Content Strategy, Hearing Aids

The user experience doesn’t stop at the nav

If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely because you A) know me and want to hear what I have to say about content strategy and user experience design or B) found it by searching for some variant of “hearing aid reviews” on Google. Never let it be said that I don’t understand my audience. But until now, I haven’t been able to speak to the interests of both audiences at once. UNTIL NOW.

I’m doing some research to prepare for an upcoming talk at Busan Design Week in Korea, and found myself at the HTC website. Imagine my surprise when I see this:

Hearing aid compatibility! In the nav! This company is so committed to making hearing aid compatible products that they want to market this capability on the homepage of their website.

Now, if you’ve ever bought a hearing aid before (and, if I know my audience, I can safely say that half of you hope you will never need to, and the other half are trying to do so right now and it’s the bane of your existence) you know that hearing aids don’t work very well with phones. I have a well-rehearsed routine if I ever have to take a call on my mobile that involves removing my hearing aid and hooking it over my thumb. Also, please never call me. That’s why God invented text messaging.

But the promise of having a phone that would work with a hearing aid is a good sales pitch. I’m intrigued. Until I get to this page (click to embiggen):

Um. What?

Here’s my question: Will your phone work with my hearing aid? In no way does this page actually answer my question.

Because I make websites, I know exactly how this happened.

There was a meeting in which everyone agreed that it was important, and valuable, and responsible, that HTC showcase its hearing aid compatibility. Negotiations ensued, and it was decided that Hearing Aid Compatibility would have its very own place in the nav.

Someone set out to make a wireframe for this page. This person was told that there would be some text on the page, and a table of ratings information. This person mocked up a generic page to represent this information (put text here, put table here) and then went about feeling very user-centered and accessible because of the attention given to the disabled.

Someone else (perhaps the engineer or business owner responsible for hearing aid issues) was asked to provide the content. This person knows an awful lot about technical standards for compatibility, but perhaps not much about writing for a reader. The content got populated in the CMS, and everyone felt good about it.

Except me.

No one ever came back to ask if the content that got published actually met the user’s needs. Someone defined a requirement that — in essence — said “have a navigation category for hearing aids.” It didn’t say “ensure that our hearing impaired customers can determine which product will best meet their needs.”

The user experience doesn’t stop at the nav. If the content doesn’t answer the user’s question, you’ve failed.


18 thoughts on “The user experience doesn’t stop at the nav

  1. It’s really nice that they even recognized that hearing aid users exist. None of my previous phone manufacturers obviously did – and Apple doesn’t for sure in my 3GS. Nobody makes anything to work with the phones and hearing aids (I already have an ear bud in my ear, thank you) and it’s a huge pain in the rear.

    The content on the HTC site does leave a lot to the imagination – as in I imagine that’s meaningful in some way to an audiologist or somebody equally seriously specialized. Perhaps all that fine print might offer some assistance, but nobody reads stuff like that on the web. Even after reading it for the sake of UX research, I’m still clueless.

    My hearing aid goes in my shirt pocket when the mobile phone rings.

  2. Kenny Schiff says:

    Your point regarding answering the “user’s question,” is well made and right on. Spend a few minutes trying to find answers for just about anything (for things technology, but also things not), and you will quickly find yourself at destinations where the content providers aren’t closing the loop (or going back to check if they did).

    P.S. BTW, I’m in the camp that found you because of googling “hearing aid reviews,” but have also stuck around because of your UX point of view… and since I own an HTC device (a Nexus One), and am considering getting HAs… this is all interesting stuff to me

  3. It’s really common practice to sound like you care about accessibility.

    Something interesting, here in Brazil, is that Government Agencies are forced by law to have their websites accessible.

    If they, as a Government agency, have the exact same care described in your post, now imagine a private company.

  4. What a nice summary Karen of what a bad user experience is, and why designers must NEVER stop at ‘good enough.’ Thanks for bringing attention to an important consideration of UX and navigation, which is a link to something is not by itself an end to the means, and content (and context) is always king.

  5. John Warren says:

    As a UX Architect here are Carlson Marketing, the buck would have stopped with me. A good UX person should be asking the right UX questions well before the wireframes are made, at about the time it was decided the content was important. In this case, as you have so eloquently pointed out, the questions were not asked and everything that followed was done as a task on a “to do” list.

    I’m surprised they went with a web page and didn’t just make all the info available as a .PDF!

    • The PDF of course being the information distribution channel of choice for most hearing aid manufacturers. Why provide information in an useful web-centric way when you can just repurpose those brochures from the doctors’ offices.

      Just for fun I decided to take a look at the iPhone’s approach to marketing accessibility:

      While not a comprehensive listing of how hearing aids interact with the phone, it definitely does a better job of selling the offering for deaf and hearing impaired customers.

      Something is going to break on this front… right, Karen?

      • Karen McGrane says:

        I love that the first thing Apple highlights is closed captioning — have you ever tried to rent a CC movie from the iTunes store? The selection will remind you of trying to rent a movie from a desultory shelf of VHS cassettes at a gas station, circa 1986.

  6. Great post. I’ve seen this happen again and again. Usually, I think there’s one culprit — either the budget or the timeline is too short. So we end up pushing up what amount to screenshots of charts rather than taking the time to code them into the page. Or we create pages like this one. Good find…

  7. First of all, I have to say I’m a proponent of useable design (as a web designer myself) and agree that yes, if you’re going to present information (particularly as a business, hoping to sell your product) then you may as well make it easily accessible and digestible.

    Now, here comes the ‘but,’ and that is that as a technically minded person, I would imagine that although you didn’t like that page, you managed to work out what it was saying. It took me a minute at most to read and understand that information and, putting myself in the unfortunate position of having to determine compatability of phones with hearing aids, determine what phone would best suit me.

    Yes, the text was blabbering on and there wasn’t a star rating that easily allowed the reader to see how well each model conforms to the ANSI standard, but at the same time I wouldn’t say it was totally indiscernable. Even those people who aren’t used to reading W3C draft specs (!) on a regular basis could, I’m sure, work out what those couple of paragraphs meant.

    I’m not implying that we shouldn’t make web-content useable, nor that this page couldn’t be improved for quicker reading/digestion, just that there’s a difference between making something useable and dumbing-down everything on your website. The page needed to convey technical information and give a background to the specifications that those phones complied with.

    People aren’t stupid, most of them had to read VCR manuals back in the 90s, and they were far more technical than this example 🙂

    • Karen McGrane says:

      I’m more technical than most people, it’s true. But that’s no reason to let HTC off the hook. I don’t believe that the average hearing aid shopper should be expected to “work out” what that table means. Most people are not technically-minded, and will not waste time trying to decipher complex text. They leave.

      HTC is in the business of trying to sell its products. You don’t do that by forcing people to wade through a VCR manual, but by solving a problem in people’s lives. This is a failure — not just in being accessible or user-centered, but also in achieving its business goal of selling more phones.

    • Hmm. To be honest, Paul, I suspect that most people didn’t read VCR manuals. The single-sheet quick start insert, perhaps. But the manual? Probably not.

  8. Paul Eustice says:

    I’d love to know upon what you base that assumption Simon. Life experience tells me that if someoneone needs to know something then they will not simply give up after ten seconds of trying because it isn’t immediately clear, but instead attempt to use their brainpower.

    People aren’t stupid. I think that if you were to give this page to a group of people and ask them to tell you whether an M4 rating is better than an M3 rating most would be able to tell you after a short amount of time had passed.

    Comments like ‘Most people are not technically-minded’ aggravate me slightly, because it tars the average person as an idiot. This was not a technical document, just lengthy. Life is full of complexities and humankind has not evolved to such an advanced state by skipping anything of slight difficulty.

    If someone visits the HTC website with a desire, nay need, to know about compatability of phones and hearing aids, I don’t think they’ll simply give up. I’d love to do a user test on the page to see whether I’m right. Another point to note is that many visitors will likely have an understanding of the ANSI standard beforehand – in which case the information is actually very easy to discern; it’s tabular.

    Again, I’m not saying things shouldn’t be designed well and made clear to read…we’d all be out of a job otherwise. I’m just not so sure people are leaving this page in droves because they’re all too stupid or lethargic to read some text.

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  10. Very true, I like how you’ve covered this topic with a real example, industry knowledge and wit.

    I work with web sites as well. It’s amazing how often this disconnect occurs. Even more amazing how difficult it is to correct once it’s published.

  11. I’m so glad I stumbled on this post, as it made me aware that many people with hearing aids may not be familiar with the ANSI standard, which most of my hard of hearing deaf friends call the M/T rating system. Since I was aware of the ratings, it took me a little while to understand why this chart would be hard for some. (My first reaction was – how cool – they’ve got all the info in a simple chart!) So it seems that two things are needed – better education on the standards and better navigation. Thanks again for pointing out obvious (I mean this sincerely, not sarcastically). Sometimes those of us who aren’t newbies to hearing loss forget how overwhelming it can be.

  12. Pat Callahan says:

    Some thoughts:

    Has anyone given thought to the idea that your next hearing aid streaming/FM/remote control device should also be your cell phone. I want a cell phone that receives FM 76 or 216mhz, pairs with just about anything and feeds sound to my hearing aids directly over an open standard wireless link. While you’re at it throw in a remote start for my car, an am/fm radio and something to turn the lights on and off. Is that too much to ask? My pockets are getting full.

    How many of us go for the best hearing aids: 6000-7000 range. A million, Two million? If there’s at least a million of us, at 6000 a pop, that’s at least 6 billion USD. You could do a LOT of really good design work with 6 billion in sales. So where is it? Tell my why I have wear your dorky streamer on a cord around my neck.

    Microsoft is pretty good at listening to their customers. Do they know how many of their customers are deaf and hard of hearing ? Should we tell them?

    Apple puts out amazing stuff. Just ask them. They’ll tell you. So will their fans. I wonder when they’ll discover hearing loss.

    Patents expire!

    • Pat, I’m with you.

      I have Resound Alera 61 which I specifically chose because of wireless capabilities. In general am very happy with the Aleras; however, the bluetooth/wireless capabilities are not reliable enough to use regularly and a tighter integration with smartphone would make tremendous sense. I’m a technology professional, and I have given up on Resound’s phone clip (I have an Android smartphone) because I find the connectivity process clunky, and in spite of the clips’ small size, there’s really no good way to wear it. This is a problem that needs solving.

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