Thursday, December 31, 2009

Einstein Quote for User Experience Designers

I will end 2009 with a quote from Albert Einstein. Something that all User Experience designers and Product Managers should keep in mind in the upcoming year:

"Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction."

The Onion puts its spin on bigger and more complex:

Sony Releases New Stupid Piece Of Shit That Doesn't Fucking Work

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Change Blindness: What Are You Paying Attention To?

Depending on what we focus on, our brains can be completely blind to obvious changes going on around us. This is called, “Change Blindness” and it is unnerving when you can easily see it. Here are a couple videos showing this in action. The first is an experiment conducted at Harvard where 75% of the people in the test don’t notice that the man in front of them has turned into another man. Below the Harvard experiment is a video of magician Derren Brown exploiting this blind spot we have in a much more dramatic way. Can you imagine a white male changing into an Asian female without noticing, right in front of you?

This is similar to “The Awareness Test” video I posted last year. What I always think of first when I see things like this is what are we failing to capture when observing people using the products we design? What do we don’t-know-we-don’t-know?

Direct link to Harvard's Change Blindness Experiment:

Derren Brown - Person Swap - The most amazing home videos are here

Direct link to Derren Brown's Person Swap:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

YouTube is the new Incubator: Panic Attack! (Ataque de Pánico!)

Following in the footsteps of singers Esmee Denters, Justin Bieber and Arnel Pineda (Journey), YouTube has launched the career of Filmmaker, Fede Alvarez. Fede spent about $300 creating a 4 minute short film and posted it on YouTube. Just like Journey being able to find a singer in a way they could never do in the past, Fede’s video was seen by Sam Raimi online and quickly signed to produce a $30 million film. Here is what Alvarez said about the process of being discovered:

"I uploaded (Panic Attack!) on a Thursday and on Monday my inbox was totally full of e-mails from Hollywood studios... If some director from some country can achieve this just uploading a video to YouTube, it obviously means that anyone could do it."

YouTube has become a listening channel for discovering talent, wagging serendipity for anyone out there who has the goods. What have you uploaded today?

Here is the video from Fede Alvarez, Panic Attack:

Direct link to Panic Attack video:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Not Knowing Something is a Business Requirement: LED Traffic Light Design Fail

If you had to create a new traffic light bulb, what would your business requirements be? It turns out that it’s not just about the amount of light they cast or the energy they use. There was a hidden business requirement in designing new traffic lights bulbs. LED traffic lights are much easier to see and consume up to 90% less energy, but something the designers didn’t consider was something incandescent traffic lights do naturally. They melt snow. People can see current traffic lights in snow because the heat that they produce melts the snow that accumulates on them.

If someone made that a requirement in designing the new LED lights, they would have addressed it. Instead, police departments are reporting an increase in traffic accidents where LED traffic lights are installed. Are there important product features that get removed during an upgrade because people weren’t aware of their importance? Product Managers have to make sure they know what features of their products are vital.

UPDATE 1 Jan 2010: The New York Times article on this same topic -

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Domino’s Is Changing, But Half of Us Still Prefer Our Local Pizza Place

There is a story out today that Domino’s is changing the taste of its pizza because it ranks very low amongst customers. The company says that it took two years to upgrade their recipe and that they have invested much more than they have on food launches in the past. Is this why Domino's isn't what people prefer?

At the bottom of this story there is a place to vote on your favorite pizza. The “mom-and-pop place near where I live” beat everyone easily with 49%. Do we love our local pizza places because of just the flavor? People love to recommend and talk about their favorite pizza. Domino’s might want to look at the entire mom-and-pop pizza place experience and the connection people have with them.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Want to Hear Better? Touch Someone

On this Black Friday, I was listening to NPR instead of shopping with the masses when I heard this interesting story on listening. A recent study in the journal Nature found that sensations on the skin help you hear better. Sounds such as "Pa" require a burst of air while others like "Ba" or "Da" don't. Bryan Gick, a professor of phonetics at the University of British Columbia says:

From my point of view, we're whole-body perceiving machines. We just take all of the information that comes at us in our environment and merge it into a percept of something that happened in the world.

We already knew that seeing a person's lips while they are talking helps our perception, but feeling their words is really interesting to me. It got me wondering...When we design user experiences are we too one dimensional? A lot of companies, including Google, use statistics as their core view of their users. A holistic view of our customers could uncover product features we couldn't find through stats alone.

Here is the full article from NPR:

Saturday, November 21, 2009 Living with Technology vs. Technology

I noticed that has a new main section of news on its home page, "Living with Technology." At first I thought they just changed the title of the category that I frequent quite often, "Technology." It turns out they added this new category, and by the title you would think that they would use it to spotlight stories about social networking and iPhones and such. The other seems like a good place for news on IBM or Hubble stuff. It turns out that both share similar story content. Seems like people just want more Technology news. Cool.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Silent Silence of the Lamb Hills

When trying to create a good experience, sometimes it's just easier to leverage someone else's good experience. I was walking through Best Buy and noticed that these two movies just happened to be placed next to each other. Silence of the Lambs is such an excellent movie, I guess it was easier for the designer of the Silent Hill movie to just borrow its likeness. Why create when you can steal?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Nationwide Airline Delays Caused By Bad Weather? Try a Bad Router Card

Thursday Morning, airports from Atlanta to Los Angeles reported delays for more than four hours. Was this because of rain? Snow? Wind? Geese? It was because of a single router card in a computer that processes flight plans for the F.A.A. When this went down, they had to create these flight plans by hand. It didn't just cause people to have to wait longer on lines at airports. The U.S. Military couldn't see this info that they track so much more carefully since 9/11.

As more and more of our daily lives are taken over by computer systems, their fragility needs to be looked at more. This system that the F.A.A. uses is antiquated. Is there something they can learn from Amazon or Google at how to better manage things?

I'm always amazed at how we allow our imagination to carry us through a film with outrageous plots. We often see villains in movies control large systems with silly little apple laptops. Hearing that you can take down a nationwide system by the failure of a single router card makes those movies seem a bit more real now. Hans Gruber is smiling somewhere.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The House (Computer) Always Wins

Bill Seebek was playing a $4 slot machine for a half hour in a Florida casino, when the sirens of you-just-won-a-shiteload-of-money sounded. He had won $166,666,666.65. He thought. The casino roped off the machine and after inspecting the "machine" (evil computer), they ruled that it malfunctioned. The max on that machine should have only been $99,000. Instead, Bill Seebek got nothing because that is the payout for a malfunction.

It always annoys me when I hear someone blaming "the system" instead of the organization that deployed that system. It's like when you're on the phone with your bank or credit card company and they say:

"The system is down now...Sorry...Can't get your information to help you right now"
"The system is so slow"
"I can't get that information because the system doesn't track that"It's as if the computer is culpable for doing something wrong.

Every day we are let down by the computers that surround our lives. Just imagine that it wasn't the bad UI at the self-service checkout, but losing a 9 figure prize instead. As more data of our lives goes online, what "malfunctions" will cause us to have a Seebek situation?

Here is the news story of the incident:

Direct link to video:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Howard Stern, DOTS iPhone Gloves and a New Era of Innovation

During the first hour of conversation this morning on Howard Stern, Howard talked about his older children not owning televisions in their homes. They used laptops to watch TV shows or Movies. Howard was really shocked by this since he encouraged his children to watch as much TV as possible as he did while growing up. Howard said that as a child, the cast on his favorite Television shows were his best friends. That's the kind of twisted relationship with a product that TV Content Producers cherish. Robin also commented on how young people she knew watched most of their media on phones even though they had a TV.

After listening to this, I went online and noticed a story on about DOTS gloves for iPhones. The problem was that in cold areas of the country, people had to take off their gloves just to answer the phone. This product comes from a pair of 22-year-olds, Larry Lairson and Chris Harrison.

Life in a post-TV-is-the-center-of-our-life world will produce lots of change in the products in our lives. The gloves are low hanging fruit, like remote control holders for couches, but you can see that the needs for new products is just beginning.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

BlogPress for iPhone Entry

I read about this iPhone app called BlogPress and wanted to try it out. So far so good. I was able to snap a photo and type away. Cut/copy/paste is a huge help too. I think I may purchase the full version (using lite now). Fingers crossed... Going to hit publish now...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

My Child Was Born With The Conficker Virus

I recently experienced the birth of my son. As we were waiting for him to arrive, a lot of time was spent looking at the screen which monitors contractions. I remember looking at this same screen over a decade ago when a friend of mine was about to give birth. Not much had changed, except there was something blocking my view this time. There was a VirusScan On-Access pop-up in front of the information on the graph. The computer which monitored the contractions and the heart rates of mother and baby was infected with the Conficker Virus. Welcome to the Internets, baby!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The IKEA Font Mishap: Why Were They Blind To This And Why Are They Still In Limbo?

A lot has been written about the "Font War" going on between IKEA and its customers. I even had people at work come up to me and ask me if I'd heard about it. At the root of the story is IKEA's choice to change the font in their print catalog from Futura to Verdana. Branding is a huge part of the story of IKEA, so this shouldn't have been a trivial decision to make. The backlash was fierce now that we live in a viral, online world. Words like disgusting, horrific and cheap are scattered online around blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

What is sad about this is that Verdana was never intended to be used in the way that IKEA chose to use it. It was designed for legibility on screen (not smoothed) at only a handful of point sizes (8-12). IKEA is using it mostly in Flash online and in print, leveraging the ubiquitous of the font on Windows machines but ignoring the aesthetic of the misuse font.

The thing that is most curious to me is how can IKEA's Product Lifecycle not have a check/balance for a decision like this. I can see the design firm that did this for them giving them a valid technology reason for this choice, but it probably didn't warrant getting someone high up in the food chain at IKEA involved. In the future, it should.

What is ironic about all of this is that the ad on the home page of for the new catalog is still written in Futura. Just enough to tease loyal customers that may think they were still getting the same brand that they have grown to love and then snatch it away from them when they click on it. User Experience Design includes being able to listen and learn from mistakes and make changes rapidly. Either stick with your decision and provide a rationale for it and remove the banner on your home page, or go back to what customers like better and apologize.

How Technology Can Save You and Punish You: Hofstra Gang Rape Case

Five men went to a party at Hofstra earlier this month to have a good time. Their lives are changed forever after a student accuses them of rape. Four of them were arrested immediately while police looked for the Fifth. What they found when they located the last suspect was that he had recorded the sexual act between himself and the girl on his cell phone. The police judged the act to be consensual and released the other suspects. One of the suspects, Kevin Tavares, said this about what he thought was going to happen to him before the video came to light:

"It wasn't looking good for us...A lonely girl and five kids...Whose side would you take? You would take the girl's side."

The girl, Danmell Ndonye, only recanted her story of rape after she was told of the cell phone video. It's being reported that she made up the story so that her new boyfriend didn't think she was a slut.

When Tavares returned home, he received a letter from his employer, Cablevision telling him he was terminated. He wonders how he will face his future now that he has been branded an accused-rapist. He doesn't just mean just on his record or what people say about him, he means online. One of the other accused boys, 19 year old Stalin Felipe, said this:

"Anytime anyone Googles my name, rape is going to be right there beside it. My name is forever tarnished. What if I am applying for a job or whatever in the future? I feel like I am always going to have to offer some explanation."

They are thankful for Technology for keeping them out of jail for the next 25 years, but are now also suffering from it now that they are free.

Watch this news story from AP, and listen at 0:51 at how the DA, Kathleen Rice, describes the turning point in the case:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Rawlings S100: They Should Have Listened to Miles Davis

I remember once seeing an interview with Miles Davis in the 1980s. The interviewer asked Miles what was the most important thing he thought about when he was on stage. Miles chewed his gum and thought for a bit while wearing his big sunglasses. As a musician, I leaned forward and anticipated what musical tidbit I could learn from his genius. Finally, he stopped chewing and said, "You got ta look cool."

Fast Forward to 2009, where Rawlings is about to unveil its latest batting helmet. Current batting helmets only protect players up to 70 m.p.h. The goal they had was to create a helmet that could withstand the impact of a fastball thrown at 100 m.p.h. They succeeded in meeting that goal. Then they showed it to the players. Here are some quotes:

Jeff Francoeur, NY Mets: "No, I am absolutely not wearing that. I could care less what they say, I’m not wearing it. There’s got to be a way to have a more protective helmet without all that padding. It’s brutal. We’re going to look like a bunch of clowns out there."

Nomar Garciaparra, Oakland A's: "I want a helmet that’s comfortable and that doesn’t look bad."

Mark Teixeira, NY Yankees: "I'd feel like I'm wearing a football helmet in the batter's Box"

Rawlings themselves thinks that the helmet it a "very nice cosmetically looking helmet" as you can see in the video below. Clearly there is a disconnect somewhere, and it looks like it is in the product lifecycle at Rawlings. It seems silly that these players would let aesthetics factor in here when their health is on the line, but they do. How much of a percentage of "cool" goes into the product design process at Apple? How do you measure or track this? Not simple to answer, but we should remember Miles the next time we embark on a new product design.

Direct link to Rawlings video:

UPDATE #1: 3 days after the New York Times has a story on this new helmet, David Wright was hit flush on the temple area of his old helmet with a 95 m.p.h. fastball.

UPDATE #2: Upon David Wright's return after being on the disabled list, he wore the Rawlings S100. He was made fun of by both teams because of the size of the helmet and said it needed "tweaking" because it fell over his face while he ran the bases. Innovation is imperfect strikes again!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What is Taobao? It's Big.

I had never heard of Taobao before. Then I read that this year they will sell more than Amazon will (about $19 billion). They have 120 million users. Wow.

Here is a definition of Taobao I found online:

Taobao is a shopping marketplace for consumers in China. Founded by parent Alibaba Group, it facilitates transactions between individual consumers and a wide range of sellers such as retailers, wholesalers, and other individuals. Similar to eBay, sellers are able to post new and used goods for sale on the Taobao marketplace either through a fixed price or negotiated sale or by auction.

A key difference between Taobao and eBay is that they make no money from the transactions. They make all their money from advertising.

I wonder if the Taobao experience and business model will begin to wag eBay and Amazon as Google and the iPhone have in their markets.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How Have Your Daily Routines Changed Because of Technology?

The New York Times has a technology article that focuses more on the people instead of the technologies they use. As we engage more of ourselves online socially, we are losing some of our reality relationships and routines. Twitter, Facebook and Email have these magnetic draws that pull us away from our family and friends at times. As the devices we use to consume these things become smaller and more usable, these issues will become more and more pronounced. Here is a bit from the article about a NJ teenager, Moriah:

In May, Gabrielle Glaser of Montclair, N.J., bought her 14-year-old daughter, Moriah, an Apple laptop for her birthday. In the weeks after, Moriah missed the school bus three times and went from walking the family Labradoodle for 20 minutes each morning to only briefly letting the dog outside.

Moriah concedes that she neglected the bus and dog, and blames Facebook, where the possibility that crucial updates from friends might be waiting draws her online as soon as she wakes. "I have some friends that are up early and chatting," she said. "There is definitely a pull to check it."

Read the entire article here: Breakfast Can Wait. The Day’s First Stop Is Online.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ford's Persona-lity Driven Design

Ford is using personas to design their latest vehicles. The only thing is they don't use the word "persona" when describing the process. They use personality, personalizing, avatar and character, but not what we all know to be persona based design. Is this intentional because of the controversy around the use of personas? I thought it was odd.

What is not so strange is that Ford is beginning with the user experience, not the technology or industrial design. They are designing cars around specific archetypes of who they want to build it for. It seems like it is working for Ford. The Fiesta, which is what the persona above was used for in its design, is the best-selling car in Europe over the first half of 2009.

Here is the story from the New York Times:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Getting Back in the PC Saddle Post-Umpteenth Crash

About a month ago, I was sitting at my 6-month old, kick-ass computer doing work. The next moment, I was staring at a black screen, with a blinking cursor in the upper left hand corner of the screen. The Black Screen of Death had bitten me. I spent extra money on this super machine to trick myself into believing that this wouldn't happen again. Oh well, almost a month later, here I am back to re-installing all the software and licking my wounds.

So what should I do to avoid losing data and more importantly time? Do I need 2 computers? A home server? The more content we put online the better in cases like these. But then who do you trust with all of your content? Facebook? Flickr? Seems like a good place to innovate now that more and more of our living room is going digital. No more photo albums, home videos and CDs in cases to keep safe from things like fire. Now it is jittery operating systems.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Google Phonetic Alphabet

The Military phonetic alphabet is that thing you hear on TV when a cop or army guy is trying to spell out a word, with words. For example, "Uniform - Xray - Alpha - Romeo - Tango - Sierra" would spell UXarts.

Earlier today, I noticed that if you type in a single letter into Google, it provides you with what is probably the most searched on term starting with that letter. Taking that as a lead, I put together the Google Phonetic Alphabet. The next time you have to spell out your website or email address to someone, try using it. You sound like an uber-geek. "USPS - XM - Amazon - - Target - Southwest Airlines" signing out, over.

  • Amazon
  • Best Buy
  • Craigslist
  • Dictionary
  • Ebay
  • Facebook
  • Gmail
  • Hotmail
  • IRS
  • JC Penney
  • Kohls
  • Lowes
  • MySpace
  • Netflix
  • Orbitz
  • Photobucket
  • Quotes
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Target
  • USPS
  • Verizon Wireless
  • Walmart
  • XM Radio
  • Youtube
  • Zillow

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Field Studies 101, Part 2: Cheryl Hines Leads The Witness

Cheryl Hines likes to "keep it real" with her next customer interview for Vitamin Water. I need to remember to say, "Wow" at innapropriate times during my next customer visit. I also like how she asked the customer to take down his own notes. This is so funny while so scary at the same time because we all know this may be going on right now as we speak.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Steven Ballmer is Not a Good Listener

This past year I have thought about how products can take on the personality of their leadership. That thought came back to mind this morning as I read an interview with Steve Ballmer from Microsoft in the New York Times. The first question he answers is if there are areas that he needs to improve as a leader:

I race too much. My brain races too much, so even if I’ve listened to everything somebody said, unless you show that you’ve digested it, people don’t think they are being well heard. Sometimes you really don’t hear because you’re racing. It’s just the way my brain works. My brain is just chop, chop, chop, chop, chop. And so, if you really want to get the best out of people, you have to really hear them and they have to feel like they’ve been really heard. So I’ve got to learn to slow down and improve in that dimension, both to make me better and to make the people around me better.

His response is interesting because not only does he know that he's not a good listener, he knows that even when he tries to listen it doesn't work. If Microsoft truly were only about developers, developers, developers then this wouldn't be such a big deal to me. Unfortunately, Microsoft's products seem as if they don't listen to us. The good thing is that he values listening. I hope he values it enough to put people in places of leadership that are great listeners that build products mindful of what people are saying to them.

Direct Link to Developers, Devlopers, Developers video:

Saturday, May 16, 2009

User Experience Design is an Art, Not a Bottleneck

The New York Times had an article last week about Douglas Bowman's experience of working at Google as a designer. The focus of the article was how frustrated he became by not being able to have any design decisions approved without always having to provide data to back it up. He has left Google and is now the creative director at Twitter.

This story reminded me about how at Cooper design, Alan Cooper likes when designers have 2 pieces of rationale for every design decision. I agree with concept, but not implementing it as martial law. Years ago, User Interface departments would have Standards that development would have to follow. It was a bottleneck, so many places changed Standards to Guidelines to try and help remove the congestion. These days pattern libraries are helpful in getting user experience components shared, but not if in order to implement them you need to do research each and every time.

As in life, balance is needed when implementing a user experience design process. You need analytics, field studies, heuristic evaluation and common sense to help make good design decisions. So far Google has been successful by requiring analytics for all designs, but as they move into new product arenas we shall see if it is sustainable to take out the gut instincts of good UX designers.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Listening To Your Customers Saves You Money

Sid Probstein, CTO of Attivio, wrote an article which lists a lot of reasons why you should listen to your current customers instead of just focusing on getting new ones. Here are some of them:

  • Acquiring new customers can cost five times more than satisfying and retaining current customers
  • A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect on profits as cutting costs by 10 percent
  • The average company loses 10 percent of its customers each year
  • A 5% reduction in customer defection rate can increase profits by 25-125%, depending on the industry

Enough reasons for you to start doing field studies?

Read the entire article here:

Getting The Story of Stuff Shared

The New York Times published an article on Annie Leonard, the creator of the movie, "The Story of Stuff." The story tells the dark side of consumerism. It is like a cliff notes version of the book Natural Capitalism but suited for children. This video is being shown all over the world in schools. A reason that they give for this getting passed around globally and not something like Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth is a simple one. It's only 20 minutes long as opposed to Gore's 94 minute film. This makes it easy to play in classrooms and for people to make time to watch it. If you want something consumed, make it easy to digest.

Here is the website if you have 20 minutes to spare today:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gabriel Byrne And The Art of Listening

Gabriel Byrne has always been one of my favorite actors. This interview with him on NPR is really magnificent. In the first part of the interview he shares his thoughts on "listening" and how profoundly important it is to him. Being a great listener is a vital quality for User Experience Designers to be able to deliver empathetic products. Here's a quote from the interview

"To constantly be absorbed...To try to be outside yourself so that you're not aware that you're listening. Because really, truly, profoundly listening is to be unaware of yourself at a deep level.

Listen to the 40 minute interview here (click on Listen Now button). It will be the best 40 minutes you spend today:

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The NY Times: This is Why You're a Geek

The New York Times had a headline on the home page that drew me to it like a moth to flame. It read:

Bits: On Twitter, New URL Shortening Favorite

I clicked on it and the headline of the full story changed to this: Eclipses TinyURL on Twitter

When I read the real headline, I thought to myself that I am now truly a geek. How many people that you know would read something entitled eclipses to TinyURL on Twitter? I went back to the home page of the and click on all the headlines. All of them were exactly the same on the story page, except some were shortened on the home page. This story, however, actually lengthened their headline on the home page. An editor somewhere at the New York Times clearly realized that most people wouldn't understand the true headline and altered it for non-geeks.

Just like the website illustrates through obscene food images why people are fat, I now know why I am a geek. Here is a link to the article to my fellow propellerheads:

Field Studies 101, Part 1: How to Never Interview Customers

Interviewing customers is not a science. That being said, you want to make sure you are employing methods that deliver consistent results that uncover areas of product innovation. Cheryl Hines from Curb Your Enthusiasm fame shows us how to take us as far away from science as possible and learn nothing from a customer. The difference between Telling and Listening is clearly defined here. TIP: Don't bring Play-doh to your next customer visit.

Direct link to Cheryl Hines focus group video:

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Jakob Nielsen Doesn't Appreciate "Scent-Baiting"

Usability Czar Jakob Nielsen has just released his review of the world's best web headlines. He was looking for who created the most precise communication in a handful of words. He gave his award to BBC News for "offering remarkable headline usability. " I have to agree with him. The BBC News website does a lot things wonderfully, not just crafting extraordinary headlines. Here are some of his guidelines for web headlines:

  • short (because people don't read much online);
  • rich in information scent, clearly summarizing the target article;
  • front-loaded with the most important keywords (because users often scan only the beginning of list items);
  • understandable out of context (because headlines often appear without articles, as in search engine results); and
  • predictable, so users know whether they'll like the full article before they click (because people don't return to sites that promise more than they deliver).

Where I find fault with Jakob's review is that he assumes that the task is boolean. In the current, disastrous state of most newspaper organizations, getting eyeballs on news items takes more than just precision-crafted headlines. Last year I wrote about "scent-baiting" on AOL. AOL has nurtured this style over the last year, adding more pages of tantalizing blurbs.

At first, this style bothered me. Over the last year I've clicked on more stories on AOL than I care to admit to. This was, of course, AOL's goal because they got paid for every news page I served up. Those headlines teased me enough to get me to click. I needed to know what was the "act" that a pair got caught doing on the Queen's lawn. What "Nation's" women are planning a sex strike? What was that "unusual buddy" found by that ancient mummy? If they were explicit, I don't think I'd click on most of these headlines. If you're a news organization, would you follow Jakob's guidelines or AOL's? Ka-ching rules.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Windows 7: User Experience Design Rationale

There is a lot of buzz about how Microsoft is getting a lot of things right with Windows 7. I haven't experienced it yet, but I recently read the rationale behind some of its new features. Here are some of them:

Feature: You decide the left-to-right order of icons in the task bar at the bottom of your screen.
Back story: Microsoft’s research showed Vista users commonly launching a series of programs, then closing and immediately reopening some. Microsoft realized that these people wanted their programs to appear in the same order on the task bar every time.

Feature: Right-click on a task bar icon and get a “jump list,” a menu of important or frequently used options for the program.
Back story: Microsoft had resisted the idea of hiding a key feature behind a right-click, worried people wouldn’t find it. But the data showed most people right-click on icons to see what that might do.

Feature: Drag one open window to the left side of the screen, then another to the right side to line them up so they are the same size and side by side.
Back story: Microsoft couldn’t initially figure out why people were spending so much time re-sizing windows and dragging them around. It turned out that users were trying to give themselves a side-by-side view of documents for easy comparison.

Feature: Libraries, or virtual folders that have shortcuts to files that are actually stored in many different places on a hard drive or home network.
Back story: From its Vista data, Microsoft could see people’s photos, music and other files were swelling in number and stashed all over the place, not organized into the dedicated folders Microsoft had set up.

Feature: “Shake” an open window with your mouse to make all the other ones “minimize” into the task bar.
Back story: Microsoft’s research showed that people often had six or even 10 windows open at once, which gets distracting. “Shake” is one of several features designed to help people tame all the open windows.

Feature: Move your mouse to the bottom-right corner to make all your windows temporarily transparent. Then click the mouse, and all the windows minimize.
Back story: What’s notable here is what Microsoft didn’t do. There’s no tutorial or bubble advertising the feature, a small step toward making Windows 7 quieter than Vista. “We want people to confidently explore the system,” said Sam Moreau, a user-experience manager.

It's also interesting to note how Microsoft is "selling" Windows 7 on their official sitelet:

Over the past few years, you've asked us to make some changes to Windows. We
listened closely. Now it's time to share an early look at how we've used your
feedback. Windows 7 is faster, more reliable, and makes it easier to do what you want. Both the everyday things and the killer "is that really possible?" things. Dig into this site to see what's coming.

Visit: Official Windows 7 Website

Monday, April 6, 2009

Twitter: The Jokes Outweigh The Raves

They say that any publicity is good publicity. If that is true, then Twitter is experiencing a glut of good times. It seems, though, that the overabundance of coverage is poking fun at it rather than championing it. The difficult nature of defining Twitter's value proposition is the springboard to all of the derisive spoofing. I wonder if this will hurt it in the long run. The more that Tweeting becomes the butt of jokes, the less that some will want to become part of the laughingstock. If iPods lost 90% of their cool factor, would they be as successful? 

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Twitter Frenzy
Daily Show Full EpisodesEconomic CrisisPolitical Humor

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Biz Stone
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Domino's Pizza Promotion Fail

Goofing up something today is a lot more costly than in the past because of the viral nature of the web. Domino's considered a promotion last December in response to this dreadful economy we're in. They never went through with it, but unfortunately the developers made it live. Somebody typed in "bailout" on the Domino's website and voila they got their pizza for free. Word of this spread faster than they could take it down. Before they removed it, Domino's had to give away over 11,000 pizzas. This is good fodder to justify the budget for Testing in these tough times.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"This Downturned Economy" Changing My Food Shopping Experience in a Surprisingly Good Way

Like many people, I've had to change my grocery shopping habits because of the economy. I used to shop for my family exclusively at Wegmans. I really love their shopping experience, but can't justify spending 80 cents more for the same eggs. The same goes for cherry tomatoes (savings of $4.00) and mushrooms ($2.00 in savings). Where do I save so much? At the local farmer's market. While this isn't your Alice Waters type of market with guys in flannel shirts selling what they just grew, it has good value. 

I now split my shopping between Wegmans and the local market and save about $250 a month. I guess I am not the only person who has discovered this because something strange happened this past Sunday. You see, this small market only has 2 small checkout registers. There were so many people shopping there that the line wrapped around the entire store. 

That is when something really interesting happened. I noticed that I was talking to the people around me, and so was everyone all around the store. Of course we started off by commiserating about the length of the line, but quickly it turned into other things. We were doing things old school. Not Twittering or blogging or posting or Yelping or Facebooking or emailing. We were just talking as people stuck next to each other in a line used to do. I left there hoping that life would once again slow down the checkout experience next week.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Daily Show's Take on The Twitter Frenzy

Jon Stewart and The Daily Show shake their old man fists at Twitter. It seems that Twitter's hard to define value statement is still...hard to define. In the first clip, they take on people in Government that also probably don't get it but are trying to make it seem like they do. 
"It's no wonder young people love it...According to reports about young people by middle aged people."

Underneath, watch Dan Schorr from NPR get an introduction to Twitter to see how people over the age of [fill in the blank] react to the tweeting experience

25 Things He Hates About Facebook

It used to be that if you didn't like things about a product, you'd mention them to your friends. Today, you make a video and post it for free on YouTube and half a million people watch it within a month. Julian Smith shares his top 25 things he hates about Facebook, here:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

EBay Identity Theft Creep

The #1 and #2 blog usability mistakes by Jakob Nielsen are not having a biography and not having a photo. I don't have those problems on my blog, but because of them I have another one. Identity theft.

I woke up this morning to an email from a kind soul asking me if I was selling computer items on eBay. When I went to the link they sent me, there was my name and photo from my blog. Some creep assumed my identity and is selling stuff as if it is me. I hope next time I become a spokesman for something that I know about it. Here is a link to Bizzaro Michael Grossman:

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Simpsons Go HD, Change The Opening For the First Time Ever

New formats inspire new things. Last night the Simpsons went Hi-Def for the first time, and marked the occasion with a new opening sequence. This is the first time they've changed the form of the opening in its twenty year history. Check out the twins next to Lisa's during band practice feverishly texting away. 

Direct link to YouTube video:

EBay & Craigslist: Unintended Tools for Dismal Economic Times

There is an article in USA TODAY about how people are using online applications to try to survive these difficult financial times. Here are some quotes from the postings on eBay & Craigslist:

"Please give me a chance. I'm looking for a job but to no avail"

"I was recently laid off from my job, and I am job hunting, but I am finding I have very few 'interview-worthy' outfits"

"We HATE asking for help but we don't have anywhere to go if we lose our house"

When everyone was talking about Web 2.0 applications, these weren't the users they thought of. Websites like eBay and Craigslist were not designed for this, yet they have become them.

If you try to use them from the other end of the spectrum, it's almost impossible to help people. There isn't a category on eBay for people posting "help me" ads, and performing searches on this topic produces lots of things you weren't looking for. They may want to consider making these type of unintended goals part of their design.

Here is a link to the USA TODAY article:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Quantitative, Qualitative or Low Hanging Fruit? When To Take Action on Observations

How much data do you need before implementing a change in your product? I heard an interview with Brian Tierney, CEO of Philadelphia Media Holdings on NPR last week. He's owner of The Philadelphia Enquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News. The downward spiral of the print business has been going on since the 1980s. His struggle to increase circulation and profitability isn't something new, but there was something in the interview that was interesting. 

He told a story of walking into a Wawa and seeing someone purchase a cup of coffee for two dollars and a newspaper for fifty cents. As the man walked away, he took out the sports section and threw out the rest of the newspaper. That was all it took for Brian Tierney to make the decision to up the price from 50 to 75 cents. His rationale was that if people are spending a couple dollars on coffee every day and if just the sports section was worth 50 cents, the rest of it was worth more. 

I wonder if this was a real observation or an anecdote he created to back up a belief he had. Assuming this was real, this was a single piece of data used to change the price of a product. He didn't embark on a survey to see if this change was acceptable or have someone set up a focus group. 

When is the time right to take an action based on feedback? How much feedback is needed to make a decision? Product design is an art form that requires events with uncertain outcomes. Never count your money while you're sittin' at the table. Tell'em Kenny...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ever Buy A Technology Product You Couldn't Get To Work? Watch This

How often does product design backfire, frustrating customers on so many levels? The Onion captures these frustrations from design to marketing to upgrades. Hide the kids or put on headphones before watching the video below.

Sony Releases New Stupid Piece Of Shit That Doesn't Fucking Work

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Super Bowl Football: Why Doesn't Marketing Understand User Experience?

Ben Roethlisberger has not worn gloves in any game this entire season. He has to change this, however, for the biggest game of all, the Super Bowl. Why? Because Marketing still doesn't get what User Experience is all about. Someone in NFL Marketing made the decision to put the logo for this year's Super Bowl right on the ball where its size makes it difficult to grip. At the NFL, colors and design are more a priority than gripping the ball. 

Is that what brand means to them? Literally, the branding element could directly impact the outcome of the game. This is pretty absurd to still be going on in professional sports after what the NBA went through with their ball redesign

Here is what Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roth said this week:

"It's tough because, as you said, they do have the big logo on them and it's not the easiest thing to grip in the world and we're the only position that has to deal with it on a consistent basis."

"So we've been working on them and getting them ready. I'm sure (Cardinals QB) Kurt (Warner) will have his gloves on, which I did in the first game (Super Bowl XL), and it helps a bit."

"For me, it's just going to be an adjustment beacuse my hands will be sweating for the first time in probably three months or so."

Some people just seem to fail upward. To show how silly this decision to change the football is, I'll let this story from the Onion do the fool-making: 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mike Colameco-Inspired Google Map of New York City Restaurants

Mike Colameco has a Food TV show and a radio show here in the New York area. I really enjoy his insight into what makes restaurants great. It was seeing his interview of Michel Richard that inspired the trip to Georgetown for my 40th birthday dinner at Citronelle. It was that experience that was the fodder for my first blog entry.

What really appeals to me about Mike's shows is the way he interviews the chefs. He gets them into such a great storytelling mode, you learn things you wouldn't learn anywhere else. It's the kind of interview I strive for with customers during field study work. 

I've put together a Google Map with many of the restaurants he recommends on his website and his mentions on his TV & radio shows. This adds the dimension of location, making it easier to find a place near where you may be when in NYC.

View Larger Map

Monday, January 26, 2009

Guess The Product: Sales Tumble 54 Percent as Product Sales Dip $100 Million Last Quarter

No, that's not an iPod Classic with a bunch of old Nanos. That's the product that just went down 54 percent in sales. At this same time, the iPod grew over 3% in overall market share. I can hear Liszt's Totentanz (Dance of Death) faintly playing in the background (or is that the intro to The Shining?).

The Zune is at the very least, up against the ropes. It's inability to gain traction and move up the rapid customer adoption slope is a testament to poor product design. You just don't hear stories from people on how much they love their Zuning experience. More importantly, you don't hear anything that really distinguishes it as a product that connects with consumers. What is "Buy from FM?" Know anyone that does this? It's the top feature on the Zune's What's New web page.

There are even rumors that Microsoft may mash up the product to become a smartphone device. Strange how some products (and people) fail upward.

Direct link to Liszt goodness here:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mythology vs. Reality: Charlie Kaufman Doesn't/Does Do a Lot of Press

Below is a video of Charlie Kaufman doing press for his latest movie, "Synecdoche, New York." Watch from the beginning to 2:43 in the video below, and observe his reaction to the interviewer who presupposes something about his subject. The interviewer prefaces a question with an assumption about how Charlie doesn't want to do a lot of press. This triggers an unexpected reaction from Mr. Kaufman for the next couple minutes. Here's a quote from it:

There's all this sort of stupid mythology about people that just gets perpetuated constantly. People decide something about someone and then it doesn't ever change and it's not based on anything.

Clearly this was meant to be an icebreaker, going, but ends up having the opposite effect. This got me thinking...

What things do we assume about our customers that may be completely wrong? What things do customers perceive about our products that may be completely wrong even though it isn't true? Mythologies are so very aggravating from any angle.

Enjoy the video (direct link here):

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Understanding The Significance of Jargon: Steve Portigal's Latest Interactions Article

There are few people out there offering the insight in the field of User Experience Design at the level of Steve Portigal. His latest article, "Poets, Priests, and Politicians" has been published in the Association for Computing Machinery's Interactions Magazine. Here is a tasty morsel from it:

A few years ago, I took a client into the field to study how families were using home entertainment technology. We met one family in which the father was visibly proud of his provider role, especially regarding technology. On multiple occasions he mispronounced TiVo, the up-and-coming digital video recorder brand, as “tie-vo.” Without looking, I could feel my client (an engineer) wince every time the father did this. But being a good interviewer, I reflected back the language our respondent was using, and in my follow-up questions, I also referred to “tie-vo.” When my client asked the family a question later in the session, he was physically unable to use the “wrong” pronunciation, and referred to TiVo as “tee-vo.” At that moment, the dynamic in the room shifted critically. The family leader had been shown up by some visitors, and suddenly we were the experts, not him. The interview wasn’t ruined, but after that we were sorely limited in how far we could go. Even the mere pronunciation of a word impacted the interaction.

This is a great example of Steve's ability to get customers into a comfortable storytelling mode. I recommend not only reading the rest of this article, but if you ever need an ethnographic consultant to provide valuable findings from your customers that lead to innovation, his firm will hit a home run every time.

This and his previous articles written for the ACM are available online. Here are links to them:

Here is a link to his blog, All This Chittah Chattah:

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Conventional Wisdom Myths Debunked...So What?

A new study finds that a lot of things people believe in are not true. For example:

  • Sugar does not have ANY connection to hyperactivity in children (12 highly scientific studies back this up. All the differences in the behavior were in the minds of the parents).
  • Eating at night Does NOT have any link to weight gain. It's not the time of day, it is the amount of food that impacts weight.
  • Suicide does NOT increase around the holidays.
  • Poinsettias are NOT poisonous.
  • You DON'T lose most of your body heat through your head
  • You CAN'T cure a hangover. Time is the only thing that gets you over too much alcohol consumption.

So now you can pass this juicy stuff around to your friends. But the reality is perception is all-powerful and will probably override the facts. Look at the example of sugar and children. Do you think parents will now give out candy to kids without thinking they will become hyper?

Now think about your customers. What are their perceptions and what things can't you combat even if you can prove they are false?

What User Experience Designers Can Learn From Emotion's Role in Our Economic Downturn

Whenever the stock market goes up or down sharply, you know you will be getting the usual image on all the major news websites. Either really happy trader with fist in air or pensive trader rubbing his eyes.

The reality is most exchanges today have a large, non-human component. Black box trading models aren't something you can take a picture of for a front page story. They are constructed by financial wunderkinds often referred to as quants.

One of the problems these models had over the last year was not being able to factor in emotion. Here are a few excerpts from an article in the New York Times:

Their credibility suffered for it last year. They did not see a recession until late summer. One reason they were blindsided: their computer models do not easily account for emotional factors like the shock from the credit crisis and falling housing prices that have so hindered borrowing and spending.


There is a psychological factor that Robert Shiller, a Yale economist, hopes will come into play. "If we have massive infrastructure spending and people feel that it is working, it could create a sense that we are O.K. and people will go back to normal," he said. "The real problem is that we are on hold. Everyone is."

This has been a long running theme in sci-fi books, movies and TV shows. From Star Trek to most recently The Sarah Connor Chronicles, getting computers to be more human has always been an interesting storyline.

When User Experience Designers approach a project, we can easily fall into the same trap of not including the emotional part of product design. This is because it's just not easy, all around. Not easy to gather or measure, hence making them hard to budget for. But the most successful products we all talk about are the ones that strike an emotional chord with us. Let's not fall into the same trap the quants did.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

How Do You Tell Others What Twitter Is?

Did you ever have trouble conveying what Twitter is to others over the age of 25? It's easy to tell people that it is a place where you can post messages up to 140 characters long for others to read and vice versa. That doesn't convey the value of Twitter, an online application that has been around since 2006. This is clearly a problem for Twitter because their home page has What? Why? and How? buttons right at the top of the page. Then they have a video trying to explain it:

Direct link to video:

After reading the definitions and watching the video, I still have problems telling a simple story to people about the value of Twitter. If you look under the video itself on YouTube, the comments are:

  • Twitter is gay
  • Twitter is a waste of time
  • None of my friends have Twitter, so what's the point?
  • this app looks stupid and a waste of time.
  • that sucks. why dont just pick up ur f**kin phone and call a friend? THATS networking, not posting on a stupid website and stop talking to genuine human beeing (typos left in place to protect the illiterate)

I don't have an answer here, but the other day something struck me while listening to AM Radio. I was listening to a New York news station, 1010 WINS, and realized that the manner in which they tell us news is Twittering. They don't give you in-depth news coverage. They give you updates of the most important stories. Want to know what is going on in the Middle East or who will really get Obama's vacant Senate seat? You'll get 140-characters-ish snippets of the latest on these stories, but not an essay or even a blog entry.

That still doesn't answer the content problem of why you'd want to know that I'm drinking coffee right now, but you really have to take a step into Twitter's world to see the value. So go on and tweet...Sign up for free if you haven't already:

You should probably do this fast before Facebook's version of Twitter replaces it. ;)