Friday, June 29, 2007

iPhone Inspired Thought: When is 'Fun' Going To Become Milestone in The Product Lifecycle?

Today is the big day. At 6pm the real user experience professionals will step forward and make their judgment; The Consumers. The parodies have been on Conan, Colbert, MadTV and all over the YouTubes. There have been dozens of reviews and articles about the iPhone leading up to today. One review by Steven Levy of Newsweek had commentary that made me think about something missing from the prodcut lifecycle. He talked about how much 'fun' the device was.

...What's more, with the exception of learning to type on the iPhone, which requires some concentration, doing all those things on that five-ounce device was fun, in the same way that switching from an old command-line interface to the Macintosh graphical user interface in the mid-1980s was a kick.

I don't think I've ever been at a company that has a "Fun Review Committee" or that I've ever seen the "Fun Metrics Report" emailed on a daily basis. Fun is a probably more often than not a core component of getting a product rapidly adopted by consumers. There has to be a way to get quantitative data on fun, since it is such an important aspect to product design. Who wouldn't want to work in the "Fun Certification" department? I wonder if there is a "Fun Evangelist" at Apple.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

iPhone Mania Wags CEOs With A User Experience That Hasn’t Even Happened

The iPhone debut is imminent. I'm reminded of a lot of things such as the whimper that went along with the iPod unveiling and how it was iTunes that made it such a hit. What will the "killer app" be for the iPhone? I think it will be a combo of iTunes and Safari. Back in October of 2001, Apple had very mixed reviews of the iPod and not a lot of buzz. That is very different now. On top of consumer buzz and watercooler talk, the very tops of large corporations are all being forced to comment on the iPhone.

This is amazing to me. I still remember the Newton, Pippin and the AIM alliance. The CEO of Panasonic didn't comment on any of those things. It's stunning to now watch them all being wagged by the iPhone, and it doesn't even exist yet. Past user experience successes pay off in much larger ways than you can ever anticipate. Here are some of the quotes from these thought leaders:

Qualcomm - CEO, Dr. Paul Jacobs:
"It's caused all the other manufacturers to step up their game," Jacobs said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I can't tell you the number of people who say, 'Oh, this is our iPhone killer.' It's already to that point where everybody's reacting."

Omnifone - CEO, Rob Lewis:
Omnifone says its MusicStation is the mobile industry's answer to Apple's iPhone: an all you-ca-eat, over-the-air, full-track music download service that works with most phones. Omniphone claims its user interface and functionality are virtually identical across all manufacturers' handset models, very different from clunky initiatives of the past. *NOTE: Past user experience failures hurt current initiatives, regardless of how good the new offerings are.

Verizon - CEO, Ivan Seidenberg:
Seidenberg also added that he thinks the iPhone will actually help drive business for Verizon's high-end smart phones and advanced data services. "The iPhone will add excitement and stimulation to the market," he said. "If we have done our job, then we will be a beneficiary. I hope it does reasonably well. We just added four new devices in the past month," he said. "The new BlackBerry is flying off shelves. The way we see it, our customers have price points and service packaging that is different."

Google - CEO, Dr. Eric Schmidt:
Google's CEO Eric Schmidt plays up Apple's partnership with Google over the iPhone. He announces that google technology will be hardwired into the iPhone. "What you are really asking is to see my iPhone," he quipped before producing a handset from his pocket. "iPhone is a powerful new device and is going to be particularly good for the apps that Google is building. You should expect other announcements from the two companies over time," he said.

Panasonic - CEO, Joe Taylor:
When asked by Shapiro if today's CE products are too complex, Taylor said, "Consumers have had no problems opening up a TV, radio or DVD and operating it. The story goes downhill from there. Consumers say they want all these features, but then the take them home and realize they don't need them all or feel they are too complicated."

AT&T - CEO, Randall Stephenson:
"Of the one million plus (people), research is showing that 40 percent are not AT&T wireless customers today. That speaks volumes to us," Stephenson said in a speech at the NXTcomm communications conference in Chicago. "I really believe this is going to be a game changer. Not only for us but the industry at large," he said.

To handle the expected onslaught of consumers rushing to purchase the iPhone this Friday, AT&T has hired 2,000 additional employees and will close their doors at 4:30pm to prepare for the 6:00pm unveiling.

The next time you're working hard on an innovative new customer experience, let all of this inspire you.

Monday, June 25, 2007

ABCNews.com Homepage Design Update: Small Improvements!

I am happy to share that I noticed some small improvements on ABCNews.com's homepage. They added linear navigation to the main top stories area at the top left of the screen. They also added info on how many people are commenting on these stories right there on the image before having to go to the story. The only thing that would make this even better would be to remove the gratuitous fade-in animation. It is really cool if you aren't looking for news content, but if you are it drives you crazy. I'm requesting content as a user so don't delay it a millisecond if you can control it, especially if it only for an aesthetic reason.

This linear navigation works the way you'd expect it to. Very simple and easy to use. This does, however, make the flawed linear navigation at the bottom that is disguised as scrollbars seem even more flawed. How about putting the same new arrowhead icons from the top into the below section? Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds but here it would help.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

What Happened To Good Old In-Context, Blue, Underlined Links?

I was recently reading this article online, when I discovered this new species of nasty advertising. I have noticed them before, but they have evolved and were now beginning to ruin my online reading experience. If I accidentally ran my cursor over this new, strange looking type of link, a pop-up ad would appear right on top of the content I was reading.

That wasn't the bad part. I've come to the point where I have low expectations and expect the worst when it comes to trying to read content and ads interfering. These were different though. They don't go away when you move your mouse. They sit there and make you brew hatred of them while the seconds tick away until their departure. One type of ad has an "X" on it leading me to believe I can close it, but I have no desire to touch this thing. It's like a tiny, poisonous snake that I am genetically coded to avoid. Will it take me away from my page? Could I miss the "X" icon and trigger another one of these vipers?

Luckily, the villains that designed this new type of ads have branded them with bizarre designs, like a poisonous snake warning you of something wicked happening if you get too close.

Diamond and dotted red underlines or green double underlines with varying degrees of thickness were slithering all over the content. Remember when in-context links were friendly? They were just blue, 1 pixel underlines that everyone grew to know and love. They were comforting and helpful. Now that I've experienced the venom of their mutated offspring and love has turned to loathe, I avoid these limbless creatures at all costs as my ancestors must have done.

My overall experience had changed. I couldn't read the article as I typically did. I had to keep my cursor away from the content area so that I wouldn't spawn one of these demon seeds. I just moved my cursor off the page and took my hand off the mouse. My next move will be to just avoid articles with these coiled serpents ready to strike altogether.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

ABCNews.com: Turn and Face The Stra(nge)...Ch-Ch-Changes

OK...I may now be officially obsessed with the ABCNews.com homepage design. I've wondered ever since they made the change back on May 1 how, if at all, they'd respond to user feedback that was overwhelmingly negative. That alone doesn't mean that the design was bad, but there were some strange user interface design decisions made, which I covered in previous blogs.

Today the homepage creeped downward again 19 pixels, growing slightly taller as it did a few days ago. This time it was to accommodate a header for the odd scrolling area in the middle which doesn't even truly scroll. It's linear navigation which steps through stories when you click on the scroll arrows. In order to add the 19 pixels on the left, they had to extend the border out on the ad to the right. More ad space, once again.

Another small change was to the main headlines area at the top. They were 26 pixels tall for a single line of text and are now 22 pixels each. This buys them 9.5 stories in this box instead of 7 viewable at one time. One could say this goes against the design rationale posted on May 1 of "simple" design in a way, making the lines tighter. To me, this is again going back to what they used to have and what all the other good news website designs have. Lots of easy to scan content on the page. Adding 2 more stories on the home page is not accomplishing much.

The majority of ABCNews.com's stories on the homepage are now hidden in these tiny semi-scrolling boxes. In the main area of the page, there is a total of 48 stories, but only 18 are viewable at any time. 30 of these main stories are always hidden until you scroll within these little sub-sections. 30 of 48, always hidden. Simple? Easy to use?

I may have to start an entire blog dedicated to the ABCNews.com homepage very soon if this keeps up.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

ABCNews.com still growing taller, providing more room for...ADS.


ABCNews.com has added another 75 pixels of height to their homepage, after adding 107 last month. This all comes after slashing the height down to 721 pixels back on May 1 all for the cause of making the page “simple.”

As they did last month, they have added more height for the sole purpose of adding space for more ads. The difference is that last time it was only around 50% ads, this time it is about 94% ads. Is that making the experience simpler and easier to use? Hard to figure this one out.

When is The Right Time to Improve Your Customer Experience? When The Stock Dips!


EBay is about to overhaul its customer experience. This news is interesting to me because although it is famously butt-ugly, it has a very loyal customer base. So why the need for an overhaul? Here's a snippet from a Seattle Times article:
And so with eBay entering something resembling middle age, with growth slowing and the stock price in a funk, the company is undertaking a crucial overhaul. The goal is to make buying things easier, more entertaining and more like shopping in the physical world — three counts on which the company has fallen behind.

"Our user experience has always been fantastic, but it didn't keep up, in my view, as well as it should have," Chief Executive Meg Whitman said on the sidelines of the eBay Live user celebration last week in Boston. "You will see more changes to eBay's buyer experience in the next 12 months than you probably have seen in the past three or four years."
Why is it that the stock price is the impetus for bettering the customer's experience? Why isn't there a process in place that makes the customer experience better all the time? I look forward to seeing how eBay preserves their customer loyalty while changing their experience. Here's a quote from the article from a lady who sells dinnerware:

"The more buyers they can bring in, we're going to cheer that," said Linda Hartman, an eBay "PowerSeller" who offers dinnerware from Bristol, Wis., and worries that a glut of sellers hurts her business. But she added that eBay might be banking too much on fancy Web adornments that will have little overall effect.

"The enhancements are great for techies," she said. "But my average buyer is probably a little old lady in Des Moines."
Interesting to note the shift of focus on eBay by "category managers":

… By now, because of eBay's wild success, there are plenty of traders, and no more new categories to add. Instead those managers are focused on wider-scale issues like improving eBay's overall buying and selling experience.

Here is a list of new features eBay is looking to add to the customer experience:
  • Feedback criteria broadened
  • Fraud reduction
  • Shipping costs more transparent
  • Bid assistant: Auto-enters auctions when you lose one for another
  • Social tools: Make experience more like a mall outing
I'd love to see eBay share a product lifecycle letting people know that they are consistently improving the user experience, regardless of stock price. These current enhancements on the surface seem like a combination of low-hanging-fruit (fraud, shipping costs, etc.) and adding what everyone else is adding, Web 2.0 social tools. Are these enhancements garnered from old ladies in Des Moines? Know anyone wishing to have a "mall-outing" experience online with their buddies? I expect more from a company who can afford to pay $4.1 Billion for Skype.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fake-Up: Customers Innovate Even When You Don’t

I read this Paris-Hilton-in-prison inspired article about how women in jail are not allowed to have or wear make-up. Under these restrictions, the women behind bars have adapted and have come up with workarounds. They use Skittles, Coffee, Crystal Light, hair grease and ink pens to improvise make-up they call, "Fake-Up". Even in jail the inmates want to look pretty, so they find a way to do it. Must be sticky, but from the article it seems as if you can't even tell they are wearing coffee and skittles. Mission accomplished.

Users do this all the time. I've seen many products that don't provide what customers want, so they end up doing the same exact thing. I've seen books wedged under keyboards to change the angle and doubling of hardware to divide workflow scenarios. Often, they will use existing components in ways that were not intended. We all do it. I use Word to create these blog entries because Blogger sometimes screws up my entry when I post and I don't want to lose anything.

When performing field studies where customers use your products, keep an eye out for identifying these gems. This is low-hanging-fruit for you to add something to your product that has already been proven useful by your customers. More often than not, you can make their workarounds even easier for them to use.

Surfing With The Big Boys

Everyone is excited about the iPhone. I am more excited about Safari. I installed this web browser by Apple on my PC last night. I'm really curious to see how this will integrate in the overall good experience of working with iTunes and iPhone. I can just sense the excitement of the bots, viruses, trojans and other nasty things lurking in the wings to find ways to exploit this tender, new browser fledgling. Let the games begin!

It's refreshing to see another Apple application on my Windows machine. iTunes has needed a buddy. I have had Macs since 1987. That's when I spent $2,500 for a Mac SE with a 512x512 1 bit display. Those were the days. HyperCard and MacPaint were great, but it was the MIDI connection that inspired me to open my wallet. Sequencing music with Performer was a brave new world that kept me up through the night testing the boundaries.

Over the last couple years though, my time on my Mac has dwindled. I can't afford to install all the software I purchase for the PC or the beautiful, but very expensive Mac hardware. After installing Safari however, I think the bug has bitten me again.

Although this also means another browser to test on the Windows platform, that price is well worth it if the web experience benefits. While Firefox is cool, it's not wagging the industry with really amazing things. Maybe Safari's entry to the fold will get everyone to start innovating a bit more in this space.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Get Your Stinking Paws On My Gadget, You Damn Dirty Ape!

I just read this interesting article on how when chimpanzees learn new techniques with gadgets, they share this knowledge and make it cultural within their troop. Sounds a lot like chimps would be ideal customers of almost every new Web 2.0 company. It was also interesting to read that the researchers found it hard to perform their work because they are not used to chimp studies where participation is completely voluntary. They should have had some usability professionals involved.

The Wisdom of Listening to Customers

James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds wrote a piece in The New Yorker about the infamous "feature creep" and the impact it has on product adoption. This is different view than the typical internal moaning and groaning caused by feature creep, which usually adds pain to the product lifecycle process. To see how it impacts the consumer is a lot more powerful, and probably can be enough to actually change it. Internal griping about creeping featurism isn't enough to cause change, but customers not adopting your product because of it is.

Surowiecki also talks about what customers ask for versus what they really want. This is why having an internal channel to make sense of feedback from customers is so vital. I wish more companies made this a core component early on in their product lifecycle. I've repeatedly seen the list of features of a product change dramatically before and after conducting field studies. Performing this type of customer research also makes the rest of the product lifecycle easier because there is much less debate over what anyone might opine as what a customer would want. We've all been in meetings where people vehemently disagree over what the users might want ad nauseam.

There is some really great data in this article, such as 50% of all returned products have nothing wrong with them, people just couldn't figure out how to use them. This speaks to Myths 4 & 5 of the Five Myths of Consumer Behavior by Paul Allen Smethers and Alastair France, "Consumers will find a product's value" and "Customers want more features". Not only will customers refrain from seeking out a product's value, but they will want their money back.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Why Did It Take 45,000 Pounds of Peanuts For CBS To Recognize Addicted Customer Adoption?

The TV show Jericho just went through quite the dramatic storyline, and it didn't happen on the show itself. It was cancelled by CBS because the Nielsen ratings showed decline up until the season finale. This caused fans to send emails, make phone calls and even send over 25 tons of peanuts to the studio based on a line in the finale where a character won't surrender and replies, "Nuts." Ultimately, CBS entertainment chief Nina Tassler wrote a letter to fans on the Jericho website:

"You got our attention; your emails and collective voice have been heard," Tassler wrote, adding that she'll consider more episodes if the show gets good ratings. To that end, she encouraged fans to keep up their campaign on behalf of "Jericho."

"A loyal and passionate community has clearly formed around the show. But that community needs to grow," Tassler wrote. "It needs to grow on the CBS Television Network, as well as on the many digital platforms where we make the show available. We will count on you to rally around the show, to recruit new viewers with the same grass-roots energy, intensity and volume you have displayed in recent weeks."

Tassler said CBS will try to pump up "Jericho" by repeating the show on the net this summer and streaming episodes on its CBS Audience Network. She also made vague mention of "continuing the story of Jericho in the digital world until the new episodes return."

This letter blames the fans for low ratings and even threatens them that if the low Nielsen ratings continue it will be cancelled again. Here's an idea at a better response: "Thank you for your loyalty. Make sure you keep sending the nuts because without them we have no other way to track what is important to you."

Clearly the Nielsen Ratings failed to illustrate an important component to the value of this TV program. While Jericho doesn't have the same number of eyeballs that American Idol has, I'm pretty sure that if they cancelled Idol that you would not see anyone spending their hard earned money to send peanuts anywhere. A smaller fan base but much more passionate about the content. By the way, CBS also had Jericho up against Idol in the same time slot.

I don't think you can blame Nielsen here. You have to look at the people who consume Neilsen ratings and blame them for not digging for deeper data. In this Long Tail world there has to be a better way for traditional businesses to better capture more than just the top level of customer data. Maybe the business model of television can't adapt easily to selling less of more with the cost of producing a TV series, but there's more than just a single show's value at stake here. The brand of the network is impacted when you show that you don't care about what viewers are clearly passionate about.

People did demonstrate that they cared deeply about Jericho well before they had to send peanuts. There was the data that showed that Jericho's audience grew more than any other CBS scripted show IF you included DVR playback data. It also was the only CBS scripted show to have its own dedicated recap page on the chat site TelevisionWithoutPity.com. This is not passive data. People were investing a lot of time and data was there for CBS to be aware of it.

I blogged about OnNetworks not that long ago. Their process seems to place a lot more value on the passion that CBS was casting aside. They get ideas, create them in high quality through prosourcing and then deliver the shows online where social buzz and fanaticism can grow organically. This is all before going to traditional TV broadcast. If they see user interaction snowballing as it did with Jericho, they would be the ones to send peanuts somewhere, not the viewers. It seems as if they are ready for what Tassler vaguely refers to as the "digital world."

I'm reminded of the strange path the Geico Cavemen are on (Here's a great mashup of them). ABC is creating a sitcom around the miffed Cro-Magnons due out this fall. There are a bunch of stories around this odd impetus for a sitcom which ask questions like, "Could Cavemen success lead to more commercial sitcoms?" I think they are missing the point. It's not that it was a commercial; it was that it was viral. Anything viral could lead to a sitcom, where decades ago it was really the complete opposite. People in the 70s would regularly walk around mimicking Fonzie or Mork from Ork. Ayyyyyyyy, Shazbut. Now it is the Star Wars kid or the Numa Numa guy. Where are their shows?

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Experience is Organic

We've lived in our home for almost three years now. Something very strange has happened over the last week or so. A large...umm...thing...has begun to grow out of a plant outside our door that has never grown there before. It looks like a giant asparagus or some sort of phallic super plant. It keeps getting bigger and it's getting hard to just walk by and pretend that it's normal. I fully expect to stare too close at it one day and have an alien face hugger burst out and attach itself to my head.

I've walked in and out of that door for years and out of nowhere super-penis-plant grows next to it? Am I being punk'd? This triggered a thought. We should never assume that customers that use the products we design will have the same experiences day in and day out, no matter how long the product itself doesn't change. It's not solely the user interface or the hardware we need to concern ourselves with, but the ever-changing world the customer exists in.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Anyone Can Design Better Than You: The 2012 London Olympics Logo Steps Outside The Familiar

There is a familiar theme that has come up in the design of the logo for the 2012 Olympics being held in London. There have been multiple layers of outcry over the design of the logo. People in London seem to not just dislike it, but truly hate it. It has been described as a "toileting monkey" and a "broken swastika". Nothing seems to be going right for this design. Over 25,000 people have signed a petition to have it redesigned. To make matters worse, the animation that goes with the logo has caused at least 8 seizures. Seriously.

The logo was designed by one of the world’s most expensive branding agencies, Wolff Olins. It took them a year to research which included consumer testing. How could there not be any feedback from their consumer testing that resembled a smidgen of this outrage? Clearly the testing was flawed if there wasn’t.

This is reminiscent of the furor over the design of the Vietnam War Memorial:

A jury of architects and sculptors unanimously selected a design by Maya Ying Lin, a 21 year old Yale University architecture student from Athens, Ohio, as the winner from 1,421 entries. Lin had originally designed the Memorial Wall as a student project. Controversially, the design lacked many of the elements traditionally present in war memorials, such as patriotic writings and heroic statues, and a flagstaff and figurative sculpture. Lin's Asian heritage was also a sensitive issue, and she was not even named in the memorial's 1982 dedication ceremony.

It is abstract in form, and strikingly in contrast to the figurative memorials, usually in white stone or bronze, whose tradition goes back hundreds, if not thousands of years. Thus, it did not meet many people's ideas of what a monument should look like. Veterans and others complained that it looked too much like an ugly scar in the ground, reflecting the attitude and stigma the American government and public had towards the war and its veterans. In particular, the fact that the wall sloped down below ground level caused some to claim that the monument attempted to hide the war. Others claimed the dark stone made it look like a gravestone rather than glorifying the dead.

All designers are a Maya Lin or Wolff Olins at some point in their career when we try to do something that steps out of the realm of the familiar. London Olympics? You need a crown or Big Ben! Vietnam War Memorial? You need soldiers with guns drawn looking noble. We’ve come to love the Vietnam War Memorial and the experience that surrounds it. The reflection you see of yourself as you read the names of fallen soldiers and etch their names with a pencil on paper are things that people are now moved by.

When a doctor, lawyer or accountant recommends something, the typical response is not that you think you could know better. It is often this way with design, especially when it is a design that is taking a risk. I often see people share their work and not have it questioned yet everyone seems to have an opinion on how a website should look or function.

Even though we may not agree on what they are paid, it's too easy to pick apart what is outside the norm. We should support risk takers.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

And The Winner Is…Media Website Award Company!


Recently I read on ESPN.com's website that they won an EPpy award for best sports website. They listed some of the other winners. I agreed with a few of the choices, such as:

Best Newspaper-Affiliated Web Site with more than 1 million unique monthly visitors
NYTimes.com

Best Sports Web Site with more than 1 million unique monthly visitors
ESPN.com

Best News Web Site with more than 1 million unique monthly visitors
BBC News

So…What is an EPpy award? I looked it up. The contest is only open to media companies. If you win, you get a plaque and are included on a press release stating that you won. The sites are judged by "industry experts" chosen by management of Editor & Publisher and Mediaweek.

I started looking at the other winners, and while some were good, there were some less than stellar choices. It was interesting how on first read of the ESPN.com story I thought they had won some prestigious award, especially by listing other known winners. Here are some of the winners they didn't list:

Best Special Feature in a Web Site - News or Event, fewer than 1 million unique monthly visitors
IndyMoms.com

Best Special Feature in a Web Site - Enterprise, fewer than 1 million unique monthly visitors
Unrighteous Traffick: Rhode Island's slave history

Best Classified Web Site with fewer than 1 million unique monthly visitors
Nwjobs.com

I guess if you only receive 450 submissions, you are somewhat limited as to who you can choose as a winner. Clearly the winner here is the producer of the event itself. It cost $150 to submit a website and over 450 sites were submitted. I'm bad at math, but I think that means they made over $67,500. I need to start a website award contest!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

CNN.com Redesign Cares About Your Current and Future News Experience


Tucked away in the "Latest News" section on CNN's home page is a link to preview their upcoming redesign. I've recently blogged about how AOL.com has done something similar and how ABCNews.com didn't. CNN has invested a lot in this, and is really going out of their way to make sure

Here are some of the things they've done to properly set the users expectations for the upcoming change:

The message from the General Manager is very similar to that of the ABCNews message. Words and phrases such as "easy to use," "simple" and "clean." Let's see if CNN's definition of simple is in line with what customers define as simple. They are really going out of their way though to get feedback. Check out this large banner on the BETA site:


They seem to have a good feedback mechanism implemented via OpinionLab.



You can submit a comment by type (error, suggestion, complaint, compliment, etc.), rate any page on the BETA site and specifically rate the home page. This looks like they will be easily manage good quantitative feedback, while also providing a place for more free form commentary.

One bad thing about the redesign. On the surface, it doesn’t look like CNN is providing better winnowing tools for the home page. In fact, when I did a count of the links on the BETA site, there are 72 less links than the current home page (185 on BETA vs. 257 on current). While ABCNews.com visually shrunk the size of the page, CNN.com has done the same thing to a much lesser degree. There was a lot of negative feedback on the ABCNews.com redesign that pointed out how online news website customers really liked to quickly scan around the page to find something to read. Although this may tend to make the page look "busy" customers defined the ease of use here as making it feel "simple" to work with. Feedback on how customers like to winnow is posted on comments section of the CNN BETA blog:


Your "more news" section has deleted some topics (e.g. "science") that are now on the bottom of the first page. I scan the bottom of the first page regularly for news stories and would not like to have its scope diminished.
An interesting new component is the "We Recommend" section which "follows your interests by checking out what We Recommend for you based on the type of stories you've been reading and viewing."

Throughout the BETA site there are a lot of nice AJAX-y components that has "folded up" content that doesn't require a page refresh to display. There also seems to be a lot more "scent" scattered around the page for other stories I might want to read about.

I'm interested in seeing how this evolves, but I like how they are taking there time with deploying the new design and trying hard to set people's expectations. The letter from David Payne, SVP and General Manager states that "new initiatives will be launched over the next year." Stay tuned.

The Usefulness of Icons

I'm still trying to get used to the new ABCNews.com design, but the deeper I delve the greater the unhappiness is with the user interface design. One thing that has always been a difficult task for UI designers is to create really great icons. What is very useful about icons is that they take up very little space, which is also what makes them so difficult to design. You have to make something very intuitive on a ridiculously small canvas, or in ABCNews.com’s case around 12x12 pixels.

I can see how this treatment could slip by a creative director. The icons are aesthetically pleasing and well crafted from a visual standpoint. So that leads me to ask the question, is this website run by someone who is more graphic designer or user experience designer?

There is a TV icon with rabbit ear antennae on top. I remember growing up with these things and constantly adjusting them to get better reception on our Black and White TV as a child of the seventies. There's also an old school camera icon with a disposable flashbulb at the top. When was the last time you put a flashbulb on your camera? Their lead video bloggess Amanda Congdon wasn’t even born until 1981. Did they test this icon with her?

Other icons which are not intuitive are a checkbox, multiple files, a talk-balloon and a file icon. After digging around to find out what these really meant, I can see the connection, but that is not how icons work. You shouldn’t have to explain them, they should be intuitive.

One way I like to test icons is to strip them of their context and tooltips and ask people what they think these stand for. Look at the Flash movie I created below and see what you think they are.