Usability Testing Of UK Cinema Websites – Part 1

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During a recent spot of unavoidable eavesdropping in a slow-moving queue, I overheard two ladies expressing great frustration at their less-than-positive experiences on cinema websites. This reminded me of usability testing on UK Cinema websites that we had carried out in late 2011. Back at the office, I dug up the video clips of user testing that we had recorded back then. What follows is an analysis of the results of the experiments which, we had never made public until today.


Times change, yet websites with poor usability are still being developed. In this usability testing session, we had asked potential users to visit three UK cinema websites and carry out some simple, typical tasks that cinema-goers would be likely to perform online. The websites we tested were CineWorld, Empire Cinemas and Odeon Cinemas

Kids’ Programme (aka The Saturday Saga)

It was great to see all three cinema groups following tradition, offering a Saturday morning kids’ programme under various guises. We asked users from the WhatUsersDo panel, whilst thinking out loud, to find out what’s on offer at a local cinema and the start time, but it quickly became clear that it was far from child’s play!

Website No.1: Cineworld’s Movies For Juniors

Cineworld tucks Movies for Juniors under the ‘Films’ category which proved confusing to our users who expected this heading to display a list of film titles. One user who missed this actually left the site believing that Cineworld did not offer such a programme. Another, in desperation, searched through ‘Ticket Information’ and confused a ‘Discount Policy’ with the Saturday children’s programme; watch this clip to follow her thoughts as she clicked:

Those users who did eventually find the ‘Movies for Juniors’ page were off to a good start with six kids’ films currently being screened at 67 selected cinemas every Saturday at 10am – all up-front information:

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Fair enough, not all films are showing at all cinemas so users are invited to check the cinema page for full listings. And here begins the heartache. To find out what’s on where, users were forced to follow one of two rather painful processes:

  • Step 1: Select a ‘Movies for Juniors’ film and see where it is showing, then click the back button, then select another film and see where it is showing and so on until they had worked throught the list, or
  • Step 2: Note down (or remember) the names of the fillms, then navigate to ‘Cinemas’ to find one near them before trawling through the entire list of films showing there looking for one they had noted down earlier!

I give up – as did the users we tested with.

Website No.2: Empire Cinemas’ Empire Jnrs

Empire Jnrs is one of their two ‘Specials’ (the other being Empire seniors) and not very obvious to users. But “movies for all the family every weekend” is a great offering especially at ‘pocket money prices’ (whatever that means these days; when I frequented the playground, parents’ generosity varied greatly and I expect it still does). As it states “this truly is an offer that’s too good to miss”, so how frustrating for users to select a cinema and be presented with the following screen (note the unfinished sentence!):

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Worse still, one of our users chose to visit Ealing and was sent home! This clip shows her struggling with the Empire Jnrs feature:

Website No.3: Odeon Cinemas’ Odeon Kids

Odeon Kids, also categorised as ‘Film’, boasts numerous screenings also at ‘pocket money prices’, but finding out where and at what time proved fruitless for the users we tested with. Odeon Kids is allegedly available at 83 listed cinemas however having clicked all from Aylesbury to Coventry plus a few others at random bringing the total to 20, only two offered anything other than: “There are currently no performances scheduled.

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With each new cinema selection, the listings switch to ‘Monday to Sunday’ stating that “The full list of film times for the remainder of the week will appear on Wednesday“. Now I’m getting worried that someone has sneaked in another couple of days that I don’t know about! At least the Saturday tab reveals that “The full list of film times for Saturday will appear on Wednesday“.

I don’t think I’m that thick!” – watch this clip to follow one of our testers searching for Odeon Kids information, and the suspicion that creeps in. Baffled as to why the ‘Streatham’ link is unavailable, our user is unaware that this previously selected location has been remembered and is oblivious to the rather discreet breadcrumb trail at the top left of the page:

One user said she was “worn out” and another simply “lost the will to live” in this short clip:

Perhaps it’s reasonable to expect one’s nerves to be a tad frayed after a cinema outing with some excitable youngsters, but before you even set off?!

To conclude, in this task none of the websites impressed the users we tested with, none of whom had anything good to say, and all experienced difficulty in even establishing that a Saturday children’s programme exists. Some looked for clues, others located a nearby cinema as their starting point, but all became increasingly annoyed and frustrated as they battled to get to the nitty-gritty and in most cases failed or gave up. With no search facility to fall back on, navigation and visibility of information are of course critical and must match typical users’ mental models, easily achieved through a card-sorting exercise and comprehensive task analysis.

End Of Part 1

In Part 2 of this article, we will see 2 other tasks performed by users during this usability testing session. In the first task, users were asked to purchase a ticket from each of the three websites, while in the second task, users were requested to choose the cinema seats. Until next week, take care!

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