Thursday, May 31, 2007

CEOs In A Plastic Bubble

I was reading this article on MSNBC.com about how 75% of CEOs believe that their customer service is "above average" while 60% of actual customers say they are somewhat to extremely upset with the same experience. 81% of those same customers will never purchase anything from those companies again. The article goes on to talk about how they believe that this is the fault of CEOs thinking that it’s not their company that sucks, it’s the other guy.

What this seems like to me is that most CEOs do not have a customer channel in place to garner such important info. This data would not only shed light on what customers are unhappy about, but can lead to innovation. Why isn’t this a core part of every company’s product lifecycle? Features and functions are typically born from low hanging fruit, which most of these companies focus on. Cost avoidance kills the ability to invest in things that don’t have simple math to show value, such as user experience. After reading this I think that David McQuillen’s customer immersion tactics are even more a necessary tool to cure executive blindness to the customer experience.

NYTimes.com Continues to Provide Good User Experience

If you are reading a story on NYTimes.com and happen to double click on any word (and I mean ANY word in the entire story) a new window pops up with a definition of it! I stumbled across this by totally by accident. How long has this been there? Evidently they made a deal with answers.com last year to provide this service. Who knew!

As web users and designers we are already accustomed to seeing and applying in-context links in a story. This is a nice evolution to that valuable tool. Automatically making every word in the entire story an in-context link without providing any impact to the design or core experience is a nice tertiary tool readers can keep in their back pocket. They can read, spot underlined links on the page, or now double click anywhere else for more info. Cool stuff, especially on a site that uses above-average grammar most often.

It’s not perfect, however. When I double-clicked on "Blades" with the Will Ferrell movie "Blades of Glory" in context, a popup returned info on the Panamanian singer "Ruben Blades." But that’s ok. This mechanism is totally invisible to my online news experience. I don’t have to be aware of it unless there’s something I want more info on. The web experience is becoming more of an application experience where I build mental models. Yet again, NYTimes.com acquires good UX capital with me.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I'm Proudly Addicted To Diet Coke, Even Though I May Be Damaging My DNA

I find it really interesting how people wear their addiction to Diet Coke as a sort of badge of honor. I've read a few stories recently on how regular people need to consume large amounts of it every day, even though it rails against their core beliefs. Usually a vice like this is hidden away. Typically this would be an embarrassment to the consumer. This is not voiced from just regular folks though. Famous people brag of their Diet Coke addiction as well. Victoria Beckham, Elton John, Bobby Bowden and Harvey Weinstein all have boastful stories of their love for the soft-drink.

Then I read this story about how an ingredient in Diet Coke can damage your DNA, similar to what binge drinking does. At that point I tried to think of what other products could survive news as damaging as this.

I buy organic milk for my children because of the potential problems with "Milk Classic" from juiced up cows. What if regular old milk could damage your DNA? What if tap water impacted your mitochondria? Wouldn’t people stop drinking it and wouldn't there be an outcry to make it safe? Throw in the new Diet Coke Plus venture adding vitamins to the drink itself, pushing the idea that drinking it can actually provide health benefits.

How does Coca-Cola do this? Read these quotes from Coca-Cola themselves:
According to Coke spokesman Scott Williamson, Diet Coke Plus will be advertised with slogans that merely imply it's good for you ("Your best friend just got friendlier!") without making any health claims. To do otherwise, he said, "would reinforce the false notion that soft drinks are unhealthy to begin with."

A spokesman for Coca-Cola said: "We use preservatives in some of our products - particularly those that include fruit - to ensure that they remain unspoiled throughout their shelf life, whether people are able to store them in a fridge or not.

"Great taste. No calories. Wholesome ingredients. How could you drink too much?" said Diana Garza, the communications director of Coca-Cola North America.

"All our ingredients have been approved as safe by the food regulatory authorities in Britain and the EU and that is where we take our guidance from."

Storytelling is very powerful indeed. Having many spokespeople is the heavy-handed, old school version of viral content.

I'm wondering if the montage of pictures I posted above will be looked at similarly to the way we now view cigarette smoking in film from the 1950s.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Things Are Usable Because I Believe They Are Usable

Recently there was a study performed where people were asked if they preferred their current cell phone experience or the experience of the Apple iPhone. 90% of people in the study preferred the iPhone. The only problem is that they were only shown a video of iPhone capabilities, and not given the actual phone.

How much of this is the accumulated good user experience capital Apple has garnered over the last decade? How much of this is attributed to the powerful stories people share about how easy Apple products are to use? Apple has also become well known as company that churns out innovation consistently, so I’m sure that plays a part in this too.

It is strange, while very interesting, to conduct a study on something that doesn’t yet actually exist. I’d love to talk to the same study participants after they have used an actual iPhone for 3 months.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

AOL Doesn’t Care About What You Think Unless You Pay Them

AOL just unveiled a new online email client a couple weeks ago. It was a lot more application-like and had some very useful new features, such as showing me my address book on the right hand side in a floating layer. I was really enjoying the new experience they created. The only bad part, which was kind of big, was that it always crashed my Firefox browser when I went to go to another site. To fix the situation, I had to pull up Windows Task Manager and kill the old instance before opening a new one. It was annoying and really ruined all the good that came from the new design. I would trade all the good new features for access to the old one that didn’t crash my browser.

I wanted to share this with AOL, so I looked around the page for a feedback mechanism. At the bottom was a link that said, “Contact Us” so I clicked on it. I was shocked to get the awful message, “Service support is available to AOL members only.” I’m sure there must be another mechanism somewhere else on their website, but why would I bother looking any further? I don’t want to pay them $9.95 just to tell them that their new email design crashes my browser. I will use IE instead and don’t need support.

If I spent a lot of time and money on a major redesign of my web email client, I’d want feedback from customers. It would have to be explicit and very visible. It would be easy for AOL to create two links at the bottom of the screen, one for customer support and one for providing feedback. I think the creation of this would entail one developer and the time to drink two cups of coffee.

Companies pay people to participate in usability tests just to garner valuable feedback. The inability to provide support to all their customers should not create this scenario. I’m still a customer because they are getting paid by their advertisers when I visit. To treat me as a different class of user makes me feel as if my going to their website is not valued.

All of this, because there wasn’t a measly feedback loop.

Friday, May 25, 2007

When Surveys Failed At Credit Suisse, They Tried Customer Immersion Tactics

Credit Suisse wanted to change their quality of customer experience for the better, but realized that surveys were not helping to bring this about. So what did David McQuillen VP of customer experience do to evoke change? He literally put upper management in the customer’s shoes. During one presentation, he placed a mic onstage next to a phone and asked an executive to come up on stage and call their contact center. I would have loved to have seen the terror on the exec’s face! To illustrate how ineffective their brand was for the disabled, he had 50 executives sit in wheelchairs during a presentation and wear suits that made them feel 75 years old, including the CEO. The CEO, by the way, wasn’t a kool-aid drinking UX fan by any stretch, but after this experience he became a UX champion.

If an organization doesn’t have UX in the proper place in the company’s structure and doesn’t have it placed at the earliest stages of the product lifecycle, changing these things may be a Herculean task. These customer immersion techniques are really great to try and get organizations to become aware of the importance of making customer perspective cultural. Everyone cares about customer data, no matter how cynical they may be, but wagging a corporation into investing dollars and changing strategies takes tactics like David used.

Check out a portion of David McQuillen’s presentation given at EuroGel 2006. Learn about Gel 2008 in New York as well.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Steve Ballmer’s Thoughts on Innovation Causes Temporary Paralysis

When I read this quote from Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, I was sort of stunned for a moment. I didn’t quite know how to absorb it. I realized I wasn’t moving and may have been physically damaged by this quote. Deep breaths…I’m OK.

I don’t know anyone who says innovation is an overnight thing. Innovation is hard work. We all know this. It takes a smart organization filled with smart people that work with a smart product lifecycle that values listening to customers. Customer data has a shelf life, so there is a relationship to time. Timing is absolutely a factor in innovation, but I don’t believe there is any timeframe you can associate with it though. It takes as long as it takes, but it in most cases doesn’t take a decade.

I’m not sure I have ever heard anyone discuss how Windows was or is innovative. I remember hearing many folks say how Windows emulated Mac features. I remember hearing people saying their Windows machine crashed all the time. Nope, I’m positive. I can’t recollect an innovation thought tied to a Windows thought.

Lastly, what is the correlation between popularity and innovation? Innovative products can be popular, but popular products aren’t always innovative. They are just popular. To get popular, Microsoft used tactics that got them sued the world over. Was that innovative?

I have hope for Microsoft to become an innovative powerhouse spoken in the same glowing sentences alongside Google, Amazon and Apple. They just aren’t there yet.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Complex Definition of Simple


Definition: “Having few parts; not complex, complicated or involved”

What does this mean? I’ve seen companies misconstrue this definition many times over, resulting in the opposite of what they intended. Look at the recent ABCNews.com redesign as an example of this. They made “simple” a core component of their design rationale, yet the user feedback they received was generally the opposite. They defined simple literally in their design as being sparse and uncluttered. The users like lots of links to winnow through and found that to be simple. The new smaller components to scan through items made the site more difficult to them.

There are approximately 600 links on Ebay’s collectibles page. It’s not pretty, but all Ebay does is continue to make money and repeatedly deliver good experiences. Their user base is not a tech crowd. They are as varied and lowest-common-denominator as you can get. Imagine designing a website for people trying to sell collectible shot glasses. Now imagine if Ebay literally defined simple and redesigned their website. Mass defection!

RealSimple.com’s tagline is “life made easier,” so I was hoping to see if their web experience lived up to this. I clicked on “Meals” to look for a simple recipe for the upcoming weekend entertaining. First off, a pop-up banner layer conflicted with a Flash banner, resulting in me not being able to CLOSE the pop-up (here's a screen grab). The majority and most important part of the page was obscured. I reloaded the page and that seemed to fix it. Real frustrating. Then I chose a recipe for a beef tenderloin appetizer:

Slice the baguettes in half lengthwise. Spread a flavored butter on both cut sides of each baguette and arrange thin slices of beef on one halfbefore putting the sandwich together. Use a serrated bread knife to slice each baguette into about 12 mini sandwiches.

Not only was there a typo in this, but you might have to be a foodie to understand this. Are realsimple.com’s users foodies? If so, this would be real simple. Did they know this instinctively, use demographics, conduct surveys or do they speak to their customers?

I’ve worked on complex applications with addicted users that find working on their applications “simple.” The majority of these applications have tons of components that are not intuitive, however. If I was to add explicit labels and make the screen more intuitive I’d have more customer support calls than I care to imagine. How do I avoid this? I have existing, recent data on customers and if the project warrants it I conduct field studies.

The definition of simple is a balance of a lot of things, but most importantly you have to understand your customers by interviewing and observing them. After that, meeting business requirements and applying best practices becomes a goal much more realistic to meet.

If you are a UX designer in a company that doesn’t get you involved early in the process and afford you access to users, how can repeated success be expected? What is the ideal product lifecycle and place for User Experience in a company's hierarchy? I'd love to hear what others think on this.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Notion of the Familiar: What User Interface Designers Can Learn From Island of St. Martin

At the end of every issue of “New Jersey” magazine, they have a single page story that is usually interesting. This month, they talk of Andy & Cheryl Susko’s bar & grill on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. It’s in the magazine not because clothing is optional in the area, but because when the writer of the article strolled by the establishment he was immediately transported back to New Jersey. This is because Andy & Cheryl decorate the place with very recognizable signs and symbols from NJ. The hospitals, major roads, towns and parking signs paint an image in your head and create a feeling of being somewhere else. All this was accomplished through silly signs that didn’t cost much (customers actually bring them to them now).

When someone visits your website or uses your software application they are receptive to this same notion of the familiar. That is, if you provide it. If someone was to decorate their restaurant with symbols from an unfamiliar place, you’d get the opposite reaction. What is familiar to your users of your website or software? This can influence a lot of design components; Imagery, color scheme, labels, controls, layout, language, etc.

Speaking of language, a familiar term to NJ shore residents is “Benny,” which is a derogatory term for tourists who clog up the beaches each summer. Anyone designing a website for the NJ shore and need a familiar term?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Smaller and Simpler is the Trend. Does That Wag Good User Experience?

The New York Times and Business 2.0 Magazine recently have written articles about technology products getting smaller and simpler. A successful user experience isn’t about size though. What is clear is that if you build something that meets customer goals and creates repeated good experiences, you will be successful. The result of stripping down business requirements to what is most useful to customers is most often smaller products.

Look back to the Apple Newton vs. the original Palm Pilot. In the book, “Defying Gravity” you can see that the political upheaval going on behind the scenes and the required overabundance of technology capabilities contributed to a very ambitious product that arguably did too much. They were focusing on the technology and not the user experience, and they failed to a large degree on providing both to customers. They were famously lampooned on The Simpsons for its flawed handwriting recognition technology, but SNL did a parody showing the Newton being an expensive replacement for Post-it notes. It was funny because it shows the Apple clearly didn’t build something users wanted or needed at the time, and overcomplicated it in the process.

The much smaller and simpler Palm Pilot emerged around the same time and was victorious at getting people to rapidly adopt it. What did it do? Basically it was a handy rolodex and calendar that you could easily carry around. It was usable, smaller, simpler and much cheaper.

Was the palm pilot smaller because of the much smaller feature set than the Newton on purpose? Were there intentional business requirements to build something that was more focused on a simple, good user experience resulting in a smaller size or was it the other way around? More often than not it is the other way around. I think more products would be a lot more successful if the product lifecycle began with defining the goals for a good user experience. We’d probably end up with smaller and simpler gadgets, but not for the sake of being smaller and simpler.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Google Gadget Ads. Friend or Foe?

Google revolutionized the way users looked at paid ads. The glitzy, animated ads that users used to loathe and eventually became blind to were replaced with simple, text based ads that had context and meaning. After gaining all of this good experience capital with us, Google is looking to spend a bit of it on something called “Google Gadget Ads.” These are interactive widgets that give you more than just info+link=good experience. Advertisers can make the ad interactive with a custom branded design.

This sounds like a huge win for advertisers and a potential step backward for users. Those loathsome ads of the past were designed for advertisers, not users. I will assume that Google will try to keep our best interests in place when delivering these new whiz-bang ads. Maybe the new formula will be info+moreinfo+brand+links=a new, good experience.

Here’s an example of one with navigation and YouTube video built right in:


This is to Google AdSense what BritePic is to JPEGs. Google is BETA-testing these now with iGoogle and targeting Summer for the launch of these new widgets.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Jonathan Coulton Steps up to The New Mic

Jonathan Coulton has becomes famous over the last year by releasing a song each week through his free Thing A Week podcast (which he now sells for $50). Last week I saw the NY Times story on him and it made me think about how much things have changed for musicians. A decade or so ago, to get your music heard you didn’t have many swim lanes to choose from. It usually meant a tough lifestyle with not-so-nice people surrounding you.

Today you have this huge channel on the web to make connections with people with your story and your music. Jonathan’s song ‘Code Monkey’ became an online viral hit. People created their own versions and posted videos of them on YouTube. There are versions of it with Sims 2, World of Warcraft, Guitar Hero, anime, Flickr slideshows, karaoke, and Matrix and Clockwork Orange mashups. It becomes ‘ours’ quickly. It must be amazing to watch something you created get reinvented over and over.

Jonathan looks like a regular guy with a stable life, Apple laptop and pet kitty in his nice apartment. Most of the musicians I knew back-in-the-day weren’t like this. It was a struggle to get your stuff heard. I’m glad to see that this is changing, and that the new mic is the web.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

ESPN.com News Services: News Content on The Web From The Web

As I was winnowing through the stories on ESPN.com I noticed a story about Ken Griffey interacting with a fan in the stands during a ballgame. The fan had been yelling things at Griffey the entire game, so Griffey came out of the dugout in the sixth inning and gave him an XXL athletic supporter. Good way to diffuse a heckling situation.

What really caught my eye about this story was that 217 of the 477 words (45%) were either quoting the fan’s MySpace page or parts of his “email” interview. This made me want to know who wrote the article. His name is “ESPN.com news services.” What are ESPN.com news services? Does anyone know? I looked online and couldn’t find anything.

Clearly this is more blog entry vs. a sports article. Why not promote it like that? Put the blogger’s name on it and add all the familiar blogging tools around it. Maybe they could even innovate something new while they are at it.

Are we really at the point where reputable news services can create stories based on MySpace pages and email interviews? What is an email interview anyway? #13 of Steve Portigal’s Seventeen ways to not suck at research is: Phil McKinney says, “You’re probably not listening.” How do you listen in an email interview? I guess there weren’t many follow-up questions.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

ABCNews.com Take Note: AOL.com Is Testing A New Home Page Design And They Asked Me Nicely If I Want to See It Before Going Live

Recently, ABCNews.com went through a redesign and experienced a lot of customer backlash. They just unveiled it one day without preparing their customers at all. These were major changes that changed how users would search and find news items. Lots of bad feedback right on their website was the result.

They could have learned a bit from AOL. AOL doesn’t come up as much as Amazon and Google do when it comes to UX design examples, but in this case they show they are sensitive to their customer’s online experience. Yahoo did this as well last year when they changed their homepage, so maybe they patterned themselves after them.

When I went to check my AOL mail online the other day (which is becoming rarer and rarer these days), up popped a layer that asked me if I wanted to learn more about a New AOL.com Experience they are testing. I could take a tour, explore it for myself, or most importantly I could CLOSE the popup and use the website they way I always have. This accomplishes a lot of things. I have been warned that at some point this may become the new home page, but they respect me enough to say they are testing it. This means they value my feedback, or at least say that they do. At my leisure, I can come back and take or tour or go and take a test surf. The Tour was kind of cool, by the way.

Why didn’t ABCNews.com do something like this? A lot of people make news websites their home page. AOL and Yahoo home pages are very much like news portals as well. They understood that if you change that experience without preparation you are risking more than a casual user, you are losing a user that sees your home page every time they open a browser. You have to respect that kind of commitment from your users a little more than ABCNews.com did.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

ABCNews.com Gets Taller, But Still Manages to Screw It Up

After last month’s drastic shrinkage in its redesign, ABCNews.com has added another 107 pixels of height back on the to homepage design. Maybe they read through the hundreds of well-written negative responses submitted by their users regarding the redesign and wanted to show them they were listening. Unfornately, although you can now see more content (please evoke the Debbie-Downer “wah-wah” horn sound in your head at this point) 53% of this new space is occupied by banner ads. Yes, 531 pixels out of 1,000 in width is dedicated to banner ads. That's right, more than half. How many ways can you say this? That leaves room for two more stories.

Look at what the NYTimes.com does with the same amount of width. They give you six blurbs and links to stories with really great thumbnail images:


This reminds me of feedback I recently received from a round of customer interviews. We asked them what they thought of a new design component, and their response was that even though there was value in the new component there was more negative impact on their overall experience. Now imaging getting that important feedback and basically ignoring it. Wah-wah!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Innovation Inspiration: Half-Cooked Kebobs

Promoted as a “Must-have gadget for grill enthusiasts,” the Gagetek Propane Tank Scale is interesting to me on a few fronts. First off, I’ve been the victim of running out of propane with a load of half-cooked food sitting on the grill on more than one occasion. I then jump in the car to get a fresh tank with a scowl on my face. This Gagetek scale lets you know when you’re about to run out of propane by knowing how much the tank weighs. There’s an intuitive interface that easily let’s you know how much propane is left whenever you are ready to BBQ. It’s a smart, simple solution to a common problem, and probably something that will rid the world of many other scowling grill-folk.

Another interest I have here is to learn more about the process that develops innovations such as this. In the grilling world I’ve heard of Weber, Char-Broil, Ducane, Viking and even George Foreman (who just released an MP3-ready iGrill…seriously). So who is Gagetek and how do they fit in this world of outdoor grilling? Gagetek is a company that has won awards for their torsional load cell technology. They also designed a portable scale system for weighing large animals for Zoos. I must admit I don’t have the faintest idea what a torsional anything is, but I don’t feel so bad because Microsoft Word doesn’t either.

I spoke with Al Werner, the inventor of the Gagetek grill product. He told me that the inspiration came from the same frustration I have faced. The device he used to have on his patio didn’t work well, so he spent the last 3 years inventing a better one. He leveraged patented technology used in the other Gagetek products to develop this BBQ-saving piece of grill equipment. One of these other Gagetek products, the ZooScale, is really wonderful because it makes it easy to monitor the weight of large animals to make sure they are healthy.

Both of these examples of innovation identified a need in the marketplace and a usable solution was designed around it. They also came as the result of an entrepreneurial spirit. Why didn’t others that are already in these spaces do this? Shouldn’t they know their customers better than people outside their industry? I’m sure interviews with customers could have easily uncovered this and many other needs that could be filled. Is an iPod holder really what people that grill need? Did that really come out of customer interviews?

Product teams need to spend more times talking with customers and uncovering the threads that lead to innovation. Identifying things that enhance the user experience is not rocket science, but it takes commitment and has to be an official part of the product lifecycle. Most organizations have low-hanging-fruit mechanisms for gathering product ideas, but there aren’t enough who make listening to customers a priority.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Lines Between Small Stuff and Big Stuff are Blurred When it Comes to UX: PNC Online Banking

Last week I changed my settings on my online checking account on which email account I want alerts sent to. This seemed pretty basic. I also recently had a problem with a bill not getting paid, so I set up automatic payments so this doesn’t happen again. Things were in place so that this week I would get emails letting me know what automatic bill payments were going through. Or so I thought.

Three days after making all these changes, I received 4 emails at the wrong account letting me know bills were going to be paid. This error caused me to question a lot of things related to my checking account. I had to go online and confirm I made the right changes, which occurs in four different areas of the website. I then had to call the bank to make sure that this wasn’t going to impact pending payments and to find out why this happened. The reason I was given was that changes I make online take a few days to make it to the bill processing center. What does that mean? Why wasn’t a simple message there in context when I made the change that stated this?

This experience made me think about the product lifecycle of building large and small components and what companies focus on during the process. The big component here that the bank had to build was the setup up of automatic transactions that had to happen at a pre-defined time. Building that took a lot of people and money. The small thing was the email notification. This could have taken a single developer and probably didn’t cost them much. Unfortunately, it seems as if connecting these databases together wasn’t that simple and may have had some cost. Hence the lag between a customer making changes to one database and the changes rippling to the database that actually sends out the emails.

Clearly during the meetings and budgeting for this project focused on the larger issues as most do. Unfortunately the customer’s experience doesn’t care what it took to build. When I had a problem with the simple email notification, I had cause to not trust that they would still pay my bills. There are a lot of simple, low cost solutions PNC could have done here, but that means that someone had to make the user experience an important part of the product lifecycle to have identified this. There was no bug here, so QA or Certification probably wouldn’t have caught this. A good UX designer could have spotted this and put in a message reading, “The changes may take a few days to take effect” and my expectations would have been set and no other dominoes knocked over. Their brand would have still been intact. Customers judge a product’s brand on the overall experience regardless of complexity to build.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Beta TV on the Web: ON Networks Changes TV Show Concept Development

Going Beta is all the rage and it makes a lot of sense. It has now become a vehicle for Video content looking for a home on TV as well. ON Networks is a company that has posts pilot-ish videos for you to watch, share and comment on. You can also suggest other show ideas and even offer to produce a show yourself. Show syndication and advertising is also available. The quality of the videos seem less than TV quality but much higher than YouTube. I liked Joe Dias’ stuff, but Dinner with the Band was interesting to see it was going for a younger-than-food-network audience. It was nice to see people cooking with regular pans, knives and stoves rather than the typical mega-expensive cooking symbols of status.

It’s interesting to see ideas forming and really being part of the process, instead of the faux-control we get from shows like American Idol or Dancing with the Stars. Is this the next level of reality TV? Will traditional TV really ever give up any of the control they have over their programming and really let us be directly involved in shaping the content? I'm weary of the phone editing you get on the typical reality TV show. I like how Charlie Brooker exposes this:

Monday, May 7, 2007

Register Your Skin Color with Spencer Tunick

Spencer Tunick, the Busby-Berkeley-ish photographer of nude subjects, just photographed 18,000 naked people in Mexico. He did things like having them all give a military salute and surround a naked man in a wheelchair. I went to his website to learn more about him, but the only content on his website is to register to participate in upcoming nude shoots. I thought it was interesting that you have to provide your skin tone via a drop-down. He does this on another registration website as well (see image above). I didn’t know what my tone was on this scale. I knew I wasn’t a 6 or 7, but could probably be any of the others depending on the time of year. I guess for a nude picture of 18,000 people it really doesn’t matter how accurate you are. I'll have to keep this design pattern in my back-pocket for the next website I design that needs to capture skin tone.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Peterbilt Launches a “Models of Innovation” Demonstration Program


I don’t know anything about big huge trucks except what I remember as a kid from the CB craze in the 70s, a memory recently rekindled by Steve Portigal on his blog.

Regardless of my lack of domain expertise here, I thought Peterbilt’s “Models of Innovation” demo program was interesting. I may feel differently if I was a trucker, but as an outsider it seems kind of cool. Peterbilt designed trucks with lots of innovative features such as:

  • Better fuel efficiency
  • Enhanced driver comfort
  • Improved aerodynamics
  • Better forward lighting
  • Enhanced maneuverability

They were designed to “exceed customer expectations” says Peterbilt General Manager, Bill Jackson. What better way to promote these but to get the customers behind the wheel. The program gets customers into these new 2008 models for evaluation.

They must feel very confident about these new designs to have such a program. Do you feel as confident about your next product release? Customer feedback must have been part of their product lifecycle, unless they are gamblers and won’t mind not having O.J. Simpson try on the glove before asking him in front of the jury. I’d love to pick someone’s brain at Peterbilt. Anyone have Bill Jackson’s phone number handy?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Digg Users Prevail...For Now

Before they suffered the same customer backlash that Guba did, Digg.com does an about face on their decision to block content. Guba changed the experience of the users and lost their audience. Instead of blocking porn, Digg was faced with blocking material that has the potential to get them sued. HD-DVD codes were being distributed via Digg that removed the locks on their material. Digg attempted to block this, but relented after thousands of angry comments and constant re-posting of the codes resurfaced. Here is a quote from their co-founder:

"...after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you've made it clear. You'd rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company," he wrote. "If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying."

That's one way to get back on the good side of your customers! Reminds me of the Bugs Bunny cartoon where the only way Daffy Duck can win the audience's applause is to blow himself up.

The ability to control the rights of content will continue to degrade as the online sharing tools available to the masses spreads. What happens when serial numbers to software get posted on Twitter? The problem is that virtual social interaction is at the core of most Web 2.0-based companies. You can arrest the guy selling illegal DVDs on any NYC street corner, but you can’t arrest my avatar.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

RIE (Recent Interesting Experience): Bourdain's Blogging

Anthony Bourdain is a guest blogger on Mark Ruhlman's blog. He has written a couple entries that have gotten passed around online a bunch and I am passing them around some more. He is known for his straight-shooting, Ramones-esque point-of-view, and taking that into the blogosphere is a breath of fresh air against the phony and polished Foodie World. He knows where the painting of Dorian Gray is and he likes to share the gory details with us. I’m so glad we have this blogging channel so that people like him can reach us all so easily. Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from his entries:

[on the Food Network Awards]… The production itself--above and
beyond the witless, ill-considered, just-plain stupid "concept" of an Awards
show where most of the "awards" went to inanimate objects (accepting the award for Best Comfort Food is...Macaroni and Cheese!!), appliances or cities (Portland's mayor wisely did not bother to show),--the production values--were lower than whale shit.

…Relegated to the circus of Iron Chef America, where--like a great, toothless lion, fouling his cage, [Mario Batali] hangs on--and on--a major draw (and often the only reason to watch the show).

…Where the saintly Julia Child sought to raise expectations, to enlighten us, make us better--teach us--and in fact, did, Rachael uses her strange and terrible powers to narcotize her public with her hypnotic mantra of Yummo and Evoo and Sammys. “You’re doing just fine. You don’t even have to chop an onion--you can buy it already chopped. Aspire to nothing…Just sit there. Have another Triscuit…Sleep….sleep….”

On that last note, here is a link that was passed on to me from Steve Portigal. An artist, Naomi Leibowitz, took 30 episodes of Rachael Ray's show "$40 a day" and edited out clips solely of her tasting the food and faux-moaning: http://naomileibowitz.com/projects/rray/index.html.

Bourdain on the Food Network chefs:
http://blog.ruhlman.com/2007/04/the_fabulous_fo.html

Bourdain on Food Network Awards:
http://blog.ruhlman.com/2007/02/guest_blogging_.html

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

ABCNEWS.com Bucks The Trend on Their Homepage Redesign and Goes…Shorter?

Over the last couple years, most homepages of news organizations have gotten taller and taller. MSNBC.com just made cosmetic changes to their styles which made the page even taller, while keeping the same design. Here is how a bunch of news sites stack up height-wise:

ABCNEWS.com now is only 721 pixels tall, and if you notice a large percentage of it in the lower corner is dedicated to ad space. Why have the other news websites gotten so tall? Just look at them. There are links and categories and content all over the place. My favorite of them all is NYTimes.com. It easily manages hundreds of links and sprinkles in a lot of multimedia. It also utilizes interesting, simple navigation to easily scan through top stories. Everyone else is adding more and more content and letting people scan to find what they want by [gasp!] scrolling.

Why would ABCNEWS.com buck the trend and become more than three times shorter than the smallest competitor above? No scrolling needed there! The “below the fold” design had long since been abandoned. Why is ABCNEWS going back to it? Wonder no more, because they have a “guide” online letting you know their design rationale. Here are ABCNEWS.com’s reasons for the redesign, in order of priority:


  1. The site is 10 years old and they wanted to mark the occasion

  2. Clear, simple design to best showcase their reporting and clean up the “clutter”

  3. Harness the power of community for people to add to the facts, ask questions and submit video from their cell phones

  4. Easier to watch video on the website with a new video player

What’s really cool about knowing these objectives is that you can map them back directly to the feedback they have solicited for the redesign. While I’m writing this there are 350 comments on the redesign by their users. It’s amazing how much feedback goes to the opposite of their business objective of simplifying the design. So many said the page looks more cluttered AFTER the redesign. This reminds me of the Tufte example of phone books. We can easily scan through the Yellow Pages to get what we want even though there are thousands of data points on each page. I hope the people that redesigned the ABCNEWS.com website don’t get into phone book design.


This may illustrate that ABCNEWS.com didn’t get much feedback from people before going live, or maybe just didn’t care. It seems as if they would uncovered most of this negative feedback very quickly.


Here are a few comments from their website to give you an idea of the overall feedback, typos and all:


I think it's much more dificult to find the articles you want to read. it seems very cramped and cluttered (moreso than the old one!). Videos are nice sometimes but I'd rather read a story. It looks pretty... but it's definitely less helpful than the original =/

Yuck! I don't want videos, I prefer the stories that I can read through quickly.

I don't have attention deficit disorder.

Not as clean cut as the old site!! It seems very cramped and hard to find what I'm looking for!!

Too much
information crammed in a little space. It is difficult to find and read the news
and it has nothing to do with font size! And, please cut the ads! Marielle

The new color scheme is nice but that's about it. There is nothing clear or clean about this site. The page is cluttered and I cannot easily scan the page to read the mornings headlines. There's too much crammed on the homepage not to mention all the flashing pictures and scrolling text...it all results in disappointment. Simplicity is always best and if that's what you were aiming for, I think another try is in order.


I’m confused by this redesign from many standpoints. The last design was not bad and I even blogged about their cool use of “trigger categories” a couple months back. Redesigns don’t happen much these days anymore either. Point-releases seem to be popular and make a lot of sense. ESPN.com does this more than most, almost to a fault. The idea that simple & clean = smaller & less things on screen baffles me as well and is supported by the feedback. If you look at their new design there is still a ton of content, it is just hidden in scrolling categories. I can’t easily winnow anymore. Even the scrolling widgets aren’t very usable, especially the one at the bottom which is really just linear navigation. I wonder if they will go back to the old design like the NBA did with their new basketball design. I think a point-release may be in the works.

UPDATE: It seems as if they deleted the 350 or so negative-slanted comments from their website and started fresh which has made their users even more perturbed. I don't think they actually deleted the page, they just created a similar "How to use this new website" page that seemed like the previous "Guide to the site" page. This is getting ugly.

Check out Adam Messinger's great technology dissection of this on his Zenscope Studio blog.