Memo by wuxiangyu


To:        Dr. J. Bowie
From:      Lydia Stapleton
Date:      September 12, 2005
Subject:   Website Usability Critique

Based upon Nielsen’s “Ten Usability Heuristics” and the reading found in his book
Homepage Usability, I have compiled a list of ten usability requirements. Hopefully, this
list does not focus too much on design but instead focuses only the elements that
improve the usability of a site. To test this list, I have chosen the site
This selection was based upon a few factors. First, the site is used by a wide variety of
users. Both men and women use the site as well as the young and old. Users come to the
site for various reasons from business trips to vacations. The user could very well be in
a hurry to book a last minute trip or might be searching for a flight months away. No
matter what the circumstances are the goal is the same. All the users are looking for flight
information. Second, there is quite a bit of competition among airlines. Delta especially
has been in the spotlight recently and certainly cannot afford to lose any customers. In
light of this fact, the site should be highly useable. The third reason I chose this site was
because I think it is rather poorly designed.
The Ten Heuristics
1. Be Honest with Your Users
I think there is little that is more frustrating than the feeling that the wool is being pulled
over one’s eyes. There are many ways in which the users can be deceived. The tag line
should let the users know where they are at. The links should be clear so they know
where they can go. If they are asked for personal information, they should know why the
information is needed and how the company plans to protect the given information.
Delta collects quite a bit of information about their users. This includes everything from
previous sites visited, browser types, email addresses, and credit card information. Delta
addresses how the information is used in the Privacy/Security section. Unfortunately, the
information is vague. While they promise not to sell the information, they do give it to third
party vendors. They promise that this information is not used against Delta’s policy but
do not implicitly state what the policy is. As vague as the information is, there should at
least be a more prominent placement of a link to this section on the reservations page.
Throughout the site, the link is in a small corner at the bottom of the page.
The tag line does change when one books a flight but instead of stating “Reservations”
its wordy tag line reads “Online Reservations with no hassles from Delta Airlines.” Maybe
this would be ok for a homepage tag line, but at this point I just want to know where I am.
Delta does offer a breadcrumb system as one books a flight but it list numbered steps
instead of page names. This does not tell me much. A more specific phrase such as
“Flight selection” would tell me more than “1.”

2. Clear Navigation
Users must be able to find their goal. If the navigation does not tell them the information
they are looking for, then you may have lost the customer. No one wants to go down the
rabbit hole.

The navigation bar is in an acceptable place but, again, it’s pretty vague. To book a flight
do I go to Reservations or Traveling? And if I am using my SkyMiles do I go to SkyMiles
or straight to Reservations? It is unclear.

The homepage also does the big mistake of having a homepage link to the homepage.
The homepage, help section, and search engine are placed in a separate navigation bar
that fades in the background.

3. Readability
The text size and font should be legible. The paragraphs should be small so they can be
skimmed. White space should add and not distract.

Overall, the text font is fairly legible. At some points, white text is used on a blue
background which makes the text somewhat blurry. The size of text is too small,
especially on the homepage. The login, check flight status, and find a flight options are
the most important information on the page but yet the font size is incredibly small. If
reading the text was difficult for me, how much more difficult would in be more someone
with a sight impediment? When I increased the font size, the legibility was much better.
The increased font size is much more pleasant even for a user with no visual

4. Flexibility and efficiency of use
The images and data should not be so complicated that they make the download time too
long. Delta’s homepage has a huge picture of Berlin in the background. This is what
probably made the download time horrible. I was frustrated every time I loaded the site.
As many times as I returned to the homepage, the loading time only accelerated by a
fraction. I think it’s safe to say the majority of users do not care to see a huge picture of
Berlin if it means a long download time. The rest of the page was fairly quick and did not
have the download wait of the homepage.

5. Consistency and standards
As mentioned above, the wording is rather vague. A clearer choice in wording would have
made the page more have added to the consistency. The page should also work in
different browsers. No matter the browser or sizing I used the page stayed basically the
same. Unfortunately, it always left a huge, gap of white space on the left size. I was left
wondering what kind of browser the page was designed for. The space was so distracting
that I kept trying to resize so that it somewhat fit in the browser. I suppose this is actually

6. Aesthetic and minimalist designA nice design is appealing but should not come at
the cost of usability. There is a meeting place of the two elements where they can be
combined. The picture of Berlin is not very visually pleasing and it distracts from the
users’ goal.

The picture is present to advertise for Delta’s promotions to Berlin. While the picture
might have been nice, it is broken up in the middle by this huge white bar the offers a link
to the flights affected by hurricane Katrina. This link has nothing to do with the picture and
simply looks awkward and out of place. In the middle of the page there is a link to four
pages of news. I cannot imagine while this is necessary. It adds nothing to help users
accomplish their goal and looks out of place. At the bottom of the picture there is a
sentence that reads “good goes around.” When you hover the mouse over the line, a
pop-up appears that tells what the German word for dynamic is. This makes no sense.
What might have added to the aesthetic value of the page now adds confusion and is a
complete lack of precious space. This waste of space now makes it necessary to have to
scroll to see the whole page. It also appears that the important sections have been
haphazardly stuck on the page.
7. Versatility of use in differing settings
A strong site should take into account the various settings in which it will be used. Users
have a variety of different computers and setups. Different browsers affect the download
time and thus affect how long a user must wait. Users are also split between using dial-up
and DSL. This difference has a huge impact. The size of the monitor also affects how
much of the page can be utilized. Other options are also evolving. A user might access
the site in their car, on their phone, or any other number of devices. Users with disabilities
must also be taken into consideration.

Delta’s download time was quite slow no matter what browser I used. I used AOL,
Internet Explorer, and Foxfire. When using Foxfire I was using a DSL connection, while
the other two where on dial-up. The cable connection improved download time but not by
much. The content on the page was detrimental no matter what situation I tested. I also
tried different screen sizes and found that no size seemed to fit. The larger browsers left
up to half the page blank due to the huge bar of white space that takes up the right side
of the screen. Even smaller browsers left a great deal of white space.

As mentioned above, increasing the font size was possible and was a great improvement
to the site. To further test how the site would appear to visually impaired users, I turned
off the images. The results were disturbing. Some of the text was cut off and overlapped
in other places. The text in the navigation bar disappeared all together. I am not sure how
the page would read, but I cannot imagine it would work well.

1. Be honest with your users
When asking for personal information, Delta should add a sentence stating that all
information is protected and offer a link to a page implicitly stating how users’ privacy is
protected. No vague or misleading wording should be used.

The tag line should be specific. A lot of words are not needed, especially once one is past
the homepage. Of course, users might access the site through other pages. This being
the case, the same tag line should not be used for several pages. The tag line
“Reservations” should not be used over and over for numerous pages with no way to
differentiate where one is on the site.

The bread crumb system could be improved by listing the functions of the steps instead
of numbers. The numbers could be used in conjunction with the functions (ie 1. Search
for a flight). This information only appears when one is on a specific step. A more detailed
navigation would make booking a flight much easier.

2. Clear navigation
More precise wording within the navigation bar would eliminate quite a bit of confusion.
I got lost several times trying to find certain information. Providing pop-ups with link
descriptions would also help. And of course, take the homepage link off.

3. Readability
The font and color of the text is not bad, but it should definitely be bigger.

4. Flexibility and efficiently of use
The Berlin information, including the picture, should be put on a separate page with only
a link on the homepage. The search, login, and flight status boxes should be arranged so
that they are available without scrolling. The login section should be moved down so it is
not on top of the navigation bar. This change would make it possible to use only one
navigation bar which would add clarity. By having only the search engine at the top of the
page, more prominence would be given to this vital feature.

5. Consistency and standards
There were not any blatantly obvious mistakes as far as consistency and standards. I did
not find any typos or inconsistent wording or design. Of course, it would be nice if the
page did resize itself to fit in a browser instead of always appearing so narrow.

6. Aesthetic and minimalist design
Most of these issues were mentioned when discussing flexibility and efficiency. The big
issue is the huge picture that disrupts the flow of more pertinent information. There is
also a link that deals with dealing to the Katrina relief fund in the middle of the page.
While this is certainly a good cause, it does not make any sense to put it in the middle of
the Berlin plug.

7. Versatility of use in differing settings
One more time, the Berlin background must go.

Delta must also be more aware of the needs of the visually impaired. Even to be more
respectful of the users who have the image loading turned off, they should fix this major
problem. By spreading out the text a little more and formatting the page, the overlapping
and cutting off of the text would not be such a problem.

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