Posted in personal, user experience

Handsome REWARD for blue-squared questions mark!!

<wild west theme>

Howdy folks,

As the Sheriff of Jonville, I’d like to infrom our citizens and guests that there have been sightings of the dreaded blue-squared question mark. We have used our ingenious resources and hard-working team to create this accurate rendition in the WANTED poster.

Screen shot 2009-10-31 at 12.52.23 PM

There is no need to panic. I report, DO NOT PANIC.

Now, these marks have only been noted by those who use the Safari Browser, and can be hard to catch (a quick refresh usually removes them), but they are nonetheless scary & lethal.

Citizens, keep your distance!

However, to best rid our fair town of these marks, we would ask all citizens and guests to report any sightings immediately, by taking screenshots and noting which posts they are reading and browser they are using.

Thank you.

</ wild west theme>

Translation: I would really appreciate any help to see if any of my viewers (yes all 10 of them) are getting these blue-squared question marks? I wrote about them in this post.

You can imagine it’s a little ironic (& equally embarrassing) since I’m writing about other companies who don’t pay attention to how their website looks. Touché.


– Jon

Posted in design, personal, tech, user experience

An Epic Fail: How to make a $150+ 500 Gb portable external hard drive suck

I bought a WD “my passport” that had some great features.

  • It was smaller than my wallet
  • Needed no external power, but ran off one USB connection to my computer
  • It was 500 GB for crying out loud
  • It had a great design

However, WD missed one small thing: the USB cable is not a regular mini USB.

Continue reading “An Epic Fail: How to make a $150+ 500 Gb portable external hard drive suck”

Posted in personal, user experience, Vancouver

My metal-shard-in-chinese-bun experience: Why quality control is key

In hindsight, I could have gotten seriously injured in this experience.

Nevertheless, for the advancement of better user experiences, it illustrates my point succinctly.

I ate a char siu bau this weekend from Kam Do Bakery in Richmond – half way through my delectable appetizer I found, to my horror, a thin staple-sized piece of metal in the middle of my bun. (see the picture below, no dramatization here folks!!!)

Continue reading “My metal-shard-in-chinese-bun experience: Why quality control is key”

Posted in design, personal, user experience

Who’s fault is it when website pictures don’t show?

Who do you blame when a website has broken links, non-existent pictures, and slow speeds?

I never really thought about this before, but I naturally blame website owners. Come to think of it, I blame them for almost all their poor user experiences. See here and here.

But “blame” is really too strong a word… What I really mean is that I hold them accountable for it.

But, in a strange but ironic twist of fate, I just realized I’m one of those websites.

Here’s an example of a post I recently loaded up on this tech blog:

Screen shot 2009-10-14 at 1.06.53 PM

The weird thing is that after a few minutes and still no pictures a quick refresh brings them all back up.

Screen shot 2009-10-15 at 12.56.52 AM

This has happened on more than one occasion.

Moral of the Story

Now, what can I learn from this? Whose fault is it? WordPress’ or mine?

I guess I found out that, well, It doesn’t matter.

In the end, the users of my site will still connect the poor performance and broken links to MY SITE.

So, in the end, it has to be my job to maintain and “test” out my site constantly.

But let’s be honest – it would be impossible to fully check my site using all the different computers, running all the different operating systems, in different resolutions, and with different browsers.

Now, that “support” tab who’s value I put into question seems like a pretty bright idea.

Possible Solutions:

Of course, there’s the basic link scanners that tell you which links are broken on your site. Here’s an example of one called Xenu.

But it seems rather static, manual, and not general enough. All it takes care of is finding broken links and not, for example, the load time of your website. And you’d think that WordPress would have something integrated into their system already!!! (ie. something that sends you a quick e-mail, telling you when a link is broken)

This would be a great problem to solve. What I would see is a third-party company or service, that basically does the link scanning, load-time benchmarking, and general basic things that really affect user experiences. Hmmm… sounds like a good idea. 😉

Any one have any other suggestions to deal with this problem?

Posted in Canadian, design, tech, user experience, Vancouver

Examples of poorly designed websites (part 2)

(check out my latest part3 review of a poorly designed website here:)

2. Staples Ad promises much but fails to deliver.. twice!

So I’m browsing a tech site, and see this Ad from Staples:

Screen shot 2009-10-12 at 11.18.58 AM

I’m feeling a little intrigued by the “limited-time tech deals” and “roll over to see more” promise. I’m impressed with the fact that they have tech-deals on a tech blog. They directed the advertising to me, in an extremely relevant yet subtle manner. And, I don’t know if they meant to or not, but with the “roll over to see more” they hooked me.

That’s two points.

So, I “roll-over” the ad and I get this image:

Screen shot 2009-10-12 at 11.19.22 AM


That’s what I got: Nothing.

Not only did Staples lose the two points they just got but they went negative in my books.

But I’m still wondering about those promised “tech-deals”, so I give them the benefit of the doubt – maybe it was the advertising company they contracted out to.

So I click on the “See Weekly Ad” and get the following website:

Screen shot 2009-10-12 at 11.20.35 AM

At this point, I am a little more than slightly frustrated.

Those who read my earlier post on location-based website can attest to this, but I feel that such a basic task as asking for your location from IP address is such a simple, yet valuable addition.

Granted, I was on a US tech blog, so I can understand why the Staples ad brings me to the US Staples site. But seriously, even got it right, why can’t you?

So I figure, I really don’t want to:

  1. open a new tab/window
  2. type on
  3. enter in my city, postal code, etc again
  4. find the “new tech deals

Instead, I want to

  1. Type in my city, country and have it direct me to the Canadian version of the staples site for my city!

So, as a last chance, I give them the benefit of the doubt again and type in “Vancouver, Canada.”

I receive this error: “Please enter a Valid Zip Code or City, State”

Screen shot 2009-10-12 at 11.20.59 AM

I’m done.

At this point. I’m done. Staples has become irrelevant to me. They are more than minus 1.

Will I stop going to Staples from now on? Probably not forever, but as a user I will constantly think about this every time I’m tempted to use their website.

Possible Improvements

Some suggestions for improvement – though Staples seems so large, and I so small, I hardly know if they will head these:

  1. Create a much smoother transition from your Canadian and US sites. (e.g. When I entered Vancouver, Canada that should show to you that I’m looking for Vancouver, in Canada, and send me to that site)
  2. Building on 1), detect where users are (including city, and postal code/zip codes) so users don’t have to keep typing it EVERY TIME.
  3. Test your ads on the majority of browsers, and the majority of Hardware! (I’m using Firefox 3.5.3 running on Snow Leopard (10.6.1) with a Macbook Pro 15″. Hardly a minority from what I’ve see nowadays)
  4. Golden Rule: Don’t suck. (I got this as an inspiration from the head of Google Canada). If your data sucks, your content is terrible, no matter how nice the ad or site or marketing is people won’t keep coming back. In this case, there was no data. That would translate to “suck” for me.

Again, not entirely staples’ fault, as they most likely went through a third-party for the ads, but that’s not what users think.

In short, Staples promised-high (with the design, the roll-over secretive anticipation) and succeeded on not only failing to deliver, but also annoying me.

From this humble user’s perspective, companies big and small need to stop doing that.

Posted in design, tech, user experience

Examples of poorly designed websites (part 1)

Update: of course since I pasted the screenshot the site has now changed and indeed implemented a suggestion of mine: to move the text over to the right and make space for the floatable support tab. I still feel that more valuable links should be used for that space as well but hey, who am I to say anything?

Disclaimer: I just want to say that I’m not at all against the content of the following websites. In fact, some of them I actually quite admire (like Timothy Sykes who managed to turn a $12 000 Bar Mitzvah present into over $1 million). I’m in no position to judge their overall site’s user experience. This is just a humble man’s opinion.

1. support tab that covers the site as you scroll.

Screen shot 2009-10-12 at 11.24.45 AM

my rant: I understand the new “floating” bars, which I honestly feel are a great addition to much needed tasks. But really, a support tab, that covers text as I scroll? It definitely left a sour taste in my mouth. I would have much rather enjoyed a small bar at the bottom of the window, or moving all the text to the right.

problem 1 (main): covers text, user needs to scroll around it to view text (the core, data)

problem 2 (minor): I’m not even sure what support is. Support for the website? Support Timothy Sykes?!?

solution 1: I’m a fan of simplicity. Does the support tab need to be there? Does it increase sales? Does it make users want to read, or does it get them irritated because as they read they have to scroll around it (which happened for me on more than one occasion). If the answer is no to all of the above, it doesn’t need to be there.

if there’s still value in it (perhaps there have been many complaints on the site’s usability) then make it available, but not so in your face. perhaps a bar on the bottom or visible but not overcrowding text. This is such common sense , I feel bad saying it.

solution 2: if it for website support? perhaps name it something other than just “support”, such as “website support”.

This post has gotten longer than I wanted. Stay tuned for part 2.

Posted in Canadian, design, user experience

MSN.COM asks me if I want to go to MSN.CA!!!

Screen shot 2009-10-14 at 1.47.34 PM

After years of defaulting Canadian-based Windows computers to the (US Version) website, now detects you are Canadian and asks you if want to go to the Canadian site ( or stay with the United States Version.

Not only that, it asks you to remember this choice for next time!

This is definitely an improvement to location-based user-experiences like MagicJack, but I say why not go a step further?

When the computer connects and allow the user to “register” in Canada, shouldn’t things like the default website be turned to the equivalent Canadian versions? e.g. ? In my head, that would make for a much smoother user experience.

What do you think?

Posted in personal, tech, user experience, Vancouver

Attn VANCOUVER!! Google maps now offers LIVE traffic!!!

edit: Perhaps I should reiterate that what Google is offering is LIVE TRAFFIC – meaning the current conditions as they unfold. Which is quite a benefit!!!

Well I guess the title gives it away.


After two years of waiting, out of nowhere and without an official announcement, Google Maps Canada has begun adding live traffic to Vancouver.

Vancouver Google Maps Traffic
Google Maps online Vancouver traffic

This is HUGE, and a MAJOR benefit for commuters in Vancouver and can mean the difference between waiting an hour in bumper-to-bumper traffic versus, well, not.

I first found out because I’m a chronic user of the Google Maps App on my iPhone. Interestingly enough, I found a major discrepency between the iPhone’s traffic and the web service.

Here’s what the traffic looks like on the iPhone:


Notice any differences?

I sure did.

It seems like the iPhone version doesn’t contain nearly as much information on the smaller streets as the online Web Service does. (For those Vancouverites, I use Granville, Oak and SW Marine often in my commutes – all three were shown partially on the online web service, but none were shown on Google Maps iPhone app).

This is confusing and seems to suggest that the data traffic used by the iPhone app is slightly different, or older versions, than the online web service.

Google seems to be adding more and more traffic information little by little this weekend, as I’ve noticed the past few days:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

photo 2
Oak Street has started getting more traffic, but no Granville yet

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The next day, here was the difference:

the next day - you can see granville added, but oak st reduced to only one way and the other smaller roads no longer there
the next day - you can see granville added, but oak st reduced to only one way and the other smaller roads no longer there

It looked like though Granville street was now added, other smaller streets (like bridgeport, and sw marine to the east of oak) were now gone?

I have no idea where Google is getting it’s data for traffic, but hopefully they iron out these discrepancies soon. It leaves a bad user experience to try a company’s online version then be severely limited in a mobile version (though this is commonly the case).

Either way, Google’s free maps service is amazing considering it is free.

Keep it up Google! But why don’t you tell anyone when you add such great features?!?!?

Posted in design, random, user experience, Vancouver

When automatic washrooms backfire: a lesson in cost-externalization

The washroom was so small that the auto towel dispenser thought I wanted paper as I walked in. This paper caused the auto dryer to turn on for 5 seconds. This repeated itself as I watched in amusement.

A closer picture of the perpetual automatic dryer
A closer picture of the perpetual automatic dryer

One has to wonder why this was not thought of earlier in the design of the washroom. What makes it worse, was that the door opens half way only as it is blocked by the sink.

A picture of this "automatic" dryer and paper towel dispenser combination
A picture of this "automatic" dryer and paper towel dispenser combination

This happens in software projects all the time. It’s called cost externalizing and happens when companies don’t take into account the fact that their users have a hard time getting certain tasks done, or have a bad experience while doing it. To them, they think:

Who cares that it takes the user five clicks to get this action done, they can do it so we can check off that feature request.

This is a very dangerous way to design software, or anything that involves users, really.

Posted in design, user experience

ANOTHER website using location to their advantage!!!


Just after I wrote the last post, I found another company that does something similar with your location.

Enter BiteSMS.


BiteSMS is an iPhone app that tries to replace the standard SMS app as well as provide SMS credits via their network. Great.

However, when I was trying to find out how much the SMS credits cost in Canada, which US companies and Websites seem to NEVER include in their front pages, I  saw the following:

Picture 16

They “reckon” I’m in Canada, and tell me what the rate is there!!! That’s great!!

Again, same complaint from the previous post, MagicJack, where that information is not easily identifiable via the user. If it were me, I would have either put it on the side, or highlighted it a little making it stick out to users so they can see this dynamic, PERSONAL, information right away.

As I stated in my previous post, it’s not that the technology is so amazing, and it’s in fact very simple. But what breath of fresh air compared to having to:

  1. browse their first page and see no price (or see a US price)
  2. browse their prices page and have to look for Canada

Hopefully, a lot of companies start jumping on this location-based bandwagon! It should make for the web a more enjoyable experience!