A website redesign gone wrong… and then put right

… in my opinion. Postcode Anywhere have been one of my favourite companies for a while now. They provide a great range of affordable web services for doing things like postal address searches and finding the latitude and longitude of a postcode. The services are good, the reliability is good, the documentation extensive and the telephone support exceptional : I think they’ve won awards for just being a great company, and rightfully so.

BUT a few weeks ago they released their new website.

Screenshot of the new Postcode Anywhere website design

I think to truly appreciate how big a step back they’ve taken with this, you needed to have seen their old website, but unfortunately I was too late to get a screenshot of this [DF – since writing they may well have rolled it back – for clarity the new design is khaki and the old design is blueish!]. However, over the weekend, I must have spent at least 10 minutes swearing at the new one.

Amongst its biggest failings is its wizards : they try to walk you through common tasks. The idea is that they make life easier for the user who is unaccustomed to the site. I think that there has been a backlash against wizards for almost a decade now, so I’m a little confused as to why Postcode Anywhere have decided to go this route. In any case most of my frustrations were vented attempting to use one of their wizards that didn’t give me the options I needed to complete my task. And there was no viable alternative to the wizard, which left me completely stuck.

It is stupid to employ a wizard which dumbs down the options to the user with a list of idiot, non-comprehensive options that second guess the user’s task, particularly when that user is a developer, more likely than anyone to want a plain, straight-forward option that doesn’t obfuscate the underlying data.

Apart from this impossible interface, there are few more problems that leapt out at me:

  • Instructions in some wizards that tell the user they can avoid the wizard by clicking a non-existent link (particularly annoying)
  • Account codes displayed as images so that you can’t copy and paste them (something you will certainly need to do if using the web services)
  • Copy on the ‘Become a reseller’ page that tells the user that you really should think about becoming a reseller. Clearly you are, you’ve clicked on the ‘Become a reseller’ link… so how do you become a reseller?… I’m still none the wiser…

And then there’s the new colour scheme. I suppose it’s fairly trendy and the design is in keeping with all things web 2.0, but honestly, khaki and dirty orange? The old site was blue, fresh, exciting (still after 5 years), engaging and truly lovely. These new colours make me feel boxed in and oppressed.

HOWEVER dismayed I was with this website, Postcode Anywhere have displayed a truly admirable quality in starting to hold up their hands and admit they’ve got it wrong. I wrote a pretty disgruntled series of emails to them over the weekend, and got immediate response from their IT Director, Jamie Turner, acknowledging my feedback, that of others, and indicating that they’d be asking their customers for feedback this week with a view to fixing the problems or rolling it back.

Indeed today their customers got an email asking for feedback which said “You may have noticed that we’ve launched a new website recently to reflect our new branding and, to be honest we’ve had mixed feedback…”, and as I was writing this blog post I got an email from Jamie Turner telling me they have decided to roll it back. Hurray!

So, what have we learnt kids? That’s right :

  1. Always, always, always test your new ideas with your users, however bright you think they are.
  2. If you get it wrong, admit it, listen to your customers, and put it right.

Lesson over.

2 Comments

  1. Posted 8 May 2008 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Except that asking your customers isn’t the way to find out what the problems are. If you ask people, what they say isn’t reliable. What you need to do is get them to *show* you what’s wrong.

    That means observing usability tests:
    http://www.whiteoctober.co.uk/usability-testing-on-a-shoestring_41.html

  2. Corinna
    Posted 9 May 2008 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Think you should pass this advice on to the Labour party…

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