Usability by counterexample (between a Rock and a Hard Plaice)

Confession: I'm a complete nut for Prog Rock, so being home early on Friday evening and getting to listen to Planet Rock's Fish on Friday is very pleasant (even if the reason I'm at home is that I've just had minor surgery on a toe).

In fact, I'm enjoying many of the tracks enough that I want to look up what they are. This should be easy on a DAB radio, but unfortunately Planet Rock broke their "now playing" DAB Metadata a while back.

So, I thought I'd give their much vaunted new website a visit. Firefox handily remembers, as I type in 'planet' that it used to be at .

Try the link. Uncustomised IIS 404 page. Would a 301 from the old homepage to the new one have been so hard? Or a humorous custom 404? They're all the rage these days...

OK, maybe I'm expecting too much. I tend to find, when it comes to web design or development agencies, that the best thing to do is to set my expectations low, stamp on them a few times, and then throw them out.

So anyway... the site, once I get to it, boasts this "On Air" page:

Where would you expect to be able to click?

If you guessed any of these locations, you'd be completely wrong:

If you're cripplingly literal-minded, and guessed any of these locations, you'd be in luck.

So who on earth designed that? Leaving aside the revolting semantics of making (almost) all links have the text "Click Here", why can't you click on any of those 4 square boxes, particularly "How to listen"? Why can't you click on any titles?

Those "click here" links, by the way, look like <div class="click_here"><a href="rockblock.html"></a></div> - not text, nor even images, let alone images with title or alt text... In fact the nearest thing to alt text or titles is the text 'adholder' for those four boxes.

So, what were the design and usability objectives here? What accessibility standards were they working to?

Frankly, what were they playing at?

And why am I getting so excited about a dud design for a radio station's website?

Because I care about usability.

I care about professionalism.

I care about giving customers, and site users, a good deal and a good experience.

And because I spend far too much time in my day job cleaning up after charlatans who can't code, who know that they're dealing with non-technical clients (most of the time, I tend to give them a nasty shock) who don't know what to look for, ask for, or test.

These guys give my industry a bad name. They provide crap where they could provide quality; they choose "barely good enough" where they could delight. They hold back the development of the web.

I never did find a "now playing" banner. The nearest I got was this delightful stream player:

Doesn't really delight, does it? For some reason you *can* click the Alice image this time, although it then opens the page in the (non-resizable) popup window.

Fortunately I did manage to identify a few of the tracks. I picked up my iPhone, switched to Shazam, and pressed the button. It listened, and told me what the tune was. A usability dream - and I'll be putting 13th Star on my Christmas list!
Posted by parsingphase, 2008-12-05 19:19

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