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Applied Neuro CX

All this theory about Neuro CX is great, but what can we do to implement it into functionally? What exactly can we do to get the Reward Centre flooded with dopamine & create habits?

To start, let’s look at some insight into habit, inspired by the book Killer UX Design by the brilliant Jodie Moule.

Define a habitual user

How often do you want someone to use the product? What do they do? How long do you want them to stay? How often do you want them to visit? These questions will help you to outline what you are expecting up front before you launch. This is easier to do if your product already exists, but try to estimate what you’d expect or hope for, at a minimum.

Focus on behavior

Remember, we are focused on users’ behavior, and what creates a habit varies for the type of service you deliver. Focus on individual users and what they are doing, and assess if they’re making your product a habit or not. The overall active user rate is not predictive; it is what they are actually doing that should be the focal point.

Plan out the Macro & Micro usage thoughts. How many times a day, week, or month do you see as realistic usage? Set a clear expectation for overall frequency of use of your product, but try to be realistic. Everyone wants users to engage daily, or even hourly—but few products manage this. The context of your product will help guide what you can sensibly expect.

Then it’s important to plan where in the process of behavioural change to target activities that stimulate the Reward Centre. Timing is everything in the game of addiction – grab people at their most susceptible or vulnerable. Behaviour change occurs during the covert and overt activities that people use to progress through an engagement with a service or experience.

There are ten such processes as explained by Prochaska:

  1. Consciousness Raising (Increasing awareness)
  2. Dramatic Relief (Emotional arousal)
  3. Environmental Re-evaluation (Social reappraisal)
  4. Social Liberation (Environmental opportunities)
  5. Self Re-evaluation (Self reappraisal)
  6. Stimulus Control (Re-engineering)
  7. Helping Relationship (Supporting)
  8. Counter Conditioning (Substituting)
  9. Reinforcement Management (Rewarding)
  10. Self Liberation (Committing)

The first five are classified as Experiential Processes and are used primarily for the early stage transitions.

The last five are labeled Behavioral Processes and are used primarily for later stage transitions.

People pass through a series of stages when changes occur. They are:

  1. Pre-contemplation
  2. Contemplation
  3. Preparation
  4. Action
  5. Maintenance
  6. Relapse

The opportunity for small, sustained positive reinforcement occur at 2,3,4 & 5. In theory if we get these moments loaded full of dopamine stimulation then pre-contemplation is taken care of by your herd (more on that later!) and relapse is prevented because a person is positively engaged throughout the experience.

Set the baseline

Once launched, you are in a position to collect and analyze data around habits. Measure at intervals how many of your users actually fit the definitions you set at baseline, and then at different time periods post-launch (monthly, quarterly, six-monthly).

Who is dropping off and why? Understand who engages with your product and who dumps it. Try to uncover why that might be the case using UX methods.

Measuring behavior is a job done longitudinally and there is no way of hastening time. The best results are taken over a long period, and during this time anything could change—so hang in there. There are also slow starts.

There is no magic percentage you can assign to assess whether your product is creating a habit. Actual user behavior patterns are most predictive of an eventual habit.

Evolution, Not Revolution

Iteration as an approach to learning continues even after you’ve launched, and is backed (or refuted) by larger volumes of customer data that reflect actual use of your product.

You need to take these learnings and continue to evolve your design, but keep in mind that it is about evolution rather than revolution at this stage of the game. You are not looking to fundamentally change your design approach, but rather to tweak and refine based on a new level of understanding of your customers’ needs and habits.

Observe the Early Adopters of Your Product

Watching the early adoption of your product will allow you to ascertain where the real value of your product lies for your users, helping you to then shape the product in new or unexpected ways.

A great TED talk with Evan Williams, the co-founder of Twitter, reveals how watching early adopters of the product helped to uncover hidden value that was not imagined in its creation.

In this talk, Evan discusses how Twitter was originally created as a broadcast medium. Users shaped its evolution by inventing ways of doing things; for example, using the @ handle evolved from users shouting out to other users they knew whom they wanted to draw into their discussions; it was not part of the original design.

Similarly, the use of the hashtag [#] to search for like items was not originally designed, but created by a third-party provider as a way to locate content as the service grew and evolved. Twitter then purchased this service, and the hashtag became an invaluable way of locating content across all posts.

What does a habitual user look like?

Once you’ve launched, identify the behaviors that differentiate your habitual users from the rest, and try to identify the tipping point that took them from normal user status to habitual user status. It will take more than stats to uncover the answer, and this is where follow-up contact with your users will be useful to uncovering the “why.”

Before you go see users in the wild, check your data and formulate a hypothesis about their usage and why they might have taken a certain pathway that other users have not.

Model Your Top Users’ Habits

Target your devoted users and try to understand their usage and behavior in detail so that you can apply learnings from this group to the rest of your user group. Understand what it was that hooked them more strongly than standard users so that you can then use this information to attract a new group or convert others.

You could focus on data and drill down to see what they did and where they went within your product, uncovering the patterns and areas that drove their usage. Alternatively, pull out your UX methods again and talk to your most passionate users about how they use the product; monitor them in their own context and ask them to keep a diary through the trial so that you can uncover greater detail than stats alone can give you. Your devotees will love it!

Identify from your data commonalities among the habitual users to see if there is a pattern that led to a habit that can be translated across a wider group.

Modify Based on What You Learn

What you learn post-launch will allow you to focus on aspects to further develop and refine your product. You’ll also be able to market your product to new users in a way that directs them towards the end you seek.

To reach a deeper level of understanding, head out of the office and start talking to the real users of your product once again. This should help you to add context to the analytical data you’ve collected. Key areas for expanding your learning at this stage are:

What are hurdles to engagement with the product or features, if any?
What gaps do competitor’s products fill that yours don’t?
Is the problem your product solves one that customers want solved?
Are your strategies influencing users’ behavior towards the desired result?
Which aspects of the product resonate with users, and which do not? (In this sense, you understand the aspects of the original vision that have been validated, and those areas that are not resonating.)
Remember: with product design, it’s about evolution, not revolution.

Other thoughts on executing NeuroCX

As well as the strategic considerations above, there’s a whole wave of tactical things we can do to fire up the reward centre & back in NeuroCX into our products;

Data collection

  1. The first question(s) you ask a user should trigger a positive feeling – Consider the idea that you might actively provide or suggest that a user listens to their favourite song during registration. It’s scientifically proven to flood the Reward Centre and put the user into a positive state of mind.
  2. Don’t collect too much data in one foul swoop. Seek to collect only the minimum with the intention of collecting a stack of additional data throughout the duration of the experience. Play the long game.
  3. In a registration or application that has to collect a lot, consider offering a recess. A deliberate break in proceedings. If it seems annoying then it’s probably the right thing to do. It helps the brain retain the knowledge already passed into the system and makes the user feel in control.
  4. Offer data collection milestones. Literally reward someone with a discount or virtual token of some kind the more data they give you.
  5. Allow users to donate this virtual token as a gift to entice new members, which in turn could gift them with more points or rewards. Generosity gets the dopamine flowing.

Content strategy

  1. Don’t give everything away for free. It’s vital that content is earned. It might seem cynical, but it’s crucial for brain stimulation that a user feels like they’ve achieved something. Content is a great vehicle to do that.
  2. Link content exposure or / and tone of voice to level or score. The more a user grows, the more content you release or give them access too – Progressive disclosure and Asymmetric Paternalism.
  3. Reward a user for sharing content and influencing the Viral Loop. The net for new users widens, the generosity dopamine kicks in and associative conditioning teaches the user that sharing feels good and is rewarded.
  4. Break content into small parts and drop the full edit over a long period of time. Create cliff-hangers. It’s going to fly in the face of our natural inclination, but you have to be willing to accept that this approach might be annoying. The positives however, certainly outweigh the negatives. You’ll keep users wanting to come back and make it easier for them to learn too.
  5. If content is king, then the maven is its queen.

Ongoing engagement (maintenance and CRM)

  1. Make sure people are constantly made aware of progress. Even small steps like “congratulations, this is your 1st week engaged in X, Y & Z” give positive reassurance and stimulate the reward centre and feelings of achievement.
  2. Similarly, contrary to popular rhetoric, make people aware of negative behaviours, but don’t punish them for it (progress moves you forward and unlocks new content and levels, negative just stalls progress – a blip in the road, not a u-turn).
  3. Show people where they rank amongst a subset of close peers. The maven loves to be made to feel that they are valued and among the elite. Being elite doesn’t mean the ultimate best, it can be the best in your vicinity.
  4. Make sure you use the ongoing triggers to teach new things. Knowledge grows exponentially. The more we know, the greater our ability to learn, and the faster we expand our knowledge base.

You get the idea… Just give people joygasms as regularly as possible!

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A neurological recipe for success

 Do something for me please – before you get too comfy, get out your iPod or go to your stereo and put on your FAVORITE song and listen to it while you read this post. You’ll find out why later. Cheers.

Done? Awesome. Read on then friends.

I believe that all clear-minded people should remain two things throughout their lifetimes: curious and teachable. ― Roger Ebert

In 2013 I went on a journey into human motivation. I set out to try and understand not just what a good experience is, but why a good experience is a good experience. It’s changed the way I look at creating services, tools, apps, marketing and stories. More than ever it’s important to make Customer Experience that stands out from the competition and I believe there is a basic recipe for success.

Welcome to the most powerful tool in digital… The Brain

It’s a busy little organ the brain. It’s tireless, it never takes a vacation and has work to do 24/7. A continuously evolving organ made up of lots of little compartments for doing lots of little things & is the most complex organ in the body. A three-pound mass of gray and white matter that sits at the center of all human activity – you need it to drive a car, to enjoy a meal, to breathe, to create an artistic masterpiece, and to enjoy everyday activities. In brief, the brain regulates your basic body functions; enables you to interpret and respond to everything you experience; and shapes your thoughts, emotions, and behavior. It’s fuelled by a combination of genetic based learnings – called fluid intelligence – and experiential based learnings – known as crystallised intelligence.

What is Neuro CX?

The beginning of wisdom, is the definition of terms – Socrates

It’s to do with NeuroMarketing, right? Nah… Not this one. A totally different thing. It’s got manipulating the brain in common, but Neuro CX is about longevity and teaching consumers to repeat behavior and start associating those repeated behaviors to good feelings, good experiences and the brands that supply them.

It’s about tapping into crystalilised intelligence and making people want to continuously open your app, or visit your website or engage with your product.

The challenge for any provider is creating continuous sustained usage with users. Remember, products used daily create a barrier to entry for competitors in their market. If your users are unable to imagine life without your product, you can safely say you’ve met your goal. So what makes a habit?

When a human encounters an experience (offline, online, good or bad) and it is deemed a ‘sensation‘ – i.e “that was amazing” or “that was terrible” – the brain releases the chemical dopamine which lets an areas of the brain called the ‘Reward Centre‘ know to deliver a sense of pleasure or pain, happiness or sadness and focus the attention of the individual so that he or she learns to repeat the behaviour (or not) again and again. When you think about some of the great technology solutions of the last 20 years, many share a common ground: they create a habit. When technology has created a habit in people, a person’s use of a product is automatic, without thought.

The reward center of the brain is critically involved in mediating the effects of reinforcement. A reward is an appetitive stimulus given to a person to alter behavior. Rewards typically serve as reinforcers. A reinforcer is something that, when presented after a behavior, causes the probability of that behavior’s occurrence to increase. It’s also how positive experiences remain engrained with an individual. We are literally genetically programmed to remember positive and negative things and if we like them, repeat them over and over until it becomes a habit.

The more you can get the user to do something without making a conscious decision, the stronger the habit becomes. Frequency of use leads to the creation of a habit in your users; so if your users are coming back regularly, it’s likely that habits are forming.

You can read a more in-depth overview of the biological bit here.

There are three major mechanisms we can use to manipulate the reward center. Put them together and we have Neuro CX;

  1. Expanding scenarios linked to sustained progress and instant gratification (Joygasms)
  2. Encouraged altruism (Kudos)
  3. Repeated, interrupted experiences (Commas)

A lot of tools, websites, social media and apps offer one or some of the above… But it’s the really really sticky (read ‘Addictive’) experiences that give the user a little hint of all three.

Expanding scenarios linked to sustained progress and instant gratification – Joygasms

Associate Conditioning

Associating good feelings with desire to repeat an action, task or activity is where things start to get interesting. We call this “associative conditioning” and it’s this response of learning that positive feeling is linked to certain experiences that we can bake into our work.

If we get really contrived with it, we may even be able to encourage addiction to a service or function. Scientists have long known that the release of dopamine is strongly associated with addictive behaviours. Addictions occur when the brain betrays the body, causing feelings of pleasure from activities.

By creating certain ‘ideal conditions’ that stimulate the Reward Centre we can create repeat behaviour. Similarly we can also introduce negative scenarios and teach people to avoid things too.

Researchers at the University of Iowa have observed that emotions persist in individuals even after they forget the cause, an important clue about how the brain stores different kinds of information and worth remembering when we plan our experiences. The act of doing might vanish from conscience thought, but the feeling whist doing could remain.

Even though emotions seem fused together with memories in our stream of consciousness, it turns out that this is not the case.

Here’s another random but interesting one: A recent study published in the journal of Neuropsychopharmacology suggests that despite the bitter taste, the chemicals in beer also trigger the brain’s reward system. This pleasurable effect might explain why we’re so willing to keep drinking past the first sip — until intoxication takes over, and we’ll drink just about anything after we’re drunk. It may also explain why some people can drink casually while others slip into alcoholism.

It’s the Reward System that these artificial stimulants fire up and why drugs & alcohol can be addictive & what we can recreate the conditions of using digital.

The trick to this is also capturing people in the moment of intent – at that point where they’re deciding to or not do something like going to lunch and looking for a place to eat, or deciding whether to walk or drive to work in the morning… hit them in the moments with a little nudge of generosity and repeat that behavior over and over at the same time until the behavior is changed; “Check your balance – POSITIVE REWARD” … “Check your balance – POSITIVE REWARD” … “Check your balance – POSITIVE REWARD” … “Check your balance – NEGATIVE NUMBER, BUT DON’T FEAR, YOU’RE ON THE RIGHT TRACK, KEEP GOING YOU STUD” … “Check your balance – POSITIVE REWARD”.

These notifications need to be planned and intended to spur activity in the moment, deployed at just the right time. Built around a very important idea: Adding notifications to a service isn’t just good for letting us see what we’ve done. It’s also crucial for building services that can tell us what we should be doing.

Activity tracking is one thing; activity tweaking is something else entirely. That’s why real-life coaches are so great. They help you set goals that are relevant to your life, and they help push you to achieve them. They’re personal. This is the piece that most services have missed thus far and that we need to get better at to make Neuro CX a real possibility.

You have to create your service with the ability to constantly slurp up data from your world and sort notifications into two broad categories. The first are the notifications you get when things happen and reward you with a pat on the back when you hit a Streak or a Milestones.

There’s a dopamine response that happens when you get a digital pat on the back. Actually being able to connect that dopamine response to the behavior is very powerful to the feedback cycle.

Travis Bogard, VP of Product Management and Strategy at Jawbone

The other preemptive notifications need to come through a more structured goal feature which lets the user opt into day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year goals. Telling you that you’re on track with the bigger things in life. The virtual equivalent of a beckoning spouse – Helping you at decision points born not out of a domestic routine but data, algorithms, and  connectivity.

Encouraged Altruism – Kudos

During this kind of highly structured, self-motivated hard work, we regularly achieve the greatest form of happiness available to human beings: intense, optimistic engagement with the world around us. We feel fully alive, full of potential and purpose–in other words, we are completely activated as human beings. – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Another major factor that can effect and trigger the Reward Center is altruism. MRI studies have revealed that when we perform an act of kindness, the Reward Center is aroused and we experience feelings of pleasure. The brain is flooded with happiness-inducing dopamine whenever we share something we think other people might find useful or help out someone deemed to be in need, or worse off than ourselves. So getting people to pass things around (once you’ve rewarded them with it in the first place) could be another great way of getting people addicted or immersed in your content;

You earned 100 points, unlocked the best content yet – Why not share that content or how you got to it with your friends & earn an extra 50 points.

Stand back, possible dopamine explosion imminent. The ego has landed.

The oh-so-exciting “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience“, also shed new light on how the brain responds to reward and translates it into extraverted behaviour; “Rewards like food, sex and social interactions as well as more abstract goals such as earning money or getting positive peer recognition also trigger the release of dopamine in the brain, producing positive emotions and feelings of desire that motivate us to work toward obtaining those goals even more. In extroverts, this dopamine response to rewards is more robust so they experience more frequent activation of strong positive emotions,”.

This reinforces my belief that the mavens (a trusted expert in a particular field or someone who seeks to pass knowledge on to others) have to be the crucial first wave of people to be introduced into a new service or product before release to the general populous. Beta should not be a place fir everybody, it absolutely has to be a carefully targeted thing that finds and recruits the extroverts who are going to end up being the dopamine fuelled messengers and recruiters to your new service or product. Rewarding those mavens is also crucial because the Dopamine released facilitates memory of the circumstances that are associated with the reward moment which is a significant role in sustaining extroverted behaviour. Extroverts show a greater association of context with reward than introverts, which means that over time, extroverts will acquire a more extensive network of reward-context memories that activate their brain’s reward system.

If you think about the reward center in the context of an extrovert, it’s possible that something like posting on Facebook & the ‘Likes’ generated over time from the generosity of sharing, can literally become addictive to an extrovert & therefore encourage even more sharing in order to get more likes & so on & so on. It’s why some people share so much of their lives in such a sustained & open fashion. It taps right into the part of their psyche that gets joy & reward for the generosity of telling people they’ve just done something inept or found something kinda useful.

I myself am probably as I type getting high on the idea that the 2 people who read this post might share it. Bonus.

Repeated, interrupted pleasure points – commas

The Zeigarnik Effect

Let me go back to a previous post I’ve made about the ideals of gamification and in particular the Zeigarnik Effect. It covers a simple principle – People remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. Sounds a bit mad I know, but it’s true.

The “cliffhanger” just may be the oldest trick in the story-telling book, especially for television and there is a reason why it’s used to great affect… you want to tune back in!

Despite numerous exposures to this method, our brain just can’t “get over” suspenseful moments: it’s a relationship that just won’t die, we will always want to know what happens next!

In fact, suspense works so well that the Zeigarnik Effect would have you believe that it’s the best way to kill procrastination.

Research in that area seems to point to humans being much more inclined to finish something that has already been started (researchers interrupted people doing “brain buster” tasks before they could complete them… nearly 90% of people went on to finish the task anyway, despite being told they could stop).

A University of Maryland study of undergraduates found that after a physics lecture by a well-regarded professor, almost no students could provide a specific answer to the question, “What was the lecture you just heard about?”. Another study by Kansas State University found that after watching a video of a highly rated physics lecture, most students still incorrectly answered questions on the material. When students were quizzed about a fact presented only 15 minutes earlier, only 10 percent showed any sign of remembering it.

Suspense in stories really allows you to create addictive, memorable content, as long as the suspense appears early enough in the activity and is combined with a positive ending or reward – Now we’re getting into Neuro CX.

Consider the idea that lots of positive, but unfinished tasks, start to shape a formula for successful and sticky experiences that people will want to engage with and repeat over and over again.

This is of course nothing new – It’s just the old nudge strategy mapped back to some new thinking and neurological reasoning. But by breaking things down and mapping seemingly dispirit principles together, I’ve done is make us realise just how important it is to plan in a solid set of these functions in every single project I work on.

Nice work fella, you just read a piece of content about Investing… have 5 points. 10 bits of content read… have 100 points. But no more today, tomorrow is a better day to unlock your destiny.

Positive Distractions Help You Remember

The Zeigarnik effect also suggests that people who suspend their primary task and engage in totally unrelated activities such as playing games, will remember the primary material better than those who complete tasks without a break. We should literally be interrupting task flow with totally unrelated, positive experiences.

It’s possible that interrupting people mid-registration or an important application might be something for us to try. Literally going against what we’ve been preaching for over a decade now. Instead of making registration simple and quick, let’s make it longer but bite-sized. Lewin’s Field Theory states that a task or experience that has already been started, establishes a task-specific tension. This tension, once established is relieved upon completion of the task. In the case of task interruption the reduction of tension is being impeded. Through continuous tension the content can be more easily remembered.

It’s also great if the positive secondary experience is not directly linked to your primary, because we can teach consumers something totally random and they’ll begin to associate that with the brand or procedure that served it up + distract them from potentially dull or time consuming primary subject matter.

For alcoholics, research has found that even the sight or smell of beer is rewarding to the brain, pushing them to drink – A secondary experience linked back to the primary drive. In a related study published by neuroscientist Valorie Salimpoor at the Montreal Neurological Institute, it was discovered that music can also activate the same reward circuits in the brain as alcohol.

In 2005 Teresa Lesiuk studied “the effect of music listening on work performance” and found that music promotes a “positive mood change and enhanced perception on design while working.” Results showed that quality of work was lowest when no music was played, and that individuals actually spent longer on a task when there was no music. On the other hand, those who who did listen to music finished their assignments more quickly and proposed better ideas.

An article from Psychology Today adds that while listening to music may be productive for some, it can be a distraction to others; therefore, they offered several things to consider when choosing music for productivity:

  • Use music with no words to avoid interfering with language tasks.
  • Silence is a kind of music and can be just as effective as music. If music is a distraction, try nature sounds.
  • Listen to music you like because it helps you feel better.
  • Try different speeds, or tempos, of music as it alters the mood and can help with tasks that require a different pace or energy.
  • Take musical breaks. A change of environment, even sonically can make a big difference in work productivity.

So here’s a thought for you – why not start to introduce new, totally random elements into traditionally boring tasks. For example, what if the first question in a long, drawn out banking application process was “what’s your favourite song Bob?” which drags the tune out of iTunes & plays an instrumental version of it in the background while you fill in the boring bits. In theory dopamine would flood the reward system and you’d feel positive throughout the experience. The perfect distraction to the dull job at hand. Associate Conditioning also starts to link the happy feeling with the task and / or brand too. It might not be as random as it sounds.

Summary

I’ve also put together another post around applied application of NeuroCX here.

In theory if I was practicing what I’m preaching I would have stopped halfway through the article and offered you a game and then released the rest of the article tomorrow. Trust me, you’d have come back – You wouldn’t have been able to ‘not’ too!

Neuro CX is about by-passing the reptilian brain in order to THRIVE instead of SURVIVE. The reptilian brain is based in survival mode which elicits impulsive programmed responses (constant reaction to present triggers). Characteristics of the Reptilian brain include dominance (dominate or be dominated), aggression, sex and seeking a mate, rigidity, obsessiveness, compulsiveness, worship, fear, submission and greed. These are all constricting and limiting frequencies. Looking at the Limbic parts of the brain and tapping into the Reward Center start to open up huge possibilities in the field of UX and Experience Design.

A lot of people reading this might be thinking “gamification”, but NeuroCX is that thinking plus some more. The traditional explanation of ‘gamification’ would be something like; “Taking techniques from games and game design and applying them to non-gaming contexts”. But the biology behind good experience is far more complex and can be manipulated by more than just game thinking. The idea that badges (otherwise known as achievements or trophies, once you have completed a feat, challenge, or task) as a means to show your achievement are what makes something sticky is too simplistic, NeuroCX can be anything just as long as its sustained & continuous throughout a relationship with the product user. It’s the good vibe, not the little token.

I hope that by altering how digital is approached using NeuroCX we can improve motivation & change consciousness.

If consciousness is about awareness or how an individual perceives and interprets his or her environment, including beliefs, intentions, attitudes, emotions, and all aspects of his or her subjective experience, then in theory by creating experiences that make users neurologically addicted (how pompous does that sound!) and providing it to the widest possible audience, then we could change collective consciousness. Collective consciousness is essentially how a group (an institution, a society, a species) perceives and translates the world around them. Change a collective consciousness (Facebook anybody!?) and you create a fundamental shift in perspective or worldview that results in an expanded understanding of self and the nature of reality. The beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, and assumptions through which we filter our understanding of the world and our place in it also move.

It all sounds very complex and esoteric, but trust me when I say it’s not. In fact most of you are probably already doing bits of it by accident. However I do think it’s crucial that you use these facts of biology and behavior to actively guide clients and products towards better experiences. It should be inherently part of EVERY experience strategy, not just the ones you think need to be a bit gamey or kooky. Your project doesn’t have to be the next Nike Fuel to include Associative Conditioning – In fact it’s even better if it isn’t! Map it into your boring topics even more vigorously. Make them addictive. Make them pleasurable & make the user want to come back again and again.

Special thanks due to the Barclays Behavioural Finance team for inspiring me to explore the wider side of Experience Design outside of my normal box – Greg B Davis, Emily Haisley & Antonia Lim.

ISO 9241-210

Original sources: www.userfocus.co.uk

With the rapid development of new user interface technologies, it’s tempting to claim that there’s a lot more to good design than simply applying standards. Although this is certainly the case, international standards in usability still have an important role to play. This is because usability standards:

  • Ensure consistency:
    • Standards provide a consistent benchmark to help design teams avoid annoying user interface inconsistencies.
  • Define good practice:
    • There are many conflicting viewpoints about good practice in usability.
    • Standards, especially International Standards, provide independent and authoritative guidance.
  • Prioritise user interface issues:
    • Standards are serious business and whereas many organisations pay little regard to research findings, few organisations can afford to ignore standards.
  • Help organisations fulfil their legal obligations:
    • Disability legislation and Health & Safety legislation puts a legal obligation on service providers and employers to ensure that systems provided for users are fit for purpose and meet minimum ergonomics requirements.
    • These requirements are worded rather vaguely in the legislation and therefore meeting relevant standards is one of the best ways of demonstrating compliance.

Ergonomics of human-system interaction: Human Centered Design (HCD) for interactive systems

The standard used to be known as ISO 13407. But in 2010 it was updated and re-issued as ISO 9241-210 to bring it into line with other ISO usability standards.

The standard describes 6 key principles that will ensure your design is user (or as they reference it – ‘Human’) centred:

  • The design is based upon an explicit understanding of users, tasks and environments.
  • The user is represented or explicitly involved throughout design and development.
  • The design is driven and refined by user-centred evaluation.
  • The process is iterative.
  • The design addresses the whole user experience.
  • The design team includes multidisciplinary skills and perspectives.

If we explore each of these principles, you’ll see why I believe this standard serves as an ideal manifesto for the field of user experience (UX).

The design is based upon an explicit understanding of users, tasks and environments

This principle is about understanding your users’ ‘context of use’. I like to think of the context of use as the user experience trinity:

  • understand your users,
  • understand what they want to do with the system
  • understand the environment in which the system is used

As an example, the standard contrasts an interface aimed at a teenager downloading music on a mobile phone with a business user accessing corporate information on a handheld device. What makes a great experience for one may not be an acceptable experience for the other. Anyone who works in the field of user experience must surely sign up to this principle.

The user is represented or explicitly involved throughout design and development

The purpose of this principle is to ensure design teams include the user at the heart of the design phases: not just by running a focus group at the start of design or by administering a survey at the end of design.

Moreover, the standard emphasizes that user involvement needs to be ‘active': in other words, you don’t simply demonstrate your design to users; you engage them in the design. You can achieve this through field studies early in design and usability testing once you have an artifact that people can use. Again, this principle is a shoo-in for anyone who works in the field of user experience.

The design is driven and refined by user-centred evaluation

If I were asked to name one important contribution that the field of user experience has made to the world of design, I’d immediately pick usability testing. As well as being the canonical method that almost defines the field, it truly helps design teams improve upon their products, software and services. But one mistake that’s often made is to run just one test, usually at the end of development. The standard points out that usability testing should be carried out throughout the design process. So you should also use it to test preliminary designs, such as paper prototypes and electronic mock-ups.

The process is iterative

The standard describes this principle unambiguously: ‘The most appropriate design for an interactive system cannot typically be achieved without iteration.’ The idea behind this principle is that it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, for users to explain what they want from a system. So to find out what people want, you have to show them something that they probably don’t want (your first design) and then discover how to improve it. This means that if you’re using a waterfall methodology where you have to nail down requirements before starting on design, your design process will struggle to be user centred. The standard doesn’t proscribe any particular development methodology, but if you’re using Agile then it’s much more likely you’ll be following this principle.

The design addresses the whole user experience

This principle wasn’t mentioned in the standard’s previous incarnation as ISO 13407. It’s probably been included in this new version to make sure people realise that usability isn’t just about the hygiene factor of making things easy (or at least, not making things difficult). ‘Easy’ is a good place to start, but usability (and a good user experience) is about a lot more than making things simple. The standard makes this explicit by writing, ‘the concept of usability used in ISO 9241 is broader and… can include the kind of perceptual and emotional aspects typically associated with user experience.’

The design team includes multidisciplinary skills and perspectives

I’ve often worked with design teams where everyone seems to have been cast from the same mould. For example, the design team contains predominantly graphic designers, or predominantly programmers, or predominantly usability experts. With this principle, the standard is pointing out that a siloed design team is the wrong way to approach user centred design. You need to include a range of views, including the voices of accessibility experts, end users, domain experts, marketing, tech support, technical writers and business analysts, as well as the roles just mentioned.

Conclusion

Even as an RFP response to a companies UX capability (or claimed capability) that’s a pretty compelling set of guidelines I think. Every company should ask themselves “do we do these things?” and if the answer is “Yes” then you’re a UX player… if the answer is “No” then you’re a design firm (which is nothing to be ashamed of BTW) who does some IA and Usbility type stuff.

Gonzo CX

Work that researches well is predicted on what has gone before. Anything different, or out of the ordinary, will test badly, for the very reason that it is different – Bill Bembach

The majority of my work is as it should be… Neat, proper, rule-abiding and by the New Rider book. Packed full of user-centred design and interaction principals. The user at the heart of the story just happens to be me. Occasionally I need to indulge myself and that’s when my work gets all a bit ‘Gonzo’.

Maybe I’m wrong, but is it time for us to embrace ‘Gonzo UX’ as a reality of our industry and recognise it for right or wrong as a reality, because as a tool for the current generation of UXers’ who go to work everyday & follow the ‘rules’ but don’t always necessarily believe those rules it’s part of our lives and so many of us with a slight right-brain skew do it. I’m Gonzo and proud.

We pay lip-service to the methods of UX for the sake of our clients and then just do our own thing alot of the time. Exaggerating things to make them cooler & more progressive. We do our UX with claims of objectivity, but really how objective is it once we’ve put our own spin on the results, ignored the average bits of the insight and just pushed things forward rather than to the side – which to be honest is what the passionate few amongst us really want. If you’re not being Gonzo for some briefs then you’re not innovating, you’re optimising.

I almost always end up including a little piece of myself in the story, concocting a solution with me as the protagonist thinking “I’ll call the persona Gerald, they’ll never notice that crafty 30 something advertising exec from London is really me”… Come on, admit it, how many have you have done it?! More than you’d think. So much of what we do is a subjective, artistic endeavour based on our own objectively collected insights as real life consumers. We’re just scared to admit it because we think it somehow cheapens the solutions and the work is less robust because there’s a large wedge of ourselves in it rather than a real-life bloke called Gerald who probably still owns a monotone Nokia from 2003 anyway… And I’m certainly not user-centring a solution around THAT bloke, he sucks! When that proposal goes live deep-down its somewhere comfortably between subjective and objective and as long as it’s still good, where’s the harm in being a bit Gonzo with the approach. It’s still packed full of insight driven work, the insight just happens to be your own. It’s good. It has a place and you shouldn’t be ashamed (as long as you’re racking up success and you can attribute it back to some fuzzy bit of research or insight someone pompous researcher gave you at work).

Lets look at bit more at the detail. Gonzo UX tends to favor style over fact to achieve accuracy — if accuracy is in fact meant to be achieved at all — because we often use our own personal experiences and emotions to provide context for the topic or solution being covered. It disregards the “polished”, edited solution favoured by the esoteric usability cronies and strives for a more gritty, personable approach. Sometimes you see the personality of a solution is just as important as the problem the solution is trying to fix.

If you have a tendency when you’re selling solutions in to use quotations, sarcasm, humor, exaggeration, and profanity then you may in fact be practising Gonzo UX and you don’t even know it.

So as of today I’m actually adding ‘Gonzo UX’ to our companies list of approaches. As a term, for our clients, and I’m going to make sure our team are proud to do it when the time is appropriate.

“What? The client won’t pay for research and insight?” It’s a Gonzo solution.

“Oh my god, that insight work sucks but I’ve only got 2 days to craft a response!” It’s a Gonzo solution.

“This project is just going to be DULL and UNINSPIRING if I follow this research and tailor it to this dudettes life” I’ll go a little bit Gonzo for the sake of making it good rather than average.

Death to the Persona. Long live the Information Persona

Am I the only person in UX that hates (HATES) Ben (32 – Reads the Guardian and loves riding his mountain bike) and his wife Becky (29 – Likes walking, Grazia and playing with her Poodle called Peaches) …I do… I hate them… they don’t represent anything. There is no ‘Joe Average’ and there never has been, so how are we meant to craft experiences around the average user? We can’t. So in the spirit of fixing the problem I hate here’s a debatable alternative… The Information Persona. Or Behavioral Persona. It’s not a new concept, in fact Jakob and his band of merry bearded user-philes were parroting the theory around about a decade ago, it’s just never been beyond the conversation and we still rely on Ben and his wife Becky (those average idiots and their stupid poodle).

Have a look at this set of alternative grouping from some user interviews conducted & a study of internet behavior. The belief is users can be categorized against six common primary behaviours for information seeking (I’m sure there are more, especially in todays world and this is excluding mobile obviously):

  • Starting: Identifying relevant sources of interest
  • Chaining: Following and connecting new leads found in an initial source
  • Browsing: Scanning contents of identified sources for subject affinity
  • Differentiating: Filtering and assessing sources for usefulness
  • Monitoring: Keeping abreast of developments in a given subject area
  • Extracting: Systematically working through a given source for material of interest.

So what exactly does this mean & how does it actually affect the way in which future proposals should be formed? Quite simply, by identifying & modelling the above personas we can create sets of tools that keep everybody happy! Well that’s the theory anyway…

Behaviour: Starting

This refers to identifying relevant sources on an average, content driven website. There are four principle ways in which users should arrive at given content on the site:

  • Typing in a URL directly
  • Referring to a bookmarked URL
  • Following a link from another section of a website (or another website)
  • Using the search engine (internal and external)

Example features to support Starting:

  • Thoughtfully-designed URLs for sections that are easy to remember
  • Unique URLs for different sections of the Website
  • Page construction that allows for easy and accurate book-marking
  • Carefully worded page titles that provide a useful context

Appropriate use of page tags to describe the content. This should not only facilitate indexing by the search engine on the website, but also yield meaningful descriptions in search results lists. Tags init.

In considering Starting as a behaviour, it is important to remember that users probably first come in contact with a given section of the website from a referring source, e.g. another section or elsewhere, such as a work colleague forwarding a link or other referring sources. The decision to go to visit one section over another is often based on micro-content found in the page title and meta-tags.

Behaviour: Linking

Linking is the act of following and connecting new leads found on initial pages. Chances are that when users arrive at a given section, they are not on the page they need to be. They must be able to orient themselves quickly, often within seconds, and determine which links they should follow.

Example features to support Linking:

  • Accurate, descriptive and mutually exclusive link names that make sense to visitors in terms that they can relate to and understand
  • Consistent navigation through design elements such as placement, style and general look and feel
  • Sense of orientation created with page titles, global elements, consistent use of colour and graphics
  • A way out or back – Generally this means not disabling the back button or using unnecessary extra windows or new browsers
  • Icons with clear meanings
  • A limited number of well-organised navigation options – 7 options are generally accepted as standard, although research shows that fewer than 5 are even better.
  • Navigation that provides the appropriate, relevant associations related to page content to anticipate users’ probable next moves.

Behaviour: Browsing

Browsing means scanning site contents and informally grouping items by subject affinity. This is a behaviour that is hard to image NOT occurring in every section. Browsing is a chief web activity. Supporting this behaviour in the new design, structure & architecture is essential.

Example features to support Browsing:

  • Meaningful categories that themselves convey a message and the purpose of the site
  • Prioritised navigation – separating navigation into meaningful types to facilitate browsing of options.
  • Clearly presented and readable text
  • Content overview – the Website offers the possibility to “chunk” content. That is, it is not necessary to present all content at once, rather in digestible pieces that provide a clear overview.
  • Bulleted lists, tables and other constructions that facilitate scanning

Behaviour: Searching

This refers to direct and targeted searches using a the internal search engine or similar functionality. Important considerations here are twofold: the design of the search interface and functionality, and display of search results.

Example features to support Searching:

  • Allows users to limit in meaningful ways – standard operators (AND, OR and NOT) should be available, in addition to others
  • Query syntax is standard or easily learned
  • Search results provide a context for understanding hits, such as page title, date, description –even show part of the sentence in which the search string was found
  • Opportunity to revise search and to search again
  • If no hits, suggestions to similar, possible sources are presented
  • Spell check with corresponding suggestions for “correct” spellings

Behaviour: Differentiating

Differentiating is the act of evaluating information for relevance to the information need or problem. In some ways this is the combined goal of the above-mentioned behaviours and features. Additional features, however, can directly help visitors uncover the value the Website has to offer. Designers should strive to strike a balance between control and freedom.

Example features to support Differentiating:

  • Logical and meaningful headings that explain content to some degree
  • Appropriate text lengths that are suitable for reading online
  • Chunking content into layers and allowing random access into different sections of information
  • Summary texts and abstracts that indicate the quality, usefulness and scope of content
  • Providing deeper content for those who need it
  • Contact information and help to assist people who need more information or who couldn’t locate exactly what they need
  • User comments and reviews of websites, Web content or products sold over the Web
  • Indications of and links to semantically related material

Behaviour: Monitoring

Monitoring is the behaviour of studying content from a distance. That a Monitoring User watches what happens on a site on a regular basis, but prefers not to actually visit the site because of time or location constraints. Users who monitor often don’t spend vast amounts of time on the internet and want delve straight to regularly visited sources on the occasions that they do.

Example features to support Monitoring:

  • Easily bookmarked pages for quick and easy access at a later date
  • Newsletter subscription
  • Email alerts that notify users of changes in content, current status, updates, etc.
  • SMS message to communicate up-to-the minute changes and breaking news
  • Online agents that collect, control and communicate information and changes
  • Customised pages that allow users to configure site elements to their liking
  • Personalised page that react dynamically to user activity

Behaviour: Extracting

As the name implies, extracting refers to taking and using the appropriate, identified information or pieces of information online. It is the final use of information.

Example features to support Differentiating:

  • The ability to print; print friendly formats, if needed. Dark coloured page backgrounds and frames complicate printing greatly and are a huge strain on ink resources
  • Cut and paste as an option – this means providing key bodies of information in HTML format. Other formats, such as images or flash, do not allow for cut and paste.
  • Download possibilities – Portable document files (PDF) have become standard and readers for this format are ubiquitous and free. Other formats for download can also be considered depending on use and target groups
  • Applications as filters of large bodies of information
  • Sorting functions

Conclusion

So I’m not dumb enough to think Ben & his irritating vanilla life are ever going to go away and we’re going to be liberated of such useful hyperbole. But I am interested in moving our clients away from what they think they know and into new ways of thinking about user-centered design. To me user centered design is about basing things around the behavior of users and not necessarily their personalities, it’s irrelevant if they read the guardian and ride a bike when they visit a banks website.

Some more sources for these behavior types:

http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1962324&dl=ACM&coll=DL&CFID=61696963&CFTOKEN=32720603

http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/729/638

http://crl.acrl.org/content/71/5/435.abstract

http://www.ischool.utexas.edu/~donturn/papers/asis98/asis98.html

http://ec2-50-19-240-191.compute-1.amazonaws.com/1292/1/435.full.pdf

The power of multitouch

The mobile app frontier is vastly un-explored; it is the wild west of the new digital media age. New boundaries are being formed, new territories are being explored and yes, people are making huge amounts of money (sometimes legitimately and sometimes, not so much). So if mobile apps are the new wild west, then multi-touch is the .41 caliber Colt pistol.

The success of the iPhone has been associated with its ease of use and its intuitiveness despite an inevitable learning curve. Like any other gadgets on the market, it does take some time to learn the ins and outs of the iPhone. But why is the iPhone so special? Besides the rabid Apple fans who will line up for ten city blocks to buy any new Apple product, the iPhone re-branded an old technology, polished it up and told us that we needed to have it. The iPhone was the first gadget to take full advantage of the power of multi-touch.

When the first iPod was released, the MP3 player wasn’t exactly new technology either, but it was the first MP3 player that was truly usable. It was even fun to use. The iPod’s steering-wheel-like touch control made it easier and quicker for users to navigate through thousands of songs and albums. This control managed to solve the MP3 players problem. An obvious and persistent problem with smart phones has been their difficulty for the user to quickly navigate through the large amount of information, software, and features on the phone. But a cute little magic steering wheel was just not going to cut it.

Enter multi-touch

Multi-touch is not a new concept. Bell Labs experimented with multi-touch image manipulation back in the 1980s while we were watching E.T. phone home. In 1991, Pierre Weller’s idea of the Digital Desk was really the first time multi-touch editing and information manipulation was used. It was a bit different then today’s sleek touch displays; it used a camera and gesture manipulation, but the idea for a multi-touch display was nevertheless born. Check out his original Digital Desk demo video.

Today, every smart phone has touch technology just as every gunslinger in the wild West had a revolver. Harnessing and perfecting this newfound power will ultimately decide success of failure for any app designer or developer. As developers and mobile device companies explore this new multi-touch frontier, confrontations are inevitable. But for designers this new frontier is an opportunity to push boundaries, re-invent old technologies, and explore new ideas.

The big power behind touch technology is that the user can interact with the device directly, no mouse, no keyboard, no cameras, just the touch of the finger. If you need to select a button, just push it. Simple and elegant. Multi-touch simulates what each of use do everyday, we interact with things directly with the best tools we have, our hands. Because users can now directly interact with the app; this means the designer must directly design with the user in mind. Long gone are the days when a pretty design and flashy images were the only design qualities a software package needed. Now, user interaction is critical to the success of any app.

No extra tools needed

You don’t need tools anymore, just your hands. Hands are the best tools we have as humans. Tools make our lives easier, just as the phone or mobile device itself makes communication easier. My Macbook is a great tool, but to use it I need other tools like a trackpad and a keyboard. Devices have evolved and we are learning that we don’t need more tools, just better tools. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could just build houses out of legos? We wouldn’t need hammers, nails, or hard hats; we could just build our houses with our hands by snapping blocks together. Essentially that is what multi-touch allows us to do: perform complex tasks directly with the device. No middle men.

Multi-touch has enabled these small mobile devices with the ability to rapidly perform complex tasks. The user can take his Droid out of his pocket, snap a picture of a friend, remove red-eye instantly and email it to her in just minutes. Many apps already have the ability for the user to perform complex tasks that once required the use of peripherals.
Guide the user

For designers, the ability to perform complex tasks without the traditional tools can be a difficult thing to design for. It requires a different thinking, a different process. Anything on the screen can be touched and manipulated so a more direct approach is needed when directing the user. For instance, if you need to gather registration information, traditionally a wizard is great easy way to go. But on a touch screen phone, there is no need to reload pages or guide the user through numbered steps. The user can simply “grab” the screen and slide it in any direction. As a designer, you are no longer telling the user where to go; you can now take them by the “hand” and guide them.

Create unique experiences

Google, Microsoft, and Apple have developed mobile UIs or boundaries that they would like app developers to use in an attempt to control and manage their products. This works for desktop applications because they are restricted to the mouse, keyboard, or any other external peripheral. But as app developers design new user interaction paradigms using multi-touch technology, theses boundaries continue to blur.

Web apps have been tested and used for many years and effective user experiences have been proven. Mobile apps, on the other hand, have new boundries to break and new interaction capabilities that have been enabled. Unlike current web driven apps that are restricted by the untouchable user paradigms, mobile apps can take full advantage of the multi-touch capabilities and thereby create the user experience outside the bounds on the mobile operating system’s UI.

This exploration of new user interaction methods leads to some problems. Allowing each app to have its own interaction can lead to:

  • New learning curves each time an app is downloaded.
  • Difficulty for the user to switch between apps.
  • A lack of consistency for device makers, difficulty for device branding, and unique hardware qualities.

Model life experience

Unlike user experiences that require a keyboard and mouse, multi-touch allows designers and developers to model an interface that exists in real life. Thus far, the Web’s attempt at a true real-life metaphor has lacked enthusiasm. Multi-touch mobile devices (smart phones and tablets) can take full advantage of real-life metaphors. Modeling familiar interfaces in a digital form is only capable because after all, if you can manipulate something in real-life, you can do it on a touch screen. App developers have run with this idea by re-creating familiar user interfaces like dials, steering wheels, planners, books and dashboards.

Multi-touch technology resolves many user problems because it has the uncanny ability to recreate any interface. Some apps have even simulated actual physical experiences, not just interfaces. For designers, the possibility to design an app that simulates an actual experience is huge. This allows the user to truly interact with the software, not just make it do something. With touch technology a designer can create a real experience for the user.

The UX of multi-touch

When user interaction design took hold in web sites and companies started to consider the user in their designs, websites got much better, much easier to use, and the Web in general became a better place. Right now, the mobile app world is full of many wild apps that need some taming and there really aren’t any solid standards or boundaries. Understanding multi-touch and how the user actually interacts with it will allow designers to create better, more usable apps.

More than pretty pictures

Standards with touch-user interaction will eventually rise to the top just like Web apps, but as new devices are released using multi-touch, new interactions will be explored. Multi-touch is a powerful and significant tool that has opened up the can of user interaction with a multitude of possibilities. For designers, the significance of multi-touch capabilities means that the user must be taken much more seriously. Because users can now directly interact with the app and device this means the designer must directly design with the user in mind.

Long gone are the days when a pretty design and flashy images were the only design qualities an app needed, now, user interaction is critical to the success of any app or device.

My top experiences of 2010

It’s getting difficult to judge campaigns & digital work based solely on usability these days because there really is a lot of blur around the topic of ‘best practice’… It’s really all about accessibility (how easy it is to take part in the proposed experience rather than the traditional accessibility of inclusiveness for people with disabilities) & ease of use of the media itself. So this years list of experiences I’ve found is really more of a hot-pot of great ideas executed well. When design meets a good idea which meets business requirements which utilises social media and gives users a jolly good time… then the experience box has a big tick in it & I consider that to be job done (Sorry Jakob Nielsen, the concept of ‘rules’ for usability no longer apply – it’s user centered experiences that rule the digital waves now).

In no particular order these are the experiences that engaged me and worked well this year:

1 – Volkswagen – See Film Differently

www.seefilmdifferently.com

It’s all here isn’t it? A really clever idea blended with some good web-experiences that lead people to great offline experience. It’s true through-the-line work. For my money not very many brands have ever got this right & I suspect Volkswagen got this right totally by accident. Hats off to ‘Church of London‘ for creating some brilliant content. Anything draped in movies is instantly going to gather an audience, however, it’s difficult to get it right when people can get so passionate about a topic… so to pull this all together as a set of ideas is just genius. Have a look at the Ghostbusters video & tell me the idea here isn’t brilliant… I dare you!

For my money… the best experience I found this year. OH… and one final thing… and this is the brilliant bit… how many of you forgot that you were part of something essentially advertising cars? That’s the genius of new marketing. Subconscious brand awareness.

2 – Quora

Elegant interactions. It looks simple; it prompts instant and easy engagement; and it takes the hide-and-seek elements of a Q&A site away, leaving the user with a trove of relevant information at his or her fingertips. Quora is basically the future of FAQs for businesses. Rich, intuitive and fun.

3 – Levis – Workshop

http://workshops.levi.com

Again – For me this has just nailed the challenge of blending something people are passionate about with that right amount of brand-awareness. It’s Levis – ACE – so they can get away with alot more than most brands… but what I actually love about Levis is that they know how to tap into peoples passion about a topic & then own it. The Workshops project running in New York is a pretty basic experience truth be told… sign up to attend a bunch of workshops about photography from names in photography that have respect… nothing new, right?

Check out the wealth of good images being stacked against the Levis Workshop search term too… that right there is a brand starting to look comfortable with it’s consumers. You’re part of the brand, not just on the end of food-chain. Have a look around Flickr at ‘Levis Workshop‘ photos too… it’s just brilliant… users are actually spreading the message about an experience & indirectly advertising Levis. Most of you will be wondering what this has to do with UX? Well it’s simple… think about it… this is users (consumers) EXPERIENCING Levis… it’s pure User Experience.

4 – Google

Silently up’ing the game all year round. Unless you’ve got beady interface eyes like me you probably didn’t even realize it. If you could go back a year Google was a totally different place from an experience point of view. It just ‘worked’ and that was enough. Now they’ve bolted in the bells and whistles that not everyone needs, but some will relish. For instance – How about that the left nav… notice when it appeared? Probably not… but it’s already a ubiquitous  part of my Google behavior. Live Preview? Spot that one? Not so useful to a lot of people (probably 95% of people to be honest) but to a small minority this has just become the difference between clicking on a link & then hitting back in the browser because of the site not being the one they actually wanted. It’s like looking through the letterbox before going into a house. Seedy but good.

The Google Updates - 2010

5 – The best job in the world

SapientNitro delivered a multi-platform campaign promoting its “The Best Job in the World” contest. Which although pretty traditional as an approach (it’s been done before) was a stroke of genius in terms of promoting something usual in an unusual way… its the Queensland Tourist Board remember… no? You didn’t know that? Well then that’s why as an experience it’s been a massive success. You saw Queensland and you fell in love with it… experienced it first hand, but didn’t have a sale-pitch to get you there.

Great campaign. A lot of social media buzz… tapped into peoples love and desire for reality TV and talking about reality TV online. Generally just a great use of media to promote something that’s actually pretty difficult to sell in times of financial hard-ship (“Don’t travel TOO Queensland, let someone else win the chance to go & then feedback on their experience” – It’s still desirable though, and one day you’ll remember that & go).

6 – HipMonk

www.hipmunk.com

Think of HipMonk as a test bed for possibility. It’s not brilliant, but like some of my examples in this list it’s taking UX and being experimental with it. Which I admire. HipMonk is basically a new way of searching for flights. Simple as. Results are displayed in a more digestible way than normal flight-checkers (think of it more as a Microsoft Gant-Chart for air-travel!) and users are able to make comparisons in a more information driven way.

7 – iPAD

Let us just reflect on this little product of 2010. It’s a solution in search of a problem… we were fine without it and nobody asked for it. I’ve forced myself to use mine a bit since I spent the £450 on it… but it’s still brilliant… it’s that old cliché “it changed the game”… and it has. New paradigms for experiencing content. So fair play to Apple for once again bringing us an experience that’s really too good to be true.

Nothing more to say on the iPAD – If you’ve got one you’ll either agree with me or disagree… it’s a game changer & an opinion splitter.

8 – Twitter

As an experience it really started to infect my life this year. It’s probably my social medium of choice now. I’m bored of Facebook… it’s too explicit… Twitter has just opened up my learning & consumption experience to a whole new level. Back on piste for a minute – The new interface they unveiled this year was a slice of usability brilliance too. Sleek, original (for a website), intuitive and most of all still ‘to the point’. What I’ve always admired about Twitter is that they don’t pretend to be a million things for a million people. They’re just a single thing doing it brilliant. Delivering 140 character messages to followers. So I admire them for not giving in the temptation (Facebook!) to try & be lots of other things.

It’s definitely DIGG that DIGG should have been.

9 – Virgin – The Project for iPAD

I’m not going to lie to you. I absolutely hammered this with criticism when I first loaded it onto my iPad. The biggest flaw is the file size. It is MASSIVE in terms of iPad usage (lets not forget iPad is still just a really big mobile phone with no talking bit) with it’s 450mb downloads… even on my work super-charged wifi network it took an age to download and then load. #fail. But then I started to play with it. Discover things. Use my fingers to explore & really get the experience and it is BRILLIANT. It’s taken all the best paradigms of the last 10 years and remoulded them into something tangible. We gushed over the adverts (panasonic digital lenticular?! GENIUS) and were gobsmacked about the quality of the videos. The Tokyo guide is superb. Fresh blend of opinion and video. Loved it.

What ‘Project’ is to be fair isn’t perfect… far from it… but it does start pushing the world forward in terms of media experiences. It might just be the first glimpse of something halfway between ATL and BTL. Which in itself is where the game changed. Again.

10 – Amazon Kindle

To be specific, for me, the iPAD Kindle app (why do I need a Kindle device, I’ve got my mid-size web touchscreen jobby now!) which has not only re-ignited my passion for reading in a way I never thought possible, but it’s actually teaching this old dog new tricks. I’m bowled over by it. As an experience it’s so pure but it’s so powerful. I can read a book, click on a word if I don’t know what it means and learn the dictionary definition (think about that a moment), I can highlight bits with my finger and save them for later. I can browse books and buy them cheaper than ever before, download them in seconds & not clutter my shelves at home. I’m actually contemplating taking a lot of books to Oxfam Books and buying them back in digital format. So as an experience, and a very intuitive one, it’s made a big impact on my 2010. Thank you Amazon – Proof that content is king – with a little help from Steve Jobs!

11 – Axion Banner Concerts

http://www.bornoncloud9.be/oneshow2009/axion/the-banner-concerts-banners/

Quick one this. You’ve probably not heard anything about the Banner Concerts idea. Basically Axion streamed live-gigs in the frame of traditional banners… nuff said… not ground-breaking… but a new experience and one to watch out for in 2011. Live experiences in traditional spaces.

Simple. Brilliant. Inventive. Great experience.

12 – Flipboard for iPAD

A good idea. Well executed. Not convinced it’s going to change my behavior, but I applaud anybody willing to try something revolutionary & Flipboard to me was ‘THE’ iPAD app of the year in terms of showing people what is now possible.

13 – QWIKI

So this list is also about the possibilities we were introduced too in 2010 and nothing really solidifies the new possibilities of user-experience much better than QWIKI which arrived on the scene in 2010 (and will probably leave the scene at the same time next year to make way for something bigger, more refined & more… well… Google!). It’s essentially information redefined. It’s not perfect. I wouldn’t use it everyday (which to me is the ultimate definition of user experience) and I can’t see how it improves me life. But I like what it represents from a UX perspective, which is new ways to digest content. New ways for my son (when he’s old enough) to learn ‘stuff’. It’s stuff we never had growing up, so it can only be a good thing. The world is absolutely getting smaller everyday.

Conclusion

A lot of things taught this old dog new tricks this year. Which is why I got excited about experiences again in 2010. User experience is obviously more about enjoyment and entertainment than the old-skool usability stuff… get a person involved in something & they’ll remember it, amplify it, tell their mates & engage with a brand… make it easy & they’ll keep coming back… make it part of their lives & they won’t have any choice but to keep coming back. This sort of thing started coming of age in 2010. Looking forward to seeing the next evolution of digital urban experiences.

EPIC

There’s an interesting view of the future of digital media consumption I’ve been hearing bits and pieces about codenamed “EPIC”.

The ‘Evolving Personalized Information Construct’.

The basic vision is that at some point there needs to be a new type of media browser or a future evolution of something like Firefox which becomes the system by which our sprawling, chaotic mediascape is filtered, ordered and delivered to us in a totally new, digestible way. It’s not even beyond the realms of possibility that good old reliable uncle Google is already working on it.

EPIC would produce a custom content package for each user, using his or her choices, consumption habits, interests, demographics, social network etc – to shape a personalised view of the web. Essentially hide anything out there that isn’t relevant. Give every user a blank canvas and let them dictate their own Internet. It’s not an impossible dream, I mean Amazon already do it on a microlevel, just take the theory and make it about everything. The semantic web is an emerging dream & the technology is there, it’s more a question of when, what & who.

I’ve had a keen interest in the emerging area of ‘APML’ (Attention Profiling Markup Language) for a while now and although it’s not right, it does show intent. APML is an XML-based format for capturing a person’s interests and dislikes allowing people to share their own personal attention profile in much the same way that OPML allows the exchange of reading lists between news readers. The idea behind APML is to compress all forms of attention data into a portable file format containing a description of the user’s rated interests. Compatible websites can use this portable file to tailor it’s own content to better suit the visitors interests. Makes a lot of sense, it just won’t ever become widely adopted because too much effort is involved to make it a ubiquitous service with end-users and content providers.

EPIC on the other hand sets out a vision that is entirely ubiquitous because it’s the vehicle for browsing that learns and reacts and not some portable user-file.

I love the label EPIC too! It’s bold.

Top 10 UX Gotchas

Google’s George Zafirovski asked his UX colleagues at Google to nominate their UX gotchas, and then compiled the top ten from their feedback:

  1. “I skipped the wireframes and produced hi-fi mocks instead.” – By going straight to a hi-fi mockup you lock yourself in to a single solution. Better solutions can usually be found by comparing a number of approaches, and you can produce multiple lo-fi mockups in the time it takes you to produce a single hi-fi one.
  2. “We don’t have time to test it.” – You never get a second chance to make a first impression, don’t spoil it by having a glaring issue which would have been quickly picked up in testing.
  3. “Just make it a setting.” – This can lead to a cascade of UX issues, both in controlling the settings themselves and in the combinatorial explosion of possible interfaces engendered by the settings.
  4. “We only want to test with savvy users.” – If only savvy users can use it, then you don’t have a usable application. “Passengers will one day become drivers” – if you just consider the needs of the main user (the ‘driver’), then the less experienced users (the ‘passengers’) will not choose your product even when they’ve gained the experitise to use it.
  5. “We’ll let the translator worry about it.” – Issues like sizes of buttons to accommodate labels and bidi need to be dealt with in the original design, the translator can’t be expected to re-design your application just to make it usable in a different language.
  6. “We’ll launch this and then figure out how people use it.” – If you don’t know how to use it when you launch, how will your users figure it out?
  7. “We’ll fix this in version two.” – Similar to 2, if you mess up the version one then many people will not even look at version two.
  8. “The target user is a late-twenties technology professional.” – There’s no such thing as a late-twenties technology professional. Even within that seemingly homogeneous group there is huge variety, don’t kid yourself that because one late-twenties technology professional finds your application usable that anyone else will.
  9. “If you build it, they will come.” – If it’s not usable, they’ll leave again.
  10. “Who is this for?” – Don’t ask this question, assume it will be for everyone.

It’s a list that’ll ring true with anybody working in the UX zone. Frighteningly familiar.

The user is always right. We’re not.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that whether or not I like it, I’m what the industry has dubbed a ‘user experience’ or ‘UX’ practitioner. Oh the indignity… I’m a closet coder, a designer, an alright I.A, a marketing snob, a digital evangelist and sometimes when I’m in the right space a pretty good salesman… How have I come to be a ‘UX’ guy? Even the term ‘UX’ is easy & simple, it’s so degrading of my talents.

I jest. The answer is actually pretty simple – I love people, that’s why I’m a UX guy. More importantly though I love people loving my work & the work of the agencies I’ve worked with. I’m a supplier of FMDG (fast moving digital goods) you see. What I produce gets consumed & if the consumption experience sucks then nobody will want it anymore or tell their friends about it. That’s UX… Not academia or hyperbole and complicated methodology. So I put this to anybody interested & reading this, if you’re someone involved in digital in some shape or form, no matter how big or small & your interested in how the end-user is going to consume your FMDG then you’re also a UX Practitioner, and I welcome you warmly to this very un-exclusive club of ours! So you might be a UX Planner, or a UX Designer, or a UX Coder… Even a UX Project Manager… It doesn’t matter, you’re part of this big UX puzzle we’re all working together to solve.

Now on to the moral bit of this story I’m telling… If you’re NOT a UX Practitioner then you’re wasting time with whatever FMDG product being created. Seriously… Stop… Put down the mouse & go find an insular job that doesn’t have an end user involved. We hit the point in the evolution of the WWW where we stopped guessing & started listening a long time ago & the results are everywhere. I’ll put my professional neck on the block & guarantee that every success story from the last 10 years was created using UX principals, not good luck & best judgement. Alright, so I admit there are sites out there that started a bit ropey (eBay anybody?) but I bet they really evolved to the point of non-displacement because they took on board user feedback & kept the momentum positive, not buried heads in hands & stuck by the guns.

I’ve worked with companies that thought they knew better than the general population & did things in their own way, for themselves & because they knew best… Never saw a success story with any of them (we had the occasional fluke, but that’s all it was).

The frustrating part is that it actually takes less time to consult the audience before, during & afterwards than it does trying to fix issues retrospectively. Fact. I’ve seen companies waste months going over old ground when following a user-centred-design approach would have and should have informed solution right from the start. Infuriatingly schoolboy stuff these days. There’s actually no excuse not to make UX the single guiding principal. If a company tells you they’re user focused but doesn’t let real users guide design, instead deferring to the ‘expertise’ of an individual or individuals then I say run, and run fast, because they’re creating a self fulfilling prophecy of almost certain failure. Harsh words, but ones grounded in the facts of hundreds of very successful businesses from all over FMDG.

Find your audience using wisdom, skill, planning & judgement, engage them during the definition & planning phase. Show them your best crack of the whip, incorporate their feedback & then sit back safe in the knowledge that at least you didn’t guess.

Users make or break FMDG, so at least allow them to define what they want… We’re all UX practitioners remember, but we’re also hyper-users, so our best guess & judgment is probably the worst kind.

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