NOT a Good Delivery Service

March 31, 2011

The DeliveryDemon has been looking at what’s involved in renewing a UK passport. Even getting the forms is a bureacratic nightmare.

  • Option 1 is the ‘online’ application. What happens? You enter your details online, the passport service prints them off and posts them to you second class, with an SLA of a week, although the claim is that forms are posted within 24 hours. You then sign the documents and post them back with additional paperwork, and the subsequent process is likely to take in excess of 4 weeks.
  • Option 2 is to collect a form from a post office offering the Check and Send service – not all post offices offer this, and it costs £8.17 on top of the passport price. This option is likely to take in excess of 6 weeks.
  • Option 3 is to request an application form online. That can take 5 working days to get to you, and you still have to get on to the month-plus paperwork trail.
  • Option 4 is to phone and ask for a form. Again it can take 5 days to get to you before you get into the application process.

If there’s less than 2 months before you need your passport, there’s a ‘faster’ service. You first have to get an appointment, then travel to one of only 6 regional offices – particularly bad news for anyone living in Inverness given the distribution. It can take 2 weeks just to get an appointment. And even though you may have to travel half way across the country, you must not turn up more then 10 minutes before the appointment time, in case queues makes it appear that the service can’t handle the demand.

Once you get the apppointment, you can choose between the Fast Track, 1 week, service or the Premium, 1 day, service. With the Fast Track service, you must be at home to sign for the passport a week later. With the Premium service, you have 4 hours to wait once your forms have been checked and the cashier has given you a receipt – or overnight if you haven’t been able to get a morning appointment in all but 1 of the regional centres.

In summary:

  • Online application – £77.50, 5 weeks
  • Check and Send – £85.67, 6 weeks and 2 trips to the post office
  • Normal post – £77.50, a week to get the forms, processing time unspecified and high risk of loss.
  • Fast Track – £112, a trip to a Check and Send post office or a week to get the forms by any other means, 2 weeks to get an appointment, a day to travel to the appointment, a week to wait, and a day at home waiting for the passport to be delivered.
  • Premium – £129, a trip to a Check and Send post office or a week to get the forms by any other means, 2 weeks to get an appointment, a day to travel to the appointment and potentially another day to pick up the passport if you can’t get an early enough appointment for same day collection.

The passport service are investing in sexy technology like phone apps and online tracking of progress. Just how much effort would it take to provide a basic online PDF application form which would deliver a full week’s benefit for most applicants? Priorities?

So Exactly Where Are You?

March 29, 2011

The DeliveryDemon is surprised how few hotels understand how people find them – physically, that is, not on the web. Many other public venues suffer from the same problem.

Let’s face it, once the customer finds details of a location on the web and makes the necessary bookings and payments, it’s still necessary to transport the physical body to the desired venue. It may be possible to delegate the responsibility to a taxi driver or even a chauffeur, but more often there’s a need to drive, or walk from the nearest public transport.

It’s fairly common to find directions on a website, though some directions suffer from the problem of only being meaningful to those who already know the area. Anyway, directions like that are yesterday’s solution. Today’s traveller uses satnav, to drive and, via a smartphone, to get walking directions. And what’s the shortest piece of information these devices need to generate directions? The postcode.

It’s not uncommon for organisations to discourage snailmail by hiding address details on obscure pages of their websites. And even when the address is found, the postcode is not always useful. It may be that the organisation has a mailing address whose postcode refers to a postal arrangement rather than a physical location. And some larger locations may be covered by multiple postcodes, as the DeliveryDemon realised recently, staring across a muddy field and high fence at the roof of her hotel.

It would be so simple for organisations to deliver directions by including on the location page of their websites ‘Enter the following postcode in your satnav to find us’. The DeliveryDemon wonders how long it will be before there is widespread awareness of this interface between the web and the physical world.

The Avatar is NOT the User

March 18, 2011

A lot of effort goes into the user interface of laptops these days – but there appears to be a big disconnect in the thinking.

The effort goes into screen layout and display and reaction to the use of input devices – all the electronic stuff. What a pity the same effort isn’t going into design of the physical machine. After all, the user is a person interfacing with a physical device, not a dematerialised avatar.

These thoughts came as the DeliveryDemon alternated between two laptops – a five year old, small footprint, lightweight laptop and a rather more modern larger laptop which doubles as an office desktop.

The right side of the small machine is taken up by the CD reader, flush with the side of the machine and operated by a button above the keyboard. At the back of the left side is a USB slot, well out of the mouse space of a left handed user. Towards the front of the left side is another USB slot with a rather tacky plastic cover. While not a problem for right handed users, a device in this slot would tend to impinge on a left handed user’s mouse area. Apart from this, the physical interface is quite well designed, taking into account the limited physical size of the machine.

With the larger and more modern machine, it’s a very different story. Despite the extra space available, little if any thought has gone into the physical aspects of the user interface. The USB ports are to the front of the right hand side, and USB cable connections create a mouse no-go zone for about 5 inches to the side of the machine. Given the size of the machine, that makes the keyboard / mouse area about 24 inches wide, with a 6 inch dead area between keyboard and mouse.

Worse still, USB cable connections make the DVD drive inaccessible, as the cables foul the opening area, unless the user either trails the cables across the front of the machine, or reorganises every workspace to take account of the deficiencies of the laptop design.

Most of the population, like the DeliveryDemon, are right handed, which begs the question of why the much less frequently used access points are concentrated on the left side of the machine while the right side is a messy clutter.

Vaio sells itself on smooth design concepts. The DeliveryDemon thinks it’s about time they put just a bit more effort into delivery of a well-designed physical interface.