Lemurs are a clade¹ of strepsirrhine² primates endemic to the island of Madagascar. They’re super cute. Take a look:
God, look at that face. Makes you want to book an adventure excursion to Madagascar so you can pet one³. One way to do that would be through the company, Jacada Travel. They specialize in high-end private luxury tours all over the world. Their travel packages look amazing. But how is their website? Let’s take a look at it using a set of guidelines called usability heuristics.
Heuristics, in the context of user experience, are evaluative principles. We use these principles to assess the usability of a product or website. There are five broad categories for usability heuristics: Learnability, Efficiency, Memorability, Errors, and Satisfaction. Incidentally, a common mnemonic for remembering these categories is “LEMErS”.
Dang, so cute.
I’m going to look at Jacada in terms of my favorite three heuristic criteria: Learnability, Memorability, and Satisfaction.
Probably the most important of the usability heuristics is learnability, that is, how easy the product is to learn. Jacada, at first glance, seems pretty straightforward in this respect. Their website is very simple and modern, with beautiful high-definition images of potential destinations. A large video in the background (a montage of elephants, mountain vistas, tribal ceremonies) auto-plays as soon as you arrive at the site. Right in the center is the call to action, a search box labeled, “Where can we take you?”.
Below the fold is a video that summarizes what the company does. It has controls that illustrate an important component of learnability called mappings. Mappings are the relationship between moving a control and its results in the real world. When I drag the playhead left and right while the video is playing, I go forward and backward in time in the video. When I drag the volume slider up and down, the sound gets louder or quieter, respectively. These are examples of mappings.
The call to action text input field has inner drop shadows, communicating to the user that it can be clicked into. This is an example of affordance, another component of learnability.
Consistency and standards are part of learnability, and one that Jacada fails in a small and annoying way. There is a second search tool in the upper right corner of the fixed sub-header, indicated by a magnifying glass. One would generally expect an input field next to the icon, where the user could type a search term. Instead, there is a button labeled “CONTACT US”. One problem is that the button is the same color as all the other text input fields on the page, so it could be mistaken for an input field itself:
The other problem is there is no other input field next to the magnifying glass icon. So by proximity it seems attached to the “CONTACT US” field. When the user clicks on the magnifying glass, a search input appears and floats below the icon:
Once you click on the icon, the only way to make the search input disappear is to click on a different page. This kind of problem makes the product feel disjointed and confusing, and affects the usability. An easy fix for this issue would be to move the contact link away from the search icon (perhaps join it with the other sub-header links), and add an input field and label next to it.
Another helpful usability heuristic is Memorability. A well-designed website will reduce the user’s memory load as much as possible while using the site. The user should not have to remember information from one part of a flow or dialogue to the next. A great example of this on Jacada is the use of breadcrumbs (a secondary navigation scheme). When a user browses the site and drills down into a particular package, a breadcrumb trail appears that shows where they are, where they’ve been, and how to get back.
This greatly reduces the cognitive load on the user, as they always know where they’re at.
Another feature of Jacada that enhances memorability is the design of the input field labels for the newsletter sign-up. At first the labels are inside the input box, but as soon as the user clicks in the field, the corresponding label pops up above the box. This also reduces memory load, because the user doesn’t have to click out of the box to remind themselves what the input was or what format it should be in. These are small things, but they add up.
One final usability heuristic is Satisfaction. Satisfaction is hard to quantify because it takes many factors into account and can be pretty subjective. Common methods of gauging satisfaction include usability testing and User Satisfaction surveys. An example of a common survey question is, “How likely are you to recommend [product name] to friends or family?” If I were asked this question about Jacada, I would say “very likely”. Other than that secondary search hiccup, I’m satisfied with my Jacada experience. If I am ever in the tax bracket of folks who take private luxury tours, I will surely think of this company. I will go to Madagascar and pet a Lemur.
¹A group of organisms believed to have evolved from a common ancestor, according to the principles of cladistics.
²A suborder of primates that includes the lemuriform primates, which consist of the lemurs of Madagascar, galagos and pottos from Africa, and the lorises from India and southeast Asia.