Friday, December 19, 2008

Observations vs. Findings: The Lesson of the Oviraptor

Roy Chapman Andrews discovered the Oviraptor in 1924. Andrews made the discovery on top of a pile of fossilized eggs. The head of the Oviraptor was 4 inches away from the eggs, hence the latin name for 'egg seizer'.

After more study almost 70 years later, the finding that the Oviraptor was an egg-thieving beast was questioned. Today on NPR there was a story on how dinosaurs like the Oviraptor are very much like Ostriches and Emus. The females would lay the eggs, but soon after have to feed after expending all of that energy. The men would then care for the eggs at this point.

The ferocious Oviraptor got a bad rap for almost a century. The reality was that he was close to the eggs because he was a great daddy. The observation was sound, but the finding wasn't as overt as it seemed. Sometimes you have to filter your observations to get a deeper, more accurate finding. I'm going to think about the Oviraptor the next time I'm out visiting customers.

Here is a link to the NPR audio & article: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98442140

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Good Experience Live (GEL) Conference 2008 Videos Posted

On the Gel website you can now view some of the videos of the speakers from Gel 2008. Gel is Mark Hurst's multidisciplinary conference on creating good experiences. Gel's broad collection of speakers makes it one that you shouldn't miss. 

I recommend you take the time to watch Alex Lee's presentation. He is the CEO of OXO, creators of wonderful kitchen products. You get insight into the product lifecycle at OXO and how ideas are vetted. 

You can check out the list of speakers and sign up for Gel 2009 Here: 

Monday, December 1, 2008

Empathy is a Complex Ingredient of Innovation

The Wall Street Journal had an article on what innovation means to small business. Dev Patnaik, the founder of Jump Associates is interviewed. In it, he identifies complexities modern businesses face like, "How can my company stand out from the competition?". He goes on to list three ingredients to innovate: Empathy, creativity and execution.

"Empathy is about getting employees out in the real world. If you work for a company that makes kitchen tools, you should go hang out with the chefs that use kitchen tools."

While I agree that these three areas are important to innovation, the example in the quote above seemed to oversimplify what really needs to go on here. Just as companies must evolve to ask more complex questions, they also can't simply visit chefs in their kitchens. There is only so much low-hanging innovation fruit to be picked. Spending time with customers should be a ubiquitous part of the product lifecycle. Seeing it offered here as a "tip" speaks volumes. 

To go through the process of observing and interviewing customers and synthesizing it into new products & features is not a simple act. If you don't have trained people in the right places in your company, you can end up with products that aren't what your customers really wanted. Make sure if you are going into the kitchen to talk to those chefs that your company knows what to do with those observations.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Google Chrome is Changing My Browser Expectations


I've been using Google's web browser, Chrome, every day since it was released in early September. It has a lot of quirks. It doesn't always handle Flash well and sometimes has fits when trying to render more complex Web 2.0 web pages. For example, the New York Times does some wonderful, cutting edge things on their website. I enjoy their video clips but Chrome seems befuddled at times when I try to navigate between videos. The page stares back at me while I sit here cheering on the fledgling browser to overcome its shortcomings.
That being said, there is one thing that makes the experience something that keeps me coming back every day hoping that they work the kinks out. It is very simple. When I trigger it to start, it appears almost instantly. When I do the same for FireFox, there is a delay that bothers me a bit. When I start up Microsoft's bloated Internet Explorer, I now am annoyed. I was never bothered by these delays that much when they were my weapons of choice.
Google has made other experiences bad just by their startup time. The next time I have to implement a new design feature in a product, I will use this lesson I've learned. Make some simple things so good that even though your product has blemishes, it will provide your competition with some bad user experience capital.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

UrbanBaby.com + CNET: Someone Didn't Tell Them That Not Knowing Your Customers Can Suck

Clive Thompson of Wired Magazine wrote an article in this month's issue called, "Social Networks and the Wrath of Moms". He tells the story of how UrbanBaby.com's purchasers CNET unleashed a "redesign" and subsequently jettisoned a large portion of their user base. Didn't they read about Guba last year? The redesign carelessly dispensed with features that their addicted users adored. Making matters worse for CNET is that two of these unhappy users were web developers. They re-created the old user experience they and many other UrbanBaby fanatics loved on a new website, YouBeMom.com. How long did it take for them to launch their competing online product? 7 days. 

This story is not just a testament to how incredibly fast online products can be developed and deployed, but also to how little companies pay attention to their customers. Why bother paying for an online product as CNET did and not bother to learn what the customers they inherited care about? They should have had that data before embarking on any features update, let alone an entire redesign. 

More and more people will have the ability to launch a product without needing a corporation behind them. Companies that don't know who their customers are and what their customers value will find it hard to compete in this new world. Focus solely on the technology of a product at your peril. 

By the way, read the comments section on the "About YouBeMom" page to see the debate on the ethics of duplicating someone else's product. Betty in NJ asks the question of feeling guilty over stealing the brand from UrbanBaby. In between all the nasty responses was an insightful reply from Another marketing voice who says:

They trademarked the brand and unfortunately did not continue to deliver on the brand promise, which in turn opened up an opportunity for a competitor to come in and do it better.

I have to agree. Brand Promise = Repeatedly Delivered Good User Experience. 

Read the complete WIRED article here: 
http://www.wired.com/techbiz/people/magazine/16-11/st_thompson

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pop Culture Reference: Wassup Guys Return

Back at the turn of the century (Yes, this one), it was impossible to traverse an office of cubicles without hearing someone greet a co-worker with wassssssssuuuuuuup. This line came from "The Wassup Guys" who were a group of friends that made a Budweiser commercial. They became a pop culture phenomenona, who were Parodied repeatedly over the years.

These same childhood friends got back together to create a sequel this week. It shows where they are now. Times aren't as simple as they were back in 2000, and the re-use of their pop-culture. I would also like to see a sequel to Budweiser's own parody of the yuppies exclaiming, "What are you doing?". Where are they now?

Utilizing pop culture in design can be just as powerful. Enjoy:

Direct link to video on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qq8Uc5BFogE

Here is a link to their official website if you want to take a walk down memory lane:
http://www.bud-true.com/pages/outer.htm

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

WIRED: Don't Blog Anymore -- Wait...What Was That?!?


Paul Boutin has written an article for WIRED.com branding blogging as passe. Yes, if you are reading this, you are not hip. Clearly I am much less hip for writing it. In his article, he points out all the new tools we have online to share our thoughts instead of blogging. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are his new recommended tools of choice. 

While I agree with Paul that blogging has evolved and lost its innocence, I have to disagree with his conclusions. Facebook is a completely different experience to me, as is YouTube and Twitter. They are all tools we can use in our online arsenal of sharing ourselves. I like how they all interact together, as opposed of just choosing one. I like uploading videos to YouTube (or YouTube-wannabes) and embedding them on my blog or my website or on Facebook. I can't see micro-blogging on Twitter replacing blogging with entries like, "End of the first day back at work. Curious." But I do see them adding to create a fuller experience of how we share our insight on the web. 

Here is the entire WIRED article:
http://www.wired.com/entertainment/theweb/magazine/16-11/st_essay

Monday, October 20, 2008

Yahoo's Home Page Redesign Process and User Feedback

The New York Times has a great article on the process Yahoo is using to redesign their home page. In it, they interview Tapan Bhat who is leading this effort. The NY Times labels the design effort "stealth innovation" because it is done in steps to assuage the push back from addicted users.

My focus on this article and effort is how Yahoo is dealing with loyal users of a mature web product. It seems as if they have put the user feedback at the end of the lifecycle process with a component to deal with unexpected things. In other words, they expected push back, so they moved ahead with their strategic design changes knowing they would have to modify them. It's sort of like the user taking a nasty medicine in small doses, but in the end they will feel a lot better.

Read the entire article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/19/business/19ping.html

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Innovation: Google Strives To Makes the World's Information Useful...And Less Embarrassing

If you have a Gmail account, you should take the time to go through the Labs section of "Settings" area. They have oodles of little add-ons that you can enable to make your Gmail-ing experience a better one. One of them, however, is a bit odd. "Mail Goggles" is for those who may be drunk-typing late at night. Pat O’Brien may want to enable this feature. 

What interested me most about these add-on settings is that they are the result of a culture of innovation at Google. Could you imagine trying to get "Mail Goggles" approved to be developed in your organization? We need more of this, especially during the tough times we are or about to face in this economy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The New York Daily News - If They Had a Website in 1973

The New York Daily News did something interesting. They took their current website design and populated it with stories as if it was 1973. The stories on this anachronistic edition span the entire year of 1973 instead of just today's date. It's fun to scan through the main categories as if it was then again and there was a such thing called the internet. There was Watergate, OJ ran for 2,000 yards, McCain was released from the Hanoi Hilton, the Twin Towers were unveiled and we had an oil crisis. Serpico made its debut, the Knicks won the NBA championship and Billy Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs. 

The Daily News also created a special version of their style sheet to make the pages look old and tattered. Of course, there were 2008 advertising banners all over the place, but this was still a fun experience. 

Here is a link: http://www.nydailynews.com/1973/homepage/

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Pareidolia Rules: My Car Has a Mean Face

I just read about this study with findings that show people prefer cars that look masculine and angry. Inferring human facial traits actually skewed the results of people's preferences. I'd have to agree…I'd love to have the mean-looking Alfa Romeo 159 pictured above. 

Can we apply this to user experience design? Everyone has heard the phrase, "That's a mean looking car" but have you ever called a website, "mean-looking"? I've heard clean and polished, but not mean or angry. I may have to try and design one soon. 

Read more about the angry-faced car study:
http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/081006-car-face.html

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Facebook Managing Change As If They Didn’t Have Addicted Users

Every web company out there wants to be at the same point on the customer adoption curve as Facebook is. Facebook has moved from stalled adoption, past rapid adoption to addicted users. Recently, there has been backlash from millions of those addicted users from their latest redesign. 

There is a lot of debate about the Facebook redesign online. Check out IXDA's discussion. My observation is not on the interface level, but on the overall approach Facebook took on this redesign. On the surface, they chose a rationale method and seemed very inclusive of their users. They prepared them in advance and asked for feedback along the way. It seems to me that where they may have missed a beat was they treated this redesign as if they weren't so far along in the customer adoption curve. 

During the stalled phase of customer adoption you can make major changes to a product without much fear. There is an abundance of care you must use when your user base expands beyond nine figures. So where did Facebook go wrong? It seems as if they elicited feedback, but didn't properly filter the correct themes from it. Also, they could have gone into this redesign without the inclusion of this feedback in the product lifecycle. Who knows, but clearly they missed something here. 

It's important to remember that whenever you have addicted users you will always have people that resist change. They will have negative feedback from them even if it is in their best interest to change. You can't stand still in business in general, but it's even more important to innovate online. This is the fine line Facebook needs to walk in order to stay on top. Don't be afraid to innovate, but truly understand your customers and be prepared for including findings when you do. 

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Food of New Jersey, Flickr-style

I found this great group pool on Flickr, which has 11 members who post nothing by images of food taken in New Jersey. While there are a lot of images of fast food that you could take anywhere on the planet, there are a lot of NJ-centric images here. Jersey tomatoes, italian (fried) hot dogs, diner food and more. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Image Thread: News Websites Love Eye-Rubbing-Man

If you went to any news website today, you may have seen and heard something familiar. No, not the overused phrase, "From Wall Street to Main Street." It was tons of news websites using almost the same imagery. Eye-Rubbing-Man and Nailbiting-Headset-Man graced the web pages of much more than a few pretty famous news organizations. Trader David O'Day rubbed his eyes as he worked on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and ended up becoming "Eye-Rubbing-Man" - an emblem of the worst loss in the history of the U.S. stock market. 

Here are the websites that showed David O’Day:

  • CNN.com
  • The New York Times
  • Chicago Sun Times
  • The Miami Herals
  • CBSnews.com
  • Detroit Free Press
  • ABCNews.com
  • The New York Post
  • The New York Daily News

Here are the websites that showed Nailbiting-Headset-Man:

  • Los Angeles Times
  • DailyBreeze.com
  • KansasCity.com
  • CNN.com

The funny thing is I started this voyage on cnn.com and ended up back there in the end only to find that they switched from Mr. O'Day to Nailbiting-Headset-Man. 

It looks like today will be another volatile day. If you are a trader on the floor of the NYSE, be careful what expressions you make. Every news website may run your picture.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Switching Brands Without Warning: 800-BUY-MOVIES.com Confuses Dalmations with Lesbian Beauties

My 5 year old heard that there was a 101 Dalmations 2 movie, and has not stopped asking about it ever since. So off I went to perform a Google search to find this movie and do something special for her. Up popped a link for exactly what I was looking from the website 800BUYMOVIES.com, and it was only $4.94! I clicked on Buy DVD and that is where my troubles began. 

As soon as I clicked on the big, blue Buy DVD button, a pop-up appeared with the following text:

Historical Reference
Sorry - We no longer offer this movie as available for sale. It is being kept on our web site as a historical reference only for the purpose of general information. Also, you may wish to check our movie auction web site, Reel Auction, from time to time, since these "No Longer Available" movies are frequently auctioned off at very low prices.

That is so nice of them! The words "Reel Auction" were underlined blue text, so I quickly clicked on the link to see if I could fulfill my daughter's wishes. Up popped the home page for ReelAuction.com, and right at the top was a search field. I quickly typed in "101" and hit ENTER. I should have paid a little more attention to the labels or the names of the movies in the auction. The results were entirely made up of pornography. ReelAuction.com is evidently the world's largest auction website for Adult movies.

How is it possible for 800BUYMOVIES.com to not be aware that people searching for children's movies might not be interested in Sum Yum Ho 2 and On Golden Blonde? What does this do to 800BUYMOVIES.com brand? Maybe before their naughty auctions, Reel-Auction.com used to be generic like an Ebay and 800BUYMOVIES.com never changed their system. Not sure, but I think they may even be breaking the law by showing me adult content without one of those "I am over 21" agreements. One thing 800BUYMOVIES.com has definitely done is garnered some really Bad User Experience with me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Web 2.0 Becoming Real-er: NFL Fantasy Players (CBS) vs. NFL Real Players


Last June, the NHL sued Madison Square Garden over "new media issues". This was really interesting to me recalling the struggle a decade ago to convince customers on how valuable the web would be. Something that didn't have a business model 10 years ago has become something worth suing over today.

Today I read that CBS is being sued by the NFL Players association over statistics usage for their fantasy football. CBS stopped paying a usage fee for the stats back in February after seeing that others using fantasy baseball stats freely won their case in court.

All of this wouldn't be possible without people being able to congregate and share online. As more and more things that we love in our real lives become virtual like Guitar Hero and Grand Theft Auto (OK, that one not so much) we'll see the rights to content being haggled over.

Having nothing to do with rights to content...what exactly is that guy on the Vikings doing to the guy on the Packers in Madden in the picture above?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Epilogue: The NBA Puts The Final Nail In The Synthetic Basketball Design Coffin


Back in January of 2007, I blogged about the NBA fiasco of designing a new synthetic basketball. The key component that was missing from their product lifecycle was a listening channel. They didn't garner and filter feedback from their customers, the players, until AFTER they delivered it.

It was announced today that the NBA will end its attempts at developing a new basketball altogether and stick with the familiar leather version. Here is a quote from Tim Frank, NBA spokesman:

"We are committed to leather for the foreseeable future," league spokesman Tim Frank said. "We just realized leather is what our guys wanted."

They just “realized” is an understatement. The feedback from players was incredibly strong. The synthetic ball they deployed would actually leave tiny cuts on the players' hands. Another interesting comment from the NBA is:

The NBA also formed a committee of top players to test the new versions and offer their input, something that was not done the first time.

I'm still shocked that they didn't include actual users during the original synthetic design. At least they learned second time around, to ultimately deliver…what they had in the first place.

The value of vetted customer feedback synthesized into new products and features is something that should be ubiquitous. It should be as concrete a component to the product lifecycle as development and testing are. The companies that realize this succeed. For every company that doesn't, we have an NBA Synthetic ball story.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

What is Google Chrome? Just ask Gordon Gekko

The language surrounding computers has always been a challenge from many standpoints. See the cartoon above from 1985. This could easily be updated to today, but a big difference is you had a very small minority of people who did "things" with computers back then. Now, you have P-Diddy as a persona of someone who is now known as a video blogger. P-Diddy is not your typical Revenge-of-the-Nerd archetype.

There are a gazillion dissections on the web of the svelte new browser from the company that we've come to expect great innovations from. The thing I'd like to include on the discussion is the language used within the new product, and by others describing Chrome.

Within Chrome, Google uses playful language, like:

  • "Aw, Snap! Something went wrong while displaying this webpage."
  • "Stats for nerds."
  • "Browser crash…go boom"
  • "New incognito window"
  • "Under the hood"

This is normal language that we use everyday. We understand it, unlike the messages we get from most traditional software. Have you ever said anything like, "The application failed to initialize because the window station is being shut down" in a regular conversation with a friend?

Outside of Chrome, Wall Street is very interested in any new product from Google because they are successful and publicly traded. I really enjoy when a company comes out with something new that has the interest of business folks. I enjoy hearing how financial analysts dissect the technology components from their point of view. It's so foreign compared to how users speak of the same software. Do you ever hear stories from your friends that use anywhere near the same terminology business people do?

Take a look at the video below from MSNBC.

Direct link to MSNBC video: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/26510135#26510135

The discussion by Jim Goldman is purely about bottom line. This product is about "eyeballs" to him as a direct threat to Microsoft. While that may be true, the Google products that he casts aside in the piece such as Gmail and Google docs as "dabbling" have become a big parts of my online life. This real story here to me is Google's focus on delivering great user experiences consistently. There would be no subsequent stories of defeating Microsoft if Google didn't do that.

A last comment on language is the comic-about-the-comic that Google launched by Scott McCloud of Understanding Comics fame. Portfolio.com does a good job at lampooning Google, just in case it takes itself too seriously.

Defining Innovation Through Discrediting What We Know: Scott Berkun Video on The Myths of Innovation


Scott Berkun was recently a panelist on CNBC’s The Business of Innovation. I took a course with him at Jared Spool’s User Interface 12 and learned a lot about the hard to define topic of Innovation. His book, The Myths of Innovation, debunks a lot of the fog surrounding how we look at Innovation.

Here is a link to download video podcasts of the CNBC show to your iPod:
http://www.innovation.cnbc.com/en/podcasts

Here is an hour long clip of him on YouTube:

Direct link to YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOkGaj6rnEI


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

FT Article: User Experiences Suffer on Digital Products


I was lucky enough to stumble across the story, "The pen is mightier than high-tech gadgets" in the Financial Times by Lucy Kellaway. In it, she dissects the differences of the customer experiences of pens, laptops and iPods. The article focuses totally on the support of these products. When her favorite pen broke, she contacted Cross. They sent her a new pen along with her old one and included a friendly note:

"Compliments of Cross."

She compares that experience with the digital products we are familiar with such as laptops and iPods. Those products are created with the philosophy that a newer, faster one will come out in a very short time frame. If they stop working, they want you to buy a new one. Apple has typically offered to fix iPods I've had in the past that are out of warranty with an eerily similar price tag to what a new iPod would cost. When a laptop blue screens, instead of caring about what things we had on it customer support people typically respond with a "Sorry…Have to re-format the hard drive."

Just because these items are deemed as transitory devices doesn't mean they have to be supported as such. We remember these bad experiences and share them forever with people.
I've written about Shure in the past, which has a wonderful policy similar to Cross'. They have a lot of Good Experience Capital with me by replacing my expensive headphones, no questions asked. They connect right to the iPod and cost about the same price as a Nano, yet they just sent me new ones when the others broke.

A friend of mine at work shared a story with me about a local burger joint in Jersey City. They were training new cooks, so for that day, all the burgers were free. This happened about 7 years ago, yet he still brings this story up. That probably cost the restaurant nothing compared to their marketing budget, yet people are still discussing it. Priceless Good Experience Capital.

Here is a link to the Financial Times article:
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/ffe0ad28-77bb-11dd-be24-0000779fd18c.html

Friday, August 29, 2008

Cape May Parking: Designed to Scam

Some designs in life are ubiquitous; you don't need to dissect them. You just know what they are and what they are supposed to do. Parking meters were one of those things to me. You pulled into a parking spot, saw the familiar "head" of the meter that displayed how much time was left and you fed it coins. That is how it is supposed to work. That is, unless you want to increase the number of people that you give tickets to.

Last week I was in Cape May on vacation, and was the victim of a new design for parking meters. I drove into the main section of town and pulled into an empty parking spot. As I pulled in, there were no visual cues anywhere that I had to pay for parking. That is, there wasn't until I got back to my car and found the ticket on the windshield. That was my first clue that I was in a parking space that had to be paid for. That was my education by the town of Cape May that they want you to pay for parking. So instead of fifty cents going into their budget, they got $32 out of me.

How did this happen? You pull into a spot that has no number in white text on the black pavement. There isn't a familiar parking meter with a blinking red "expired" display on it. There isn't a sign nearby saying you have to pay for parking. There are zero visual cues to let you know that you are about to break the law.

Here is the despicable design of their parking system that I learned about AFTER getting ticketed. In the section I parked, there are 19 parking spaces. To let drivers know they have to pay for parking in these spaces they provide 2 signs for all 19 spaces, along with 2 computerized machines that accepts your money. If you don't happen to park near them, like I didn't, you are screwed. It turns out that there are numbers on the spaces, but not in the familiar place before you enter the spot. They place it in small letters on the gray curb, where you can't see it from your car. This turned out to be a real life I SPY game, and I lost.

It turns out that the design is so bad, the local newspaper, EXIT ZERO, has a centerfold story on it. The title of the story is, "An Encyclopedic Explanation on How to Handle Those Pesky New Parking Meters...Please Read!" The need for an article explaining how to use parking meters speaks volumes. Take a look at the article:

InteractionDesignBlog.com has a few articles on the design and usability of parking meters, but they assume that the person knows that the meter exists. I hope that they add this to their design recommendations for better parking meters. Here is the same image as above, but with the familiar visual cues we'd expect present to notify us to pay for the parking spot:


If someone came to me and said, "Please design me a parking meter system that will not be intuitive and drive up ticket revenues" I would have designed this exact system. If they wanted a system that was fair to vacationers visiting their town, you would have designed something familiar. According to the Cape May County Herald, the design-to-scam is working flawlessly with parking meter revenue up this year already by $26,365 to last year at this time. A number on the ground painted in yellow and green parking meters at each spot with a P on them would probably have impact on this number.

Other than the parking meter scam, Cape May is a wonderful place to vacation. A highlight was eating at 410 Bank Street, which had parking right next to it, with good old parking meters installed.

UPDATE: This article was published in the latest issue of Exit Zero magazine (Volume 6, #30, page 43). Here is the article in PDF format (2.78MB).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Images from GEL 2008


Below is a link to an assortment of images I took took while attending Mark Hurst's GEL 2008 conference. GEL stands for "Good Experience Live" and I highly recommend you consider attending this if creating good experience is part of what you do. Sounds kind of silly, because I that is something I think we all do. With that said, I recommend this to everyone.

There was such a wonderful assortment of stories shared across many disciplines and domains. Standouts for me were Alex Lee from OXO, Bridget Duffy from the Cleveland Clinic, Garrett Oliver from the Brooklyn Brewery, Phoebe Damrosch, George Vaillant and Natasha Schull. I was able to walk away from this conference with a lot of ideas and data to include in my work.

Link to the images I took at GEL 2008: http://picasaweb.google.com/uxarts/GEL2008

Learn more about GEL: http://www.gelconference.com/

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Revisionists Photoshop-ery: Photoshop Frauding Has Cultural Connections


Creating realistic phony images with Photoshop has gone up a notch in the last year. I've blogged about the fake photographs in the Oscar De La Hoya trial, Fox News smearing New York Times reporters and Iran augmenting the number of missiles they test. It's a global epidemic.

The New York Times has an article on people using Photoshop for less dastardly reasons. It discusses how people are using the sophisticated image editing software from Adobe to embellish their photo albums. Placing people in photos that weren't there, altering smiles and bringing relatives back from the dead.

In India, she said, it is a tradition to cut-and-paste head shots of absent family members into wedding photographs as a gesture of respect and inclusion. "Everyone understands that it's not a trick," she said. "That's the nature of the photograph. It's a Western sense of reality that what is in front of the lens has to be true."

Here is a link to the entire NY Times article by Alex Williams:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/17/fashion/17photo.html

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Think Different-ly: Innovation in the United States


The Washington Times has a good article on innovation with really good examples. One is Aravind Eye Care. They are the Terminator of cataract surgeries. That is all they do, they perform 60% of their surgeries for free and they still make a profit. To do this, they had to rethink the entire business lifecycle and go against Western philosophies of innovating through addition.

Another example is Haier, maker of washing machines. They noticed that they were consistently called out to unclog drains of customers. This was because the customer was not using the machine for its intended use, they were washing sweet potatoes in it. They took this observation and added a new vegetable wash feature in their latest product release. They have also delivered a washing machine optimized to make goats' cheese, and a refrigerator that has a fold-out desk for students in dorms. These features all come from understanding segments of their customers by having solid listening channels in place. They are now one of the top five appliance manufacturers in the world.

Innovation isn't just this loosely defined term thrown around by CEOs. It is a mindset that can sometimes be as simple as observing unknown unknowns or as complex as changing around entire business models. One thing that is constant in innovation is the deep understanding of the customer experience.

Read the entire article here: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/aug/03/rethinking-innovation/

Monday, August 4, 2008

MSNBC.com is a Big, Fat Tease


This morning I saw a link to a story on MSNBC.com that I thought was interesting. Microsoft has proven in a new study that, indeed, any 2 people are just 6.6 degrees apart from Kevin Bacon. My initial thought was, "Does Microsoft really have extra time to spend on these kind of studies with all the User Experience Design catch-up they have to do?" But I quickly moved from that to click the link and see the Bacon-data. The problem I had is that the page-title and the sub-title was on the web page when it loaded, but the story content wasn't there and was replaced with this error:

The page you are seeking has expired and is no longer available at msnbc.com. However, it may be available at The Washington Post.

Very strange. So they foresaw an error like this and figured it was The Washington Post's fault so they point me over there. So I click on the link taking me to The Washington Post. Despite having to search through 236 links on The Washington Post's homepage, the story I was looking for wasn't there.

Ultimately, Google was able to find me the story. Reprinting The Washington Post's story ended up working fine on Kansascity.com. I guess MSNBC.com using Microsoft technology can't serve up stories on Microsoft as easily as Kansas City can.

Enjoy the article here: http://www.kansascity.com/news/nation/story/731567.html

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sad State of Experience: Computers

My sister-in-law is about to embark on the arduous journey of law school and doesn't know what computer to buy. Just what we needed, I know, another sister-in-law. But even budding-lawyers need a bit of compassion when it comes to choosing a computer to accompany them on their pilgrimage towards something society loathes.

How is it that this decision is still so complicated in 2008? It's not complicated for complex reasons, but for basic ones you would think they would have solved by now. Which computer is reliable? What do I do if it crashes? It's not about features and innovations that make the experience better, but which one won't blue-screen as fast as the other one. I guess the more we move our assets to the web, the less we will care about these unreliable input devices.

Computers suck. Shes buying a Mac.

Is This Really What The NJ Beaches Are About?


I'm from New Jersey. I've witnessed all the stereotypes portrayed on television and movies. When I spotted the video “Guido Beach” on a blog this morning, I thought about how easy it is to create a slanted view of anything.

If you wanted to illustrate how usable a web application was, imagine if you only interviewed the developers. They have no problem using it. 100% usable! Another bit of twisted perspective would be using feedback only from your most advanced users. Will this help you expand your product footprint or just make a tiny percentage of your users happy?

This video is as representative of a NJ beach as Tony Soprano is of Italians. Unfortunately, the scary thing about this video is that even if these are the edge cases, they still exist. I may have to re-think my vacation plans to Cape May.

Guido Beach:

Direct link to video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjLaJO8QEuw

Similar to getting a review of the Amazon Kindle from a content provider (Toni Morrison) vs. an actual user:

Direct link to video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKCFZ2-TPjA

UPDATE: The Guido Beach video has been removed from YouTube. I will re-post if it surfaces again.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

When a Tiny Bug Eats Away Multiple User Experiences: Thank You, SiteMeter



A number of blogs that I read came crashing down on me yesterday. Every time I would try to visit one of these websites, I would get a creepy error saying that "Internet Explore cannot display the webpage" after an "Operation aborted" alert. What did this mean?



My initial diagnosis was that the first website that gave me the error was at fault. They must have had some bizarre code added to it that caused it to fail. When this started happening on more than this website I had to re-think my hypothesis.



My next explanation for this phenomenon was that I had become infected with some evil virus. I then proceeded to run Trend Micro for the next 4 hours. When it was done running, I returned to the crashing culprits only to find them still giving me the error. At that point, I blamed Trend Micro for not being able to catch this malicious little bug.



The next thing I did was to try and open the same websites in Firefox. Voila! No error messages. So this must be an Internet Explorer bug. I went to see if there was an update for IE only to find that I had the latest version. Now I was dependent on Microsoft to fix my browsing experience. Eek.

Before giving up, I noticed a post on one of the websites I sojourn:

Update: It looks like there's a sitemeter problem that is affecting Internet Explorer all over the internet. Many websites won't open if they have sitemeter. Working on it now...
So Sitemeter caused all of this and had taken down thousands of websites because of their wish to track web statistics? Wow. The Sitemeter website itself suffered from its own bug, not coming up in IE when I tested it. It turns out that all of this comes from Sitemeter making some platform changes to "offer a slight improvement to performance and page load times. They "apologize for any inconvenience this may cause but we hope the new features and benefits will be appreciated." I don't think there is any appreciation going on by Sitemeter's customers and their customers' customers.



So it wasn't the websites I routinely visit and enjoy, Trend Micro nor even good old Internet Explorer. I felt bad that I had blamed them for all of these woes. I apologize to you all. It goes to show that a small bug on in this Web 2.0 world we browse in can screw up the experience for more than just the people that created it. It looks like the only winner here is Firefox, which gave me the same good user experience I typically get from it. I may be packing my bags for good, Microsoft. Please thank Sitemeter for it.



UPDATE 1: Sitemeter has "resolved" the issue. It had to do with their new website launch. Resolution? Read their answer: http://weblog.sitemeter.com/2008/08/02/sitemeter-ie-issues-resolved/



UPDATE 2: Gawker readers blame Microsoft's browser even though it's a Sitemeter glitch: http://gawker.com/5032323/the-gawker-internet-explorer-pc-problem

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Serious Anachronism: Ballmer Says Microsoft Ready To Fight Apple


I read the title of this news story and wondered if I stepped into a time machine. Is it 1984 again? Apple has been delivering great user experiences for over two decades. Now Steve Ballmer realizes how important that is? Here is a quote from the article from Ballmer:

"...there is no doubt that Apple is thriving. Why? Because they are good at providing an experience that is narrow but complete, while our commitment to choice often comes with some compromises to the end-to-end experience."

Microsoft's commitment is to choice and not the user experience. That says it all. Let's see if there really is a shift in the direction of the user experience or if this is rhetoric.

Here is a link to the full article: http://www.crn.com/software/209600615

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Kodak Film Drops Still Exist



Recently I was walking through a town in NJ and noticed this Kodak film drop at the back of a camera store. I wonder how many of these film drops still exist and if they are ever used anymore? This one must still be used, since it has envelopes ready to accept rolls of film under the mail slot. It doesn't feel that long ago that these weren't anachronisms and were a part of our lives.

Look at how weird this feels to brand this with Flickr instead of Kodak:

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sign of the Apocalypse: Degree Girl OMG! Armpit Contest


Having a 5 year old alters your television viewing habits. While watching The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack with her (which is very funny), a commercial for Degree Girl came on. In the commercial, they were talking about the Ultimate OMG! contest. They never say Oh My God, which is interesting because saying God would probably get them boycotted by some group.

The commercial points to a sitelet which has Miley Cyrus & Ashley Tisdale on it. They let you know that you too, can download 5 custom songs recorded by Ashley Tisdale that you can listen to if you buy Degree deodorant to unlock them. It also has a pop trivia game, which I was disturbed to see that I got 7 out of 8 right. This entire sitelet is dedicated to a contest for young girls to talk about stressful moments where they would have benefitted by having Degree in their armpits. This is a clear sign that we are raising a generation of Internet-famous Julia Allisons. The TV is off now and the computer is password protected, and we are reading a book. Not sure how long I can hold back the Apocolypse, but I'm going old skool as long as I can.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Fox News Photoshop Frauds Gets Frauded By Vanity Fair


Recently, Fox News ran a story on New York Times reporter Jacques Steinberg and editor Steven Reddicliffe. What they didn't include in the story is that the photos they showed during spot had been retouched to make them look like freaks. Vanity Fair has responded in kind, Photoshopping a bunch of Fox News' TV hosts, although they do announce their re-touching efforts.

It's not hard to digitally create these facial distortions. Just ask strippers and Iran's state media. Simulating cross-dressing and long-range rockets are super-easy. Unibrows, zits, dark circles under the eyes, receding hairlines, lowering hairlines, big noses & chins and screwed up teeth are new Photoshop tools in the arsenals of large news organizations.

I figured I'd take a stab at distorting some famous Technology folks while the political folks are having a bit of fun. I prefer just using the liquefy tool for my Photoshop freaking:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Out With The Old Blogger Template, In With A Newier One


I'm not a hardcore programmer. I know enough to design hi-fidelity prototypes and deliver websites, but not enough to design a custom javascript calendar widget. I've tried many times to move my Blogger blog from their website on to my own without success. I'm not throwing in the towel yet, but am disappointed at how difficult it is to do simple things with Blogger. I should have to be a hardcore programmer in order to customize the look & feel of the blog. So here I am in this middle state of being on Blogger, but with a customized look & feel. C'mon Google, you own Blogger...Make it Googley! Make the experience simple and fun like you are known for.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Iran Has Bad Photoshop-ing Skills...And Bigger Missiles


Last month I blogged about how Photoshop "Frauding" embarrassed Oscar De La Hoya with phony images of him in fishnets leaked during a court case against him. Today, it isn't a scornful woman releasing doctored photos for money, but a state-run media agency. While promoting the news that Iran is testing new, scary missiles, Iran State Media added an extra missile with Photoshop. The saddest part is that Iran didn't do as good of a job with their frauding as the rebuked, topless dancer did on her photos.

I know that slimming down Mariah Carey's waist for the cover Elle is the norm, but more and more that phony behavior is bleeding into the rest of our culture. Or is it the other way around? Very creepy to think of where things will be in 20 years when it will be even easier to create a realistic-distorted view of the world.

Read more on this from the NY Times:
http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/07/10/in-an-iranian-image-a-missile-too-many/index.html?hp

Monday, July 7, 2008

Google Privacy Center Makes Traditionally Complex Content Easy to Understand and Fun


Google has changed their home page…a little. At the bottom of the page, it used to say 2008 Google. Now it says 2008 Privacy, and Privacy is a link to their new Privacy Center. The reason they swapped out the word Google is because they are rigid about keeping the number of words on the Google home page at 28. This is to keep the time it takes to load the page as fast as possible.

The Google Privacy Center takes a non-traditional approach to explaining their policy in regard to your personal data. Instead of posting a super long page of legalese you can’t understand, they have posted videos with people explaining their policies in simple terms.

Here is the official blog entry from Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of Search Products & User Experience: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/search/label/privacy

Sunday, July 6, 2008

What is Google?


This is not going to be a very long article, although with a title like that you could write a novel. This is just an experience I had yesterday that seemed interesting to me. A friend of mine was having trouble with his website. He bought his first computer less than a year ago. He is in his late forties and uses it mostly for email and visiting websites.

He was confused as to why his business' home page wasn't coming up when he typed in his domain name. Instead of his home page, a page showing a map of where he worked kept coming up. I called him and asked him to explain. It turns out that instead of typing his company's domain name in the browser address bar, he always types in the text field on google.com. This works because Google resolves this quickly, and even resolves his typos. It works for him, and has never given him a reason to use the other address bar the rest of us use. Ask him what Internet Explorer is, and you will get a blank stare. Ask him what Google is and he will know that it is how he gets to things on the web. It works for him.

As the lines between OS, browser and software blur, the brand that delivers repeated, good experiences will win.

Meetup Invitation: User Experience Design 2008 Presentation


I'm giving a presentation on User Experience Design for the North New Jersey User Experience Meetup Group run by Bruce Esrig. It’s on Tuesday, July 8th at “From Scratch” in Madison, NJ. Please join us if you are in the area. Here are the details:

When: July 8, 2008
Where: From Scratch, 20 Waverly Place, Madison, NJ 07940
Phone: 973 845 9676 (the venue), 201 213 2756 (the organizer)

Abstract
We'll welcome Michael Grossman, who will share a presentation on where User Experience Design is in 2008. This will be an open forum to exchange ideas and share stories of our experiences beyond the pixels and how they impact the products we create and use. Here are some of the topics covered:

  • Customer Awareness
  • Innovation sources
  • User Experience Design in a Web 2.0 world

Here is a link to the Meetup invitation:
http://ia.meetup.com/54/calendar/8094697/?a=cv1c_grp


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Thursday, July 3, 2008

If Only We All Had a Personal Windows Test Manager...Or Not?

There was a story out a while back about Charles Walling, a retired warehouseman who upgraded to Vista and promptly couldn't use his printer any longer. He ended up with the blue-screen of death while trying to troubleshoot the issue.

The follow up story by Todd Bishop talks about how Microsoft took on the viral nature of Mr. Walling's predicament and assigned him a personal Windows Test Manager. Ultimately, they resolved the issue and have a happy ending they can propagate with their marketing department.

Is there a silver lining in this entire experience? I can't see one. Todd's article ends with:

Too bad every PC user can't have a Windows test manager on call. But as for Mr. Walling, he's just happy he can print his genealogy records again.

I don't think I know anyone who would like a personal Windows test manager, especially after reading about all the hoops they had to jump through in order to get mediocre hardware and software to work together. Mr. Walling just wanted to work with his genealogy records, not have to deal with Microsoft. They should have been invisible. Is this a good experience? Microsoft needs to get better at addressing the overall user experience instead of just the user interface.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

WIRED Gives Presentation Tips So you Can Be Like Al Gore


We've all been in the audience while someone was giving a bad PowerPoint presentation. Instead of bashing bad presenters and the presentation tool itself (Edward Tufte sells his thoughts on this topic for a mere $7), WIRED Magazine has an article on creating an Al Gore-ish presentation. This includes advice from Nancy Duarte, the principal of Duarte Design who created the slide show used in an Inconvenient Truth:

http://howto.wired.com/wiki/Make_a_Presentation_Like_Al_Gore

Unintended Brand Evolution: Cheese That Laughs Out Loud


Recently I was shopping at a local grocery store, Stop & Shop. It's not an experience I enjoy like Wegman's but it is close by. Sometimes convenience trumps good experience. When I got home from shopping and was putting away the groceries, I noticed that the label on the cheese said, "LOL AMERICAN CHEESE YELLOW" and it made me giggle. Was there OMG SALAMI and ROFLMAO BALONEY at the same deli? LOL actually stands for Land O' Lakes, which has been part of our culture since the 1920's. I don't think they envisioned their store code would end up having a different cultural meaning 80 years later. This reminds me a little bit of the doomed appetite-suppresant of the late 70s/early 80s, Ayds. Note the awesome camera used at the end of the video clip...and no this is not a parody, this was real:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pontiac's 'Awful' Year Gets Worse With Its Website Experience


I am almost done paying off my current car, and have been looking around for a new one. Today I saw a story on cnn.com where they mentioned that GM was offering 6-year, no-interest loans. GM is having an awful year, and they are doing whatever they can to sell their 2008 backlog of vehicles.

Included in these new incentives is the Pontiac Solstice. I have been curious about this car ever since I saw a story on the design of it. I'm now an ideal prospect for GM. I am on Google searching for info on the Solstice, and up pops Pontiac's website #1. Is that Pontiac's hard work or Google smart algo? I'll go with Google, especially after what unfolded.

I get to the Solstice sitelet and poke around for information. I really wish these car companies would cut it out with these over-produced Flash designs. They are not very usable and they all do it. All of them throw tons of money at these monstrosities. One of the largest components on the Solstice's home page is a "media controller," which is playing The Bravery way too loud for my early morning surfing. Where is the customer data that pushed that design element to the forefront? So I move past all of the hurdles in my way of learning about this vehicle, and find out they have 2 styles. I click on the most expensive style to customize what I'd like on it (which now makes me Pontiac's best case scenario, I think). Up pops up an error message, "Server Error, The page you requested produced an error. Please try again later." Will I ever really "try again" on this website? Not a chance.

So where is this data, that Pontiac served up an error and lost an ideal lead? Do they have something tracking this, or did that budget get eaten up by the Media Controller that forced me to scramble for the mute button?

The car business is a very mature business domain, which once again provides an example of why they don't innovate where they need to. They are stuck in a defensive mode of just doing what everyone else is doing. Sure, MySpace has media controllers, but has GM heard of Facebook?

Learn more about GM and their awful year (no mention of loss of online prospects).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

John McCain Wants To Sponsor The American Idol of Fuel Innovation


NASA has done it for a better space glove. The Department of Defense has done it for a lighter backpack. Netflix is doing it for a better movie-prediction algorithm. Now John McCain is taking their lead and proposes that we dangle the carrot in front the entire country to solve our energy problems. The first person to develop a car battery that delivers power at 30 percent of current costs gets $300 million. The title of the contest is the "Clean Car Challenge".

There is an odd feeling I get from this patriotic sequestering of innovation. There are very smart folks throughout the auto industry and within the government that could have been charged with accomplishing this task decades ago. As companies migrate from an innovation strategy to a defensive one, they seem to become anathema to changing their domain unless forced to. Kodak, Merrill Lynch and Firestone have experienced this. Is this the natural course of mature business spaces? Will Apple ever become like this in the MP3 player market three decades from now?

Americans are connected to the story of the amateur winning against the odds. It's sad, but if running a contest of this magnitude provides a solution that the car industry has not, then I hope it works.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Web 2.0 Could Cost Madison Square Garden The New York Rangers


I remember Web 1.0. Heck, I remember Web 0.1 when the computer world revolved around CD-ROMs, with slow dial-up modems taking a backseat. AOL sure did send out a lot of free CDs back then. That was a time when a lot of effort was spent trying to convince people of the value of a website. A lot of people didn't get it. I wish I had a crystal ball back then, and could show those same doubting people what is going on with the New York Rangers.

The NHL is taking the owners of the Rangers to court over "new media" issues. These people are basically suing each other over the control of the Rangers' website. I once had the title of "New Media Specialist" and remember how difficult it was for people to ‘get' what I did. I wonder if I could give expert testimony in this case with that title today?

There is much more going on between these warring factions, but to see that website control is a core sticking point makes me giggle like a little girl inside. I don't think anyone would have believed me in 1997 if I told them that one day Madison Square Garden could lose the Rangers franchise over...their website! I know it's not nice to say this, but...www.itoldyouso.com.

Monday, June 16, 2008

OXO Gets Innovation Right By Design


I saw Alex Lee, CEO of OXO, speak at GEL 2008. He provided great insight into their innovation funnel. I thought it very interesting that the byproduct of a company known for its user-centric design is a built-in idea channel. He said that they constantly get ideas from consumers. Most of these are of course either obvious or unrealistic, but they have a great way of filtering these ideas. They have 4 criteria that each idea must meet. If an idea is great, but only meets 3 of 4 of the criteria, it doesn't get commercialized. Here are their 4 criteria:

  • You must be able to understand what it does just by looking at it
  • Knowing how to use it has to be obvious (no instructions!)
  • It must be thought provoking
  • It should warrant consistent use (not a use-once-and-put-away product)

Having a very clear map of how to vet ideas seems like an invaluable tool, especially when you are swamped with ideas.

Another thing that jumped out at me from his talk was that verbatim feedback from customers is not useful. They have found that their customers can't articulate their problems well. This is true in most domains, not just in kitchen gadgetry. Being able to filter customer feedback is essential to innovation.

Recently I received an email from Christopher Kimball's America's Test Kitchen. They are like Consumer Reports for cooking. In it, they reviewed OXO's Mango Splitter. At the end of the review is validation that OXO's idea filter is working as intended:

Oxo Mango Splitter is one of those rare kitchen gadgets that works.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Photoshop "Frauding": Oscar De La Hoya Really Doesn’t Wear Fishnets


I've used Photoshop since version 1.0 was released in 1990. I used it then for developing interfaces for hotel kiosks and use it today for images in web applications. From then until now, outside of using this pixel-bending tool for work, I'd also used it for fun. Warping and distorting images of friends into funny scenarios was always something done on the side. To this day, there are many giggles to be had when you “liquefy” someone's face.

Unfortunately, we are living in a time where you can use Photoshop for more than giggles. Just ask Oscar De La Hoya. Months ago, images were released to the public of the famous boxer wearing fishnets and high heels in embarrassing poses. He, of course, denied they were of him. Did anyone believe his denial? The model/stripper that released them, Milana Dravnel, was suing him for slander and was seeking $25 million. As of this week, the case was dismissed because an expert deemed the images as Photoshop hoaxes.

It's easy to create fake images of people with how powerful Photoshop has become since 1990. It probably cost Mr. De La Hoya a tidy sum of cash defending himself in this case. Photoshop has only been around about 20 years. How will the courts deal with phony images created in Photoshop CS19 ten years from now?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Journey Thanks Web 2.0 For Their New Lead Singer


After years of trying to cope without Steve Perry as their frontman, guitarist Neil Schon turned to YouTube. Journey has had several stand-ins over the years, but none has stuck. Meanwhile, Arnel Pineda had struggled through a difficult life in the Phillipines, losing his mother as a teenager and being homeless for a time. He posted videos of his band performing Journey covers on YouTube, setting the digital stage for Schon. Arnel's singing voice is so eerily similar to Steve Perry, it was easy for Journey to make the decision for him to be the new lead singer to go on their latest worldwide tour.

Here is one of the videos the band saw to make their decision:

Here is a clip of Arnel singing with the Journey from CBS' Sunday Morning, along with the full story of his discovery:


The flipside of this new audition tool is that they now can use YouTube to promote their new singer. Journey has recorded a new CD with Arnel and is touring with him. Nice story.