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Comments from Frankston, Reed, and Friends

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

DanB at 11:08 AM [url]:

A better reservation UI

Here is an example of a "better" reservation UI that Julianne Chatelain pointed me to years ago (she helped us design Trellix's stuff and was the main "editor" of my blog until she left -- she's now in Australia getting a degree in usability). It's in Flash and used by hotels like the Broadmoor: See Broadmoor Reservations. Try clicking on room types and see how the calendar shows you which rooms of that type are available on which dates, and other variations.

On a separate note to readers: I've enabled full text in the RSS feed so you won't just see the headlines. Sorry this took so long.

Monday, March 28, 2005

BobF at 11:32 PM [url]:

Why are reservation sites so lame?

It's amazing that I have time to post anything as I feel my life is silting up with all sorts of little things. The good news for readers is that it forces me to be brief though I have a number of longer rants in the works if I can ever find the time to finish them.

Today's topic is online reservations and booking.

The generic problem is that the sites use lame UI elements and a page model instead of taking full advantage of the computer. Exploring travel options is slow and painful and error-prone. For example sites typically reset information when I go back to try a different date or time so I have to enter the same information again and again. Some, like United Airlines, get confused when I have two reservations open and may book the wrong one.

It's far too easy to make simple mistakes. This mini-rant was prompted by my attempt to book a flight to F2C. I just found I'd reserved a flight on Delta for May 31st instead of March 31st because it defaults to April (a week ahead) and typing "M" gets you May and that doesn't look very different from Mar, especially the third or fourth time you try to give the date. The little calendar popup might help but it is slow and it doesn't even show March so I try to stick with the keyboard. I didn't even notice the error until I tried to reserve a car - otherwise I'd show up for the last flight of the day only to find I didn't have a seat!

Of course there's no "oops" key so I had to phone in and eventually got to a person who could undo the reservation.

The real problem is not that it's easy to make the wrong selection but that the UI makes it hard to notice the problem. Why is there no creativity? How hard would it be to show me a map with the flights and a calendar too? Even better if it were smoothly integrated into my calendar. At least UA downloads vCalendar entries to my Outlook calendar after I clicking through enough menus and warnings to make the experience less than satisfying.

When I went to San Diego for eTech I found I didn't have a hotel reservation. I called Expedia and was told I had indeed almost made a reservation but was one click short of a full nights sleep! A very easy mistake to make on a crowded screen when all the pages look pretty much the same. Why not make the page distinctive - perhaps a light green background that looks like a receipt?

Ideally a more effective interface would give a site a competitive advantage. But if they are all lame and companies are risk averse we find ourselves stuck using browsers originally designed for writing articles for physics journals rather than interactive applications like making reservations.

Perhaps I can help by pointing out that things don't have to be this difficult and that mistakes in navigating sites are due to bad design. I suspect most users blame themselves rather than the tools. You must be more demanding and when you do speak to customer support sympathize with them and ask that they pass the feedback to the designers. They'll probably ignore you but maybe not.

It would be even better if some entrepreneurs see an opportunity (and ignore the past failures). I would rather help find solutions than point out problems.

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