Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Williams Sonoma: Life Imitating Navigation?

As I was walking into Williams Sonoma to look at all the copper cookware I couldn’t afford, I spotted something I hadn’t noticed before. The wall next to the entrance looked like a good candidate for the main navigation for their website (see above). I wanted to go over and press “Cookware” to see the sub-categories. I went to the website and found a similar design element used as a spotlight area on the home page. I Photoshopped the actual store column over that element, and I think it works well on the website (see below).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Scent-Baiting: The Art of Almost Saying Something: AOL Home Page

I was surprised at myself the other day. Every now and then I still check my old AOL email account. It's mostly enewsletters and junk I just delete, but something strange was happening. Each time I logged in, I found myself reading these little 5 to 8 word snippets. I would find myself clicking on these links before I even realized it. How are they doing this? They are scent-baiting me! They intentionally leave out the explicit context on almost every news item. A Springsteen's bandmate is dead??? Was it Clarence or Max or Little Stevie?! Tempestt Bledsoe was a ho?! Say it isn't so! Click! AOL is doing the opposite of what most usability gurus say NOT to do by leaving out the specifics of what the link will take you to.

I hope that whoever designed this component for AOL got a big, fat bonus this year. They should just quadruple the size of this component and delete everything else. They provide just enough context to get you very interested and you click. Click click click. The more clicks, the more ads served up, the more money they get. I'd love to see the stats on this page or a heat map to see data that would support this. Here are some examples of AOL's scent-baiting (I put the areas where they bait us in italics):

AOL Links:

  • Springsteen's Bandmate Dies
  • Phone Giant Cuts 4,600 Jobs
  • Wal-Mart Recalls 12,000 Toys
  • 'Cosby' Kid Turns to Prostitution?
  • Harmful Plastic in Bottle Going Away
  • Likely Say Goodbye to These Stores
  • Singer Battles Back Against Critics
  • World's Oldest Hits a Milestone - How Old Is This American?

Other websites should take note, especially news organizations. Instead of CNN saying, "Clinton puts bin Laden in new ad" they could say, "Bin Laden used in new ad by presidential candidate." Instead of MSNBC.com saying, "Suri Cruise's low-key birthday bash" they could say, "Low-key birthday bash for child of famous Hollywood couple." I wonder if this kind-of-explicit style of link language will propagate to other types of websites.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Welcome To High School - Land of Shadow People With iPods

I was walking through Barnes & Noble the other day and these books by Paula Chase caught my eye. They are books written for teenagers. What drew my attention was the iPod-ad-ish-looking covers. The white earbuds and silhouetted people have a strong cultural connotation. All of this started with designing a great piece of software & hardware. What started as business requirements for an MP3 player now sells books to teenagers. I wish I can design something this powerful some day.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wegmans: Design For Use

My favorite store to go grocery shopping in is Wegmans. They make the experience from parking to checking out a good one, consistently. They have a place you can drop off your kids to play in while you shop and lots of high quality foods you used to have to go to specialty stores for. When you are done shopping, the lines for checking out are always short. If a cashier doesn't have anyone on their line, they walk out to the front of the conveyer belt to let you know they are free and to happily greet you.

One thing that caught my eye in the produce department last week was one of their scales to weigh your vegetables or fruit. It's self-serve in that you get the produce you want, put it on the scale and out pops a bar-coded sticker for your bag. This one scale had been used so much, you could tell a lot about what keys were used more than others. You didn't have to do a complex study to see that most produce has a 4, 6 or 0 in its code. They actually begin with a 4 most of the time, which is probably why it looks like someone has shot a hole through it. To make these machines last longer, could Wegmans create a bit more number equilibrium on these codes? It's interesting to note that just like on web forms, the poor old "clear" button doesn't get a lot of visitors. If it is the least used, why is it the largest and most vivid color?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Object Fetching via Laser Pointer with El-E

El-E is a robot that fetches things via laser pointer. I need one of these. Ok, that’s not true, but how do ideas like this one get to that point? In the video below, Charlie Kemp Director of the Center for Healthcare Robotics at Georgia Tech mentions that this will one day service “real people with real needs.” When innovating, sometimes the distance between the idea and the good experiences it wishes to create is disconnected.

Direct link to video: http://youtube.com/watch?v=C-SkIk1JlIU

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Awareness Test

Here is an amazing video demonstrating just how much we may be missing out on even when we are intentionally looking for something. This is a perfect example of why a dedicated channel to observing customers is needed, not simply piggybacking on existing channels. How many important things have we missed out on by not looking deliberately?

Direct Link to video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ahg6qcgoay4

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Apple May Be Influencing The Mobile Phone Industry In More Ways Than We Thought: Verizon's "Evolutionary" New Store Design

Verizon is changing their retail experience with an "evolutionary" store design. There will be a number of "innovative systems and operational enhancements" to improve the customer experience. What does this mean? Definitions of innovation and what is a good customer experience are nebulous at best. Here is a list of some of the new features of these redesigned stores:

  • A dedicated demo zone where customers can explore, experiment and learn using interactive touch-screens or be guided by product-savvy sales staff.
  • More than 55 working models of handsets, PC cards and other devices for customers to try.
  • A greeter kiosk that allows customers to check in once they enter the store and list their wireless needs, so representatives can quickly assist them.
  • A bill payment kiosk that allows customers to make account payments quickly and easily using checks, cash or credit/debit cards.
  • Customer service and technical support departments, making it easy for customers to get account information, access customer service and address technical issues from trained in-store staff.

It's been interesting to observe how the entire mobile phone market has been wagged by the Apple, which makes me wonder if this is a natural extension of that. Is Verizon looking to make their stores be more like an Apple store experience? Product-savvy salespeople sounds a lot like Apple "Specialists." Greeter kiosks act like Apple's "Concierge" personnel. Having working products in store that you can kick the tires on is just what people do at an Apple Store.

The major unseen difference between an Apple product and a Verizon product is not the brick & mortar stores nor the cell phones themselves, but the mechanism that people use to manage the devices. iTunes is this invisible element that people use to activate and enjoy manipulating the data they put on their iPhone. It is not the barrier that all these other devices have for performing this critical part of the overall experience.

Just the other day I tried to get my Sony Ericsson Walkman phone connected to my computer. I had to download and install 6 different software ‘things' and reboot my computer twice to try to doing anything. Once installed, working with the software was a bit confusing. I had to learn new ways to try and marry the files on my computer with the hard drive on the phone. I didn't enjoy a bit of it, and wasn't able to find the content on the phone after I thought I transferred the files.

Easily getting my music, address book and photos on my phone is something that Verizon should focus on. If they do, maybe they will have the crowd problem at their stores as Apple does. I'm not sure if demo zones and greeter kiosks will do the trick.