First Great Western’s sticking plaster copy

Now, I’m no expert in running trains, but you might have gathered from previous posts that I’ve had the odd run-in with train company web design, signs and labelling.

In general, it’s fair to say I’m not a fan. And now I’ve found another piece of nasty sticking-plaster copy lurking on the First Great Western website:

Screen Shot 2012-12-18 at 11.33.02

It seems the train company recently made its user password system case sensitive. In terms of security, this is a good move. But to accommodate the change, First Great Western decided to make everyone’s passwords all-uppercase.

If you don’t realise this when you try and sign in, you see this contrived error message:

We’re sorry, the email address or password you entered was not correct. Passwords changed or created after 13th Nov 2012 are case sensitive. If you have not changed your password since the 13th November 2012, please enter your current password in UPPERCASE.

The red text means it look like a serious error message, and it makes the user think they’ve done something wrong.

This is a classic example of a company making a well-intentioned technical change to its website, but forcing users to adapt to this change, rather than taking some extra steps to make life easier for them.

I call it ‘sticking plaster copy’ because it uses lengthy instructional copy to try and patch up the issue rather than fixing it properly.

Essentially, First Great Western has changed my password without asking. That’s inelegant and impolite. (It also raises the question of how securely user passwords are stored, but I’ll leave that issue to the technical experts.)

It makes my interaction with the website more awkward, adding an extra barrier that I have to overcome in order to buy a train ticket.

As an alternative, they could simply have allowed me to sign in as normal, then prompted me to change my password at a later point – perhaps immediately after signing in, or once I’d completed my purchase.

That would have made my life a bit easier, and it might even have positive impact on their website’s conversion rate too.

If it already has a name, use it

UK train stations are a rich source of poorly-written and confusing signs. Take this label, spotted at Reading station.

‘Platform lighting controller’? That’ll be what the rest of us call a light switch.

I can’t think of a single situation where you’d ever describe this as a ‘platform lighting controller’, so why do so here? It just creates confusion.

I particularly like the helpful information beneath: ‘When the indictor [sic] is lit, platform lights are on.’ Spelling error aside, it’s worth knowing that I spotted this label while standing on the platform. So I expect it’s fairly obvious when the lights are on. It would be dark otherwise.

Complicated terminology makes things harder to understand. Unnecessary information detracts from the really important stuff. As labels go, this is a good example of how not to do it.

Two great tabloid headlines that caught my eye

One of the most popular posts on this blog is my list of favourite tabloid headlines. I believe writing great headlines is an art – one that I hope doesn’t get killed off by our obsession with cramming as many keywords into web page titles as possible.

I was just flicking back through some old photos on my phone and noticed a couple of headlines I’ve snapped that are too good not to share. The first is from earlier this year, when anchorman Richard Keys left his job at Sky Sports. It’s short, to the point, and absolutely nails the story:

But it’s the second that I’m more impressed with. Cast your mind back to last autumn and one of the year’s rare good news stories.

Now, imagine you’re a sub-editor at The Sun. How are you going to lead on the story? Would it occur to you to take the name of a band, then carefully change a word here and there to result in a headline of wit and beauty?

No, me neither. You might sometimes question the quality of tabloid journalism, but you can’t deny the intelligence of their headlines.

(Read about some other great tabloid headlines that I’ve spotted.)