Birthdays come but once a year (unfortunately!) and with them slews of fantastic presents (if you’ve clearly stated your requirements to your loved ones, that is). Additionally, every 5 years, we lucky Ontarians receive special gifts from our provincial government in the form of letters, bequeathing us with opportunities to renew our drivers’ licenses and health cards. This year, I excitedly ripped open the signature craft brown envelopes to find out that the Intertubes have finally been connected to the Ontario government offices – better late than never, I suppose – and that I was to go online to book an appointment for renewal! This meant shorter wait times on location for me so, needless to say, I was overjoyed. Arriving at the URL, I found this:

The ServiceOntario Home Page

Still riding my excitement, I naively satisficed when I saw the words “Health Card Renewal” on the page – click!

Additional Information About Booking Health Card Renewal Appointments Page

Hmm… I thought I’d be booking my appointment by now, but alright, there’s “Book an Appointment” among a sea of other text.

The Booking an Appointment Section of the Information Page

Uhm, I’m sorry, you want me to what? Go back to where I just came from and start again? Why would I want to do that?! I obviously came here thinking I’d picked the correct door… I just want to book a bloody appointment! OK, so, fine, I’ll go back.

The "Top" of The ServiceOntario Home Page

Now, where did you come from, you naughty devil of a button? This wordage is really making me hesitant (you know what the Internet is for, right?), but I think this is actually what I need. I click, peeking cautiously through my fingers:

The ServiceOntario Actual Appointment Booking Page

Though uncertain, I believe this is what success looks like. Actual interaction with the web app is a topic for another post.

Now, I’ve read Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think”, apparently, unlike the folks that put this front end together. I’ve had to think at almost every step of the way! Forgive me – I’m no whiz-bang hot shot graphic designer – but I believe all this futile clicking could have been completely eliminated if I had just been presented with this:

The "Enhanced by Masha" Version of the ServiceOntario Appointment Booking Page

The 80% task is front and center for me to access (worded in an immediately recognizable way); the rest of the information is retained for those who may require it but deemphasized. It’s interesting, since the main container is 980px wide, that the designers are taking into account the 1024px widths, but completely ignoring the 768px heights. If there is something above the fold that looks “good enough”, people are unlikely to scroll down looking for a better match (this is a statement based on n of 1, so, here, have a grain of salt).

P.S.: The argument that “1024×768 resolutions are now basically irrelevant” doesn’t stand either, since the tantalizing button is a full 962px down from the top of the page, so even at my rockin’ 1920×1200, I barely saw the top of it in FireFox.

Bottom line: figure out what the most common user task (maximum a couple) is at any state of your UI and make it extremely obvious how to start and finish it successfully. Easy-peasy!