Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Web usability: Account required

Web usability is about enabling users to achieve their goals with ease, at least not make it impossible to complete a task online. When the Nikon website no longer recognized my account credentials and the password reset function claimed to send an e-mail but I never received any communication from Nikon, I contacted their support using an online form. So far so good, the usability problem started when I received their response.

David D. from Nikon support (why do people no longer have full names?) sent me a message which started with instructions how to respond: “If you have any further questions to our support response, please click the link at the bottom. Hitting reply from your email browser will not reach our group.”

Clicking on the link then brings you to—you probably guessed it—the account login page, and there is no way to respond to the message if you don't have a valid, working account.

I did not get my account restored since I had contacted the wrong Nikon country branch, and rather than forwarding the request to the appropriate support team David sent me the country list to find out how Nikon wants to be contacted.

I have another request into the local support team now, in the same ticketing system, so I really hope that their first response will solve the problem…


  • Hide the complexity of your organisation from the customer. Forwarding a request to the appropriate contact within the company is more efficient than having the customer track down the right contact and submit the same information again.
  • When sending an e-mail message, be prepared to receive a response by e-mail too. Most online support systems can handle e-mail responses and link the response to the support thread with a unique ID in the subject line.
  • Provide an alternate path to address problems with the support website itself. Customers with non-working accounts obviously cannot login to discuss their account problems.

Update: The local support team could easily solve what appears to be a general problem with the online support system that the first team should have been aware about as well.

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Monday, May 16, 2011


Taking a break from teaching

Today I handed in my office keys at Webster University after proctoring the final exam on Web animation.

In 2004 I had started as adjunct professor in the computer science faculty, teaching Web scripting to a small group of business and IT students, which meant refreshing and formalizing my JavaScript knowledge (closures, anyone?) and learning the basics of VBScript, too. Following that I taught several rounds of design principles and Web animation, starting with the ancient Macromedia Flash and slowly upgrading to Adobe Flash CS3 and CS4.

Sharing what I know and learning what I didn't know has been a great experience. Not only did teaching give me reasons to explore various subjects in greater detail and develop new skills, did I gain a better understanding of the American educational system and students' expectations at a smaller private university campus, and get to attend a graduation ceremony at the Konzerthaus in formal academic regalia. Discussing with students and seeing them going from no knowledge to expert level in just a few weeks, then coming back for the next course and (sometimes) even having fun writing code or building Web animations was also highly rewarding. I am equally pleased to often find some of “my” graduates in good positions at companies and institutions around the world.

Now is a good time to take a break from teaching. Webster University no longer offers the full computer science curriculum in Vienna, resulting in fewer courses which I would like to teach, and balancing this with my other personal and professional activities has become increasingly difficult.

I would like to thank first and foremost my students, you have been a great crowd, and the faculty members and staff at Webster University in Vienna for their support, I have learned a lot from you all.

Thanks, and to my students, good luck with your remaining exams!


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