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Agoda in the News

The real test of web site design

The Bangkok Post October 11, 2006

I have had a bad networking week this week, and it has stressed to me how important it is to have a good network set-up both at your end of the system and the client's end. It only takes one anomaly to stop things from happening.

If, for example, you are running a Webmail system and your hosting service changes the need for server authentication, unless that little check box is checked (or not) as expected you will not be connecting to get your mail. My bad week in our office came about because we got new machines. First there was the data move ... then the connectivity changes. When the server arrives this will trigger a whole new set of configuration and security issues.

Connectivity is not my chosen field and I'm planning to get someone in to set it up properly. I don't even want to get started on Outlook Express vs Outlook.

If you have managed to put any code together on your personal or development PC and a server arrives this also means a new round of testing and compatibility checks. There will be version issues, client vs server code issues, security configurations, passwords, groups and other compatibility and interoperability things to sort out.

On the plus side you start to get into a position to start testing the real thing in the real environment. You may find yourself fighting with the email and Internet access setup people however. If you are working on anything that is of any reasonable size then you will want to try for your own development server, at least until you are ready for live testing.

Coincidentally I recently participated in some testing and user evaluation, this time as a "person off the street". The company doing the testing was Agoda, (http://www.agoda.com), primarily a hotel search and booking company with some other travel-related services.

Agoda is consolidating some sites and redefining its overall online image, and to do this it had a number of mock-ups and demo systems. It then asked people to come in and give feedback on the look, feel and operation of each version.

If you have the time, this is one way to get feedback from people who could be potential users of your services. In my case I have booked hotels online before (but not with Agoda), so I know the kinds of things I want to see on such a site. On the other hand, if the person evaluating the system has never booked hotels online then the test becomes one of how easily the web site can be used by anyone to find and book a hotel.

This type of testing also helps to determine how well the site has been designed. Did the user notice certain aspects of the site? Did they understand what different things were about or trying to say, and does the design need to be changed to make it clearer? In one case, an element I dismissed as an advertisement was supposed to highlight a new feature that Agoda will be building up to help people in their decision making. I missed that completely, which either means that I need some adjustments or the site's design does.

When you get conflicting viewpoints don't be overly worried about design - remember that you can't please all of the people all of the time. Designers love to go way out there when they are being creative and this type of feedback and evaluation of your designs will help identify those places where practicality needs a larger nudge. Also be prepared to conduct more than one set of evaluation and feedback sessions. You will have collected all that material in the first pass and made some adjustments. The second pass will help confirm and refine the accuracy of any changes made. In this case you can do a "before" and "after" comparison by checking out Agoda's site now and seeing what it has changed in say a month, or by the end of the year.

Remember that this type of testing is user feedback and the user may not agree with what you think looks good or works well.

Email: jamesh@inet.co.th


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