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.