Sunday, April 29, 2007

Where in the World is the User Experience?

I stumbled across this microsite promoting the annual “Where is the World is Matt Lauer” Today show stunt. It really struck a chord with me in two ways. First, how pretty and elegant the graphics and Flash elements were. Second, who did they design this for? This was a pretty bad example of modern user experience that seemed to have a pretty hefty budget. How did this happen? Here is an excerpt discussing the microsite from the NY Times:
There are neat touches, too. Click on a memo pad bearing the NBC peacock logo and the network’s familiar three-note chimes are heard.

The promotion, which Hyundai is paying an estimated $2.5 million to sponsor, is indicative of efforts by the television networks to more closely interweave traditional programming — and advertising — with the online media.

…“The challenge is taking established franchises like ‘Where in the World Is Matt Lauer?’ and reinventing them for the Internet, where the growth is,” [Jim Bell, the executive producer of “Today,” said in a telephone interview]. “We’re trying to be everywhere, and we should be.”

Is this microsite reinventing the established franchise of ‘Where in the World is Matt Lauer?”? This is also sponsored by Hyundai so there are secondary objectives to meet. Now throw in the objectives of the customer you are targeting here, the Matt-fan. To see if the objectives by all three of these folks are met, I’m going to try and dissect the design from top left to bottom right of screen:

1. Banner for Hyundai product: Takes me to a Hyundai website, which I immediately closed as a Matt-fan wanting more info on where the hell he is. Matt-fan disappointed, Hyundai executive happy, Today Show not helping to reinvent franchise online.

2. Redundant, text-based main navigation: I guess this is needed if you aren’t able to figure out that the interface below is interactive? P.S. – When clicked, 3 of 5 of these buttons were blocked because they were pop-ups. So let me understand this better…users that couldn’t figure out how to interact with the design were supposed to figure out how to disable pop-ups? Further yet, this content was probably the best of the entire experience here. Why didn’t they just appear in context? Flash gives you the ability to manage multiple windows and the secondary content here is 100% Flash. Technology decision trumps user experience? Matt-fan, Hyundai executive and Today show disappointed.

3. Hyundai keys: Goes to the same Hyundai website as the banner above. Ok, I get it…This was important. But did I go to this website to learn about Hyundai? Idea: Why didn’t they tie Matt and the Hyundai Veracruz together for some content here so I’m not totally disappointed when I click on this? Matt-fan disappointed, Hyundai executive happy, Today Show not helping to reinvent franchise online.

4. Compass: This is weird. It says I get trivia games if I click on this, but when I do it takes me to a completely different website and experience, which is also not sponsored by Hyundai. Probably didn’t meet Hyundai’s business objectives here. By the way, the website it takes you to has a bunch of search results here about Matt, the second being about seducing a 14-old boy. Not sure if wanting to find where Matt is in the world is tied to this. Matt-fan and Hyundai executive disappointed, while the Today show may be happy by possibly getting Matt-fans to more Matt info?

5. Digital Camera: Pop-up blocked to a contest sitelet where I could win a vacation. Is this content I wanted when I came here? Actually, this could have been really cool if they thought more about how people that submit videos already do so online. Is the Today show working with the Pringles vendor? The experience of uploading a video here is pretty bad. Where are the social tools I get on YouTube and now expect from others? Matt-fan, Hyundai executive and Today show lukewarm?

6. Paper clips, NBC logo and man-chasing-dog animation: The cursor changed to a hand on all of these so I clicked and…nothing happened. Since this is an interface where you have to mouse-over things looking for visual cues, when nothing happens it leaves you with a feeling as if I’ve done something wrong. Maybe another pop-up blocked? After reading the Times article, I went back here and found that if I had my audio turned on I would have heard the NBC ringtones. It also turns out that if you click AND DRAG you can move the paper clips around. They do nothing else, as far as I can tell. Matt-fan, Hyundai executive and Today show disappointed.

7. Cell phone: This says I can get alerts by texting from my cell phone and that I can get a Where in the World ringtone. I am online now and don’t have my cell handy, so how would I remember the number to text when I have a cell phone? Maybe they could have included a way to send me a text message right here? Nope. When I click, I’m yet again taken to a different website where if I was a Matt-fan, I could BUY an NBC ringtone for $1.99. I think I liked the Meet the Press ringtone. Hyundai paid how much for this? Matt-fan probably disappointed, Hyundai executive wants free ringtones from NBC for paying $2.5 Million and Today show sick of hearing the Where in the World theme.

8. Passport: Blocked pop-up, again. Did this go through any usability testing to see the pop-up problems here? IF you get to this content, it is again 100% Flash and could have been right there on the page in context. This is probably the best content so far for all 3 folks trying to meet objectives. All 3 kinda happy?

9. Send this to a friend: Voila! Content that is in context and doesn’t take me to some other website sponsored by someone else. Matt-fan, Hyundai executive and Today show definitely happy!

10. Magnifying Glass: Yet another pop-up blocking really good content that could have been on the same page. All 3 should losing patience instead of being really happy.

11. Video iPod: This is finally a good example of great Matt content in context without bouncing me to some other website. It’s too bad the design gets in the way and that it’s located all the way at the bottom right. They chose to use an iPod as a housing for videos of Matt, but they flipped the iPod image backwards (didn’t want to infringe on anything legally maybe?). You can tell it is flipped by the bottom play/pause icons being backwards. More importantly though, they use an iPod metaphor but don’t leverage the iPod interactivity. I want to interact with the click-wheel! No, they make me click on a bolted-on ‘play’ button and two extremely tiny arrow buttons. These don’t exist on the iPod, and I hope the Matt-fans out there are very precise with their mouse to get to those 8x8 pixel buttons. I didn’t know Matt-fan personas were so highly skilled on computers. Matt-fan still looking for bifocals, Hyundai exec could care less at this point and Today show producer looking for the phone number of the design firm.

12. Find out where Matt Lauer is starting Monday: This takes me to yet another website, but at least it is sponsored by Hyundai and it gives me juicy Matt details. This is by far the best of all content so far to make all 3 people happy. Why then is it shoved all the way at the bottom right giving the weight of an afterthought?

Moving from traditional marketing venues to an online experience requires you to modify your design process and create new business objectives to meet. You are engaging users, one-on-one directly. Typically, marketers care about how a print ad or TV spot looks and conveys the client’s brand. What does brand mean online? Repeated, good experience. People with marketing budgets know that you have to be everywhere including online, they just don’t know how to define it and judge the experience. I’m sure when this design was demo-ed on a laptop somewhere that everyone was happy watching the ad executive click everywhere and get to everything easily. Next time, wouldn’t it be interesting to show them video of Matt-fans actually using the website and being interviewed afterward about their experience?

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