Friday, December 28, 2007

American Idol + Borat + YouTube = Pepto Star

Pepto Bismol has merged three popular cultural themes in its latest ad campaign, "Pepto Star." American Idol, Borat and YouTube get mashed up in a bid to leverage something Pepto were already successful with this past year, the dancing monsters commercial. That TV commercial had campy, Godzillaesque monsters performing a Macarena-like dance to an infectous Pepto Bismol song. "Nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach…Diarrhea!" became viral, and people uploaded their own versions of the dance & song to YouTube without being prompted to do so. I blogged about how this was a good example on how to leverage online social tools.

The Pepto Star campaign seems to have taken a step backward from a marketing perspective. The combination of American Idol-ish Pepto product judges evaluating Borat-ish video samples of people who can barely speak English feels very forced and old skool. This feels like they are trying to squeeze something out of something they already got. People liked the Pepto jingle and freely uploaded and shared videos of themselves without incentive. To now re-wrap it in this new campaign takes away from the freshness and spontaneity they garnered. Look at people just posting it on YouTube and giggling their a$$es off:

At least they are utilizing YouTube and not wasting money by developing their own video sharing website as Pringles did this past year. Using already established tools people expect like YouTube makes sense, but doesn't make up for everything else that just doesn't seem to make much sense.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Syncing, Recutting and Mashing Up: Imposing Patterns Where They Do & Don’t Exist

Wired had a supplement magazine this month called, “MOVIES ROCK.” There was an article about movie/album syncing called, “The Dark Side of Oz.” This is where you watch a movie with the sound off and listen to an album and marvel at the wonderful coincidences. The most famous of these combinations is The Wizard of Oz + Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. In the article, Jim Windolf tested 3 others:

This is combining two known experiences without editing and enjoying synchronicity. Does the brain just create patterns where they clearly couldn’t have existed?

People have been doing this with recutting movie trailers for a while now as well. Taking an experience we know, and editing it so it feels strange and humorous by invoking a different experience. The major difference here is intentionally creating patterns. Take a horror movie, add a happy song and recut the scenes and you have something titillating. I think the Shining recut may be the most famous of this genre, where they make one of the best horror movies ever made seem like a silly, romantic comedy. Here are a bunch of recut movie trailers:

Mash-ups are similar to these as well, but in a Web 2.0 world these move from simple linear movies into web applications. Merge API X with API Y and you get a new experience. Here's a mashup of iTunes and Amazon, two experiences we all know individually but merged into one new application.

This was created by the Google Mashup Editor, a free tool Google is offering to a restricted number of developers currently while they are testing it.

YouTube inadvertently created a mashup tool with their holiday card creator. Map any video to a holiday card. How strange is it to watch Alec Baldwin’s speech in Glengarry Glen Ross. Check it out:

Such a great scene:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The 30 Rock Christmas Gift is Funny Because it Happens: The Handheld Photo Scanner/Paper Shredder

This week’s episode of 30 Rock was not only very funny, but it had a great User Experience Design lesson. The official company gift that Jack Donaghy hands out to Liz Lemon at the beginning of the show is the company’s new innovation: The handheld photo scanner/paper shredder. Liz’s first reaction to the device is that people would mistakenly shred their photos. He replies, “No-no-no, it’s very easy to use…” and while trying to explain the design rationale has the moment we all cringe at having. Something obvious to everyone else but us was overlooked.

Both of their reactions happen more often we like to admit. Mostly this occurs when we don't engage users early and often on our designs. There is always a reason as to why we don't do this, two of them being time to market and budget. These moments always make those reasons seem silly in the end. Usually it doesn't end up this obviously comical. When you end up with a lack of customer adoption it’s typically much harder to define the cause. Enjoy the clip:

Friday, December 14, 2007

What's Your Gmail Story? Gathering User Data Using YouTube

Gmail is asking users to submit videos to YouTube on how they use the Google email product. Ok, so this may be propaganda, but it is interesting to watch videos submitted from users. Using YouTube as a means to gather user feedback can't replace other good user experience tools, but can add to them. The ease in which you can put together a program like this can go up against the fears of losing control you have with other methodologies.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Pick Your Poison: Pooh or Poo

Jose Fermoso has an interesting entry on his WIRED blog. Would you rather have an unfortunate gadget with a generic name or a generic gadget with an unfortunate name? He pits the "Cooking with Pooh" children's cookbook against a water bottle with a pocket.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

What We Search On: Google & Yahoo Reveal Their 2007 List of Top Searches, And We Learn...?

Marissa Mayer from Google was on the Today Show to announce the top Google searches of 2007. Yahoo revealed their list as well. Why do they not share a single common search term? More importantly, what the hell is a "Rune Scape" or a "Naruto"? I'll have to do a search. Google's seems a little more realistic (except for excluding Britney!) with the all lowercase look. Who knows.

Here are the lists:

Google's 2007 Top 10 Queries

  1. iphone
  2. webkinz
  3. tmz
  4. transformers
  5. youtube
  6. club penguin
  7. myspace
  8. heroes
  9. facebook
  10. anna nicole smith

Yahoo's 2007 Top 10 Queries

  1. Britney Spears
  2. WWE
  3. Paris Hilton
  4. Naruto
  5. Beyonce
  6. Lindsay Lohan
  7. Rune Scape
  8. Fantasy Football
  9. Fergie
  10. Jessica Alba

It's ironic that the #1 2007 Google search was iPhone and they are feverishly working on a Google phone as we speak. Where will the GooglePhone rank next year?

What Do You Get When You Have To Assume? A Single Data Point Can Change Everything

Anthropology shares some common threads with User Experience Design. They both try to get enough data to understand how a subject lived, or lives to come to conclusions. There is a story from Wired that is about a rare Dinosaur that was discovered that is 67 million years old. What makes the find so rare is that it is almost intact, containing skin and possibly organs and muscle. This has many possibilities to produce data we never knew. One such tidbit it has already given researchers is that the vertebrae are spaced 1cm apart because of the presence of tissue. Why is this important? Because museums commonly stack the vertebrae together when assembling dinosaurs. By spacing them apart, the size of these creatures now has to be re-evaluated. Many dinosaurs may be a lot bigger than we thought.

This happens in User Experience Design. We assume a lot of things. We stack the vertebrae together. Then someone comes out with some thing and we have to re-think things in a big way. We have ideas of who our customers are and how they behave. Sometimes we unearth data that causes us to re-think major assumptions. It used to be a common theme to hear people designing web pages for "above-the-fold" viewing. Now it is common to see home pages that are thousands of pixels tall, and very usable.

One other interesting thing about the story on The screen I grabbed had banners around it of "The world's most influential innovators" and the Zune. Seems to be a connection here...Research/Innovation/Lack of Innovation?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Kindle: Amazon Innovating How You Read Books While Marketing It Old Skool

Amazon has not rested on their laurels. They are a survivor of the Dotbomb era, and have had both successes and failures. Their online retailing is top notch while their A9 search engine was a bust. Ventures like their S3 storage service drive Wall Street bonkers because they just want them to increase the bottom line with sales on their core offering. This is what innovation is all about. Exploring and taking chances. That is how they started and Jeff Bezos continues to lead them down this path.

The Amazon Kindle is their latest foray on their innovation journey. It took the iPod three years to be deemed a wildly successful innovation. The Kindle was just released, so it will take time and real data from customers to evolve to that level of eminence on the S-curve of customer adoption.

I’m not here to review the Kindle, although seeing the images did rekindle memories of Apple’s HyperCard from the eighties. I wanted to share something that came to mind as I was reading the Amazon Kindle marketing pitch. I was reminded of how the NBA touted their basketball redesign. Instead of having stories from players, they had testimonials mainly from retired Hall of Famers. People you respect. They crafted stories of rigorous evaluation and on-court testing. Unfortunately, it all came crashing down in the middle of the 2006-07 season. David Stern had to fall on his sword and go back to the old ball after players revolted and complaints couldn’t be ignored.

Instead of showing people using the Kindle, Amazon has famous people and actors touting how great it is. Here are some quotes from the videos on the Kindle home page:

“The Kindle doesn’t take you to [technology] boot camp. It assumes you already know how to read.” – Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket)

“I think it’s much more attractive to walk around with an instrument in your hand and read wherever and whenever, and how much you’d like. I think it’s huge.” – Toni Morrison

“A lot of thought has gone into this, obviously. A lot of it is very practical, which is delightful. Sometimes there is a gap between technology engineers and the real world.” – James Patterson

“It’s so simple you can be a moron and it works. It’s invisible. It takes no intelligence at all. Anybody who can read a book can function with this thing.” – Michael Lewis

“If you’re obsessed with blogs that are constantly updating, not once a week, but once an hour or twice an hour, this is a no-brainer. This is an absolute necessity.” – Guy Kawasaki

“Within a few pages you forget that you are reading on a Kindle, and that was our top design requirement.” – Jeff Bezos

Concepts are so much easier to sell than actual products. Have James Patterson and Toni Morrison spent $400 and treated this like an actual customer would? I would love to have observed Guy Kawasaki going to an actual blog (and pay for it…yes, blogs aren’t free on the Kindle) and discuss his experience rather than his conceptual opinion of an experience.

This led me to a trip to YouTube to see if any actual users posted their experiences. There weren’t many, but it was dramatically different to watch people discuss how they used the device versus the Kindle concept. One thing that was interesting was to watch people consistently hit buttons they didn’t intend to hit and how difficult it was to get back to where they were. The actors in the marketing video never seemed to have that issue. Here are some of the YouTube stories:

It is much more compelling to watch a real guy fumble to find his page on the Kindle than to listen to a Nobel Laureate wax lyrical about the abstraction of an electronic reading device.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Train Runs Through Bangkok Market

People adapt. Imagine writing business requirements for a street market that included, "Shall have the ability to afford train to run through market at various times of the day. Shall have ability to be back up and selling within 30 seconds of train passing."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Amazon A9 Innovation Cleanup

In 2004, Amazon unveiled A9, their search engine. The main distinction is that it let you search through pages of books on Amazon. I didn't know that a year ago it died a quiet, innovation death. It didn't get that vital nutrient, customer adoption. This left users with A9 ‘stuff' in their mental model and on their computers to ‘remove' such as:
  • A9 Instant Reward
  • A9 Toolbar
  • A9 Yellow Pages
  • A9 Maps
Even the name itself has changed to "'s OpenSearch Client." Already forgotten it?
I'm blogging about this because the Amazon Kindle is now making a splash as the Next Great Thing. We have a tendency to forgive and forget innovation failures if a company delivers a subsequent innovation success. There was Palm's Zoomer which was replaced by the wildly successful PalmPilot. Maybe we don't remember them because they never became connective tissue in our memory because of bad user experience, while the good ones take hold forever.'s Monstrous Main Navigation

I clicked on a link on the other day, and I was taken to an affiliate news website. When the page loaded, I was shocked at how scary the main navigation was designed. I’m not sure, but I don’t think it would be possible to make this any uglier. Colors…alignment…icons…outline…font styles…eek. This came from a link from Do I hold them partially responsible for steering me here? Is this part of their user experience?

I am almost compelled to put a NSFW tag on THIS.

Monday, November 19, 2007 Re-Redesign: Bigger WAS and IS better

Back in May, I blogged about the strange redesign rationale ABCNews gave for drastically shrinking the height of their homepage. They said they did this for simplicity and ease of use, but the immediate feedback was overwhelmingly the opposite from users. This ended up creating strange behavior with the design components on the homepage because all of the content had to be hidden within small containers. While they are still not as tall as others in the news website space, they have more than tripled the height of the main content of their homepage from 610 back in May to 1984 pixels now. It is really interesting to note that the new design is a lot more like the pre-May design (see image above).

The height has allowed them to provide what people were asking for from the pre-May 2007 website and more. There is a lot of content you can scan through and easily, with not much hidden away under tabs or strange scrolling windows. There is also a much better content-to-advertising ratio.

It is interesting to note that when they came out with the redesign last May, created a blog about the new design and solicited feedback. I can't find a link anywhere on this new, much larger homepage asking for me feedback. Maybe they've had enough? I did a search and found that had posted an internal memo regarding the new homepage design:


From: Westin, David
Sent: Friday, November 16, 2007 12:36 PM
To: #ABCTV News ALL Subject:ABC

We've had another year of strong growth for .com. The site has seen a 29% increase in unique users and 45% increase in page views for FY07 vs. FY06 monthly averages. We've had more dramatic growth in our video traffic - increases of 73% in the number of unique users viewing our video and a 91% increase in the number of videos viewed. Congratulations to all who work so hard on ABC every day and to so many of you who have made your work available on the site.

As well as we're doing, we can always do better. So, tonight debuts a re-designed home page intended to make it easier to navigate. This is a further step in our ongoing effort to make our website work better for our users; we'll be taking more steps in the coming weeks and months.

Users gave feedback 13 nanoseconds after the May launch about the problems navigating. Were users giving feedback before May on the navigation? Did it really have to take almost 6 months to go back essentially to what you had from a navigation standpoint? What is the product lifecycle being used here? How are they really listening/not listening to customers?

The Netflix Prize: Netflix Dangles a One Million Dollar Carrot For Technology Innovation

Netflix is trying to maintain its good user experience advantage over their competition by offering a $1 million prize to improve their current recommendation system. Take a look at some of the jargon in their rules that you have to follow:

As of the start of the Contest, the RMSE of Cinematch on the quiz subset, based on training the Cinematch algorithm using the training data set alone, was 0.9514. The RMSE of Cinematch on the test subset, based on training the Cinematch algorithm using the training data set alone, was 0.9525.

To qualify for the Grand Prize the RMSE of a Participant’s submitted predictions on the test subset must be less than or equal to 90% of 0.9525, or 0.8572 (the "qualifying RMSE"). After three (3) months have elapsed from the start of the Contest, when the RMSE of a submitted prediction set on the quiz subset improves beyond the qualifying RMSE an electronic announcement will inform all registered Participants that they have thirty (30) days to submit additional candidate prediction sets to be considered for judging.

At the end of this period, qualifying submissions will be judged (see Judging below) in order of the largest improvement over the qualifying RMSE on the test subset. In the case of tied RMSE values on the test subsets, the submission received earliest by the Site will be judged first. If no qualifying submission can be verified or no Prize can be awarded, the Contest will reopen and new qualifying submissions will be considered according to the protocol described above. The decisions of the Contest judges are final.

I ask the same question of Netflix that I asked of NASA and the Department of Defense: Why can't you put this money towards an internal process? Is this cheaper? Is it impossible to innovate internally? Does this version of sequestering folks to innovate lead to a better change of discovery? I'm very curious about this.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Today at AOL Serves Up Contradictions

While signing into AOL online to check email, I noticed two top stories in a row on their "Today at AOL" page. The first story warns baby boomers that their money may be at risk, and the second tells you to "Go Ahead and Splurge!". Don't Spend...Spend...It's interesting to see these unintentional conlflicts arise during this time of aggregating content. Are they avoidable? Is someone managing these streams from the user experience standpoint?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

UI12 Day 2: The Secrets of Killer Web Content by Gerry McGovern

I've read many of Gerry McGovern's email newsletters. I've enjoyed them. When I read through them, I hear him in my head in a voice, kind of like, um, me. When I saw him speak and out burst forth with a terrific Irish brogue I was a bit startled. Where was the voice in my head? Funny how we ground ourselves with what we know. Now I read his newsletters with his voice properly in place. On to the seminar...

Old Marketing Was For Suckers
There were a few points that he made that I wanted to blog about. The first is the concept of new marketing vs. old marketing. Old marketing philosophy was to treat people like "suckers." New marketing should rail against this. Avoid using the "smiling," gratuitous marketing image of a customer smiling profusely. People know it's bullshit. Trust your customers. Get to know the language they use and how they search for things via tools like Google Trends. Subtle things like the use of singular or plural matters. A key difference between old style of marketing and new is the ability to know what a customer is viewing and what actions they take after doing so. There is data to support design decisions. I agree with all of the above, but the trouble is that we still live in a world where a lot of old marketeers still command from positions of power. How do we coexist? Maybe we don't.

Avoid "Waffling"
Don't waffle with your content. It usually just pushes the important action points off the page. "Welcome" language is particularly wasteful. The web is not about shaking hands. Press releases were another example of wasteful content. "Put-em-uppers" post them because it is easy, not good content. They are only good for journalists to find negative things about your company. Get to the point, and the more specific the better. He compared online users to Lions. Don't disrupt their flow. They will not put in the extra effort to find the value of your website. Offer it to them or lose them.

A Link is a Promise
"A link is a promise to your customer" was a great point. He gave many examples of how links say one thing and usually don't mean it. Be precise and deliver what the link says. "Try a demo" should not take 4 subsequent links to actually download a demo. Managing the journey of the customer is a vital role, but typically there is no one to fill these shoes.

This seminar was one that didn't force you to radically shift you way of working as the previous day's seminar did. There were a lot of quick tips you can put right in your arsenal and start using immediately. Nice balance to Constantine.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

UI12 Day 1: Interaction Design in an Agile World by Larry Constantine

My first day was spent at a seminar given by Larry Constantine from Constantine & Lockwood. The focus of his seminar was about how User Experience professionals must adapt in order to work in a Agile Development world. This inherently causes distress on how all types of UX professionals are used to doing their jobs, but it touches every other department along the product lifecycle as well. It is a jolt to the UX community. One of the major themes that is difficult to digest is the idea of "evolving business requirements". His point that business requirements are already doing so unofficially as a product is developed is a valid one. We've all seen this. The tough part is to imagine a world where there isn't the map to design to provided by the business. This opens the door for input on product design from everyone, including users. I'm not sure how that will play out in reality.

One goal that Constantine is aiming for is to stop UX design from being a roadblock to the start of development. This is not trivial. This phase ideally occurs at the idea phase and involves important research. He wants to avoid "analysis paralysis" and recommends that only a minimal navigational and presentation schema is created to begin development. The focus shifts from user studies and user experience to activity modeling which evolve into business requirements. Personas become roles and scenarios become task cases. He recommends focusing on the "happy case" design and not to get bogged down with edge case "what if" scenarios.

This is a lot to swallow. This is a titanic shift for most companies that have a waterfall product lifecycle. This requires training and buy in from everyone to be successful. How does an organization get to that place? How do you avoid working the way you have worked your entire career? Interesting challenges here.

One very good result of this new process is that it affords much better traceability. It captures the "why" of decisions were made and demonstrates how they became requirements. This is very different from the 'this shalls' and 'this shall nots' of business requirements and functional specifications which typically lose this important bit of rationale.

You can learn more about Larry Constantine's work at his website, which shockingly has a very nineties "Under Construction" graphic and warning on its homepage:

Monday, November 5, 2007

User Interface 12 Conference

I'm here in Cambridge, MA attending User Interface Engineering's UI12 conference run by Jared Spool. There's a different vibe here this year around here with all the good fortune their sports teams are having. Nice way to set the stage for a good conference on User Experience Design. I'll be posting stories on here on the seminars as I attend them.

Thursday, November 1, 2007's Web 2.0 Offering: "Menu Pages" is using something interesting in the main navigation area. The second line of navigation is a menu of important areas they want to spotlight. They buttons are big with big font size, but what makes these menu items different is what happen when you mouse over them. Up pops a layer, which is typical. What is out of the ordinary is the content that appears. They look like mini-web pages. They encapsulate the most important business goals of the subsequent web pages in these small layers before having to go to them.

By nature, these "Menu Pages" solve Barry Schwartz's paradox of choice bugaboo (watch Barry here). There isn't a full web page to fill up with text, graphics, photos, banners, animation, video, etc. They force you to be cogent. You can easily argue that these Menu Pages get people to what they want better than the actual webpages dedicated to these areas.

Compare the Menu Page for Target gift cards against the dedicated web page to gift cards. Gone from the Menu Page is all of the marketing text and graphics of headless businessmen holding target briefcases. No smiling, fit model holding up gift cards or bullseye graphics bubbling all over the place. The Menu Page gives me three buttons with explicit labels.

Menu Pages can't replace web pages and aren't good for all types of content. Google can't index them and serve them up in their result pages. Complex data visualizations won't work here. They are a powerful tool to be utilized in addition to them though.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Robert Goulet Has Exceeded His Bandwidth Limit

Robert Goulet had an error 509 last night. I hope that when I pass away that I exceed my bandwidth on my website. Beyond the irony, is this something that we should prepare for as owners of a website? Should there be a death clause in our hosting plan that extends our bandwidth for a brief grace period? Website Life Insurance? Especially if your death triggers lots of traffic on the web. Could that be the automatic trigger? death + [your name] traffic = extend bandwidth. At the very least, they should have something more appealing to display than "Bandwidth Limit Exceeded" in 55 point Times Bold. RIP Robert Goulet and

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Footer Map: Adding Value To Least Frequented Part of Your Webpages

This morning I found myself clicking on a part of a page I had never really paid much attention to in the past. It was in the deep, dark recesses of the footer where in the past you only found the necessary evils of website content. Things like legal policies and privacy policies usually were cast away here to be ignored. But today, I actually saw content there and clicked on it. It then clicked in my head that I had seen this before, but hadn't really noticed the impact of it until I had clicked today.

It is a "footer map" or a mini site map that is right above the footer. These little creatures are popping up all over the place. I took a trip around the web to see who & how others were using this and who were still kickin' it old skool.

First, I went to news organizations. A number of them had recently been redesigned, so I wanted to see if this was part of their objectives., and have completely overhauled their websites this past year. Not one of them had a footer map, in fact seems to go out of its way to plead that you ignore their footer with this message:

External links are provided for reference purposes. ABC News is not responsible for the content of external internet sites. Copyright © 2007 ABCNews Internet Ventures

I went to local newspapers and was surprised to find that the only one utilizing a footer map is Their website is riddled with bad design components and overly aggressive banner ads that surround and even sometimes jump on to your content. Yet they are the only ones to implement this cool widget. Not even the had one.

As I hunted down other Footer Map examples, I found that Amazon, eBay and Microsoft were telling me about their investor relations and copyrights as footers have done for a decade. Apple, LinkedIn and Webshots had implemented really nice Footer Maps on the other hand.

What makes a good Footer Map? Footer Maps let you bubble value closer to the surface of every page. It's not about the categories...It's about scent. In fact, on all three of these websites, you can't even click on the categories. They are easy to scan and find content quickly. Apple only puts a subset if its official sitemap which has 225 links on it. Their Footer Map only has 49 links.
Another value, and quite possibly the reason they were designed in the first place, is getting more content sniffed by search engine robots. I guess there is some peril here as well if you put too many links here they may see you as someone trying to be devious. Whether it is search engine robots or getting users to more info, there is a lot of good here to be utilized.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

NY Times/Comedy Central Op-Ed Mashup

Mashups are happening everywhere. Typically these involve Google Maps and aggregated data. This week it's a little less technological. It's happening between the New York Times and Comedy Central. Maureen Dowd saw Stephen Colbert poking fun at writing for the NY Times, so she dared him to give it try. Here's a quote from Colbert that made me giggle:

"Dick Cheney's fondest pipe dream is driving a bulldozer into The New York Times while drinking crude oil out of Keith Olbermann's skull."
Read the Op-Ed Colbert Report here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Parmigiani Fleurier Creates Great Experiences That Are Timeless

Do me a favor...Create a great user experience that lasts at least a lifetime. And whatever you do, don't make it fashionable. And take your time. This is the mission of watchmaker, Parmigiani Fleurier SA. The company was founded by Michel Parmigiani, a master horologist. In 1996, The Sandoz Family Foundation acquired his company but not to make money. They wanted him to create excellence. They didn't want him to waste time on fashion or trends, but to create timeless watches that merit the cost of these sublime creations. The company has a pledge of independence and perpetuity. They design and manufacture everything under one roof so they don't have to rely on anyone else to deliver their product.

Just imagine if the company you worked for gave you this direction. In the world of Technology products we can't design for a lifetime because of the rapid changes that take place. Parmigiani Fleurier builds 4,000 watches a year. As of last month, Apple sold its 1,000,000th iPhone. We look at the iPhone as beautiful now, but we all know that in 5 years it will be in a closet somewhere looking very old and crusty. Could you design an iPod that delivered a great experience for twenty years? My RIO 600 MP3 player has stood the test of time as much as a pair of jeans with built-in-thong will. Well, almost.

Parmigiani Fleurier Links:

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Online Travel Products Suffering From Bad User Experience: A Case Study

User experience design is a place where you can innovate and exceed customer expectations, sometimes where they didn't even know they needed it. There are times where just meeting expectations is a huge design success. It seems that travel websites can't even do that. Forrester Research just released a study that shows that people are turning to the web 9% less in the last two years for research and purchase for travel.

Recently, a friend of mine travelled to Italy to enjoy a stay at a villa for a multi-family vacation. She purchased her family's airline tickets on months in advance. Like most people, she leads a robust life with work and family. By taking out her credit card and purchasing the tickets online, that meant she had checked off one thing off her long list of things-to-do before the trip. She printed out the online receipt and tucked it away for when she had to travel. She has travelled many times and purchasing tickets via web or traditional methods means something to her in her airline-ticket-purchasing mental model.

On the day she was to leave, it was a typical travel-day scenario. She was in a hurry to make sure everyone was all packed and ready to go and that work was in good shape for her to leave for a couple weeks. One thing she didn't have to deal with in her head was her airline tickets. She had taken care of that so long ago, right? Unfortunately, as she arrived at the airport she was dismayed to find out that the pages she printed out from the website were worthless. She had thought this would be her "eTicket" to get her on board. She bought the tickets from, so the airline could do nothing to help her. Things got uglier from there. The support from was awful. She was lucky to not miss her flight because the airline let her purchase replacements tickets for the flight. More money and pain, but at least got her family where they needed to go to begin their vacation.

The real ugliness happened as she tried to fly out of Italy. Throughout her trip she tried to work with to resolve this. They took no ownership and consistently ran her around with no answers. When the day came to leave Italia, she ultimately had to re-purchase all the tickets again. I'm leaving out a lot of the painful details, but it ultimately this cost her a lot of time, pain and tears. Not something you want to associate with a vacation, which is why people usually purchase airline tickets.

This story resonates with everyone involved and those who learn of this story when it is shared. It was not like getting scammed on an item on eBay. It impacted the entire family and possibly could have ruined the vacation itself.

How can online travel companies not realize this? They are not just supplying a means for people to make a simple purchase such as you do on Amazon. The touchpoints here go well beyond the item being purchased. They impact things when people are away from their computer, home and even their country. I agree with what Henry H. Harteveldt says about his report from Forrester:

"They must proactively destroy — and then rebuild — their products to be more practical to sell online and humanize the digital experience that they offer on
their Web sites."

Here's a link to the study (Be prepared to shell out $279)

MYSPACE by The Fresh

I heard "The Fresh" being interviewed on Sirius about how they spent a lot of time on the Friendster and MySpace which inspired the song. I'd like to show this to a few friends that don't know about these social networks and see what they think. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Forrester Should Pull The Trigger On Trigger Words

I just read about this report from Forrester and wanted to read more about it. Unfortunately, their signup process was not so good of an experience. After I filled out the pages registration info, I submitted the data. At that point I went to email to see what the next step was. It said:

Welcome To Forrester Research

You may want to save this email so you can log in at a later date.

Please log in by clicking the link below:
Click here to log in

After logging in, you can start taking advantage of the free research and other guest benefits…blah blah blah…

I already had a browser window still open from where I signed up, so I went to log in from there. That gave me this error:

We're sorry, your account has not been activated yet. Please check your email and click on the activation link to begin using your account.

I can figure out what they want me to do, but the problem is there is nothing that says, "activation" on the email from them. I'd connect to that word. I probably would have clicked on that link if they told me in the email I had to use that specific link in order to confirm that it was coming from my email. Trigger words and better language would have saved the day here.

I hope the content there is better than their registration design.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Online Video Experience: The New Yorker Let’s You Download Their Ginormous Video Clips, And Then Let’s You Down

I enjoyed a video clip on of a story about Steve Martin. I find that I am watching more and more lengthy videos online. The thought of doing this didn't connect with me until recently. It just sort of happened, and it was because of the content not the technology.

I remember 15 years ago digitizing video on a Mac, and being so excited to watch any video clips on the computer. It was thrilling, but it was because of the technology. I would digitize small clips from movies that I loved. It would take hours to compress, but seeing two minutes of movies like Birdy or Wings of Desire was well worth it.

Steve Martin replayed his famous comedy bits from his own perspective and in an historical context. It was funny to hear them again through this new window. People giggled in the audience as I did watching it on my PC, hearing the story of how he discovered his comedic path and innovated. What a gem to be able to hear how he set his own comedy guidelines in a genre he was creating.

This type of content really establishes The New Yorker's brand with me. Unfortunately, they drop the ball from a user experience standpoint just as they are succeeding on the content front. On the website around the video, they let you download the actual video to your desktop, but they fail to tell you that the file is over half a gig in size (551MB!). How long does this take? Is that why I am on The New Yorker website? The other core thing they provide under the video is a link for you to subscribe to "Festival Video" via iTunes. What is Festival Video? I clicked on a Steve Martin link. I don't know what Festival Video is. Why would I subscribe?

The New York Times website has great content as well, but also provides the surrounding online video experience I've come to expect today:

  • Copy-to-clipboard the permanent link to share
  • Email it directly from the website
  • Subscribe to their RSS feed on iTunes
  • Scan through related links, in context
  • Scan thumbnails to a number of other videos easily to keep the experience moving on their website
  • Scan through a tree structure to other videos groups organized by content type
  • P.S. – They also have a YouTube Director's account where they post their own website content for free

The New Yorker has really great content. I read stuff there all the time. It's a little disappointing that Chris Crocker of "Leave Britney Alone, You Bastards!" fame has better online video tools at his disposal, for free. It's sad that this sublime Steve Martin interview would never come close to Crocker's 5,253,942 channel views.

Here's the Steve Martin Video Interview from the New Yorker

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Mercenary Anthropology When All Else Fails?

Recently, the US sent cultural anthropologists to Afghanistan to operate with a combat team. The result was a 60% decrease in combat operations for that army unit. They learned things like if you want to win hearts and minds you don’t kick in doors, you knock on them (I’m not sure if they needed to send anyone over there for that knowledge nugget). The success of this 'test' has paved the way for 26 American combat brigades in Afghanistan and Iraq to each get their own team of cultural anthropologists.

I’m not sure how I feel about the use of cultural anthropologists in war, or as they are nicknamed, "mercenary anthropologists." What is very interesting to me is the timing of their use and their place in the decision-making hierarchy.

It seems very obvious that we would need to know more about a country’s culture during a time of war, regardless of the use of this data. Why has it taken 6 years for the US Military to deploy something that is so overtly useful in this type of war? It's sad that this wasn’t part of the original plan, but then again we see this in product design all the time. Companies not understanding the value of knowing their customer archetypes and also not knowing what to call 'it' is eerily similar. I can’t tell you how many times I have been introduced improperly to others just because most don’t easily grasp the concept of user experience design. It’s hard for me to make the jump to corporate America because it has an air of trivializing the seriousness of what is going on over there, but there are so many similarities. Here is a quote from Colonel Woods:
"Call it what you want, it works. It works in helping you define the problems, not just the symptoms."

He doesn't know what this is, but he nails what it is about. I guess it doesn't matter what you call it if you just get it. The army is spending $40 million on this project, although people can't define it easily and it is late in the game. I'd love to see more of corporate America investing in this as well with the same excuses.

Here are some interesting links for more on this:

Official document on counterinsurgency

NY Times article

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Radiohead Swimming With the Current of Digital Music Culture

Radiohead has always been an innovator with their music. They have explored new sound textures and styles with each album since Pablo Honey in 1993. Now they are doing the same with their upcoming release, “In Rainbows,” but this time they are taking on music distribution channels. There are 4 multinational music corporations that control most of today’s music. Instead of bending to corporate bidding, they are moving directly towards how people are consuming music today. I’d say they are even moving beyond that and innovating in this thorny space. Their plan is to publish their music online and let people pay whatever they’d like for it. That’s right. Download it and share it as you like without any DRM in your way of enjoying their art. Next year, they will release a traditional plastic CD and an $80 2-vinyl record set with extra songs and photos via their website. On top of this, they aren’t going to send out advance copies of the new album to traditional media.

They upload, you download and share without any middlemen. They are embracing small-is-the-new-big and long-tail philosophies, but they are doing so on the opposite side of the food chain. Imagine the author getting his book in PDF form directly to you instead of through Amazon. How will this change things? We shall see, but we know retiring to Muzakish irrelevance isn’t where they are headed just yet.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Random Thoughts From A Down & Out Windows Machine Owner

My new computer hard drive, 30 days or so old, blue-screened this morning. This is after spending several weeks getting everything up and running after last month's crash. I've backed up most things after last crash, but lost 5 drafts for blogs I was working on. I spent 4 hours this afternoon taking in the old machine to the Squad O'Geeks and purchasing a new machine. I am convinced the old Gateway was pure evil. I purchase Best Buy's best HP CPU and a 24" monitor, get home, unpack everything, connect the myriad of wires and...You must be kidding...The new machine won't boot up. It is stuck in a loop of trying to start up and then going into disaster recovery mode. This is right out of the box. I end up packing everything back up and returning it all. They were out of 24" iMacs, otherwise I would be writing this on more comfortable surroundings. Unfortunately, I'm doing so on a relic of a Windows machine from the closet. Sigh. Computers really do suck sometimes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What News Website Am I Looking At?

I noticed that have redesigned their website. I have a lot to say about the redesign, but before I blog about that there was something else I wanted to talk about. The first thing I noticed about the design is how similar the latest news headlines section is to (Redesign coming there soon?). I then took a journey to a few dozen websites to see how many people are using similar designs for their latest headlines section on their homepage. Enjoy the above montage of blue text! Blue is so corporate. So newsworthy. So trustworthy. So 1990 hyperlink color. So…blue. It was also interesting to note the similar camera icon on a handful of them.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Blogging Tools Are Very Immature and the Resulting Experience is Frustratingly Bad

Authoring blog entries over the last year has been a great experience…Except for the authoring part. What I mean is that blogger’s web app has consistently screwed up what I put in their editable text box. I am constantly going in and tweaking the HTML by hand. Do most bloggers know how to do this? Sometimes Blogger will even edit out a whole bunch of text for no good reason when you publish your blog entry. My workaround for this has been to work in Microsoft Word, use Notepad to tweak characters that won’t show up well on web pages, publish in Blogger, and then finally still have to tweak the HTML code every time. It’s 2007 and the term blog is ubiquitous these days. Shouldn’t this experience be a simpler one?

I’ve taken my frustration with Blogger to the next level and have made the decision to use a new authoring tool. Contribute CS3 and Windows Live are such better and smarter environments to work in. You get all the features of a Microsoft Word, but you are working directly in context to your Blog. Unfortunately, Blogger (owned by Google) doesn’t let you totally integrate these great tools with them. Contribute CS3 will sometimes post articles to Blogger such as this:

[User Experience Arts] ##TITLE## ##CONTENT##
Posted By Michael Grossman to User Experience Arts at 12/31/1969 07:00:00 PM

Posted on New Year’s Eve 1969? I don’t think blogging was around the same year that Zeppelin released their first album and John and Yoko married. It also has problems editing past entries. Both pieces of desktop software are incapable of letting you add images, because Blogger blocks them from doing so. Awful! Just testing all these things took me hours.

My next step is trying to migrate to WordPress. There is an import feature in WordPress that allows you to import your blog entries from Blogger. Of course, Blogger has blocked these efforts as well, and I wasted a couple dozen hours trying. Sigh.

Message To Blogger & Google: If you want to keep me as a customer, make the experience better. Don’t hold me hostage!

How nice it would have been to just have been blogging for all of these wasted hours. The fact that Microsoft Word 2003 still underlines “blog,” “blogging,” and “blogger” says it all.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Why Do People Rob Banks? That’s Where The Customer-Friendly Branches Are

There was an article in the New York Times a couple weeks ago about an increase in bank robberies. Interesting thing is that police were putting some blame on banks being too “customer-friendly.” This reminded me of all the business requirements meetings I’ve been in where you have people representing all important parts of the organization. This would always include Security. Not only that, but security would always be on the mind of everyone involved. When authenticating someone in an application, there are things you obviously think about.

I wonder if this were true when these new bank branches were being designed. Did the interior designer meet with a bank-robbery specialist? Seems like the answer is no. They seem solely focused on designing the branches to draw more clients into the branch, do less to thwart robbery attempts.

When I read the article, I was also struck by the thread of all the recent silly bank robbers I’ve heard of in the news. They seem to be pointing to a new bank robber persona:

Where are Bonnie & Clyde? Where are Mr. Orange and Mr. White casing the bank? Where are Sonny Wortzik and Salvatore Naturile (The real Dog Day Afternoon bank robbers). The nostalgia we have for old skool bank robbers has been replaced by bumbling n00bs. Now they wear flip flops, silly hats, duct tape or even underwear on their heads. They clearly don’t spend lots of time planning their robberies. Is this because they don’t have to? Have the smart ones moved on to the field of Identity Theft or pyramid schemes? Will the next era of bank robbery movies have these knuckleheads as the main characters?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What Happens When Posts A Wacky Story About A Wacky Teenager Singing Numa Numa? is pushing their new iCaught stuff with its own site and growing mentions on TV. To get your attention they show the typical video clips of lightning strikes, wedding proposals, flash floods and violence. What caught my attention today was that they were hawking a story of the Numa Numa Guy. This is almost three years old?! It was published in 2004, and there was a NY Times article on Gary Brolsma in 2005.

Who is creating i-Caught for? I have a few things for iCaught to promote next week:

  • The “Oh the humanity!” Hindenburg clip
  • The Zapruder film of the JFK assassination
  • 1940 Tacoma Falls Bridge collapse
  • Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon
  • The Death Star exploding
  • Pam & Tommy Lee sex tape

Cutting edge.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Old Media: "Cancelled." New Media: "All Hope Is Not Lost! Anchorwoman Can Be Saved!"

There was news this morning that a new Fox TV series, "Anchorwoman" has been cancelled after a single episode. It attracted a third of the viewers that the previous time slot had a week earlier. This isn't that interesting to me. What is kind of interesting is that as soon as the news hits tradional media, the star of the show is broadcasting her own messages via new media. Lauren Jones, the star, posted this message on her MySpace page:

Hey guys, It has been a roller coaster of a day, as you can probably imagine. Last night, Anchorwoman aired on FOX at 8pm and we received lower ratings than what the network had hoped for. When I say "ratings", it means that the viewership was not there; we simply needed more people to tune in. Those who did loved it! We just needed more to have known about it so they could have loved it also!

This may have happened for a number of reasons. We only filmed the show in June and then quickly turned it and aired it in August. That is quick and doesn't leave much time to get a huge audience on board. That could be one component. The word was truly not out there as it could have been. There are also many other reasons that the viewership wasn't there. The thing that stinks about this is that Anchorwoman is such a great show and gets better and more fun with each episode! It gets funnier, more tense, more lovable, and we all believe in it - still! And there is some good news, and it's tough to be positive during a time like this, as I'm sure you can imagine. Those who actually saw the first two episodes LOVED it!!! This means a number of things! While the show is no longer on FOX on Wednesdays at 8pm, it will STILL run - we just don't know the details yet - and possibly be ressurected in another, possibly better fashion! All hope is not lost, this could possibly turn out good. The show may go to another network, we are not sure. Voice your opinion and let FOX know how you feel, because nothing in this world is permanent.

Share your thoughts, voice your opinion... you and your voice matter!

Lauren Jones

I've blogged about how this can work with the famous tons-o-peanuts campaign to save Jericho and how ON Networks is taking this to the next level. I'm interested to see how using these tools for a show that doesn't have a lot of buzz and hasn't won critical praise will fare.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Windows Live Writer

This and the previous blog were written with Windows Live Writer, a cool new desktop application by Microsoft. It's not perfect, but gets me closer to how I'd like to blog. Up to now I've written my blog entries in Word and when ready, I upload via Blogger. I do this because Blogger has lost a lot of hours of typing for reasons I can only attribute to dark magic. The only problem I've had with using Word in this manner is that I have to copy/paste to notepad and replace things before I upload to Blogger because of Smart Quotes and other non-web-friendly characters. With Windows Live Writer it's just like working in Word, but I can publish directly to Blogger. The only downer is it can't publish images. I have to go back into Blogger and upload there. I'm sure there's a way around this but so far, so cool.

There are a bunch of other features I haven't had time to dig into yet, but I'm sure there will be a follow-up post coming.

Back In The Windows Saddle Again

Losing your computer in 2007 is a lot different than it used to be. I've owned personal computers for the last 20 years, but the experience is so much more immersive today. Computers touch so many facets of our life that when it is gone it is almost like losing a room in your home. Family photos, personal videos, music collections, blogging, collaboration, etc. My dependence on this box has crept up on me. Too many special things now exist only in digital form on a gimantic, fragile hard drive.

I've spent the last week thinking about next steps and how to approach Gateway Hard Drive 2.0. I'm still unsure about a lot of it, but my perspective has been changed by this awful experience. Just as the iPod took a few years before it became the innovation darling it is today, iLife has a lot more meaning to me now as well.

It's good to be back, however tenuous it now feels.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Third Strike: The Hidden Cost of Windows Compels an Apple Reunion

My computer has crashed and I have lost everything, for the third time in a year. This is very painful. I have a backup of files from a couple months ago, but recovering the files is just part of the mess. Re-installing all the software I work with and getting the workspace set up takes at least a week. Reconnecting to all of the websites I work on will be tedious. There just doesn't seem to be a way around this. This is the hidden price of working on a Windows machine.

This all happened because I installed new software. I paid for it, downloaded it and installed it. It’s just a small utility to help create cascading menus for websites. When it was done installing, it asked me to restart the machine, which I did. That was the last time I saw my desktop. The new software screwed up a .dll and the old machine won’t startup. I had run Adaware and a Virus check hours earlier, which I have to do religiously because I work on Windows.

I’m currently on an old laptop. I can get on to the Internets so I can try and find help, but even that is difficult. The Geek Squad would take a week to even come to my home for $250, and dropping it off at Best Buy would take 3 – 5 business days and $200. This is just to get started and doesn’t include anything else. Luckily, a good friend is trying to help, but the time and effort is not trivial.

Since 1987 I’ve owned Macintosh computers. I still own one but the cost to maintain all of the software was prohibitive to keep them both. Three years ago I started using my Windows machine as my primary workstation. No more. Never did I ever lose data or have to reformat a drive for any of my Macs. Not my Mac SE, IIsi, Performa, Quad, PowerComputer, G4 or any of them. Not one. I did have system problems, but I would just put the system disks in or a third party piece of software and fix the problem.

I will make my way back to Apple this week. It will cost a bundle, but I can’t even begin to think of what three crashes on three different machines has cost me. Windows, I will still keep you around for testing and unimportant shite, but my eggs are now back in an Apple basket.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

What Makes People Laugh at the Baconator Commercial Makes User Experience Designers Cry

The TV Commercial for The Baconator from Wendy's superimposes the heads of middle aged men over crazed teen fanatics most likely from the Beatles era. The men have the same hysterical faces that the teenage girls did for the Fab Four, only this time it is for a bacon cheeseburger.

This is overtly funny. There is nothing subtle about it. It's the same humor that anchors countless comedic films such as "All of Me," "Switch" and "Freaky Friday."

This sort of persona switch happens all the time in User Experience Design, only there usually isn't much smiling going on. It's not obvious when it happens and it is like swimming upstream to challenge. It can derail meetings and design in its most egregious incarnations.

The next time it happens, I'm going to bring up The Baconator commercial.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Why Didn't I Know What I Didn’t Know?

I've had an iSkin protector for my iPod Video for the last year. I bought it because I didn't want to scratch up my iPod. Simple. Last week I am sitting on my NJ Transit train, and while I'm struggling with the iSkin it finally dawns on me: Why am I doing this? Here are the things I really hated about it...

First off, it is a pain in the ass it is to get the clear plastic shield into the rubber layer, especially at the top. As you got the outside lip of the rubber it would pull itself away from the iPod itself and you'd have to start over. Grrr.

Next, while the rubber skin in front of the click wheel was ok for basic navigation, it was torture if you had to scroll through a lot of data. Your finger would stick to the rubber and not move smoothly. It was almost impossible for me to get the alphabetical navigation to popup because of this.

The Hold button is covered by the rubber so you can't tell what state it is in or even change it. You have to pull up the rubber to see it or change the setting, which causes you to have to wrestle it back into place with the plastic cover again when you're done. Every time.

Lastly, just to pile on, over time the rubber would grab all kinds of small debris and made it look like shit. Why should my pretty iPod be hidden under this dirty case?

I realize how much I didn't like using my iPod because of having to deal with the iSkin itself. I go online when I get home and see this cool looking acrylic thing from Belkin. I order it, and got it by the end of the week. Wow, is this thing easy to use. Every scenario above is remedied by this case, and it looks great.

So why did I wait a year until I did this? I didn't know what I didn't know. This was my first case for my first iPod Video. It was doing its job of protecting the iPod from scratches, it just wasn't a good overall experience. If this had been my fifth iPod case for my seventh iPod I would have known as soon as I opened the box a year ago.

It reminds me a lot of when you first begin to play a musical instrument such as electric guitar. Do you like a Les Paul neck or a Fender Stratocaster? What kind of pickups do you like? What kind of picks? What weight strings do you prefer? What kind of Amplifier? What kind of speakers? You just don't know the answers to these questions before you have experience, and a lot of it. After investing time with your instrument and your equipment, you just know. Now I know what I didn't know.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Complex Definition of Innovation

Just as I recently wrote about how the words User Experience are becoming Elastic, Innovation has been thrown around in the same manner. Dr. Sam Pitroda is the National Knowledge Commission chairperson of India. He just released a report on how innovations in processes and products could bring about seminal changes in the functioning of large and small and medium enterprises. When giving the report, he and his fellow researchers had a tough time deconstructing the definition of innovation. When reading about this I felt good because it is complex and so many use it so cavalierly these days.

In the report, while 81% of large firms agree that innovation is critical to growth and competitiveness only 37.3% of them have introduced breakthrough innovation. 76.4% feel as if they have introduced incremental innovation. I guess that means that 76.4% have a pulse and that, sadly, 23.7% are in a corporate coma. You'd basically have to do nothing at all to not have any incremental innovation under their definition.

The report also commented on how public & private owned firms are much more innovative than government agencies. Maybe this is the reason NASA and other agencies are sponsoring these contests in order to innovate. Are they just not built to innovate? Didn't they innovate when they were in a race to get to the moon?

Non-government agencies need to show profits in order to stay in business. This doesn't force them to innovate however, especially after they've produced something that has made them profits. A lot of times companies that display innovation initially lose that over time. This is especially true for public companies that have to justify every penny they spend. It's easier to show an investment into Technology vs. Innovation. This goes back to the difficulty in defining it. What does $300,000 invested in innovation mean? I know what $300,000 of technology means or even $3,000,000, and I can share that easily with my shareholders. Innovation inherently includes risk in its investment and is a much harder sell.

Look at what has gone on with Nintendo and Sony. The result? Nintendo stock is at a six-year high while Sony stock continues to slide since May. It’s difficult to compare the two stocks for a lot of reasons, but if you read the stories about the two over the last year you get the point. Nintendo innovated with the Wii and won while Sony stayed in the game console arms race and lost.

The Wii spawned stories about people using the system while the Playstation boasted processor speed and Blu-ray capability. Experience vs. Technology. Even the bad experiences didn't really hurt the Wii. Stories of the joystick flying out of player's hands and breaking HD TVs or even giving their girlfriends black eyes have done nothing but created more buzz about the console. There is even a website dedicated to such stories. There is a strong bond between experience design and innovation.

The investment Nintendo made in their innovation must now look very small to its shareholders while the technology investment Sony has made will probably weigh down their annual report. It's important to remember that Nintendo innovated during the seventh generation of video game consoles. So how do we move this away from Monday morning quarterbacking and get investment in innovation well before annual reports are printed?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Nitpicking? Bull! Checkbox/Radio Button Usage 101

This is absolutely nitpicking, but if you had someone manage money on your behalf you might nitpick with them too. Merrill Lynch makes a lot of money and manages lots of money. When I signed into my account tonight, there was this form I had to fill out before getting to any data. Obviously they are looking to save money on having to send out actually statements by defaulting to saying "no don’t send me anything." I can live with that, although they make enough money to just send the silly things. I like saving trees, so I will do it anyway. What annoyed me is that they use checkboxes in places where they should obviously use radio buttons. It makes me rethink my decision to let them manage my hard earned cake. Ok...I feel better now.

UPDATE Jan 17, 2008: 'Anonymous' (C'mon...Who are you?!) wanted to see the full screen without the 'bull.' Below is the original screen grab:

Doomsday For Matlock Fans: 2-17-2009

There are a bunch of stories online today about how U.S. Senators are already terrified of possible consumer backlash coming in 2009. This is all about the impending switchover from analog to digital TV signals. Here are some quotes from some Senators:

"They're not going to call you, they're going to call me. And they're going to be mad." - Senator Claire McCaskill, D-MO

"The transition poses a high potential for a train wreck here." - Senator Maria Cantwell, D-WA

"The government needs to act before the digital transition devolves into digital disaster." - Daniel Inouye, D-HI

This feels like the millennium bug coming all over again, except this time we know it will happen. The big difference this time is it will likely impact the poor and the elderly the worst. This will be the Katrina version of the millennium bug. It’s interesting how the UK is spending $400 million on their educational campaign while we are only spending $7 million.

Knowing that the poor and elderly will be the ones most affected, AARP is trying to predict their reaction:

"These consumers will be confused, frustrated and angry that this important information and entertainment source in their home is no longer operational, through no fault of their own." - AARP board member Nelda Barnett

This clearly won't end well. Only 10% of people surveyed in the U.S. know of the February 17, 2009 deadline. Managing customer expectations is something we are very aware of in the User Experience Design field. This impact is on a scale that is very hard to relate to.

Stay tuned?

The High Cost of Innovation And Not Adopting It

George Christopoulos had heard of a little girl from Ontario falling out of an eighth floor window to her death. This was all the inspiration he needed to invent the WindowGate. George owned a window repair business so he knew this domain. He designed it to fit over most apartment building windows. It lets you open the window to let air in on hot days, but it doesn’t let children out. He worked on it in his garage for a long time. That was almost eight years ago.

Christopoulos was selling WindowGates in a safety store until he learned he would be liable if a child fell from a window equipped with the device. After making inquiries he discovered the insurance to protect him would cost close to $24,000 a year. He already had spent a good chunk of his savings on creating the gate and wasn't prepared to bankrupt himself for his invention. "I'm so disappointed. There are more and more children every year that shouldn't fall," said the 70-year-old.

Although we seem to cherish stories of amateur innovators as a culture, we really need to get more of it into corporate culture. Especially with the ideas that may flourish could save the lives of kids. Shouldn’t the companies that own apartment buildings or window manufacturers be better suited to have come up with this and to get it deployed?

Anybody want to buy his patent? He is selling it.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Old Skoolin With Cassettes

I had this big box of cassette tapes of old recordings from the last 40 years of my life. It took me almost a month of working here and there, but I’ve digitized them all. Before I could even begin, I had to purchase a new cassette deck, after finding that my old one from 10 years ago stopped working. The stereo store had one left in a back office that they sold to me for $50 (originally sold for $350).

It was really strange. It brought back all kinds of sensations of the experience of working with cassette tapes. When fast forwarding through songs, you used to get this knack for knowing when to stop and play, listening to the magnetic heads drop down to touch the oxide strip. You’d also have to guesstimate how much music you could get on each side before running out of tape. I remembered having to deal with them in my car, and how sometimes the tape would get stuck in the stereo and you’d have to finesse it out.

So now, everything on the tapes is now in MP3 format on my computer and iPod. I can forward through dozens of recordings in seconds, create playlists and shuffle them. How spoiled we are.

Here is some fruits of my labor:

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Invisible Computer Generation: Results From The Circuits of Cool/Digital Playground Study

It's been almost 10 years since Donald Norman wrote, "The Invisible Computer." His core principles still hold true, and putting humans at the core of a product lifecycle is as important as it has ever been. It is interesting though, to look back on this book though with a generation that has grown up with technologies that did not exist at that time.

Last week Microsoft and Viacom published a report they did with 18,000 8-24 year olds in 16 countries. "The Circuits of Cool/Digital Playground" report shows that role of technology is now an invisible, organic part of this generation. Only 20% of those surveyed say they were interested in technology, while almost all say they couldn’t live without it. They are constantly on their cell phones and internet creating deeper, closer relationships with others. They don’t look at computers as people did ten years ago. Computers are just another means to communicate as the telephone was before them.

Look at the technologies that they have at their fingertips today that were part of the report:

  • Internet
  • Email
  • PC
  • TV
  • Mobile
  • IM
  • Cable and Satellite TV
  • DVD
  • MP3
  • Stereo
  • Digital Cameras
  • Social Networks
  • Online and Offline Videogames
  • CDs
  • HDTV
  • VHS
  • Webcams
  • MP4 players
  • DVR/PVRs
  • Hand-held game consoles

Here is what I had available to me while growing up:

  • TV
  • Cable TV
  • Stereo
  • Videogames

Do Merlin and Mattel's Classic Football count as a handheld game consoles? I don't think I’ve ever seen them cited as technology gadgets in any reports before, so I’ll leave them off.

What I find really interesting is that while most companies don't follow Norman's human-centered development process and for the most part don’t produce user-friendly products, they have still become organic or invisible to the younger generation. How will this influence product lifecycle methodology in years to come?

Here are some interesting findings from the report:

  • 100% of those surveyed said they communicate every time they go online
  • Top IM topics for 14-24s are gossiping (62%), making arrangements (57%), talking about the opposite sex (57%) and flirting (55%), work or school (54%), and TV and music (52%)
  • Youth audiences also want more control of what they watch and when they want it: They expect content to be on all platforms - mobile, computer and TV - and they want it to be searchable and increasingly expect it to be supplied on demand and online
  • Almost 60% of all young people prefer TV to computer
  • The term "web 2.0" is used by very few people (8%) outside China.
  • 16% admitted to using the phrase "social networking"
  • Friends influence each other as much as marketers do. Friends are as important as brands.
  • Despite the plethora of new communicating tools, a majority in almost every nation expressed a preference for meeting in person; Japanese, Chinese, Poles and Germans scored higher than others when it came to wanting to communicate online; only Chinese youth actually expressed a majority preference for texting over face-to-face meetings

Here is a detailed overview of the findings done by MarketingCharts.

Friday, July 27, 2007

When Technology Takeovers Impact User Experience

I had a Flickr account. I don't know if I do anymore. It seems that Yahoo is trying to merge Flickr and Yahoo user id's. This is two years after they’ve purchased Flickr for $54 Million. With that many zeroes and timeline, you'd think they'd integrate nicely and create a good user experience. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to follow their instructions so I can't login. I feel as if I'm pretty savvy when it comes to the web, so either I’m now unsavvy or this process is facockt.

It turns out I'm not alone, and I'm not as bad off as others:

...My yahoo account and flickr were merged just fine. Now they are not. I cannot explain it. And when I try to sign in, it sends me to yahoo. Round and round I go. I call yahoo, they tell me to call flickr and give me a phone number that doesn't work. I email flickr and they were kind enough to send me an automated reply promising to get back to me within three days. *stab*

...I have tried various logins and the one login that works only works for Yahoo!. This then tells me that I can merge my Yahoo account with my Flickr account. Only I can't. It doesn't recognise the details that I enter for Flickr.

... So I now have... no account? I try the help files. No luck with any term including the word "Flickr." I could set up a new account, of course, and start from scratch. Bonus points: no contact with Yahoo. So what to do now? Is my Flickr account, years of work, now inaccessible to me? Is anyone from Yahoo listening?

...So, then there is also a message. That you can create a new account. But it is not possible to use the same ID. I remember that I started 2 years ago with a different name on Flickr ‘trendgevoelig' So after struggling for an hour I made a fatal mistake. I connected a new account ‘trendgevoelig' to my Yahoo account. So there it happened. A new completely empty account to my Yahoo ID.

Follow-up from the same guy here.

One interesting thing I found on the Flickr blog itself posted over 2 years ago is them trying to address a lot of concerns they thought people would have from the Yahoo takeover. Sad thing is they knew people feared these things would happen, they promised us that they wouldn't happen, and of course they have. For example:

Do I have to have a Yahoo ID to use Flickr?
No. In the future, you'll be able to log into Flickr using your Yahoo account, but you can continue logging on as before. – If only this were true! Sad that they knew this would be an issue two years ago and still screwed it up.

I liked Flickr BEFORE you even heard of it!
You shall be recognized for your discerning taste in web sites!! I bet you also liked the Flaming Lips before they appeared on Beverly Hills 90210, and for that we salute you. Pro account holders will get super mega bonuses, to be announced soon. – Super mega bonuses? How about just being able to manage my photos?

But I never upgraded!
Free accounts will have more storage and uploads – pro accounts too — AND they'll be cheaper. – Not true. You are limited to a certain number of photo sets. Even worse, if you had a Pro account and move to a free account, you can no longer access those files.

Flickr's tagline is "Flickr Loves You." I don't need to be loved by Flickr, I just want to login. Picasa web albums are not as good, but at least they let me log in. Web 2.0, take me away! (Web 2.0 is the new Calgon). I'm Fckt.