Usability—or lack of it—in GigaSize downloads
Some sites’ usability is so atrocious it simply must be analyzed. Why? So that other web designersâ€”myself includedâ€”never perpetrate such atrocities on others. An example should be made of Gigasize.com, a free file hosting service. Wonderful service, terrible interface. Let’s look at why it’s so bad; later we’ll discuss how it could be better.
What is Gigasize?
According to their site, it’s “The easiest way to upload, store, download and share your files.” You sign up for a free account (or pony up for a “premium” one), allowing you to upload large files like movies, slideshows, etc. and send people a web link to download the file rather than choking their inboxes with the file itself. At least, that’s how I interacted with Gigasize: downloading an audio file a fellow Librivox volunteer posted to a forum.
Downloading a file from Gigasize; or, playing the “where do I look?” game
Clicking a Gigasize link brings you to the following page. I suggest you look at the first, unadulterated photo, then the version where I’ve marked some distinct visual “sections.
Whoah, now. Why am I here again? That’s right: to download a file whose link I just clicked on some web page. Uh… okay, let me do that. If you’re like me you spent measurable seconds scanning that page. Clearly, the designers have violated Steve Krug’s first law of usability: “Don’t make me think.” Why is that?
- Your eye is trained to look at the middle of the page, so you start there. You’ve spent enough time on the web to recognize the tell-tale verbiage and format of Google’s ubiquitous ads, so you move on.
- The green pillbox below the ads and its orange-ish cousin above them vie for attention next. Scanning the text encompassed by the rounded-corner box under the green pillbox you realize it’s an up-sell from Gigasize. Growing impatient, you move on.
- Ah! Below the box you find the name and info about the file you want. So, is the filename a link? Nope… uh, now what?
- Oh, waitâ€”I bet the page begins the download automatically! You open your browser’s download window (assuming you know what that isâ€”most web users probably don’t). Hmm… nothing there. Now what?
At this point, if you haven’t given up, you re-scan the page. You finally notice the small download button in the upper-right corner of the screen (shown in green in the second screenshot). What the heck was it doing up there… with no visual clues as to its location or importance? You’ve acquired your target, but you’ve got another hoop through which to jump.
Proving you’re a human
Who’d have thought five years ago that you’d be proving your humanity to a web page? More and more web pages are using CAPTCHA to do just that: distinguishing your visit/download/comment/etc. from that of automated scripts/spambots/user agents/etc. by typing a word or random string of characters obscured or distorted by colors. There’s a lot to this techinque so I won’t go into it here, though you can check Wikipedia’s entry for more info.
I must point out the humor, however, of the link below the CAPTCHA entry: “Can’t read?” I know illiteracy is a huge problem, but c’mon. Luckily, it doesn’t link to Hooked on Phonics; it just shows a different three-letter string to decode.
Playing the waiting game
Once you’ve decoded the CAPTCHA, you get another cluttered screen with a fresh set of in-page ads. You also get a small pop-up window with another ad for your viewing pleasure. To add insult to injury, you’re granted 35 seconds to view the ads before the countdown timer becomes the link to the actual file. At least this time you don’t have to search for the link because the designers at Gigasize were kind enough to leave it in the same spot.
Yes, I know it’s a business
Lest you think I’m on a soapbox without any understanding of a business’s need to earn money, I’ll state the obvious: Gigasize is a business. Therefore, they want profits. They earn these via ads and their premium services, both of which nearly occlude the user’s ability to accomplish their goal (downloading the darn file!). My aim is to show that good design doesn’t have to prevent the business’s raison d’Ãªtreâ€”it should facilitate it.
More than just complaints
I hope I’ve identified a few glaring usability problems with Gigasize’s download process, as well as acknowledging their need to advertise and upsell. But rather than just complain, I’ll soon post how I would improve this process while still accompishing the business’s aims.