This month our intrepid reporter arrives late at a useability course due to poor usability, can’t work out where to put his frozen peas, and then almost pees in a drinking fountain. Trust me, this is actually quite relevant, as you’ll discover when you read on…

Like being late to a time-management course, the dark forces of irony ensured that the usability message was driven home before I entered the Webcredible Usability course. I’d misread a real-time sign on the Docklands Light Railway, which confused me into thinking that the second stop was Tower Gateway – when in fact it was the second train. Had this sign ever been tested to see what people thought it meant? I’m not entirely convinced it had, and as a result I fear a number of people could have been left blundering around East London like idiots by this simple design issue. This problem didn’t cost the DLR any money, as I’d bought my ticket already. But can you say the same about the users on your website? Can they find the buttons they need to buy? Does your search function return what they are looking for? If you’ve not checked, I can offer you a copper-bottomed guarantee that this is costing you cold, hard cash on a daily basis. You may of course have checked already. But have you got the right skills to know how to really, properly test a website for usability? You might think your sight is brilliant, but your customers might think it sucks. Do you even know for sure?

Webcredible have made a name for themselves in design and training. They are, as the name suggests, credible. Their reputation is particularly strong in the field of usability, and if you’re looking for an exemplar training course, this is it. The tiny group of 3 plus me ensured that not only were the delegates getting personal attention, they were getting it from someone who was, well… credible.

The training format is certainly not one I’m used to, and listen up trainers – because if you’re not copying this, you’re falling behind. Normally, on such a course, you’re packed in like sardines to the smallest, cheapest room that can be found. If you’re lucky, you might have a socket to plug your laptop in. Not so here. Webcredible have a custom training suite, with a PC each. The room doesn’t even look like a training suite, it’s so well equipped. The style of teaching was also pretty exemplary, too. Shunning chalk and talk, the key learning moments were delivered through practical exercises critiquing real websites, including delegates’ own offerings. This is a hybrid of consultancy and training, which offers real, tangible work on your site, and take-home skills you can use right away to turn visitors into results. With no fear for the reputations of giants, the trainer stepped through the faux pas of big-name sites, whilst ensuring that the delegates were up to speed at all times.

I’ve seen a million training courses, and this was pretty outstanding in terms of the quality of delivery and the usefulness of the material covered. To be completely honest I’ve fallen asleep in a fair few of the courses I’ve reviewed. I spend a lot of the time half-listening and using my PC at the back. But not at this course, I didn’t. I was kept busy as a bee, and barely even had time to flag after lunch. Despite having been a professional in this field for years, I still came across brand-new techniques which I’d never used before. This is real, applicable knowledge I’ll be bringing to clients over the coming weeks. Let me give you just one nugget of real value: When you’re categorising products in an online store, how do you organise the categories? For example, do frozen peas go under ‘vegetables’ or ‘freezer’. Webcredible have a quick and easy way to find out for free, by using automatic card-sorting programmes. These present testers with a deck of virtual cards which they have to organise into various categories, which have either been assigned already or are created by the user. In a supermarket, frozen peas go with other frozen stuff – as otherwise they’d melt. But online, such thermal dramas are much reduced, and there’s a decision to be made. I didn’t know you could do this kind of sophisticated work for free, but by using x-sort, webcredible showed how you can. All it takes is little effort, and soon your ecommerce customers will be giving you more of their money in less of their time with an improved buying experience.

Webcredible are at the top tier of usability work, as far as I’m currently aware. I’m a card carrying member of the usability-first club, and I know good practice when I see it. This course covered everything from the big strategic principles of user-centric design, right down to the nitty-gritty of finding those little faults that cost your web business money. There really was very little to fault.

I’ve got to pick a few faults, so let me think…. er… Not much really. There could have been some use of video to demonstrate good and bad practice with focus groups, because it’s very hard to teach that without it. Personally, I think that they could have used even more examples and exercises, rather than the very limited amount of whiteboard work that was done. But hey, I’m splitting hairs here. It was good material taught from good people, and some people will prefer a little chalk and talk. And what’s more, bearing in mind the firms that pitch to me on a daily basis, if you’re anything like the Average Joe trying to make money online, then you need this course like a drowning man needs a lifejacket. So many people make the mistake of chasing traffic rather than chasing results. But it’s about what the traffic does. Throwing ever-more soldiers at the enemy cannon does not win the war. So if you haven’t thought about usability, then your competitors who have will be wiping the floor with your. They’ll have better conversions, which means they can spend more on traffic, outbidding and outgunning you. Not only that, they’ll have a better relationship with their customers, who will be less likely to complain, leave, or have service problems. Have you ever got lost on a website, got brassed off, or just plain bored? Well right now, your customers are doing the same – so go fix it.

And finally, the urinal – or not. In webcredible’s offices, there’s a ‘urinal’ in the gents which is actually a badly-designed drinking fountain. In fact, it’s so badly designed that it has to have a notice over it saying ‘this is not a urinal’, because many people who see it think it’s only fit for pissing in. In a single elegant piece of porcelain is beautifully expressed the entire principle of the course. Is your website so bad that your customers think they should be pissing on it? Get it fixed at Webcredible’s next Usability course.

The course is at Webcredible’s offices near the Tower of London, and it costs £445. Book here: http://www.webcredible.co.uk/usabilitytraining