Category Archives: usability at large

Random hotel thoughts at the end of a long trip

I haven’t counted, but have probably stayed at a dozen hotels or more on this trip, ranging from simple to luxurious, in 3 countries: Thailand (developed), Myanmar (undeveloped) and, in Laos, Luang Prabang (in between).

  • Having glass (clear or frosted) between a hotel room and its bathroom makes a lot of sense when the electricity is unreliable.
  • Having a refrigerator in a hotel room where all the power goes off when the room key is removed from its slot does not make sense, however.
  • Having an electric hot water pot in the room is nice – but only if there’s an outlet someplace other than behind the TV, and one that fits the pot’s plug.
  • All-in-one bathroom/showers are fine, but the placement of the towel rack needs careful thought.  My current hotel solved the problem by having no towel racks at all — not the best choice.
  • The one-handle faucet is now very popular. But it stinks in terms of usability. You have a 2-ended lever, and one side of the circle is labeled hot, the other cold. But which end of the level is turned toward the temperature indicator? In my current hotel room, pointing the top of the lever at “cold” yields hot water.
  • Why do hotels so rarely restock tea/coffee and minibar?

The DMV: What Were They Thinking?

DMV appointment logoThe DMV is almost too easy a target, but I can’t resist. Some usability problems are so incredibly dumb, it’s hard to believe.

Missing from the logo repro’d here is what appears just below it: “Save time, go online.” Well, it’s only a time-saver compared to the hours you sit there without an appointment. (When I last went in without an appointment, it took at least an hour, probably much more; I didn’t check the time when I arrived.)

Their online reservation system: Pick a location and they’ll tell you the first available appointment. Only. Beyond that, you get to play “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?” (remember that game?) without the “hot” “cold” clues.  Want a different time? Fine. You pick a time and they tell you if it’s available. Friday at 2 in Oakland? Nope. Friday at 4? Nah. Friday at 2 in El Cerrito? Hah! Monday at 9 in Walnut Creek? Try again!

This morning, after I went through this for three different locations and finally scored an appointment, I clicked on the button to reserve it — and was told the system was down, come back later.

Usability and Direct-to-Credit-Card Billing

Although it’s no doubt useful for vendors, I find direct credit card billing extremely UNusable, because vendors seem to think that it exonerates them from having to inform the people whose money they are taking. But they risk misunderstandings, and annoying and losing customers.

Just on this month’s credit card statement:

  • KQED billed me twice in one month, a few days apart, for different amounts. I renewed my membership during their last pledge time (anyone remember when that was? I don’t). I assumed my annual membership was expiring though, in retrospect, I’m not sure why. They certainly never tell me. So I renewed. Are they now billing me for two different memberships simultaneously?
  • The SF Chronicle billed me $247. Why? For what period of time? For past or for future delivery?
  • My DSL fee has gone up. I guess they informed me, since in theory I have an email account with them. But I never check it, since it’s one that I don’t use. Surely they could ASK me what email address to use?

Once again I’m sending off annoyed email to KQED. Now I have to track down the Chronicle and ask them what they’re doing. I’m annoyed with all these vendors — which is not a good way to keep customers. Worse yet, KQED is relying on my goodwill, and it seems that I have problems with them every time I renew. Certainly an organization that relies on voluntary contributions should realize that they need to stay in their contributors’ good graces.

More generally, billing transactions are not just about exchange of money but ALSO about information and customer relations. While using direct credit card billing to save themselves effort and expense on the billing side, these companies are also abandoning communication with their customers. They shouldn’t be surprised if their customers then abandon them.

How Do You Get to Room 258?

Dwinelle Hall main building elevator – how to get to room 258? And then how to get back to the front entrance, when nothing tells you what level you are on? Hint: NOT *S. That takes you down one more level, where the door on the back of the elevator opens into an auditorium.

I guess that’s where there’s a handicapped accessible entrance, but it also probably means wending one’s way through the bowels of Dwinelle. Anyone who’s spent much time in that building (and I have) knows that it’s a maze.

I discovered this elevator, after many many years in and out of Dwinelle, because of a knee injury. Frustrating for me – horrid for a newcomer.

Web Credibility — Appearances from Beyond the Grave!

One of my long-standing complaints is about websites that aren’t dated, that announce events with dates but and not years, and that aren’t updated.

I was visiting my father who’s a long-time Stephen Ambrose fan (and not exactly cognitively what he was) and who was reading one of Ambrose’s books, and didn’t know that Ambrose had died. On my web-using cameraphone, I did a Google search on “Stephen Ambrose died” and the following was the first listing —

Stephen Ambrose Dies

Stephen Ambrose, historian, dies at 66.
Stephen E. Ambrose died early Sunday 13 October 2002 at a Bay St. Louis, Miss., hospital. He was 66.

And further down on that same page:

Stephen’s Appearances

See web site for details and a current list of upcoming appearances:

Homeland Security Usability Problems

Was at SFO the other day when an automated announcement said that current security level is “1.” OK, they’ve replaced the orange, red, etc. system. But I wondered: clearly 1 is most extreme, but most extreme what? Highest alert, or lowest? I couldn’t believe it was highest, since that left nowhere to go UP if there were a real, credible threat. But certainly not lowest, either. So…???

Help Desk Hell

From today’s NY Times:

Help Desk Hell Half of corporate information technology managers in Britain have so much contempt for their users that they deliberately sabotage them, according to SkillSoft, an online training firm.

Those systems managers admitted to being “unhelpful and/or obstructive” to their users, according to a study commissioned by SkillSoft ( Not surprisingly, the same share — 50 percent — of I.T. managers are actively looking for other jobs.