Information Overload

Information has always been around, its everywhere in your daily life. And although the amount is overwhelming, we never think about the consequences of an information overload. The topic struck me this morning as I was reading through my, overload, twitter timeline.

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Well do we really need to design for information overload? Yes and … no. People have always been overloaded with information and filtering that information is what we have always learned to do at school. Look at your course notes, look at a Google search. You’ve been filtering the information around you for years, sometimes without knowing that your mind is applying the filter for you. If two people talk at the same time to you, your mind will try to focus, filtering the things that aren’t relevant to you.

However, information structure is a common and important factor. Your course notes are structured in a way you have defined. Books have a clear structure; your car dashboard is structured in a certain way. The information has been there, but your focus has been drawn to what is (or should be) really interesting. Hence the question, is the information that is presented to me also interesting?

There seems to be a point in the fact that Alvin Toffler introduced the term information overload in his book Future Shock. The stack of information is growing, but our ability to filter is limited and results in a lack of response from the information consumer. Clearly that is not what you want in a business perspective and it explains the interest in business intelligence software that helps the consumer to find the information needed.

Is there no way to design for information overload then? There is, but the key element is not your design, it is the user. As we both produce and consume information in this digital age we can view the problem from two different perspectives. Consumers are in need of personal filters, created by both their own interaction as by predicting their interaction. But filters fail in many occasions to classify all the information correctly. Misclassification is common and is subject to a lot of academic research. It is, for example, found in your automatic Facebook lists or when using wrong twitter hash tags.

Producers are however key to the story as they create the pile of information that is available to you. Imagine that you could enforce the writer of your next e-mail to classify it; or to wait to send the information to you until you have consumed other information. But are you sure his mail is interesting? Twitter is a good example of how you can influence producers to think twice about the content they submit. It limits the amount of characters available and thereby limits the information added to the stream. So why not asking producers to pay for information submission and consumers to pay back if it was relevant? Are you interested in paying 10 dollars to tell anyone about the paper tray being empty? Or would you rather add some paper and tell them about the recent inventory problems in all shops? You would sure get your money back if you’ve saved the business with that insight! In addition there could be an algorithm that determines the amount to pay depending on the information you are willing to submit, asking less for possibly relevant information.

Does it solve the problem? To a certain extend it does, but our human mind is designed to find solutions to everything. Services like “twitlonger” are a good example of how we circumvent the problem and with the correct amount of money you could still spam your business into information overload. Nevertheless it would be a first step in the right direction given the time that is lost by skimming through the overload of information. Think about it, and feel free to add your comment.

Usability review: Kinepolis.be

As of today Kinepolis has launched it’s new website and a new mobile application. In this review I would like to discuss some key issues present in the user centered design and more importantly the usability and consistency of their website.

Kine-What?

Kinepolis as all of you should know is a brand used by the Kinepolis Group for their movie theaters. Their mission is, as stated on their official website, to let people enjoy from a top quality and unique leisure and/or business activity with a customer experience that you can only experience within the environment of Kinepolis. But like any other company their main goal is to earn profits, the value proposition and mission are just a means to an end that also help to define objectives to reach the final goal. Sure they want to give you an unique experience, no doubt about that. But let’s see if their new website provides that customer experience you can only find at Kinepolis.

First impression

I browse to the Kinepolis homepage and immediately notice that the homepage does not center on my 24 inch screen. This is not a big problem in normal occasions but as each section and it’s corresponding color continues it withdraws my attention from the real content. In addition the huge amount of content requires me to scroll.

  • Problem: scrollbar is on the right, content is on the left. A decent gap can be found between them.
  • Problem: there is no search option. Oh wait, there is, it’s at the bottom of the page! Thus it requires me to scroll through the content before I can search for what I really need.

There seems to be a new section with movie posters on top. I remember the same functionality being presented for upcoming, and now finally released Kinepolis application. I need to move my mouse over it before I get to know the functionality. Both tickets can be ordered and information can be retrieved for the movie. Both point me to the same page but to a different tab on the page. Clicking the poster itself doesn’t work, you have to click the text. Why not directing me to the information page when I click the poster?

  • Problem: functionality is not clear and it requires users to specifically click on text before a link works.

Color are key

The internet is a huge and expends every day. Somewhere the information we are looking for is located and therefore focus is important. Colors are crucial as they are the key elements used by an eye, together with size, to distinguish different elements of information. That’s basically why the markers have been invented, to clear our mind of the useless information and locate the useful information. The new colors used on the Kinepolis website do deviate a bit from the old ones. They are well used to separate different sections of the home page and divide it into five parts. By browsing through the website I quickly notice some other things. The buttons on the movie page with the functionality to select a movie have a different color from the ones on the homepage. Additionally, there is no clear difference between the normal state and the hovered state of the buttons. Well, that’s a lie. The shadow fades away, but that’s exactly what shouldn’t happen. Colors or gradients should change.

  • Problem: the coloring is not consistent which can make it difficult for users to navigate quickly.
  • Problem: the color does not change when you hover a button, shadow goes away though.

Where do I get tickets?

This is basically the first question that gets into my mind when I access the Kinepolis side. Aside from getting information on the running hours of a movie it is also the single functionality I use the site for. However there doesn’t seem to be a direct link to a page where I can buy ticket for a movie (except when you move over a movie poster, but that’s not trivial for ‘dumb’ users). Strange for a company that gets a decent percentage of revenue from selling tickets. Even stranger when you think that it is the same company that proposed people to buy tickets before arriving at the movies. It takes me four clicks before I get to the ticketing system.

  1. First I select my movie theater, in my case this would be the venue in Kortrijk.
  2. Then I get a list of all the movies playing there with all the hours.
  3. By scrolling through the list I can find the relevant information.
  4. Then I click the tickets button, but…
  5. I still have to select an hour! Oh wait, I could have selected the hour instantly.

I remember that the movie list was way more condensed in the old system. Why not using the posters here as people can remember an image much faster and better than the name of a movie. In my opinion that’s basically why you would add the section with the movie posters on top of the homepage. Basically there is again a colloring issue  here. The timeline is not clear enough with it’s grey color and the background is to light when you suddenly jump from the frontpage to the movie list. It almost got me blinded. You do want me to be able to look at your movies do you?

Conclusion

The website looks posh (although you can consider that a subjective opinion), has a good look and contains the right information. It lacks however usability and consistency and to me does not prove me the status of Kinepolis, which is in my eyes the Mercedes of the theater experience. I do realize I did not review every single part of the website, but I think I’ve proven that there are some major things to improve to reach the customer experience level they try to attain with their missions statement. Let’s be clear that these things are evaluated by my own perception and that research done with potential users of the website is the only valid way to know the usability and consistency issues.

Does the dress code make you a businessman?

Dress codes have always been part of common business life. They provide a first impression and give you the ability to gain focus. But to what extend is it possible to manage the dress code and it’s functions? I’ll take you trough some thoughts.

First impression

A dress code will influence the first impression you make with your fellow business colleagues. The CEO of Adecco, Patrick de Maeseneire, stated in one of his presentations that at least seven (!) positive facts are needed to make one forget a negative first impression. You can easily imagine that a bad first impression can thus be fatal during a five-minute job application. Respecting these basic principles gives you an advantage, but doesn’t prove your abilities. The principle of authority can also be related to this first impression. It provides you with a clear hierarchy which has to be respected, like for example the relationship between the pilot and the stewards.

Managing dress codes

But it is not because you’re dressed in business, you’re going to be the next best salesperson of your company.  The dress code does not make you a businessman. It will, however, point you in the right direction together with many other aspects. But getting there will only be possible by learning and using your abilities. Once you’re there, it’s your time to think about the way business is done. Dress codes are a perfect way to give an incentive on how you manage, or for whom the product you sell is intended. It’s your time to decide on the dress code.

A dress code doesn’t make you a businessman, but a businessman can make the dress code.

Both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are perfect examples. Jobs changed from an adapted clothing style, which was dependent on the occasion, to the ever-lasting turtleneck, black t-shirt, jeans and sport shoes outfit. In this way he made clear that his managerial and presentation style wouldn’t change, whether he was sick or not. It also proved his no-nonsense way of presenting new products, making us focus on what he is presenting and not on the businessman himself. Gates took another approach at this and mostly showed up in a business suit. But on the occasion of a Windows product launch, he also switched to a casual outfit. Both of these men proved one thing: dress codes give an impression, and managing them makes it possible to switch the focus of the audience.