Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bandcamp's checkout process - a very good design


Bandcamp is like an online music store for artists where they can sell their music or merch and promote themselves. Many artists these days are using Bandcamp to set up a unique site to distribute their music on their own, with or without the help of a label or major distributor like iTunes.

The design and structure of each artist’s Bandcamp site is very clean, very simple with clear calls to action for playing tracks, following the band and buying things. But where Bandcamp really excels is in end-to-end flow of purchasing an album (or two).

This past weekend, I wanted to buy the latest album by Pale Lights, a band from NYC (also recommended by The Big Takeover magazine). Directly from the band’s Facebook page, I linked to Pale Lights’ Bandcamp site from which I was able to quickly find the album. On the album details screen, I clicked the large Buy Now link. From the subsequent modal, I named my price (in the conveniently highlighted field) and could either checkout or add to my cart (by way of large, uniquely-colored buttons). I decided to add to my cart, the modal closed and a cart area appeared on the right column of the page - with a nice animation pushing some of the content down a bit. From there, the checkout modal guided me to Paypal and the rest was easy.

It gets better when you buy two albums (from different artists). First off, you must go thru the checkout process multiple times (I assume so the money gets in the right hands) - one for the first artist and another for the second. And you’d expect that after the first purchase, you’d probably have to get your bearings, navigate back to the cart and start over with the second one. That didn’t happen at all - after the first purchase, I was happy to get a confirmation, an option to download it AND a Last Checkout button to begin the final purchase. What could have been a painful experience resulted in a good one where the app guided me along the way through multiple steps.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Purchasing tickets for the David Bowie exhibit

I recently purchased two tickets for the David Bowie exhibit (David Bowie Is) at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). The exhibit looks brilliant - a retrospective of his career including costumes, artwork, photography, etc. And it's been getting rave reviews from folks like Rolling Stone and UK's Guardian. I've been a fan of Bowie since I was a kid - we even named our black lab after him!

However, purchasing tickets for the exhibit via the MCA's website was not great. Interruptions in the purchase flow made the process confusing and time-consuming.

I selected the October 24 date at 6pm, two tickets and clicked Purchase (fairly easy). Now, I'm a new user to the MCA site so I had to create an account. This interrupted the process and it wasn't totally clear why it was necessary.

I did it anyway, expecting to come back to the next step in the process, the cart. Instead, I came back to the earlier page to (again!) select the date, time and quantity. Although I remembered what I originally selected, how very frustrating and annoying for myself and other users to recreate their work.

And after selecting the tickets again, my next step was the cart. But it turned out that I didn't have to reselect the tickets after all - in the cart, I found not two but FOUR tickets. Obviously, my selection was duplicated and I had to then delete two of them, etc.

I can't wait for the exhibit but I hope users don't face the same issues with the user experience I did.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

KEXP's Streaming Archive is simple and intuitive

KEXP is a Seattle, WA public radio station which broadcasts all over the world via its website and mobile app. Their format is consistent and brilliant - their DJs play a lot of the stuff I like including many new and old under the radar artists (Dum Dum Girls, Elbow, Adorable, Stone Roses). And they have weekly shows like Roadhouse (Wednesday night) which specializes in genres like Roots and Americana.

For those who miss any of the weekly programming, KEXP has a new feature - a 14 day streaming archive (currently in beta) where you can search the station's archive according to times, shows or hosts. This takes the place (if I recall) of an older archive feature which was difficult to use. KEXP, though publicly funded, seems to always be investing in the user experience of their listeners  - they recently redesigned their website with better usability and visual design and their iPad app is very engaging.

Overall, the streaming archive user experience is simple and intuitive. Navigating to it was easy - On Demand > Streaming Show Archive. And the options for searching the archive were very clear - by Time, Hosts or Shows and each of the sections has a uses a consistent interaction model. Select an item (for example, Hosts then Cheryl Waters) and it turns yellow indicating it's selected and it also expands to display additional options like show times where you can specify down to the minute where you want the stream to begin. And each level of detail you select also turns yellow so you can easily review what you've selected (yellow and black are part of their palette and they're used effectively). From there, you select a streaming quality and then click the Launch Player button which opens the player in another window.

The only areas for improvement would be...
  • The position of the Launch Player button  - I would suggest moving it to the right and the quality options to the left since that matches the work flow better (I select quality first and then launch the player) and
  • Reference the name of the host when I drill in via Time or Shows. For example, if I select a specific time for the Midday Show (hosted by Cheryl), I expect to see her name and avatar. If I navigate only via Time or Shows, see the host's name would help new listeners draw a connection between the host and the show/time and possibly encourage them to discover more programs for that host.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Merge's responsive design and adding items to a wish list

Merge Records is an independent record label based in North Carolina and started by Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan of the band Superchunk in 1989. I got to see them live for the first time in September at the Hideout Block Party in Chicago (a great show) and may see them again in January at Metro.

Though I thought the last version of the label's site was good, the latest version is really clean and engaging - a lot of photography, large type and several ways to listen to music by way of Listen links and a Merge radio feature. And the site's built responsively which means it reacts and scales depending on your device's resolution - this makes for a consistent user experience from laptop to tablet to phone without having to download and install an app (although they already have a good mobile app).

Browsing and purchasing music on the site is also good. With browsing, the links to New Releases, Shop and a search box make it easy to find new stuff. In terms of purchasing (I pre-ordered Hospitality's Trouble), the overall flow is better than expected with plenty of feedback when items are added/removed from a cart, large buttons to proceed to checkout/continue shopping and a good step-by-step process.

The only area for improvement would be for wish lists. In order to add anything to a wish list, you must be logged in (sure being taken to a log in page interrupts the experience but I see why it's necessary) but when I wanted to add the upcoming reissue of Nixon's Lambchop, I was asked to log in but the album was not automatically added to the wish list. I had to start over (like the site forgot why I was logging in) and search for the album and go thru the process again.

Additionally, when I finally added Nixon to the wish list and continued browsing the site, it wasn't clear how to get back to my wish list later - there isn't any visible link to a wish list and i couldn't get there by going to the cart.

Aside from a few issues with the wish list, it's a very good site and I can't wait to see Superchunk later this month in Chicago.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Eton's FRX3 American Red Cross is intuitive, ergonomic

Who says a good UX can only come from digital music products? Eton's FRX3 American Red Cross is an award-winning radio which provides a laundry list of features in a very intuitive and ergonomic way.

Although the radio comes with a small instruction manual, I didn't need it very much (except for understanding battery life, charging options and Alert mode). For the most part, it's a 'walk up and use' experience, not needing any training for first time use. I was able to figure our most of the other features quickly and on my own.

As far as ergonomics, the device is comfortable and doesn't require a lot of physical effort. The knobs for volume and tuning are easy to rotate and large, with notches to make them non-slip in bad weather and in the perfect spot while holding the device with both hands (my index finger and thumb were naturally right there!). And the crank used to charge the FRX is accessible, simple to rotate with its handle on the end and lightweight without feeling cheap. It even has a cranking sound to give users some feedback that, yes, it's working. Other buttons for power, charging modes have large targets and are located on the front of the device.

I can't wait to use the FRX3 for our next camping trip or during a storm.