Browsing articles in "technology reviews"
Jan
16

An Open Letter to am/pm

My car has been running on empty for almost two days now, I seem to notice that I do this a lot and I chalk it up to my experiences at gas stations as to a reason why I let my life be possibly hindered by running out of gas rather than to take ten minutes and fill up. Below is just one of these experiences that shape this consumer behavior.

I’m pretty busy today dodging from salon appointment to home to do some work in time to get back out on the road to get to a meeting. I have been running on empty in the car for two days, so I decide to stop at the am/pm on the corner of McClintock and Southern in Tempe, AZ to get some gas quickly before I head back home.

I’m not a real big consumer of am/pm because they seemed to be a leader in a movement I noticed a few years ago where gas stations started charging their customers extra to pay by debit or credit to cover their fees from credit card companies to process these cards. Thanks guys. Anyhow, so I stop in to this station because it was close by and recently completely renovated and I thought I’d check out if the experience had gotten any better. I pull in, and I notice flaw #1.

Flaw 1: Poor support column placement.

When I go to get out of my car, there is a support column RIGHT where I would open my door out to. So even though I parked a decent distance from the pump, I still can barely get out of my car. I manage to squeeze out of my car door and go to start filling up. I notice Plus #1.

Plus 1: Pay at pump, yaay convenience for me.

The pumps now take cards at each station instead of at the main pay column in the middle of the pumps. This is helpful to me because I don’t have to go to the pay column, stand in line to pay, etc. I also don’t have to go inside. So I enter my card details, agree to pay the extra fee to use a debit card. I go to the pin pad and there’s a flat label that says Yes and a flat label that says No next to the push button number keys. I assume I push 1 for yes and 4 for no. I push 1 for “yes” and it goes to the next screen, a.k.a. Flaw #2.

Flaw 2: Don’t up-sell me when I just paid you a bunch of money to already do something I think should be standard.

The next question is, “Do you want to buy a car wash?” Ok, I get this, you’re trying to upsell me. You want to offer me a added bonus that I would enjoy. Great, but don’t offer this to me when you just charged me for something I think should be standard when I purchase from you. I can appreciate your gesture out of context as my car is dirty, but I really don’t have the $ or the time.. also you never told me how much extra it would be so no I’m not going to say yes. Here comes flaw #3.

Flaw 3: Inconsistent interface outcomes.

I push four for “no”… the pump beeps at me but the screen to upsell me the car wash is still there… I push four again… this time two beeps from the machine but still nothing happens to get me through the payment process on the screen. Why when I pushed 1 for “yes” it worked but now when I want to use 4 for “no” it won’t? Is this a shitty way to make people have to buy a car wash, do I have to just to pump my gas? So now I think my pump is broken. Shit. Just as I move to get back into my car and go to a different gas station, here comes a guy that has a blue polo on. I’m like oh what’s this guy want? He’s about to be flaw #4.

Flaw 4: Sales guy disguised as customer support.

He’s a decent looking guy, looks trust worthy and decent so I’m not thinking that I’m going to get kidnapped or mugged by talking to him. He smiles, taps on my window (which has some dings in it) and says, “You know, we can fix your windshield for free today if you like.” What? Ok, nothing is for free. I look at him puzzled (and a bit annoyed that he’s selling me while I’m having trouble with the pump) and retort, “What’s the catch, nothings for free?” And he says, “Well you have insurance, probably full coverage or glass coverage, you pay a premium every month that isn’t used.” and he continues, “Since Arizona is a “Driver not a fault state it’s automatically covered in your premium every month.” Ok, what the hell did he just say? Is he trying to sell me a premium monthly service, is he trying to say that it’s already covered in my insurance, don’t I have to pay the deducible before insurance will cover it? I just get more confused and then realize I’m not even HERE for glass service. I say, “Look I’m really not interested, I’m really busy and I’m just trying to get some gas but this pump doesn’t work it just keeps trying to sell me a car wash that I don’t want.”

This one could have been a plus (just like the car wash), but the way it was handled just felt wrong. You’re right those dings in my window bother me, and yea I do want to get them fixed easily and cheaply but they don’t bother me enough to go to an auto-shop. But don’t say things a free when people know the money comes from somewhere. I would have been much more inclined to talk to him about doing it today (if I weren’t so busy) or at a later date if he would have told me more about the service and how little it would cost since they work with my current insurance to take care of the  cost.

Also, tell your sales people to approach people while they’re waiting for gas to be pumped after they’ve finished the transaction with the pump. It was so hard to listen to him while I’m trying to figure out why the pump won’t work. But lets get back to the story…

He says “Oh, I see this problem all the time, let me help.” Incoming Flaw #4.

Flaw 4: If you know something is broken, for the love of God fix it.

This is another situation where it would be a plus if he were just offering help , but he sees this issue all the time, why don’t they just fix it? How many customers does it take to drive away with a bad system before you stop to fix it? I understand if only a few people have this issue, but for the sales guy to notice that he helps people with this issue all the time and then to not fix it.. what the hell.

So, I accept his offer to figure out the “trick” to getting this pump to work. At least it will make him quit trying to sell me a service I don’t even know how it would be paid for. He goes over to the push button interface, and instead of pressing 4 for “no” he actually presses on the flat label “No” and like magic the screen is gone. Flaw #5.

Flaw 5: Inconsistent interface.

Why would all the numerical keys be push button but the “yes” and “no” be completely flat. They weren’t even raised even a little! If you’re going to have buttons to interface with the system, make them look all the same! So, on the next screen comes flaw #6.

Flaw 6: Don’t offer something (pay at pump) that just doesn’t work.

“This card is not accepted.” I look at the sales guy and he says “Eh, that happens all the time too, the card reader doesn’t like some cards, try again.” Flaw #4 strikes again! I slide my card again, and the screen says “Please come inside to pay.”

At this point, I’m over even wanting to buy gas here. I excuse myself from the sales guy and get back into my car, still on empty, to drive to a Shell station several blocks away. Shell an interface I can use (all flat buttons) but charges me for use of my debit card, but at least I can get gas and not be up-sold to every five seconds while I try to figure out an insanely unusable interface.

Apr
1

Pulp Browsers > Browser Wars

Found this little gem the other day on Twitter. For all of us who enjoy Pulp Fiction as much as we hate broswer testing, I bring you… Pulp Browsers.

Feb
1

Links of the Week Vol. 5

A collection of user interface design patterns and trends that are becoming “standard”.

A standard design gallery featuring your not so standard oriental designs.

The perfect carrying case for your new Mac Air.

Great article on selling customers on emotion rather than technology and process.

Scientists create robots that lie to save themselves.

Stickk, a new service real financial motivations for meeting your own goals.

Domino’s BFD builder makes building your favorite pizza a creative experience.

Dec
12

CSS Continued… Part 2:Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

By april.holle  //  technology reviews, XHTML/CSS  //  2 Comments

Making the web cleaner, one project at a time…

Remember the Cascade To Reduce Selector Use
Try a minimalistic approach to the number of ids and selectors you create. Use the cascade to your advantage by creating child elements of your current class instead of creating a whole new class to describe what you want that additional element to do. So for instance, you have a main body area, and in that area you have a unordered list that has a new list item style. You can code for this one of two ways. You could make two separate selectors (one for the main content area and one for the ul) and have these be totally unrelated to each other and have to reference the ul selector every time you create a ul in that content area, or you could do this:

#contentMain {float: left; width: 660px; padding: 20px;}
#contentMain ul {list-style: disc;}
#contentMain ul li {padding-bottom: 5px;}

This allows you to declare only the <ul> in your xhtml instead of <ul class="ulMain">. This keeps your code really clean and cascading down from the parent class is great because you’re not stuck using those styles everywhere for each ul. This is extremely handy when your dealing with user entered content from content management systems because they don’t have to remember they have to apply particular styles to these elements during development or even worse, when the client is entering the content themselves.

Don’t be afraid to style base xhtml elements, you can always go back and make it specific to a parent selector, or even add a selector to it if they really are necessary.

Create Reusable Selectors
If you notice yourself reusing a lot of css calls in every single selector you create you may want to make a reusable base class. Got a lot of elements that need to float left? Create:

.floatLeft {float: left;}

Then just double up your selectors to reduce the number of times you have to declare the float: left; CSS call in your stylesheet.

<div id="contentMain" class="floatLeft"> </div>

You can create reusable classes for all kinds of things, aligns, floats, widths, etc.

Make Your Classes Carpool
Doubling up your classes can really give you an upper hand when you have elements that need multiple reusable selectors. Instead of creating a selector that will change one aspect of a current class, try doubling up your classes instead.

.product {width: 150px; color: #666;}
.floatLeft {float: left;}

<div class="product floatLeft">Product details here.</div>

Minimize CSS Class Footprint Using Shorthand
You can shorten up your css calls per selector by taking advantage of some of the great efficiency built right into CSS. To help you remember margin and padding short hand use the word: TRouBled. The uppercase letters stand for Top, Right, Bottom, Left, so for instance you’re declaring padding for an element:

p {margin: top right bottom left;}

or you can even shorten it to two entries if your top-bottom and left-right margins are the same, like:

p {margin: topbottom rightleft;}

Another call that is really handy is the font call. So instead of:

p {
font-style: italic;
font-variant: small-caps;
font-weight: bold;
font-size: 1.2em;
line-height: 1.6 em;
font-family: Arial, Verdana, San-Serif;}

you get:

p {font: font-style font-variant font-weight font-size/line-height font-family;}

Another smaller short hand notation is three value hex color codes. So for instance instead of #cc0000 you can do #c00.

Dec
8

Letters from Bar Camp…

I had a GREAT TIME at the 2008 Phoenix BarCamp today! I was a little… OK maybe more like VERY nervous about having to stand up in front of people and tell them about things that I might have some expertise in. But once I saw that everyone else was just as informal, I got into the grove of things. All the discussions were very informative, some of them so much so they were over my head, but thats ok!

I’ll just go over some of the great points some of the speakers had regarding their topics and discussions. Anyone that was there, feel free to pipe in regarding what you thought was interesting, points I missed, etc.

……………………………………………………………………

Pam Slim author of Escape Cubical Nation started off the day speaking about how growing start up companies can avoid becoming the cubical corporate environments that the entrepreneurs came from to begin with. There was a fairly voiced concern from the business owners in the room regarding how to avoid becoming that which they didn’t want to employed by to begin with.

Pam offered a simple common sense approach to really keeping the soul to your company, meet and get to know your employees. That a business owner should know what his/her employees really want to get out of their time with the company, and to realize there really isn’t any binding contract for these employees to be invested in your company if you don’t return their investment by investing in your employees. She mentions that open, honest communication is key to this relationship between employee and employer.

To really spend the time to know what each of your employees is interested in and their personal investment and interest in your company. She says to build on what your employees want to learn and do, this will enforce trust in you and foster a real value of your company to your employees instead of merely being a “job”. This will help take the pulse of your company’s true interests and values from the ground up.

Understand that perhaps some of your current employees final goals in their career may mean starting their own business, or moving away from your company in some other way. Foster this growth in your employees, perhaps once they have broke out on their own they’ll send business back your way, or other potential employees that will be a great fit for your company. Make sure you aren’t buying into the mafia mentality of you’re either with us or against us, and if you leave you’re against us for sure.

Open, honest communication allows for huge growth potential in your company when your employees are allowed to honestly express their ideas and true feelings on company projects and directions. Instead of wasting six months on a dumb idea, Fred over in development, will simply be able to express… “you know that’s not the brightest idea, but I’ve been toying around with this other thing and I think it might work…”. Don’t make yourself or your employees “check their soul in at the door”, make sure everyone is in agreement that all your companies practices align with your company’s overall goals and values.

 ……………………………………………………………………

Derek Neighbors from Integrum Technologies spoke regarding rapid business growth and how your company can live through culture changes from creative culture to command culture and back again.

Derek started out with a recap of Integrum’s rapid growth due to new projects and contracts that they were taking on at a very rapid pace at the very beginning, and that when you loose sight of your company’s core values things can get messy VERY fast.  They had become a beast of command and control with sour employees.

So, once they finally realized that they had become the beast that they tried to run away from, they revisited their core company goals and values. Then they took the pulse of their employees, finding out what really motivated them every day to get out of bed and drive to work, and how those motivators aligned with the company’s goals and values. Aligning your employees goals and the company goals will make each teammate personally responsible for their part within the company, allowing for self-motivation and interest in the company as a whole. Making you less responsible to your immediate manager and more responsible to the company as a whole. Derek says, “Sometimes people have a hard time figuring out who’s the boss when they visit the office.”

Derek sighted that these key communication between employee and employer was an extremely important part of really getting back to their creative, coordinated company that they had originally envisioned. Today, Integrum is a team of eleven VERY talented, VERY driven close-nit people that get things done and done right. But, without that reassessment of their goals and how their employees fit within those goals was key to that success.

I asked Derek, as part of a fast-growing company, what can I do as an employee to help foster that feeling of a creative culture instead of a command culture. Derek’s advice was to share my opinions and ideas candidly, build team activities that bring us closer together as a whole, and become entrepreneurial within my own company (build activities to promote and foster teams and the company within itself).

Dec
3

I too bought an iPhone

As an early Christmas gift to myself I went ahead and bought an iPhone. I’ve been debating for quite a while about plunking down the change for one, but eh, there just really isn’t a better phone out there right now, and there isn’t going to be for a while. So, why not.

I LOVED the fact that I didn’t have to spend a ton of time in the AT&T store to set it up, I just bought the phone, and left. That’s right… no questions, no paperwork, no signatures, no plan upsale, no blah blah blah. It was nice, since I’m a geek and social interactions are difficult for me to manage sometimes. ;)

I come home, unwrap it, plug it in, and AWAY WE GO! My pro version of Vista didn’t seem to have a hard time shaking hands with the Apple device, and iTunes recognized what I was trying to do RIGHT away. I went through the really simple steps of selecting a plan, transferring my existing Verizon number (waaay easier than I thought it was going to be), and synced up with all my music. DONE!

The only smug thoughts I had were the fact that it doesn’t sync with my Firefox or Thunderbird. :(

After using it during the weekend I noticed the headphone jack flaw that everyone was griping about, but after a quick trip to Best Buy to pick up a headphone adapter for $7 I was back in business with my audio connection in my car and my Sony earbuds I love so much.

I have since handed over my 30GB iPod to Kaleb to use in his new car and I use my iPhone for all my music needs now.

I LOVE the map feature, I can quickly search for businesses, get directions, and all that with a couple of clicks. So I don’t have to call Kaleb asking where the nearest PetSmart is from Rural and Broadway. ;)

The only issue I’m having with the iPhone right now at all really has little to do with the phone itself. AT&T coverage seems to be spotty in the valley, especially in front of my computer in my home office. :| What gives?

I think it’s interesting that AT&T and Cingular’s whole advertising campaign is “More bars in more places” and I can’t even get a good signal in my house in a super urban area. :( BOO!

But besides the coverage, everything is going great, I’ll keep you posted as I use it more and get used to some of the features it offers. :)

Dec
1

Lots to Do This Week

I just wanted to make sure you were invited to all the awesome web and design happenings this week in Phoenix!

Tues, Dec 4th – Refresh Phoenix

Refresh Phoenix meets every first Tuesday of the month to discuss current internet issues and trends. The topics range from becoming your own boss to css frameworks to make your work more efficient. This month the topic is results from the 2007 Web Design Survey that was put out by A List Apart. This should be a very interesting conversation since there really has never been a survey of the internet industry.

When: Tuesday, December 4th 6:30 – 9:30 pm (come early to get some networking in)

Where:
Inza Coffee
8658 East Shea Blvd, Scottsdale

Fri, Dec 7th – 16th Annual AIGA Art Auction

AIGA Arizona is holding it’s annual Art Auction event in Downtown Phoenix at MonOrchid Studios during December First Friday! AIGA Arizona is pleased to present over 100 original works of art (paintings, mixed media, photography, digital art, sculpture, jewelry, and more) displayed on sale in live and silent auction formats. Plus bid on a selection of special packages that include dining, entertainment and recreation. This year’s art auction will also feature the Mohawk Show.

When: Friday, December 7th 6-10 pm

Where:
MonOrchid Studios
214 E. Roosevelt Street, Phoenix

Sat, Dec 8th – BarCamp Phoenix

BarCamp is an ad-hoc un-conference born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos and interaction from attendees. All attendees must give a demo, a session, or help with one. This is great because you can both speak and be an audience member.

When: Friday, December 8th 9 am – 5 pm

Where:
University of Advancing Technology (UAT)
2625 W. Baseline Road, Tempe

Nov
27

Geeky Christmas Gifts

Alright so what do all those geeks out there want?

I’ve rounded up a sweet list of the things I have been hearing around the office… and around the web.

For the Apple Geek: If they don’t already have one, I’d say the iPhone or the new Touch would be right down their alley..

For the Designer Geek: What’s says designer geek more than a documentary about type!? Buy them the Helvetica DVD set, or if they already have that, maybe some other designer swag from Veer.

For the Gamer Geek: I’d recommend picking up one of the three most talked about games of the year, Halo 3, Orange Box or BioShock. If you want to go big time, pick them up a Wii or an XBox 360, which ever one they don’t have already.

For the Dirty Geek: Know that geek who is so busy gaming or building applications he has no time to clean? Check out the Scooba from the iRobot, the same people who make the roomba vaccum robot.

For the Green, Birkenstock-Wearing, Social Cause Geek: One Laptop per Child XO Laptop is a GREAT gift for this geek, not only do they get a nifty laptop, but a child in need gets one as well.

Nov
5

Refresh Phoenix: Blueprint CSS

By april.holle  //  technology reviews, things to do, XHTML/CSS  //  No Comments

Come on over to Inza Coffee House tomorrow night to join me and the crew of Refresh Phoenix as we discuss Blueprint CSS.

Blueprint is a CSS framework by Olav Bjorkoy, which “aims to cut down on your CSS development time.” Matt Heidemann & Matt Gist from Integrum Technologies will talk about their recent work with Blueprint. They’ll show examples of the framework and a project they recently used it with.

See ya there!

Oct
31

ASP .Net 2.0 Login Control Formatting

By april.holle  //  ASP .Net, technology reviews, XHTML/CSS  //  1 Comment

There are sometimes when I truly wonder if designers and developers have it out for me.

Take for instance, the ASP .Net 2.0 login control. The designer wants it to look one way, however the .Net login control call only gives you so many options for style and layout. What is a front end architect to do?!

Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with the knowledge of the view as template option in Visual Studio 2005. The “view as template” option allows you to expand the normal login control code to a more complete view including the table that incapslates all the labels and text boxes.

To get to this magic option, do the following:

  1. open the page with the login control you want to expand
  2. view the page in design view
  3. select the little black arrow to the right side of the control on the page
  4. select ‘view as template’ in the drop down
  5. switch back to the code view and skin to your hearts desire

What is this?

This little blog happens to be the personal ramblings of one April Holle - I'm female, outspoken, webbie, a community evangelist, and Principal of Made Better Studio. Check out the about section for more info.

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