A User’s Experience: Southern Rail Online Booking

Southern is the railway operator that serves the South East of England, and runs the train services used by several hundred thousand people each day, many of them commuting between the south coast and London.

Until recently, they had a fairly horrific web site, with an ugly and difficult to use ticket booking engine. Then, some months ago, they revamped it. And – astonishingly – made it worse. What used to be painful but manageable is now painful, long-winded and very nearly impossible.

To illustrate, I want to show a couple of ticket-buying attempts I made recently. Then I’m going to share some thoughts on how I think the experience might be improved.

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What Do We Mean By ‘Skills’ Anyway?

Following on from my article about knowledge economy skills, it may be useful to drill a bit deeper into what we mean by skills, and also how they are acquired. Back when I was authoring the UK National Skills Strategy for Interactive Media, I did a lot of research, consultation and thinking on this, which I’ll try to distill here.

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Skills for the Knowledge Economy

I was giving a talk a while back to a group of digital media entrepreneurs and practitioners at the HUBBA co-working space in Bangkok. As part of my talk, I mentioned some thinking I have been doing around education and skills. This was well received and provoked some interesting discussion, so I thought I should write it up here.

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Addressing the Digital Skills Gap: Publicly-Funded Startups?

I was at a digital skills round-table event yesterday, here in Brighton & Hove, discussing how tech SMEs can influence a city training strategy. The attendees ranged from local practitioners and employers, to training providers, local colleges and representatives of various local organisations and statutory bodies. It was a very interesting debate, with much food for thought. I had an idea…

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The Cost of a Broken Button

Malaysia Airlines recently gave its online check-in process a cosmetic makeover. I can’t say it’s an improvement, but that’s my subjective opinion of course. What I can say objectively, however, is that they have made the user experience worse for at least some users – because the most important function, the ability to print your boarding pass, no longer works. They have broken the button.

You can check in online, but if you try to print your boarding pass on a Mac or iPad (and perhaps other platforms – I have only tried Apple OSes, albeit across various different devices and machines), nothing happens. Pre-makeover, the ‘Print Boarding Pass’ button used to load your boarding pass so you could see it, print it or save it as a PDF etc. Now – nothing. You have no choice but to queue up at the airport check-in desk.

When I first encountered this a few months ago, I assumed they’d soon fix it. When I encountered it again while checking in for my flight today, I wondered what it was costing them.

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The Air Miles Game and How to Play It

I do a lot of flying. Sometimes for work, sometimes for leisure. Variously in Economy, Business and First. Certainly, much of it is paid for with cash, either by me or my clients, but some of my flights – especially in the premium cabins – are funded with air miles.

Quite a few of my friends have been asking about this, so I thought I’d write up an introductory guide on how to travel for less money, or in more comfort, than you otherwise might, by playing the air miles game.

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The Death of User Experience?

That’s perhaps a little premature, and I admit I may be exaggerating for dramatic effect, but I suspect it’s on the horizon.

I’ve long maintained that User Experience is just another in the long line of buzzwords that have afflicted our industry since its inception. Granted it’s now an established buzzword – it’s an absolutely valid discipline, and a role that is becoming increasingly accepted amongst practitioners, managers, recruiters and clients alike, but nonetheless I would argue that the label ‘user experience’, along with the UX acronym, is a non-descript buzzword.

And from where I’m standing, I can’t help feeling it’s one that doesn’t have much longer to run.

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Job Titles – Again

That age-old problem of job titles has been on my mind again lately, prompted by my starting to look around for my next project, hence the need to convey clearly what it is that I actually do, plus the imminent need to print up some new business cards.

I’ve been mostly calling myself a User Experience Architect in recent years, but really just because that’s the terminology agencies – digital and recruitment – relate to. User Experience is certainly becoming a more firmly established discipline, yet it remains stubbornly undefined, with myriad competing and conflicting interpretations abounding.

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Agile, Lean – It’s All About The Team

I’ve seen and heard of quite a few Agile projects that have failed to live up to expectations, or even failed completely. And I’ve watched organisations – agencies in particular – struggle to adopt Lean UX.

Not because there’s anything wrong with the methodologies, I think. And not necessarily because they were implemented badly – though I’ve seen that happen. I suspect it’s because one crucial factor gets overlooked – the people.

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User Experience – Not Just a Line on the Project Plan

This thing we call ‘User Experience’ – it’s a strange old beast, isn’t it? A fairly meaningless term in and of itself, yet the discipline, the skill set, the expertise it represents is absolutely fundamental to our industry.

The key word there is discipline. Sadly, it seems that all too often user experience is treated as just a step in a process, a task in a project plan, a department within an agency or a specialist within a team. But that’s not what it should be. It’s a state of mind, a way of thinking – a discipline that permeates everything we do as an industry.

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Interactive TV – Because We Can

I dug this old article out after re-reading my commentary on my Interactive Narrative thesis that I posted a while ago. This one dates back to April 1999; I recall it being published somewhere or other, possibly in New Media Age magazine, I think. Anyway, it was a time when the web was coming to a TV set near you and the magical ‘red button’ was going to wake us from our stupor, drag us out of couch potato mode and make us lean forward and, you know, interact with the gogglebox. Er, riiiiight….

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MA DIM Dissertation (1995): Interface Metaphor

I recently retrieved my old dissertations from MA Design for Interactive Media course back in 1995… This one discusses the use of metaphors in the user interface. As I recall, I was going to title it “Trouble With Liken” but evidently for some reason decided not to. Can’t think why… ;-)

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MA DIM Dissertation (1995): Interactive Narrative

I recently retrieved my old dissertations from MA Design for Interactive Media course back in 1995… This one discusses the concept of interactive narrative fiction and the problems faced in attempting successfully to create such works. Re-reading it now, seventeen years later, I am particularly struck by the relevance of this excerpt to so-called ‘Interactive’ (i.e. ‘red-button’) TV:

“It seems to me that creating interactive narrative is not just a matter of taking conventional prose and putting it into an interactive medium. Indeed, it might be argued that there is more to be lost from doing this than there is to be gained.”

Probably best if I don’t get started on what’s wrong with “interactive TV”… ;-) But I do have another old article on that lying about somewhere, which I may dig out and post up here at some point. Anyway, hope you enjoy this one.

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MA DIM Dissertation (1995): Web Commercialisation

I recently retrieved my old dissertations from MA Design for Interactive Media course back in 1995… This one discusses the likely commercialisation of the then-nascent Web – perhaps worth pointing out that this was when the latest cutting-edge browser was Netscape 1.1, Google and Macromedia (now Adobe) Flash didn’t yet exist, and the concept of ‘Social Media’ was still a decade away… The ‘SellNet Project’ referred to was a piece of interactive multimedia that I and two colleagues (Lee Woodard and Iain Jones) developed for our final MA project. It probably still exists somewhere, but whether it would run on today’s computers is another matter – it was built in Macromedia Director (version 3 as I recall) and at a time when anything above an 800×600 screen, 256 colours and half-a-meg or so of RAM was sheer luxury… ;-)

Looking back, I’m pleasantly surprised by how much now seems so prescient (notwithstanding a few moments of naivety!). Fascinating (for me) to re-read it after all these years. I hope you may find the same.

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So Why The Long Silence?

Um, hate to admit it but… I forgot I had this blog. Oops. Suppose I’d better do something about the look and feel then. Maybe. If I get round to it. Oh well. Hope you find my musings from back in 2004/5 interesting. Thanks for stopping by.