Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The 'Whopper Freakout' Is A User Experience Parlor Trick

You may have seen the latest round of commercials from Burger King. It's called the 'Whopper Freakout' and it stars regular people getting punk'd while trying to order a Whopper. Instead of getting a Whopper, they are given a Wendy's square burger and they get quite cranky. Burger King's conclusion is (taken from their video):

"...So In the end, we accomplished what we set out to prove. That once and for all, the Whopper is, as we thought, America's favorite."

C'mon now. This is the Pepsi challenge without the challenge. You can do this with any experience you switch on people, even bad experiences. There was a project I worked on where the goal was to provide users with a much more legible font. The previous font had been around for ten years and was drawn by hand, pixel by pixel. The font was very ugly and hard to read. Fives and sixes were difficult to distinguish from each other. To solve the problem, I chose a very legible font with a modern design treatment. Instead of getting praise from users, there was the complete opposite. They were not prepared for something "better," they just wanted their ugly, old font. Of course, over time they adjusted and ended up liking the new font, but the lesson was learned on my part. Who knows, maybe some of the Whopper Freakout folks would have started to enjoy Wendy's burgers if this prank went on for a few weeks.

I would be really impressed if they were able to capture people being excited about being given Whoppers at McDonalds or Wendy's. Or better yet, put a Whopper on a plate at Nobu and see what reaction you get from a customer about to spend hundreds of dollars on sushi. America's favorite? More like America's low expectation.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Canon Does Email Unsubscription Poorly

I'm using my iPhone more and more for checking email. On my desktop computer, I can easily get/scan/delete emails that I don't want. On the iPhone this takes too much time. I've had to rethink my opt-in email subscriptions because of this. I have gone in and opted-out of many emails I've subscribed to for a long time. They all didn't want to see me go, and some even asked me why I was opting out. For the most part, when I clicked on that sad, little Unsubscribe link at the bottom of each email, they did just that. One click and poof, up popped a web page that told me I had successfully achieved what I asked for.

That was until I got to my Canon subscription. I did what I did on all the others and went to the bottom of the email and found the typical Unsubscribe link. What I got next was worse than a clingy Jessica Simpson putting out press releases hoping that her relationship with Tony Romo was still intact. Canon wasn't going to let me go that easily. The web page that I was taken to was a Subscribe page. It was built to get me to add topics they could email me about. To actually unsubscribe, I had to read instructions and then one-by-one uncheck each topic. This is not an application built for unsubscription. It's a generic application built to handle multiple scenarios, all poorly. Even at the bottom are a couples notes that read:

Consumer Products include camera, camcoders, printers, scanners, multifunction printers, copiers, fax machines, binoculars, network video solutions, projectors, visualizers and calculators.

If this is in reference to an Industrial, Medical, Semiconductor and Broadcast Product, please contact your dealer or Canon sales representative.

There is a typo on "camcoder"? Oh yes they didn't! They obviously know they have issues with this web page because they have to define what consumer products are. Also, if they are aware that this page doesn't help those with Industrial, Medical, Broadcast and Semiconductor products, why send them here?

Go check the web page out for yourself. It's so generic that it doesn't care where it is spawned from:

While typing this, for whatever reason, Canon has triggered the Rick Astley song from the 80s in my head, "Never gonna give – Never gonna give! Give you up!" Yet another thing to be unhappy about this experience. Thanks Canon! I'll share the pain:

Direct link to this dreadful video

Monday, January 14, 2008

Timing Is Everything, Especially With Automated Emails

Back in October 2007 I ordered a case for my iPhone off of Amazon. Three months later I get an automated email wishing me a Happy 2008. They asked if I received the case and if I’m happy with it. They thanked me as well, but it is so far away from when it arrived even that feels weird. The oddest thing is that this is an automated email. Someone intentionally sent this 90+ days after the transaction took place. Who would do that? What would be a reason to send something so out of context? Timing is a critical dimension to feedback.

So the answers are...I loved the product and you're welcome. My feedback is, next time ask me for my feedback try doing it maybe a week after I received it at most. Even though this was through a third party seller on Amazon, Amazon’s brand is impacted here.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gmail, The Forgiving Web Application. Yahoo's Flickr, The Couldn't-Care-Less Web Application.

Steve Portigal recently let us know about his overwhelming loss of 5000+ images & Meta data from his Flickr account. Someone phished him and deleted it. I can’t imagine the loss. Today, while I was sending a rather lengthy email from my Gmail account, I accidentally hit the Discard button. I panicked, thinking that I lost the last 20 minutes of work because of my own error. All of a sudden, I see at the top of the page a message highlighted in yellow:

Your message has been discarded. Undo Discard

Wow. They anticipated this. Google values my time. I’m sure someone could have said on the Google development team, "Heck, emails don't ever that long…Just let them retype it." A manager at another company may have grinned and looked at the time saved by not developing this component. Not Google.

This is absolutely nothing compared to what Steve must be going through, but I think that is why I thought of it. His loss is much, much worse. Why didn’t Flickr designers anticipate this? Is Yahoo/Flickr that eager to gain back that space on their servers that they couldn't provide an Undo Discard Years of Work button to their loyal patrons? No grace period to accommodate for fat finger mistakes or drunk-clicking? Shame on you, Yahoo/Flickr people. You beg for users like Steve Portigal and don't deserve them.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Capital One Invests in Fun: The CardLab Rich Internet Application

The Capital One CardLab is an online Flash application that allows you to choose the image you want displayed on your credit card. This entire application COULD have been a single page consisting of the same-old HTML form you've seen for a decade. Instead, they add a step which does nothing to increase their bottom line on the surface. Step 3 of their form is a simple application which allows you to upload a bunch of your photos and see how they look on a credit card. This is so much more effective than a form-based application. It connects people to the product in such a better manner. It creates an atmosphere of 'fun' that breaks down the wall of “I'm not giving you any of my information.” It almost creates temporary amnesia that this is for a credit card company looking to make a lot of money off of you.

How did they get this project approved? Who funds 'fun' projects these days? Kudos to Capital One. I hope they share some of the data from the success of this project.

Check it out:

Monday, January 7, 2008

Jughandles, Traffic Circles and Roundabouts: When Bad Design Replaces Bad Design You Get Bad Design Squared

There was an article in the NY Times by Jill P. Capuzzo that covered the implementation of different traffic circle designs in New Jersey. New Jersey is infamous for jughandles, where you need to make a right to make a left. You know there is a jughandle in your future if you see a white sign that says ALL TURNS FROM RIGHT LANE near the exit signs. Some of the disadvantages of jughandles are that they cause "driver confusion" and "pedestrian conflict." No wonder people hate the Garden State.

Traffic circles in NJ are also awful. I've been at them many times feeling the same way: What do I do? Why won't he go? What lane should I be in? These feelings are not just my own. Traffic circles typically generate bad experiences because of congestion and high accident rates. At least once a week I traverse the Somerville Circle and there is the same angst every time I do.

Now there is the roundabout making a splash. New Jersey has been replacing some traffic circles with these European-inspired designs. The problem is that even though traffic circles are dreadful, people have gotten used to them. They don't like them, but know how to navigate them. Roundabouts have a different way of merging traffic, which leaves drivers in a worse state than before. Those who used to have the right of way now have to yield. Imagine having to drive on a stretch of road where you have one of each. Multiple bad design experiences have no upside.

Expected Roundabout:

Unexpected Roundabout:

Magic Roundabout (Swindon, UK):

View Larger Map

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Guitar Hero III is to Guitar as Rachael Ray is to Cooking

Last week I played Guitar Hero III at a friend's house for the first time. I donned the tiny, plastic-guitar-controller-thingee with five rainbow buttons and a midget whammy bar. After a few minutes I was able to play along with Pat Benatar. It was fun. It was Simon meets Tetris backed by the Sex Pistols. But there was something else here. This game is wildly popular. They are predicting close to 8 million copies of this version alone selling by the end of 2007.

This game is to Guitar as Rachael Ray is to food. Rachael reaches millions of people and exposes them to her style of cooking. Her concept of 30 minute meals made her famous and very popular to the point that she has her own books, multiple TV shows, magazine and is the spokesperson for Dunkin Donuts. People are always looking for a faster and easier way to accomplish things that typically take time and skill. I think Anthony Bourdain really nailed how I feel about Rachael Ray on Michael Ruhlman's blog last February:

"Complain all you want. It's like railing against the pounding surf. She only grows stronger and more powerful. Her ear-shattering tones louder and louder. We KNOW she can't cook. She shrewdly tells us so. So...what is she selling us? Really? She's selling us satisfaction, the smug reassurance that mediocrity is quite enough. She's a friendly, familiar face who appears regularly on our screens to tell us that "Even your dumb, lazy ass can cook this!" Wallowing in your own crapulence on your Cheeto-littered couch you watch her and think, "Hell…I could do that. I ain't gonna…but I could--if I wanted! Where the saintly Julia Child sought to raise expectations, to enlighten us, make us better--teach us--and in fact, did, Rachael uses her strange and terrible powers to narcotize her public with her hypnotic mantra of, "You're doing just fine. You don't even have to chop an onion--you can buy it already chopped. Aspire to nothing…Just sit there. Have another Triscuit...Sleep...sleep..."

I'm not a Rachael Ray or Guitar Hero hate-a. There are communities that have sprouted up online that are devoted to sharing in their intense dislike of Rachael. Messipes, Retchipes, Raynus, Rayturd, Raytard, EVOOMGSTFU are all terms used freely on these sites. While Rachael Ray and Guitar Hero may be bringing mediocrity to the masses, there is a silver lining. They expose people to things that they may not have had interest in without them.

One thing jumped out at me about Guitar Hero III: Time. It takes a helluva lot more than 30 minutes to master these songs at expert level. It probably takes longer than it would to learn an actual song on an actual guitar. Check out this guy and the social setting in what looks like a dorm room:

College video:

He's got all the strumming, fret button chords and durations memorized. He's uncovered all the secrets the game has hidden for him. Playing the real guitar has secrets to uncover as well. Power chords, blues notes, artificial harmonics, two-hand tapping, arpeggios, a slow vibrato, scales, harmonic dive-bombs with the whammy bar, delay effects, custom tunings, volume swells, wah-wah, glass slide and the Frampton talkbox sound all await those who invest in playing a real electric guitar. Check out this guitar shredder on YouTube showing off a lot of these secrets:

Real Guitar Shredding:

So what does all the time invested get you on Guitar Hero? South Park gave their opinion a couple months back:


South Park clip:

Ultimately, GHIII is really all about marketing to kids. That gets a bit lost in all the gaming aspects of it. Johnny Rotten said it best at the GHIII launch:

"It weren't teaching you how to be a Rock Star – It was teaching you how NOT to be a rock star. How not to be an asshole in your life and how not to seek fame & fortune because the whole fucking thing is a joke…And always remember, get'em when they're young."

Johnny Rotten at the GHIII launch: