The cost of poor usability

You have the choice of two ways of doing things. You can do it right, or you can do it wrong, pay the cost, then redo it the right way. Which do you choose?

It’s a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how often businesses choose the first path.

A few months back, I saw a great website turn into a poor one (in my opinion, at least). I regularly go to the movies, and my local cinema is a Greater Union. I had the page for that cinema bookmarked, and it showed in a great simple layout a list of the movies currently playing. The times would appear next to each, and you could easily book. A description of the movie appeared on the left, with a small image which linked to a trailer if you wanted to see more. Simple, easy, quick to use.

But then the site changed and merged with the Event Cinemas brand.

Initially this completely broke the local pages. For nearly two weeks I was unable to access the local cinema page, and kept seeing error messages whether I tried the direct link or navigated from the home page. I kept waiting for someone to wake up and realise it was broken, but when that didn’t happen I eventually emailed them. Sure enough, it seemed that they didn’t have a clue, and shortly afterwards the page was fixed – but how many sales were lost during that time? Two weeks with this cinema (and who knows how many others) completely lost in the site?

When the page finally did get fixed, it was far harder to read. More content, a more confusing layout, and less space for the key information I wanted. For the first time in my life I drove off and rocked up at the cinema to buy tickets for a movie that wasn’t even playing yet – because the ‘future date’ hadn’t been clear on the page when I looked at the time.

This week, I received an email from the event Cinema people. It said:

“We’ve listened to your feedback via our website, on Twitter & Facebook and in our cinemas and have been working on a brand new homepage and session times finder.

Both pages have been completely redesigned and rebuilt from the ground up to make finding movie times and buying tickets easier and quicker than anywhere else.

No other Australian cinema chain will have a homepage or session times finder as innovative, simple to use and fast as ours, and it’s all thanks to all the great input you’ve given us.”

Reading between the lines, it seems obvious that people complained – and not just one or two. They changed the site, they made it ‘cooler’ but also more painful to use, and people bitched. Sales suffered, somebody kicked somebody else, and they responded with a new design.

Personally, I’m still seeing little improvement. From the home page it isn’t easy to see what’s on at my local cinema, unless I know what movie I want to see. The local cinema pages don’t seem to have changed at all.

But that’s not the point. The point is, UX should have headed all of this off at the pass. If a design is tested with the audience then you know it’ll work.

I don’t know if the Event cinema guys undertook a good level of testing, or even any testing at all, but from what I’m seeing and experiencing I seriously doubt it.

And I can only just wonder at the money that must have cost them.

Gary Bunker

the Fore