Monthly Archives: February 2008

Have we done something wrong? Yes

I received an email from CD Wow this week with the subject line ‘Have we done something wrong?‘. The short answer is yes, but the problem is their over-active marketing, not their otherwise excellent service.

Here’s their email:


It is true, I’ve not purchased anything from CD Wow for around 3 months. But the reality is that it isn’t because I’ve suddenly started shopping elsewhere. Lack of recommendations and inspiration rather than cost has been the main reason my purchasing has dried up.

I seem to receive an email from CD Wow almost every other day. Each of these emails is a price-led campaign (i.e. “Chart CDs from GBP2.99”) that appears to assume I’m ready to purchase anything as long as the price is right (maybe I’m in the minority).

CD Wow are a stack them high, sell them cheap warehouse, I acknowledge this and this is why I’ve used them in the past. I go to CD Wow because I have something I want to buy, I don’t ever go there to get recommendations or inspiration.

I can understand that a company whose success is based on low-price, may think that the reason for my “disloyalty” is that I’ve found a cheaper supplier. But even if this were the case, filling my inbox with mailshots isn’t going to ingratiate me to their service. Irregular, one-off emails are far more likely to work than the twice or thrice weekly barrage I receive from them.

The simple reality is, if you send me too many emails I won’t look at any of them! Their continual barracking emails about price are cheap, unsophisticated and as likely to annoy (as it has done me) as they are to lead to new sales.

The act of barraging me with emails is what they’ve done wrong. I will purchase a CD when I am good and ready, not when Britney Spears is only GBP1.99!

Thankfully CD Wow do include a ‘remove me from this email list’ feature. But I would never have opted in to receive these emails. So CD Wow must be employing an opt out of marketing drivel registration process. As per my previous email, The opt in opt out dance, these are sly tactics that may please marketeers, but don’t create strong customer relationships.

So what is the sum result of CD Wow’s marketing? Prior to receiving this last email, I would have continued to ignore the emails and if asked, I would have recommended their website for good deals and good service. Now that their continual emails have forced me to sit back and think about what they are doing, I doubt I’ll use them again and I certainly won’t recommend them to the uninitiated. Good work marketing department – maybe they should focus their efforts on creating a good customer experience rather than traditional marketing.

I think I’ll go and unregister now.


Prototyping and iterating in school

I don’t recall being taught about prototyping or iterating while I was at school. Shouldn’t these two fundamental aspects of designing/developing anything get taught in school? (maybe they do now – it is 17 years since I left secondary education!).

So many facets of our lives would benefit from a change of focus from the ‘first past the post’ approach to finding a solution.

Iteration teaches us that it is okay to fail, that everything you do doesn’t have to be successful providing you learn lessons from the experience. The playful, fail-free, creative core of prototyping and iterating surely should be taught to all.

Lightbox usability

Modal dialog boxes, i.e. windows/dialogs that once opened must be closed before the user can continue, have always been a bit of an usability no-no.

The biggest problems being that the user either doesn’t notice the modal dialog has appeared, or doesn’t realise that it requires their attention before they can continue.

During usability testing I’ve seen first-hand the frustration that can be caused by modal dialog boxes. Thus I’ve always diligently tried to define interaction solutions to avoid/minimise the need for modal dialogs. But the clever Javascript Lightbox code seems to have put an end to these problems.


As you can see from the above example on the BBC’s site, the Lightbox technique leaves the user in no doubt what they need to do before they can return to the main window.

I haven’t yet conducted any usability testing on this kind of Lightbox dialog, but my guess is that it will test far better than traditional modal dialogs.


I see that Jakob Nielsen named the Lightbox his “interaction design technique of the year” in his Year’s 10 Best Application UIs 2008. Nice to get there before the Dane.