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DVDs, Usability and Lack of Care for End Users

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!
Looking back some 5, 6, 7 years, do you remember when other media began to take on the look of web pages? Magazine articles with layouts that looked like a masthead/main body/left nav menu combo? T.V. commercials with cursor-like arrows zipping around on them to draw your attention to various things? The rapid and wide assimilation of the Internet into modern life has affected a number of off-line mediums, and this is especially true of DVDs with their menus, quick links to scene changes, advertising bytes and copyright notices.
My husband and I kicked cable television out of our house 5 years ago, but we still have a television set and a nice little collection of DVDs we enjoy. Over the past few years, I’ve been buying the Little House on the Prairie TV series from the 1970s, and have been both frustrated by and very interested in the way the DVD producers have made Usability changes as they’ve successively published the 9 seasons of this long-running show.
In their first DVDs, one was obliged to sit through the opening theme of every episode. Hey, it’s a nice song, but one can only watch those little kids run down the flowery hill so many times! The next button function seemed to have been disabled, forcing the user to fast forward instead which is certainly more time consuming, less convenient. Additionally, the menu was really poorly set up, automatically highlighting the very things the user was least likely to need to click on, forcing the use of an unnecessary number of up and down arrows. The path to get to the next episode on a 4 episode disc, to get back to the main menu or whatever else the user might want to do was made much more complicated than it needed to be.
Over the years, and as successive seasons have been published, the producer has been making Usability improvements. Did they get feedback from users? I have to think they must have. By season 7 we are seeing menus and options that make it extremely easy to ‘use’ the DVDs, and we now no longer have to watch Baby Carrie fall down the hill one more time in order to get to Pa saving the day in Walnut Grove in various heroic ways!
With a long, ongoing project like the publication of a series of DVDs, the producer has the chance to make improvements with each successive effort, but I’ve seen similar productions put out some real duds. One of the seasons of The Waltons, another long-running 70’s show, was released without any disc numbers printed on the actual dics. How is one to know whether they’re about to see John Boy start college at Boatwright University, or Yancy Tucker set fire to the barn? A real oversight on the producer’s part. Yet, the worst Usability issues I’ve encountered have been on one-off DVD releases where, clearly, a rush to get a product out completely leapfrogged the idea that one should have the most care for the experience of the end user.
I’ve got a sweet children’s classic movie from the 1930’s that begins with the most horrific minute long warning about pirating DVDs, complete with scary people, blaring rap music and a dark alleyway – not stuff I’d want to subject children to. You can’t skip over this ad. It comes screaming out of the television as soon as you hit play. Whose bright idea was that?
I’ve got another DVD where you can’t skip past 4 minutes of advertising for other DVDs you might want to buy. Yes, ads are everywhere, but I strongly object to having to watch the same ones every time I turn on this program. I find it annoying enough that the next button function appears to be disabled on all DVDs where the FBI warning and production house logo are concerned, but I shouldn’t have to watch commercials on a DVD. After all, the chief joy of the pause buttons on the first VCRs was that we could finally cut out the commercials! I’d like to see DVD manufacturers showing more consideration for their customers.
Everything Comes Back To How We Make The Web Work
A year or so ago, I remember reading a Bill Slawski post (sorry, Bill, I can’t remember where it was) where he went shopping for a gift and came away wishing that the store would provide a floor map and menu to improve the user experience – his Usability wish list. It seems like when you work on the web, you see room for improvements everywhere you go. Simultaneously, experiences offline can help the small business owner discover ways to make his users’ online experience a better one.
The splash/Flash page seems to me a direct correlation to those next-button-disabled DVD portions. Javascript menus that turn clicking links into a game of now you see ’em, now you don’t are like the poorly devised DVD menus that simply won’t let you zip to where you want to go. Really, anything that obstructs a swift, satisfactory usability experience for your website’s users is likely losing you business.
Usability Experts gather groups of people together to test out web pages, software applications and other types of interfaces so that they can observe how people interact with them. Anything that delays or confuses the user is then addressed by a redesign of how the product functions. You can recreate this situation with your own small business website by asking friends and family to ‘use’ your pages. You can watch them do this, ask them for feedback and make such changes as you discover will make your website more of a pleasure to use. Additionally, you can do a run through of your site yourself, attempting to pretend you’ve never seen it before. Were all the links you needed easily available? Did they go to the right places? Anything broken? Anything taking too long to load or getting in the way of giving the user your pertinent data and sales pitch? Even small improvements in such matters can have a big effect on your bottom line.
It’s the users that keep us all in business. In all mediums, their needs deserve to come first.