Money apparently doesn’t buy user-friendliness

Posted on Posted in Everything, Miscellaneous, Software Testing

I was at a good friend’s wedding several nights ago, which was held at one of the more well-to-do hotels in Melbourne. The night itself was an immense success. The bride and groom looked fantastic, I caught up with old friends from far away and a great time was had by all. It struck me though how deep testing seems to run in my veins – I just can’t seem to switch off (even when there’s an open bar).

I arrived on foot and my first impression of the place was the apparent haphazardness of the valet parking – there were a lot of cars and all of them were parked on the footpath leading to the lobby. My better half and I picked our way to the front doors, taking care not to scratch the paintwork of some reasonably expensive machines.

Once inside, there was the matter of finding a cloakroom. There was nothing in the immediate vicinity, so I asked at the concierge. ‘Oh, it’s downstairs’ said they. The stair case was about fifty meters away on the other side of the hall.

So not only was the cloakroom not located close to the main entrance, but the process of asking after it left you about as far away from it as it was possible to be. I headed down to the cloakroom and was asked ‘are you here for the ball, or the wedding?’ and when I responded with the latter, was directed back upstairs to the bus service desk outside the main entrance.

Somewhat incredulous, I headed back upstairs. The first thing the chap at the bus desk said when I presented my coat was ‘oh, you’ll have to go down to the cloak room’.

Not the most wonderful first impression of what is supposed to be one of the city’s finest hospitality establishments. The place was certainly decked out ostentatiously. They hadn’t spared expense on materials, but whoever designed the place, didn’t have the end-user in mind.

Things on the usability front didn’t improve that much over the course of the night. In three of the four places I was in that night (lobby included), the doors to the toilets were built to look like the rest of the wall and were nigh-on invisible. I observed at least twenty people ask the staff where they were.

I can understand not wanting to have pink flashing neon lights that say ‘here be the dunny’, and I get the whole ‘wanting to be subtle’ thing. It’s nice, but surely there is a way to have the entrance to the water closet be unobtrusive and yet visible when needed. A door sign that reads ‘ladies’ or ‘gents’ is not going to spoil the ambience. That and not being asked to point them out is likely to be less grating to the staff.

The wedding reception was in a bar on the lobby level. It had a spiral staircase that opened onto a wide area with all sorts of nooks and crannies in which small groups of people could hide and chat. Which is great when you’ve ordered five drinks and have no idea where the people you just ordered them for have disappeared to.

When the time came to leave, we discovered that because the place was easy to get into, it didn’t necessarily follow that it was easy to leave. The staircase itself finished in one corner and was blocked off from one side such that it looked accessible from both sides until you actually went to use it. Not conducive to use by a room full of people with access to an open bar. At the top of the stairs, opaque glass walls confronted us, and led the eye around to the kitchens – and nothing else.

Closer inspection revealed that one of the glass walls was actually a door, but again, not really designed with the end user in mind. My overall impression of the place was that it was a very large, very expensive place that was designed to make you feel uncomfortable and dumb as often as possible. Probably not what you really want from a hotel.

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