During one of my last design classes (they are more me having a one sided conversation) I tried to reinforce the idea of technology as an enabler to customers/users/peoples goals, objectives, and desired experience. So often technology drives the experience irrespective of what people actually want in a product. A company launches a new internal email system not based on what people want or can use but on what features the particular vendor is selling. This leads to allot of internal dissatisfaction which is often expressed either through frustration or simply lost productivity.
It is a very common approach in Taiwan and one which is very hard to break free from. Companies need to make money and selling a system based on a feature set is much easier than more qualitative measurements. I don’t necessarily have the answers but Taiwan being the copy and remix culture that it is, I bet if someone created a successful product following a customer centered approach (in practice not in theory) than others would copy.
Some large companies who make physical devices are doing this but it has yet to filter down to smaller and medium sized enterprises.
Tonight I will quickly introduce an interview with Jim Wicks, the Vice President and Director of Motorola’s Consumer Experience Design, as he has some great ideas on the subject. I find Taiwan students and business managers always tend to appreciate the advice of an outside expert, so perhaps his voice will add some credence to the idea.
Weaving Design into Motorola’s Fabric
“We are a technology leader. However, a big change in mobile devices has been to move from being technology-driven to being technology-enabled. This means things are driven by consumers’ needs, wants, and desires. Consumers don’t say, “Hey, I want a (blank).” They don’t talk about technology in terms of what they want to do. They talk about what their objective is or what their desired experience is.”
“The product is the brand. You build brand in our industry through the product and the experience. Those manifestations are tangible evidence of that change. It shapes what people internally and externally think about the company.”
“However, you could also create a product that succeeds by accident and not realize it. You could make a mistake by not building on a successful product or not being able to repeat a success. There’s a lot of things that can happen that show a product doesn’t really change the culture of a company or change the company. But a product can really bring a lot to the table to enable other things to happen that really do mean the company is changing.”
Find the patterns of your successful experience and iterate.
“The intention isn’t to trump functionality. Our products are highly functional. …
If you look at what most people are doing with their devices and what they say they care about most, you would offer functionality that addresses those primary uses really well. Plus you would create something that ‘meets their style,’ something that they see as an object of personal expression that they feel very good about, proud about, and comfortable with carrying around.
I think of it more as a balancing rather than a trumping of functionality.”
“It’s like when someone says, “Are you going to invest in design or usability?” I’m respond with, “Well, that’s the same thing.” Design is always about synthesis–synthesis of market needs, technology trends, and business needs.”
The full interview is available the Institute of Design | Strategy Conference website.
I drove out to Hsuan Chuang University last night to teach but unfortunately took a wrong turn and got lost. I did manage to get to the class just in time only to realize that I forgot my dvi-vga adaptor. Lovely start.
Some things I learned from the experience:
- No one has heard of Flickr or Myspace. Some people know about Gmail
- The students are fiercely loyal to local Taiwan web sites (both applications and communities) regardless of how inferior they are to other sites in their language produced elsewhere
- This class speaks far more English than the last. Cool
- I said that technology is an enabler. They say that to be modern we must let technology lead. The sense I get is that they don’t really get the idea of balancing customer and business needs. They don’t really think about humanizing technology and building things that allow people to do things, with technology allowing that to happen. Pick a platform first then make people use it instead of find out what people need and pick a platform to make it happen.
- Each year the students seem more “free” – lots of chit chat and far less discipline – almost like a Canadian classroom which is too bad
- I dislike podiums and lecturing. My idea of class as a conversation bombed – “lets make it like the web – you have the material already – lets start with with an idea and see where it goes” – I’m naive – structure is still king
- Everyone loves stories and loves to laugh
Overall an interesting evening if not rather distracting. The doors to the classroom were open – to the left of me were beautiful ladies line dancing to music, to the right was an old black dog constantly licking his genitals. I bet no one else can claim to those kind of distraction when teaching.
Over the next few weeks I will be teaching at Hsuan Chuang University a undergraduate class in design – this will be my forth year stressing out students as I teach only in English. It’s an elective course usually filled with bright young students from various faculties through out the university.
The topic hasn’t changed much, I spend 3 weeks talking about Designing User Experiences, and it is still as necessary as ever. Putting your customer at the forefront of your application or site design is still as foreign a concept to many here in Taiwan as it is in standard brick and mortar businesses. The language of our profession (or jargon) – user friendly, simplicity, usability, IA – may have made it’s way through many corporate design departments but in practice it’s still very much an afterthought or not a thought at all.
Hopefully talking about the concepts. methods, and tool will in some miniscule way help bring forth these concepts to the business mainstream.
Tonight I give a brief introduction, the following weeks I take a different approach by focusing on weblog usability. Since so many students today are creating “blogs” this will allow them to immediately put into practice some of the ideas we discuss. An important first step.
Creating the User Experience and Visual Design for the Web.
Kathy Sierra was nice enough to send me an email asking me some thoughts on audio/sound. I sometimes need this impetus to write down even the briefest thoughts on a subject (and these are just brief sketches). The following are her questions and my answers.
Do you agree with me that the power of audio/sound is being greatly overlooked in so many areas of product design, user experience, etc. (as opposed to areas where sound is recognized as crucial, like movies and commercials)?
Yes I agree but there is a good reason – I would also extend your characterization of crucial to include games and toys.
Movies and commercials are passive shared experiences. Task based products are interactive and not generally shared. It’s an obvious but crucial difference. Everyone outside of China may agree that noise is something that we would rather not experience. But sound is not noise.
Sound is distinguished from noise by the simple fact that sound can provide information.
Sound answers questions; sound supports activities for tasks, so sound is inheritly useful. Consider the information provided by the click when the bolt on a door slides open, the sound of your zipper when you close a pair of pants, the whistle of a kettle when your water is finished boiling, the sound of a river moving in the distance, the sound of liquid boiling, of food frying, and the sounds of people talking in the distance. In the workplace there are the sounds of keys being pressed on a computer keyboard.
Natural sound is as essential as visual information because sound tells us about things we can’t see and it does so while our eyes are occupied elsewhere. Natural sounds reflect the complex interaction of natural objects; the way one part moves against another, the material of which the parts are made. Sounds are generated when materials interact and the sound tells us whether they are hitting, sliding, breaking or bouncing. Sounds differ according to the characteristics of the objects and they differ on how fast things are going and how far they are from us.
An extension of the statement that tasks are not shared is that the environment in which the tasks are competed are – one person’s sound is another noise. Visual displays are not as intrusive as auditory ones.
So the question of whether or not auditory interfaces would or should be used is primarily a question of implementation – how to restrict the receiving of the information inherent to sound to the person meant to be receiving it? When we solve this problem cheaply then I think we will see a great deal more use of sound in other products’ development.
Do you see any areas of great leverage — places where audio/sound could be incorporated that could make a big difference in either usability, user experience (even if simply for more *pleasure* in the experience)?
I hesitate to use these buzz words but with the popularization of Ajax/Web 2.0 interfaces it may be a good time for people to start experimenting further with sound in online application interfaces. Since these interfaces load data in real time, we lose a vital visual clue from the pages loading or refreshing. Sometimes the data change happens so fast we can’t follow any clues.
But these ideas are always met with criticism. An example from Jeffery Veen, “Sounds I stopped counting how many times I tore the headphones from my ears when a site started blaring music or “interaction” cues like pops, whistles, or explosions whenever I moused over something. Am I the only one who listens to music while using my computer?”
I love childrens toys and gain much inspiration from them. Cheap cheap sensors which illicite wonderfully fun feedback. We should have these in everything. Imagine buying a jacket that when you closed the snaps it sounded “heavier” than it feels or looks. Like the difference in sound between the door closing on a Lada and a Benz. Lots of possibilities.
Any other comments on your “Adult Chair” experience? What you learned from observing users interacting, etc.?
The adult chairs were just a small part of a broader set of objectives in creating non-elitist interfaces to musical expression. Though all of my work at that time were prototypes, just some manifestations of some ideas I had, I was harshly criticized because of the lack of “new science” or extended interactivity. Basically my work was too simple due to using off the shelf tech. and short lengths of time that people were engaged in the activities. I rejected this criticism, mostly, because I knew the criticizers didn’t understand the goals of the project and they weren’t looking at people actually using the prototypes. Though it was never intended to be so, this project ended up being the greatest champion of user centered design for me personally. We video taped allot of sessions and gathered allot of anecdotal data which drove later iterations of the design.
Some of the conclusions:
- Its really hard to design interfaces that have no visual responses. In a game we developed around an interface similar to Adult Chairs (hulabaloo) children kept looking for flashing lights or some kind of physical response. Eventually they learned to use their ears only which was good as it was a music appreciation game. Children here are very conditioned to visual response.
- People love being surprised and they want to have fun. They don’t care if the technology came from radio shack – they care if you can make them smile.
- Features, options, and controls are not needed to allow people to have fun for a short period of time. To keep them engaged for long periods of time people want that control.
Any other thoughts or tips for the rest of us?
I think too often when people thing of audio interfaces they immediately think of the horrible implementations in Yahoo IM, icq, and flash sites with hip hop sound tracks. It can be intelligently and elegantly designed.
Another thought is the difficulty in designing “gray sound”. Computer user interfaces are gray – not thought provoking – sit in the background and purposely boring. Icons and language localizations aside I think they work everywhere. But how to design auditory signals that work everywhere – cultural differences abound and what data is there to help us?
I live and work in Taiwan, arguably the noisiest group of people anywhere (i’m guessing). They “appear” to have a tolerance for noise and a need for sound that is far different than my own. Because their environment is so full of aural cues how do we design for them? A Japanese garden is a place of tranquility. A Canadian park a place of clean nature. A Taiwanese park is frequently experienced with a soundtrack as they pump in music and nature sounds to keep it from becoming quiet. Quiet seems to make them uncomfortable. This is just one example of what is acceptable or normal for levels of aural cues across 3 different locations and cultures. I think localizing audio interfaces will be quite challenging.
“The typical information architect thinks about structure – how one item in a group relates to all the other items in the group and how that group relates to all other groups. In the early days of information architecture (IA), groups and their related items tended to be well defined. For example, in the heyday of e-commerce, an information architect translated a product catalog into a storefront on the Web. Today, these problems seem old hat.”
“Beyond the technology, however, Web 2.0 brings with it a shift in mind-set. Today, people trust online content that individuals publish more than they did in the early days of the Web. Many people now willingly share information—like photographs or favorite Web sites or wish lists—freely on the Web and see sharing this information as beneficial.”
I dislike the whole web 2.0 labeling and hype and his use of IA 2.0 seems unnecessary but this article does bring to light the fact that there is allot to think about in how IA responds to new mindsets and technologies. I wonder how long it will take for the concepts and practices introduced via sites like Flickr to percolate down through to those who control budgets and initiate projects in Taiwan. Somehow I think we haven’t hit IA 0.5 yet.
This article is from UXMatters, a new publication for user experience professionals.
Read: Information Architecture 2.0
“Planning is crucial if you want your user research efforts to be effective. You need to think about what information you need to gather, and why, before embarking on any research. Good planning, well communicated to the client or project, and followed by careful implementation will ensure your research is effective.”
Planning for User Research Success
“The question you have to ask yourself as a business owner is this: what kind of experience do you want your customers to receive before, during, and after they have purchased your product or service?”
Read: The State of the Experience
The Design for the New China Markets (Beijing, 1-2 December 2005, Peninsula Palace Hotel) is an executive forum hosted by the IIT Institute of Design and the State Intellectual Property Office, People’s Republic of China. It is intended for leaders interested in the design and development of products and services for China.
Speakers at the conference will come from both the East and the West, providing a diverse set of perspectives on the issues facing design and innovation in China today.
Attendance at the conference is by invitation only and will be limited to 150 participants.
“Established wisdom holds that good error messages are polite, precise, and constructive. The Web brings a few new guidelines: Make error messages clearly visible, reduce the work required to fix the problem, and educate users along the way.”
Jacob Neilson believes good error messages should include:
- Explicit indication that something has gone wrong
- Human-readable language
- Polite phrasing that doesn’t blame users or imply that they are either stupid or doing something wrong
- Precise descriptions of exact problems
- Constructive advice on how to fix the problem
- Visible and highly noticeable, both in terms of the message itself and how it indicates which dialogue element users must repair
- Preserve as much as the user’s work as possible.
- Reduce the work of correcting the error
- Hypertext links can be used to connect a concise error message to a page with additional background material or an explanation of the problem
Error Message Guidelines
“And yes, I think that designers must – in fact, are responsible to – attempt to control those environments. At the end of the day, our job is to create or participate in the creation of solutions. While we may be conditioned to artificially define the boundaries of our involvement at particular places, the reality is that our charge can, and should, stretch to include the entire experience. And even though many of us are not working in contexts where we realistically have the budget, influence, or reach to change the state of interfaces, we at least need to be thinking at that level, and ask those questions, and challenge the artificial constraints. Because is is our job to provide solutions for people. That is what design is: creation in or alteration of the world to meet the needs and desires of people. In order to best meet those needs and desires, we must think at a different level.”
knemeyer.com. Beyond the pixels: consider the entire experience
“Context plays a more fundamental role for Asians than for westerners. Asians have a more difficult time thinking of an object as completely separate from its background.
Americans, on the other hand, focus on objects… things and categories more than relationships.
Asians think in verbs where we think in nouns. And these differences can have profound implications.”
Something to think about. He admits that he oversimplifies and I will give him the benefit of the doubt. It does run a bit counter to my experience of most people wanting to focus on the details but not the big picture.
Creating Passionate Users: Context matters
Fortune magazine has a technology special on Apple, and in a short interview with Steve Jobs he comments:
“I’ve always said that Pixar is the most technically advanced creative company; Apple is the most creatively advanced technical company. At Apple we come at everything asking, ‘How easy is this going to be for the user? How great is it going to be for the user?’ After that, it’s like at Pixar. Everyone in Hollywood says the key to good animated movies is story, story, story. But when it really gets down to it, when the story isn’t working, they will not stop production and spend more money and get the story right. That’s what I see about the software business. Everybody says, ‘Oh, the user is the most important thing,’ but nobody else really does it.”
Unfortunately you have to be a magazine subscriber to read the full article.
Technology – Apple: Five Questions for Steve Jobs – Intro – FORTUNE
Why are the basics so important? The simpler an interface is, the more people will be able to use it. And if there’s a benefit to using it (such as good search results), then the easier it is to use, the more people will use it. Multiply this by the size of the customer base online, and you have a lever that moves entire industries.
It bears pointing out that the success of the Web itself owes a lot to this principle. Well before Berners-Lee coded his first hyperlink, there was a global network of computers in place – computers which could share text, photos, music, and anything else representable in bits. There were programs to navigate this Net: FTP, Gopher, Telnet, and others. There was just one problem: it was way, way too hard for the average user to use. So practically no one used it. But with Berners-Lee’s hyperlinks, suddenly people could traverse the Net with the ease of a mouse-click. One small change in the interface – not the hardware or the underlying network – was the catalyst to the explosive growth that followed. Basics sell.
All this must seem odd to marketers who, in decades past, were taught to create the longest possible list of high-tech features… and then sell those features with lots of happytalk and faux excitement. That’s how the wireless carriers still operate, and how the search engine industries used to work, until Yahoo and Google became successful. Without Berners-Lee’s hyperlinks, imagine what technologists might be marketing today: the latest Gopher interface, “now with trans-Boolean metafiltering!”
Read the complete article
Advertising specialists and marketing managers have long tried to appeal to the emotional element. But a growing number of companies are starting to feel that designers are more tuned in.
“With a marketing person, 90 percent of the time is spent trying to do everything to shape the buying decision,” said Earl Powell, director of the Design Management Institute, a forum for industrial designers and the businesses that use them. Designers are “more committed to the user experience. That experiential component has an emotional resonance: It sticks.”
Read: When looks count the most
“Research has long shown that the leading factor in persuading shoppers to buy from an e-commerce Web site is ease of navigation — findings that were supported in a recent survey by Jupiter Research. In other words, customers are saying make your site easy-to-use, and you’ll earn our sale.”
Read: Attract and Keep Customers: Site Design Tips to Improve Your Sales. Courtesy of InfoDesign: Understanding by Design
“…$70 million for an ad campaign; $10 million to redesign the logo; a few thousand to “run a focus group” to assure the executives they’re doing the right thing. Business as usual.
The good news is that more and more companies are “getting it” and beginning to invest in improving what happens when customers actually arrive on the site. They’re not abandoning advertising; they’re just investing in a more balanced fashion.
Imagine what would happen if the potential client above had had these numbers:
Can you imagine a company investing in the customer experience as if it was as important as advertising? Imagine a site turning from a frustrating, stupid, slow experience into a smooth, quick, easy, informative, delightful experience that you wanted to return to – and might even tell your friends about. Shouldn’t *that* be a way (THE way) to run a business?”
Read: Budgeting for Advertising and Customer Experience
From the New York Times magazine comes an article describing in great detail the efforts and rewards of Slot- machine design.
Still, to maintain a sense of suspense in games that are over the moment they start, to increase what Baerlocher and his fellow game designers call ”time on device,” I.G.T. spends $120 million each year and employs more than 800 designers, graphic artists, script writers and video engineers to find ways to surround the unromantic chips with a colorful matrix of sounds, chrome, garishly-painted glass and video effects, which include the soothing images of famous people, from Bob Denver (the actor who played Gilligan on ”Gilligan’s Island”) to Elizabeth Taylor, many of whom receive hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars to lend their identities to the machines. The traditional pull-handle, if it exists at all, is nothing more than a vestigial limb; most players now press a button to start the reels, often virtual, spinning. Many slot machines don’t even pay out coins but issue ”credits” on a paper receipt to be redeemed at the cashier’s cage. Slot makers have found that their customers don’t miss handling money — coins are heavy and dirty, after all — and stereo speakers can project the simulated yet satisfying ping and clink of cascading cash. ”We basically mixed several recordings of quarters falling on a metal tray and then fattened up the sound with the sound of falling dollars,” says Bill Hecht, I.G.T.’s top audio engineer, when describing one of the audio files he programs into a machine.
Its more than a little disturbing how far companies are willing to go in order to have people part with their money. Despite the negative application it’s a valuable look into what kind of efforts go into creating a user experience that take people through Nathan Sherdoff’s three stages of experience: attraction, engagement, and conclusion.
I like these old words. I also like how we tend to forget to dig deeper and apply these or others with absolute faith like the words came from God herself. It’s always easy for over paid consultants to tell you not to design for the vice president as they only see her/him over the course of a limited engagement. Try doing that with an uncooperative v.p that you have to work with day to day and your position starts to soften.
- Your Best Guess is Not Good Enough
- The User is Always Right
- The User is Not Always Right
- Users are Not Designers
- Designers are Not (Representative) Users
- Vice Presidents are Not (Representative) Users
- Less Is More (KISS Consistently!)
- Help Doesn
Mark Hurst’s has repeated (republished) in his newsletter his “Page Paradigm” to describe the near-constant pattern in the way that users navigate web sites. It’s amazing how despite constant growth and change has occurred simple truism such as these hold true. Of course it’s easy to take these slogans too literally. There is nothing wrong (and its been proven effective) of course with putting a large amount of effort into creating “beautiful” web sites but it’s no substitute for focusing on exactly on what people are trying to do there.
On any given Web page, users will either…
- click something that appears to take them closer to the fulfillment of their goal,
- or click the Back button on their Web browser.
A few of his notes:
“Users don’t much care “where they are” in the website. So-called “breadcrumb links,” which show the user the exact hierarchy of the website as they click further down, are a nice but mostly irrelevant technology. It’s not that users don’t understand the links; it’s that they don’t care. … Users don’t care where they are in a web site.”
“NOTE 4. … Users only come to the website when they have a goal – usually finding a specific piece of information, or conducting a specific transaction. The Goal is very specific, and it’s the defining motivator of that user’s experience on the website. Fulfill the Goal quickly and easily, and it’s a good experience; otherwise, users will try to avoid the site in the future.”
“… partner promos, silly “branding”, overdesigned navigation, graphic advertising, and the rest – that have nothing to do with the Goal? From the user’s perspective, they are pointless at *best* – at worst, an active motivator to tell their friends not to go to your website.”
“NOTE 5. Consistency is NOT necessary. What matters on the Web is whether, on each individual page, the user can quickly and easily advance the next step in the process.”
“Organizations increasingly view usability and user-centered design to be a key ingredient in creating high quality products. Designing for ease of use is a well-accepted goal, even if many organizations have far to go to create user-centered products. Even with the present downturn in the economy, more companies, from new media to established banks, have larger usability and design teams than ever before. Should we be content that we have come so far?”
Read: Designing Customer-Centered Organizations
A short talk on mental models – slide gives standard definitions and was the basis for a discussion and application of this concept in my own practice.
“The Nokia Research Library contains some interesting journal and conference papers on Audio and Visual Communication Systems, Electronics, Mobile Networks, User Interfaces (Speech, Visual), Security and Usability and Ergonomics.”Courtesy Reloade
“Web Critica’s Top Ten Usability Tips when creating or redesigning your organization’s website. They’re the top 10 problems we’ve found on websites from small to large.”
Read: Top 10 Usability Tips – Web Critica
“Many of the day-to-day behaviors in which we engage without even thinking about them are really quite complex, comprised of many smaller, discrete, singular, specific sub-behaviors that we perform in a certain order.