31 editions of the newspaper. It may be harsh, but I don’t want local news from Lidingö, I want it from Enskede.

An article in the app comprises of a picture, a headline and body text. The only additional feature are buttons to increase and decrease the text size and next/previous article buttons. There are no links, and most significantly, no ability to share the article whatsoever.

The article is totally locked within the app. There’s no way of recommending it, or passing it on to a friend. Not even the familiar Android “share” menu appears. There’s no way an article could become viral, or be used in order to acquire more readers for the newspaper.

Make sure your content can be easily shared. Make use of standard share functions. Test sharing your content on relevant social networks to make sure it displays as you’d expect.

One of the features (not mentioned in the marketing for the app) is their restaurant guide with map and (editorial) reviews. There is, of course, no possibility to add your own comment or rating, or even to add a new review. Hardly a unique selling point for the app. Much better similar services exist.

Screenshot of the in-app map showing the locations of restaurants that have been reviewed

If the restaurant reviews are strategically important and must be included in the app, then why not enhance them with information and content from other services, such as Allakartor. Allakartor makes its data available via an API, making it relatively straight forward to include.

Website lacks content

The lack of any sharing in the app starts to become a little more understandable (but no more forgivable!) when you take a look at the Mitt i website. The content from the various newspapers is only available as e-zines. That is to say, a flash or image-based presentation of the content built from a PDF version of the newspaper.

It’s difficult to make content any less accessible then is achieved by publishing it in this way. Viewing this type of e-zine on tablets or mobile devices is hopeless. It also not very search engine friendly – and by that I mean not only unfriendly for Google but also for on-site search and the visitor. Searching the archive on Mitt i rarely gives a satisfactory result.

In addition, no article has its own URL. You can’t share a link to a particular story. The best you can do is link to a whole page from the paper . This is something I managed to do, but I suspect not something very many typical readers would achieve.

Avoid using ezine publications. They rarely deliver good user experiences. Make the PDF available as a download. Publish content in it’s own right on dedicated, shareable, pages.

What no start page?

As part of the campaign to promote the app, Mitt i has moved their normal start page and replaced it with a splash page. Splash pages are known to irritate users. A certain percentage will leave immediately on seeing a splash page.

Screenshot of a replacement start page for mitti.se advertising their app

Determined users will click on the “enter site” link as quick as possible in order to get on with the task they came to the site to complete. Trying to distracting visitors as soon as they arrive is rarely a good plan.

The splash page itself is poorly constructed, with almost the entire content of the page contained in an image with no textual alternative. The links to the Android and Apple apps are made created using an image map, something that most of us avoid like the plague these days.

If you do deploy a splash page (which I wouldn’t recommend) then place it on its own URL. Redirect your index page temporarily to your splash page with a http 302 temporary redirect code. You may also want to make it no index. Take care to code the page correctly, making it as accessible as possible.

Search Engines

Splash pages are not only terrible for visitors, but also for search engines. Removing almost all the text-based content from a web page results in a very poor quality snippet. The title of Mitt i in Google at the moment is “Mitt i app” with a description of “to the mitt i homepage”. Hardly enticing.

Screenshot of Google search results showing how badly mitti.se appears

The Mitt i web site fails to follow even the most basic SEO advice such as unique page titles and quality meta descriptions. Mitt i search results take a further hit due to the amount of content only available as PDFs or as images. As mentioned earlier, none of the articles from the newspapers are available as specific web pages.

Make sure articles are published as web pages with their own distinct URLs. Make sure page titles are descriptive, unique and contain relevant keywords. Make sure a well written meta description is included on every single page.

Frustratingly poor

There is demand and interest for local news, and thousands of people take the time to read the paper editions of Mitt i. It’s frustrating how poor the digital strategy is for this local newspaper – they have the content, it just needs to be better utilised.

Rival free local newspaper company Direct Press does a much better job with their web presence. It’s not perfect, but at least the content from their publications is available online in a way which is accessible, shareable and findable.

It’s important to think holistically. Consider how every thing you do (both online and offline) fits together; how it is seen, consumed and interacted with by your customers (readers, members, supporters, or whatever you’d like to label them as).

With the revenue obtained from advertising in (printed) free local papers such as Mitt i in terminal decline, minimising the user experience of their readers is hardly a strategy that will help them innovate and survive.


James Royal-Lawson+ is a digital strategist and web manager based in Stockholm Sweden.

Stop using QR codes!

This autumn the use of QR codes in advertising in Stockholm has exploded. There are more codes visible now than ever before. Unfortunately the majority of them are poorly implemented.

If the QR code doesn’t add to the user experience, don’t use them!

In this blog post I’ve collected together a number of recent examples of QR codes in the wild here in Stockholm, Sweden.

Almost every single code took me to a standard desktop website (or campaign site). Most of them led to a page that was not designed or adjusted for handheld devices.

If a fishy bites, hold on!

QR codes are not going to be scanned by a large number of people – irrespective of the hype, most people don’t know what the hell they are, don’t know how to scan them, or don’t care about scanning them.

When you get someone who does know what they are, and does bother to scan them – you want to make sure you hold on to them! This means what happens once they’ve scanned the code needs to help them take the next step in a relevant context.

Build for the context

By and large this means always think mobile when you are using QR codes. This is the context your target audience are in when they scan. Anything other than mobile-ready content or service will make their interaction more difficult. This will reduce their happiness, reduce the chance of meeting your goals, and potentially damage your brand.

QR Codes in the wild

Nokia N9

Nokia N9 advert with QR code

The code leads to the full desktop website. No handheld or responsive version available.

FV Seleqt

FV Seleqt Sugar Snaps with QR code

Scan this product packaging and you are taken to a desktop site showcasing their products.

Krusovice

Krusovich sign at an event with QR code

Leads to a page that has been designed for mobiles. The page contains a form, but there is still room for optimised it to make completion as easy and as successful as possible from a touch-screen device.

Biltema

Biltema catalogue with QR codes

Two tiny codes, very close together. One for the Android app and one for the iPhone app. They do both scan, but you have cover up one of the codes to ensure you scan the correct one.

Scan

Scan advert with QR code

I didn’t manage to get this code to scan. It was very badly positioned (right at the bottom of the advert) meaning I had to get down on my knees to try to scan it. The code was also relatively small and contained a lot of data.

Norskfisk

Norskfisk advert with QR code

Scan the code and you end up at a recipe, on a desktop web site. No mobile version.

SEB

SEB advert with QR code

Code to apply for a loan.

Stockholm Film Festival

Stockholm Film Festival programme with QR code

This year’s film festival site is really quite good, but shame they used a code that pointed straight to the desktop site. No mobile site is available, but there is an iPhone app.

Skanska

Skanska advert with QR code

This code was featured on an advert on the Stockholm metro leads to a desktop website.

Pantamera

Pantamera adverts with QR code

One of the few better implementations included in this blog post. The codes lead to YouTube videos, which serves a mobile version of it’s site (or can even open directly in the YouTube app on many mobiles).

Flickr

You can find all of these QR codes (and more) in this set on my Flickr stream.


James Royal-Lawson+ is a digital strategist and web manager based in Stockholm Sweden.

The Beantin Manifesto

Digital products and services are a gathering point for pretty much everything we’ve ever learnt. There is a never-ending list of different specialities that need to be utilised to produce the seemingly mythical perfect digital experience. 

Those of us working with digital design work in a rapidly changing sector. Yes, we’re maturing as a profession, but the sheer vastness of what we are trying to learn, understand, and manipulate – combined with the speed of change, means that maturity isn’t something that will arrive over-night.

Silos

Human beings love compartmentalising things. So do organisations. Unfortunately that doesn’t work with digital design. You can’t work in silos. Each speciality can’t sit in it’s silo and produce the optimal result without genuine co-operation and co-ordination with other specialities.

Ignorance is bliss

One of the biggest problems is that many of these silos don’t realise that the other silos exist let alone the benfit they bring and the importance they carry. That’s understandable. A specialist programmer isn’t going to be a specialist copywriter. Your marketing department isn’t your finance department. You aren’t expected to know the details of how the other professional/department/silo goes about it’s business.

True collaboration, across organisations and with the people who will use what we create is essential for us to get the most out this fantastic medium we work with, and prevent people suffering harm.

Principles

Here is my 6 point manifesto that I will follow to help join the dots, get specialities working together, and ultimately make a better digital world:

  1. Share: Don’t hoard knowledge. Distribute and educate.
  2. Honest feedback: Always speak my mind. Never hold back from sharing an opinion.
  3. Good enough: Never aim for good enough. Aim for best.
  4. Your best interests: Do things that are best for people, for society. Not for short term gains. 
  5. Web standards: As much as possible follow (and even create) web standards and agreed conventions.
  6. Hypothesis driven. Design and evaluate honestly and openly. 

James Royal-Lawson is an independent designer and podcaster based in Stockholm Sweden.

[Originally written in January 2011. Revised in December 2020]

4 of 4
1234
Reload this page with responsive web design DISABLED