How not to do it – web usability

January 24, 2007 9:19 pm Published by

It’s not until you try and use a website that its sheer user-unfriendlyness can come to light. One of the big examples is the website of RENFE, the Spanish railway company, which although it looks good and is translated into a handful of languages, completely fails as a useful tool.

My girlfriend and I are planning to go to Valls on Sunday to attend the annual cal̤otada festival, and since it will involve two of my favourite pastimes Рeating and drinking Рwe thought we would be better off if we took public transport rather than drive. The problem is that the website has never been designed with the idea of getting information out in a way that actually anybody to anyone. In fact it is a simple question of marketing; what does the train using population want when they use the website?

A simple question, but one that has been messed up badly. The site is subdivided into different areas of operation which are imposible to understand – why would I know whether I want one service or another?

The practical upshot of this is that the site may tell you that journey from A to B is impossible, simply because you’re in the wrong area of the site. If you go into another section you’ll find it is possible – I first noticed this when finding the timetable for a journey I have travelled before, only for the website to come up with a blank.

Why was it so difficult to design the RENFE website to be actually useful? Did anyone ever site down and think how customers were likely to request info? And why bother translating it when a tourist is even less likely to know which train service they need for any given journey.

It takes a special talent to do this.

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This post was written by David


  • Kafkis says:

    Hi! Just found this blog through Technorati.

    Funny you should mention the Renfe website. I have always thought that most of the Spanish websites are very badly organized from the user’s point of view. You can find fancy flash presentations all right, but not the information you are looking for… My number 1 “hate” site is Telefonica’s website. I have this feeling that they just add stuff there, wherever it fits, without any real “plan” or site hierarchy… (But calling them is probably even worse than searching stuff on their website!)


  • david says:

    Absolutely! I know someone who set up a web design company with a friend. After talking to him for a while about how they split their workload it became apparent that “web desgn” meant flash – which when you see many Spanish websites become clear.

    So, when a friend recently did a course in web design I asked what they taught him. Luckily it was mainly HTML, but he was surprised that I have never used flash on any of my websites.