Monday, January 29, 2007

Like the iPod, New Industries Are Being Spawned...But This Time by Terrible User Experience

Last night on 60 Minutes there was a segment called, "Get Me The Geeks!" that had commentary by Donald Norman and David Pogue. Robert Stephens talks about how he founded Geek Squad because people are having such a terrible experience managing new technologies. His customers are not just older folks or technophobes, but a wide variety of very smart, younger folks who think they can do it themselves and can't:

"There's the do-it-yourselfers. There's the do-it-for-me. And what we're discovering is the even bigger market of ‘I-thought-I-could-it-myself’ crowd," Stephens tells Kroft.

Dr. Norman says the technology changes so fast and the competitive pressures are so great that products are pushed into the marketplace before engineers had a chance to simplify them.

I don't agree here. I think that it is not the fault of the engineers. Fault lies at the highest levels of these corporations who do not make User Experience an important, early part of the product lifecycle.

The reality is that technology advances are going faster than the ability to easily use these products. There should be some sort of Moore's Law created for User Experience and Technology. In the story there is discussion of refrigerators talking to other appliances in your home and taking actions. How will this be designed? I think Geek Squad stock may go up before the process changes.
It's interesting how Geek Squad is promoting Microsoft Vista. They are pushing you to migrate to the upgrade and extending the hand to help you through the mess it may cause.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Get the Message? Context is King

I saw this on (which is a really wonderful site by the way). This is a great example of how you need to be blunt sometimes in getting important messages across, even though they are obvious. The placement of the door knob and the look of pure #2 misery on his face with newspaper in hand to get his intentions across are great. Too bad this wouldn't be allowed in most work environments by the HR department. This reminded me of a much more serious example I saw a while back for an anti-rape campaign:

Talk about putting something in context. Here is more on this campaign.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Windows vs. Windows

With less than 10 days before the official Vista launch, how will people find the new experience? Seems like they aren’t competing with Linux or Mac OS X, but the existing version of Windows. So I went to the official Microsoft website to see what new features they are promoting. Voila! #1 is User Experience! Nice:

Windows Vista introduces a breakthrough user experience and is designed to help you feel confident in your ability to view, find, and organize information and to control your computing experience.

The visual sophistication of Windows Vista helps streamline your computing experience by refining common window elements so you can better focus on the content on the screen rather than on how to access it. The desktop experience is more informative, intuitive, and helpful. And new tools bring better clarity to the information on your computer, so you can see what your files contain without opening them, find applications and files instantly, navigate efficiently among open windows, and use wizards and dialog boxes more confidently.

“Feel confident” and “visual sophistication” are terms right at the top of their list of key features. After that there are things pushed such as Windows Aero, Flip and Flip 3D. I wonder if there really was customer feedback that led them to think that being able to see through the taskbar would make the experience markedly better.

People have expectations of their current Windows computing experience. How will Vista enhance the things that Time’s Person of the Year does? How does it help the top things Time lists such as Wikipeding, YouTubing. MySpacing, Facebooking and Second Living? People currently do these things expecting the OS to work the way it does (or tries to) today.

More on Windows Vista features on their official site.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Personas Beware: the Advance Party

There is this interesting dogme 95-esque film concept called Advance Party. Three films are being made by three different directors and all films will use the same characters. Names, personal observations and a handful of backstories are provided to the directors. I was lucky to catch the first of these films, Red Road on a small LCD screen of a Virgin Atlantic flight.

After learning about the concept it made me think of persona creation. You can create an entire trilogy of movies from a small, single data set. How often are personas based on too shallow a pool of data points in User Experience Design? Here's a cool timeline (PDF, 22K) with background info on the process.

Here's the trailer to Red Road:

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Measuring User Experience

While reading this article on how eBay heightens its precautions, I started thinking about how User Experience will continue to be seen as a mystical art as long as you can't measure it easily:

Executives at eBay Inc. are touting security as their top priority in 2007 after an internal survey showed that online scammers may be denting the company's reputation.

How do you measure a dent in your reputation? Whip out your Stanley watch ruler and have at it. Maybe that is why they are saying that it "may be" denting it? As if 58,300 fraudulent auctions every 3 months aren't creating repeated bad experiences. So how do you fix it if you can't measure it? Furthermore, how do you budget for this? I want to increase my reputation by do I do this? All technology companies know how many developers can churn out how many lines of code and can easily budget for this. If this could be quantified, there might be more UX people hired.

We're never going to completely stop the bad guys from using the Internet, but we do know that negative experiences are a major reason people leave eBay — and they pass along word of mouth to other people," Durzy said. "In 2007, you'll see a sea change in our approach to trust and safety."

Doesn't every business face this? I'd like to see the "sea of change" budget.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Pan's Princeton Popcorn Maker

Tonight we went to the movies to see Pan's Labyrinth. We went into Princeton and I tested out my new camera (Canon SD630). Really happy with using it and the images with and without flash. In particular I was fascinated with the above popcorn maker and its controls. Watching it billow out popcorn was cool too:

As for the movie, I recommend it. Felt a lot. It's nice when the town, the theater and the popcorn maker wrap nicely around the movie-going experience.

Episode 1 of Innovation in Sports: Involving Customers Early in the NBA Product Lifecycle? Priceless.

The NBA caused quite a stir this season. They designed a new basketball with Spalding that they touted as being much better with a laundry list of features and a patented technology. Some features were:

  • Spalding's Cross Traxxion(tm) technology which is a union of revolutionary design and breakthrough materials which eliminates the need for a break-in period
  • One-third the channel area to provide more material coverage for better grip
  • Moisture management material to provide superior grip and feel throughout the course of a game
  • More official details here from the NBA...
The old eight-panel ball had been been around since 1970. Were any of the new features asked for by players? Why did this redesign occur? Unfortunately the players where not part of the redesign process, so when the season began and the ball revealed many players voiced their dislike of the new ball.

Ultimately, David Stern relented and put the old ball back in to play at the start of the new year. So has there been any difference in the statistics between the 2 balls? This is a portion of Vince Grzegorek's story on the old vs. new basketball:

...However, it might lead us to conclude that besides the personal comfort of the players that may have whined about cutting their fingertips on the microfiber model there is really no practical difference between the balls in actual game play. We're talking about professionals here, professionals (best A.I. impersonation with the voice there), and they are going to make shots whether you put a microfiber ball in their hands or a leather ball in their hands. Heck, give them a little practice and they could probably make consistent shots with a soccer ball, a kickball, or whatever else you want to give them.

In this case, the groundswell against the change was so great that David Stern couldn't help but go back on his word and give the players back their leather ball. It might not lead to higher scoring games in the second half, and it might not lead to better field goal percentage, and all of the other stats might be the same; but if they players feel this vehemently about the basketball, then let them keep the one they want.

Even if the advantages and comfort of the good old leather Spalding are all in their heads.

Perception is everything (Here is the rest of Vince's article...). I heard a story from Luke Wroblewski at UI11 regarding redesigning QWERTY keyboards and needing a high degree of improvement (+30%) in order for people to want to move from something so engrained in their muscle memory.

Clearly the NBA did a poor job not in the design of the ball, but in using a process that left out listening to their core customers, the players. Of course you are going to get "spidey sense" reactions without any connection to statistics or facts. This is not about facts or quantitative study. These players are all about feel. Make them shift from a wide, creative awareness while playing the game to an uncomfortable feel of a new ball and they may be less visceral in their play.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Storytelling That Sticks: The Google 15

Google has been the great-web-user-experience-example darling for a while now. I remember observing how people would pass around stories to people about the search, the maps and Google Earth. "Look, you can zoom in and see where you live!" was said a lot. This impresses me about Google. They continually generate mass oral tradition. The latest story I viewed on where their work environment got them to be the new #1 Best Company to Work For by Fortune Magazine. One thing in particular stuck with me: The Google 15. The food is free and they have 11 cafeterias around their GooglePlex, so people tend to put on 15 pounds when the start working there. There is even a google module created by someone that works at google to track your weight here:

Yet another story that sticks, is easy to pass around, and is a much more memorable than just saying that Google is the #1 place to work in America. For a company that makes a living on technology, it amazes me how good they are at the non-technology stuff like generating stories that stick.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Where's the Chef?

In the January 2007 issue of Gourmet Magazine there is a story about Italian chef wunderkind and innovator, Fulvio Pierangelini. While discussing a dish described as "sandwich di spigolo (pesce crudo)" Colman Andrews made this comment:

"The whole thing is just so straightforward, so guileless, that my first thought is, Where's the chef's hand in all of this? Then I realize that the chef's hand is in the fact that his hand isn't obvious."

The Invisible Chef? Donald Norman wrote, "It should be quiet, invisible, unobtrusive" when it comes to computers but it applies to experience everywhere. It's interesting to see how experience in the food world is retold when the chef takes less of role in the diner's experience. Like a person who loves NetFlix but will never think about the developers who created and maintain their experience.
I want more sandwiches di spigolo.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Trigger Categories is doing something insteresting. I took a screen grab of their home page after seeing that they are changing the way they group their news stories. If a story is important enough to have many articles on it, they give it a category to itself with scent in the label. The Death of Saddam and Gerald Ford are their topmost categories on the page. still uses generic categorization. Their top 4 buckets are In the News, NBC News Highlights, Recommended Stories and Inside Where are the trigger words there? I wonder if the other top news sites will copy this.
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Friday, January 5, 2007

The Best of 2006 Illustrates the Importance of Knowing Your Customer

I was reading the BusinessWeek article on the Best Product Design of 2006 and there were more than a few mentions of how important gathering data on your customers is. Nice to see that this is finally sticking. Maybe all the upstream swimming we have done in the user experience community over the last decade is paying off, or maybe we held it back with all our whining (joke?). Either way it is becoming, as the article says, "an executive core competency."

This one comment intrigued me:

Juror Don Norman (author of Emotional Design and The Design of Everyday Things said: "At first the judges said 'yuck' to the design but then changed their minds when the research showed the Chinese didn't want our sleek U.S. design but their own from their own culture."

I think that the overwhelming majority of companies out there that design products still do not incorporate gathering customer data in the product lifecycle. The result is too many decisions being made at the 'yuck' moment.

So how do you measure this as a failure? Measuring a products performance and quality is a part of all good process-oriented firms. Rarely do we see companies testing to see if the customer loved something or thought it was cool. Probably because it's not easy. We move from a simple to evaluate metrics realm into the complex to judge subjective world. It's not clear to most on how to put subjective evaluation into an Excel file.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

"We can kid ourselves, but in the end it's probably porn that people want."

That is what the former CEO of Guba said last year. Guba, a Video-sharing website, had recently experienced a drastic decline in traffic. 2 of the 3 co-founders also depart the company including the CEO himself. Why? They talk about YouTube and other sector dominating services making it difficult to compete. It's interesting to read deeper and see where they got there start. They had achieved their original success by creating a usable user interface to browse videos that were found on Usenet. The BBS system is well known for its porn content. Basically, Guba was successful at creating a product that made it simple to download porn from Usenet. Then last April the company wanted a Google-like buyout so it began to filter out, you guessed it, porn. Unfortunately, a Rated-G(uba) all of a sudden wasn't useful anymore for its original purpose. My guess is that other tools quickly filled this void, making it difficult to gain the precious hits that it once enjoyed.

Companies often think of their software as bits and bytes and forget about the reason the software is successful. Whether it is porn or buying CDs or whatever, there is an experience people have when they use something. This breeds emotion. People looked forward to using Guba, and when all of a sudden it stopped doing the thing they enjoyed, they moved on. Maybe they were doomed by the stigma that porn leaves behind, but I'm sure that there could have been a way to prepare these emotional people for what was about to happen other than just filtering out what they wanted.

Kind of funny though. I think there may be a lot more of these smaller stories for Web 2.0 vs. a big bubble bursting all at once.

Read more about Guba's Pending Demise...

The Experience of Turning 40 first blog entry. Daunting. Well, not so much, because for my 40th birthday I was taken by my wife, Genevieve, to Michel Richard's Citronelle in Georgetown. This is a good place to start for a number of reasons. The dinner was easily the best I've ever had. Michel walked by at the beginning of dinner and I felt like a little girl at a boy-band concert. My friend Brandon sent us Champagne to start things off. We didn't leave a drop. I won't try to describe the meal because it will not come close to what we experienced.

This leads me to why I'm here. Experience. I want to share experiences here and views on people's experiences. So here, in the first week of 2007 and me turning 40, I am. I am going to have to get better at this, I can see already.