Trips and User Experience

13.12.2010 | Author: Borislav Kiprin
We all take trips on regular basis. They might defer in destination, purpose and pace, but nonetheless we travel to that finale we once set foot to. And while we are at that, we do not venture on a flat surface, but rather go through a maze of intersecting multiple such ones. What I am trying to say is that we all have an ultimate goal, and although there are twists and turns in each road map we all get there eventually.

Fewdays back, I had to fly to Germany for one day - a quick in and out into the heart of technological country's capital Munich. There were two meetings to attend and both of them required extensive hops on the trains. Now, my German, if I can say I have any, is strictly attached to the fact that I speak French and English. And if I try very hard, from time to time I can make up the meaning of all these signs, names and direction. I have to say that prior to the trip I was worried. No one was supposed to pick me up from the airport and I had to find my way in a city I have never visited before.

To my surprise, there was not a single moment I doubted the way I took. This is not, because I am a super-duper  smart bloke. It is because someone in the city's government took the time to make everything so accessible through the metropolitan's rail system. This is what I call great user experience - Munich simply did not allow me to think of anything else except my upcoming meetings. Efficiency seems to be written in bold capital letters.

Now let's take a step back to the week before the trip when I had actually to figure out the whole trip - this is my online travel to the destination - getting as much information and setting the plan up:

  • Lufthansa.com - I had to buy a ticket and the site offered me a purchasing process in 5 simple steps. It actually added value to me acquiring the ticket without pushing any irrelevant info or added value service.

  • Google Maps - East, West, South, North, you know, that type of thing. Well, street names and addresses to look up. Simply input the address and the magnify. Click on Print and the PDF is already on you Mac and then on the Kindle. Easy-peasy!

  • Munich Transportation System - with this one I had a blast at http://mvv-muenchen.de. Not only it saved me money by pinpointing the cheapest option for my travel, but also the info was available in 5 languages. Try to research these for Moscow, Shanghai or Sofia. Word of advise, if you decide to do that, have a shot of vodka next to the computer… On a second thought, get the whole bottle!

As I said, the whole trip was a quick and dirty job - no fancy-shmancy touristy stuff, no time for food and definitely no opportunity to be lost in translation. The only bad moment I can think of is that Munich has virtually nonexistent free Wi-Fi spots. Shanghai and Sofia rule big time over that.

But here is the punch in the whole story - User Experience. This is not a notion that applies only to your website or application. It concerns every trip the user takes in order to complete a task set up front, reach a goal or simply enjoy the ride. Great user experience is achieved through supplying all the means in terms of information architecture, content, clarity and staying out of the way(which means no messing up with my mind). And believe me, doing all that needs careful consideration based on research, common sense and ability to walk in someone else's shoes.

And before you take off to another page on the FatDUX's site, have you ever wondered how the whole thing with the Metropolitain map started?

Well, you have to give credit to Henry (Harry) Charles Beck. Almost 80 years ago, he created the London Tube Map based on a topological approach. And since, he did that on his own time (not during working hours), I guess he simply wanted to offer a better information architecture and user experience. Or in Grant Campbell's most eloquent words at EuroIA 2010 in Paris:

"Much of IA involves clarification: how can complex information spaces be made clear to users? In many cases, we achieve clarity by anticipating the user's need and selecting or suppressing details, just as the mind suppresses sensory information that is extraneous to a given task. Beck's map of the London Underground is a famous example of information visualization that achieves just such a purpose, by abandoning scale, and by emphasizing only those details necessary for a clear purpose."

In 1908 London Tube's map had a geographical approach (distance, babe!):

london_map


In 1933 Harry Beck took a structural approach that takes the noise and user's perplex off:

beck_map


It seems Munich Transportation Services paid close attention. Lufthansa and Google Maps did so, too. But do you? Next time you take a trip, think about it and do share in the comment section bellow!

P.S. Thanks to our own Eric Reiss for providing pointers on background information!

The user experience of user manuals

18.11.2010 | Author: Eric Reiss
My wife and I recently received a wonderful gift: an electric juicer. Normally, I fight to keep contraptions like this off our kitchen counters, which I view as workspace, not storage or display. But the juicer is a really neat machine (albeit a bitch to clean). Here it is: 

juicer  

Great piece of kitchen kit!


Our friends brought along a whole shopping basket full of berries, apples, oranges, limes, red beets, ginger, celery, and other goodies to stuff down its plastic gullet. But what was the best way to combine them? I needed some advice.

Alas, the user manual looked like a thousand other user manuals:

- exploded diagram showing all the parts
- lots of warnings to unplug the unit before doing anything (except using it)
- "Make sure unit is plugged in"

instructions 

So much for creating a good experience...


What's wrong with this picture?"
Having created a great product, why didn't the manufacturer, OBH Nordica, try to inspire me? Why didn't they include a couple of simple recipes to get me started? Why didn't they tell me about how this monster conserves vitamins and gets them from their mechanism to my metabolism? Why didn't they follow through and help me complete the experience they were helping to create?

"That's what our advertisements are for," explained the myopic marketing maven I spoke with. 

The sale is NEVER closed!
It's a big mistake to assume that once the sale is made, everyone will be happy. In fact, several software producers have asked us to help their customers get better results from their products. Lousy implementation will kill any product, no matter how well-designed it is. Right now, my twisted mind is wondering what would happen if I stuffed oysters into our shiny new juicer... 

"Nobody ever reads the user manual"
Wrong! We might ignore a user manual if you also give us a well-written "Quick start" guide. But most people glance through the real user manual at some point - particularly for devices that feature:

- moving parts that need maintenance (cars, lawnmowers, sewing machines, etc.)
- disposable/replaceable bits and pieces (vacuum cleaners, coffee machines)
- bizarre behaviour when you push a particular button

And folks will always read the manual if your product's user-UN-friendly interface is particularly antisocial. My Danfoss ECL Comfort 200 home heating controller, for example.

So, if folks are perhaps going to look at this documentation, why not make an attempt to produce something as appealing as the physical product itself? In terms of user experience, I think most manufacturers are really missing a great opportunity. 

The exception is Sandberg
I recently bought a USB hub. Naturally, it came with a user manual. Here's the EU-friendly cover - featuring all the flags of all the languages in which the manual was printed: 

cover  

Cover of the Sandberg USB-hub instructions


Now, as this is basically supposed to be a plug-and-play device, I was sorry to see that Sandberg thought a user manual was necessary. So imagine my delight when I opened it up: 

open  

What a delightful surprise! Very cute, indeed.


The Sandberg people apparently felt that a user manual was as unnecessary as I did. So they turned the whole thing into a joke - boring cover, but with useful suggestions inside. Great. I'm a fan. Sandberg is a brand I will look for in the future. 

And that makes user manuals part of the business model (wink, wink) 

What is YOUR product?
Nokia's "PC Suite" software is arguably the most distributed in the world. But it crashes many computers. Apple's iPad and iPod are slick physical objects and the user interfaces are pretty good as these things go. Yet  iTunes (the software key needed to get anything into these devices) ranks as one of the worst programs I've ever used. Sears Kenmore vacuum cleaners are great, but the bags are pretty much only available from Sears, which usually means driving quite a distance (I couldn't find the "replacement part number" I needed on their website - or even at the outlet store to which I was sent). 

In short, don't think that you can get by with a great product. Your documentation and support mechanisms are key parts of the entire use-experience scenario.

The user experience of hot dog buns

06.08.2010 | Author: Eric Reiss
We're gearing up for our annual FatDUX barbeque. Naturally, hot dogs will be on the menu along with lots of other goodies. The problem is, Danish hot-dog buns don't let you load up with chili, cheese, relish, onions, sauerkraut, and all the other stuff you get on your dog at Nathan's Famous on Coney Island and other hot-dog stands of reknown.

So, as the good user-experience designers we are, we decided to do some user research.

Upon investigation, it turns out that Wikipedia actually has an article about hot-dog buns. Let us share some of the more interesting facts:

"A hot dog bun is a type of soft bun shaped specifically to contain a hot dog. There are two basic types: top-loading, which is popular in New England, and side-loading, preferred in the South and Midwest United States.

The advantages to a top loader are that it holds the hot dog securely and fits nicely into little three-sided paper boxes. Top loaders are generally baked side by side and torn apart as needed, leaving a flat side surface for grilling.

Side loaders tend to be doughier, so are more likely to successfully sop up all the juices from chili or sauerkraut without falling apart."

Now here in Denmark, I've never seen anything except side-loaders (Gosh, who knew there was a technical term for this). That is until yesterday when I discovered the "Grab Dog" form-fitting hot-dog holder from the Danish bakery, Paaskebrød. An innovative solution? Absolutely. But a good solution?

We'll let the photos speak for themselves:

Typical Danish hot dog bun cracks at the hinge when opened.

delt_brød  

Grab dog attempts to solve the broken hinge problem

tom_hotdog 

Grab dog attempts to solve the broken hinge problem

The Grab Dog bun. Not easy to toast and fairly dry to begin with.

package 

Grab Dog works OK with standard hot dogs (er, where did these standards come from?

hotdog 

But larger hot dogs cause bun to crack.
User testing at FatDUX. Our Business Development Director, Stine Ringvig, was not pleased with the dried out Grab Dog that quickly fell apart during her lunch.

stine 

On-site ethnographic research at our local ecological hot-dog stand.

stand 

Dennis shows us how Danish hot dogs are traditionally served.

dennis

Danish hot dogs come with the bun on the side, not as a single culinary unit.

tallerken_hotdog

Ecological bun from Korvbröds Bagarn in Sweden is delicious and doesn't crack!

swedish 

Five myths about user experience

23.06.2010 | Author: Eric Reiss
My two cents...

1. “There is no definition, so we can make up our own.”
No. The definitions are there, although the details may differ. User experience (UX) deals with how people interact with stuff – it represents the sum of their reactions and subjective perceptions. So, don’t go off on your own until you’ve bothered to do a simple search on Google. If nothing else, it will keep you from making a complete fool of yourself by confusing UX with usability.

2. “If the experts disagree, then the discipline isn’t really mature.”
No. Experts disagree in all fields. Doctors argue about the best treatments. So do designers. If you’re looking for a “mature” field, stick to horseback riding, which hasn’t changed much the past couple of hundred years. Instead, consider that most fields are “evolving”. User experience is one of these.

3. “User experience is only about computers and stuff.”
No. User experience is all around us. Eat a freshly picked strawberry. That’s a user experience, too. The problem seems to stem from the word “user”, which turns up in “user-friendly” and other computer-worldly clichés. But until we find a better word, it will have to do.

4. “If it’s on a screen, it must have something to do with IT.”
No. Just because a book is printed on paper, it doesn’t mean Tolstoy was working for the lumber industry. Granted, computers may be involved. But in the online world, UX focuses on what goes on the screen and less on how it got there.

5. “User experience is a subset of [some other discipline]”
No. User experience is the umbrella under which many other highly structured activities take place – from information architecture to service management to graphic design to usability evaluation. If you put UX on equal (or lessor) footing with other disciplines, it’s easy to ignore it in favour of something more tangible – yet the forest continues to exist even if you only focus on the trees. And like a real umbrella, you'll first notice you’ve lost UX when it starts to rain.

Got a myth to add to the list? Post a comment - the floor is yours.

The user experience of dishwashers

10.06.2010 | Author: Eric Reiss
I counted the number of dishwashers I have personally purchased over the past 25 years.

Five.

Two of them have been great. Three of them have been lousy. The last one I bought (about two months ago) is the worst of the lot. You’d think I’d learn to choose a good one, but this just hasn’t happened.

What I want from a dishwasher
I figure a good dishwasher should do four things:

- hold a lot of dishes

- wash dishes

- dry dishes

- not break dishes

As someone in the user-experience industry, I don’t think this is an unreasonable set of basic requirements.

“Easy to use” is also a good quality. I’ll get back to that.

Usability testing in real life
My mom had an old GE dishwasher which served her faithfully for over 30 years. When it broke a couple of years ago, I bought a new GE for her. But she insisted the dishes didn’t get clean. So I investigated the next time I returned for a visit. It seems you have to slam the door shut much harder than a 90-year-old is able. Honestly, I practically had to kick it shut myself. In other words, the machine never actually washed the dishes because my mother lacks the strength to shut the damned door.

Lesson One: Make sure you can actually start the machine.

The decline of civilization
In 1985, I bought my very first dishwasher for myself. A Bauknecht. Good German machine. Very quiet (39dB). And it was a dream to operate. It did everything you’d want a dishwasher to do. The first time I used it, I was convinced that every dish in the world deserved a ride in this wonderful contraption.

Ten years later, it died. Don’t know why. Just did.

I bought a new Bauknecht. Twice as expensive. There were several icons on the panel I never did figure out. Although touted as having the lowest noise level on the market, it was a lot noisier than the unit it replaced. In-depth interviews with my dishes indicated that they were satisfied with the quality of the washing, but not ecstatic.

Lesson Two: Don’t believe the brochure.

New house, new dishwasher
A year later, my wife and I sold our flat and moved to a house where we immediately started remodelling the kitchen. And we bought a Danish-made dishwasher from Vølund – completely hidden front panel, very elegant.

The Vølund was brilliant. The best machine yet. Easy to load, intuitive affordances (e.g. I could figure out where to put stuff inside the beast), great results. In fact, the only minus was that any Martini glass placed in the front-left corner of the upper rack would ALWAYS crack.

Two months ago, our Vølund died after 14 years of faithful service. Again, no particular reason, the dear thing just stopped working. Weeks passed before I could bring myself to let someone take it to the dump.

The trip to the store was a...trip
My wife and I liked the invisibility of our old Vølund (fully hidden front panel). So down we went to the local appliance store to find a replacement. Sadly, Vølund doesn't make dishwashers anymore.

Why does a dishwasher WITHOUT a cabinet cost more than one WITH a cabinet? By a factor of about 25%? Price moves up to around EUR 600 for the cheapest “integrated” model.

“Ohh. You don’t want to buy that one. It has a nasty cheap plastic pan at the bottom. You really want a full-stainless washing chamber,” said the helpful salesman. Add another EUR 200 (and a new expression to my growing "I know all the cool technical stuff" vocabulary).

Lesson Three: stainless is better than plastic (I guess…)

LG – “Life’s Good” – for someone else
We briefly considered Miele, but I had worked in an ad agency that went through Miele dishwashers at the rate of one every three years (as we were doing their advertising, we felt obligated to use their products). So, in search of genuine quality, my wife and I decided on an LG from Korea. It cost on the wrong side of EUR 1000 but, hey, it was top of the line. Only problem, it doesn’t really do any of the stuff a dishwasher should do.

“Low noise level” says the brochure. But this is noiser than that 1985 Bauknecht.

“Saves energy.” Only if you don’t use it. The “eco” program doesn’t get the dishes clean. The “auto” program takes hours and hours to complete unless you want to dry stuff by hand.

Lesson Four: see Lesson Two.

Affordances…meh
The insides are arranged so that it holds lots of dishes, but I wish LG would send me a photo showing me how they intended the various 21st-century racks and shelves and baskets to be used. I can’t figure it out. In practice, it holds about 20% fewer items than my dear old Vølund. I'm seriously wondering if Korean dishes have a very different shape than Danish dishes.

Glasses break. All kinds of glasses. In many different locations within the machine. That’s why Martini glasses get washed by hand these days. Always. Think about it: I just spent EUR 1000 on a device that is now making me wash glasses by hand!

When this contraption runs, it smells like there’s some plastic burning. I’m afraid to run it at night or when we’re leaving the house. The smell makes me nervous, even though the installer says this is “normal”. Does that mean all my other dishwashers have been “abnormal”? Just asking…

Back in 1985, I just went out and bought my Bauknecht. And it was great. Today, there are too many choices, too many controls, too many decisions to make.

All I want is clean dishes. Is that really too much to ask?

Promoting information architecture

05.01.2010 | Author: Eric Reiss
New Year’s is a time of reflection. In my case, I pondered the many and varied ways we can promote the cause of information architecture. And I think I’ve discovered a completely untapped opportunity: professional wrestling.

Amazingly, there is not a single professional wrestler with an IA background! I’ve considered making this career move myself, but my wife thinks I look dumb in a Speedo (then again, who doesn’t?). So since my plans seem to have been vetoed, let me share my thoughts with you – perhaps someone else will enter the arena to make this bold, long-overdue move.

The name’s the game
First, professional wrestlers have a catchy name. I’ve considered the following:

Leo the Librarian (famous for the “Shssh of Death”)

Doctor Depends (never looks you straight in the eye)

The Terrible Thesaurus (a magical, yet misunderstood creature)

Getting a move on
Next, all wrestlers have “signature moves,” so I think I should have a couple, too. For example, Hard-Boiled Haggerty is famous for his “Shillelagh Swing.” And Cowboy Bob Ellis has “The Bulldog Headlock.” Well, here are some ideas I’ve been tossing around.

The Polar Bearhug
Perfect for tackling large-scale opponents

The Wurman Whirl
Create anxiety through the deadly use of information overload

The Dewey Decimator
796.8 ways to send your foe back to the stacks

The Barbed Wireframe
Box in your target no matter where he happens to be.

The Berrypicking Brainbuster
A shrewd combination of the very best moves available at any given time.

Michigan Leg Swirl
Prevail by degrees (this move is known in the industry as an “MLS”)

The Morville Mindbender
Become completely unfindable in the ring!

The Dublin Corner
Trap your opponent in a maze of metadata

Full Nielsen
Use statistics to pummel your adversaries into submission.

Defining the Damned Thing
A horrifying manoeuvre from which there is no apparent escape.

Moving forward
I have to confess, throughout my years as a professional information architect, I've had a secret mentor. I'd like to share his identity with you now:



Happy New Year!
Eric

7 rules for customer service

03.11.2009 | Author: Lynn Boyden
Bill McLaughlin

CEO – Select Comfort

Minneapolis, MN

Dear Bill,

I have the most wonderful bed in the world, a Select Comfort bed.  It has two air chambers zipped into a padded quilted mattress cover, and attached to a pump with two controls.  Each sleeper can adjust the firmness of the mattress to his own preference with just a button.  We’ve had it for over 15 years.

Its only flaw is that every two or three years one of the air chambers inside the mattress starts to leak, and pretty soon it mostly deflates every night.  The only thing to do is to get a new one shipped out from the company.

Because it was my side of the bed this time, I was pretty motivated to solve the problem.  I went to the Select Comfort website, found their customer support contact page.  It was late, outside of their call center hours, so I decided to get the process going by email.  I chose my problem from their dropdown list (“Previous purchase questions”), entered my name and address and phone number and email (all required).  I also entered a description of my product and my problem.  Oddly enough, this was not a required field.  I unchecked both the “o please send me more promotional material!” boxes and submitted the form.  Immediately in my inbox was an automatic confirmation that they had indeed received my email, and would gladly get back to me within two or three days.  And that if I wanted to call them, they’d take my call right away.

Rule No. 1 – Respect your customer’s mode of communication.

If you’re going to offer email customer support, it should be at the same level of service as phone support.  A real response should come by the end of the next business day at the latest.

Two days later I got a nice email from the customer support specialist telling me that my name and address wasn’t in their database, and asking me if I could send any other names or addresses that might have been used.  I did, and shortly received an autoresponse thanking me for my interest in their product and informing me that they would be sending out the DVD package that I had requested right away.

Rule No. 2 – Listen to what your customer says, and remember it the next time you speak.

I had already provided them with a description of my problem AND a backend database code for their use by selecting “previous purchase question” as my subject.  And remember?  I had also unchecked both boxes asking them to send me more promotional literature.  (I’m still getting it; the DVD arrived in less than a week, and I’ve gotten follow-up postcards every three or four days so far.)

I replied that I didn’t want any DVDs, but that I did want a new single-port chamber for my dual queen size bed and inquiring how I could go about getting one, just as I had in my original email to them.  I got another immediate autoresponse telling me that they had received my email and that they would gladly get back to me in two to three days.

In a couple of days another nice customer service rep gave me instructions on how to confirm that the problem was indeed in the air chamber and not in the pump, and asked me to get back in touch with them after I’d verified the problem.  I was pretty sure that the problem was with the chamber, but I followed the directions and confirmed it for them by email: definitely the chamber.  After getting the expected autoresponse from the customer service ‘bot (2-3 days!), I then got an email from the support staff that said that it sounded like I needed to replace the chamber, and that I should order it from Customer Service.  They gave a toll-free number.  They also let me know that they couldn’t find me in their database.

Rule No. 3 – Respect what your customer knows.

Not only did I already know what the problem was with the bed and what I needed, I also already knew that I wasn’t in their database, and I already knew that email responses were running at 2-3 days’ response time.  A full week was wasted with this back-and-forth.

Meanwhile I’m sleeping on stacks of pillows every night because I start out with a bed full of air and by 3am it is nearly completely deflated, my butt on the slats of the bedstand.  I can’t pump it up in the middle of the night because the pump makes a heinous racket to which the DH for some reason objects most obstreperously.  My neck and shoulders and lower back are all killing me.  And then fall rolled into Los Angeles, and I found myself at the mall, looking for sweaters.  And there, across from the Build-a-Bear was a Select Comfort retail store.  So I popped in, spoke with the nice man there.  He listened to my story, looked me up in the database (“Yep, you’re coded as a prospect!”) and surreptitiously gave me a queen dual chamber that he had lying behind a big cardboard display.  I took it home and pumped it up, but it turned out to have a leak as well.

I was at the same mall a few days later and returned it to him.  He gave me another one, but while he was digging around looking for it, another customer in the store who was purchasing a bed and some accessories asked me if I liked my bed.  O how I did wax prolific on the wonders of the bed.  I truly love it.  At least fifteen years of slumbering bliss on this bed.  A testimonial, dear brethren!  After this, the nice store manager gave me the chamber.  I asked him, “If this one doesn’t work, can I come back here and order it from you?”  No, he said, I had to order it from Customer Service.

Rule No. 4 – Empower your service workers to provide service.

There was a customer sitting at the counter while I was there, checkbook in hand, ordering a bed and accessories.  We all of us there in the store know that orders can be placed through the retail store.  Why can I not get the replacement item I need from the nice person I’ve now got a relationship with?  Why can the email support staff not take my order?

I got the second replacement chamber home, and it leaked even worse than the first one.  I’m not too upset, because I didn’t pay for either of them.  I girded my loins, picked up the phone, and called Customer Service’s toll-free number.

It was busy.

I called again.  I got a recording that said, basically, that they were too busy to take my call, and I should call back later.  Click.

I called three more times and it was busy.

The fourth time I got put into the queue, after selecting the most likely-sounding option from the voice menu.  After about 10 minutes I was connected with a lady who asked me briskly for the name on my account.  I gave her my name.

“I can’t find you in my database.  What’s the phone number that might be on the account?”  I gave her that.

“I can’t find you in my database.”  I tell her what I want to do, to buy a replacement chamber.  She begins to go through what I recognize as the troubleshooting script, the one I have already been through with the email folks.  I stop her and start to say that I’ve already identified my problem, and that I just want to order the replacement chamber.

“I’m trying to solve your problem!”

“You haven’t even asked me what my problem is yet.”

Rule No. 5 – The customer’s problem is the one that needs solving.

So far my primary topic of conversation with these people, across ALL their modes of communication, has been about their database.  Now I didn’t call them up because I’m not in their database.  I’ve got a bed that deflates every night.  I just want my good nights’ sleep back.  I called them up because I need a single port dual queen replacement chamber, stat.

I tell her that I’ve followed directions given by the email team and have confirmed that I need a new air chamber.  “Well you can’t buy that from me!”  She says she’s going to put me in the database and then connect me with the right department.  I give her all my information (again) and she enters it all into the database, and she gives me a customer number (2275984) that I can give to the next rep so she can pull up my record.  And then she transfers me.

After a few minutes on hold I am connected to a new person who promptly barks, “Name on the account?”  I give her my name and, she says, “I can’t find you in my database.” At this point my weasel is pretty steamed.  I tell her that I have just gone through this exercise with the previous rep, and that she had put me into the database.  “She even gave me a customer number so you could find me.”  She asks for it, and I give it to her.  She tells me, “I can’t find that in my database.  You’re not in our database.  What did she use to give it to you?”

“Her voice,” I said.  “And I wrote it down with a pencil on paper.”

Rule No. 6 – Don’t ask the customer for any of your internal codes or identifiers.

How are the customers supposed to know which of your internal systems were in use?  At this point I’m pretty sure that I am in all of their databases and that customer number 2275984 is CSR-speak for “Give this customer some serious hell!”

She begins the troubleshooting script.  I stop her.  “I’ve already done that.”  After a fair amount of wrangling I force her to take my order NOW for a non-returnable $200 item.  I ask for the name of the VP of Customer Service and she gives me the name and mailing address of the CEO.

And since it had been such a <sarcasm> pleasant </s> experience overall, I replied to the last email that I had finally managed to order the replacement chamber from customer service, and that I’d be grateful if they could let their VP know that he could expect me to pitch him soon for some business process redesign work.  A few days later I got this response:

comfort_screen 

My replacement chamber did finally come, and it has worked very well.  I still love my bed, and I’m sleeping great again.  But I am afraid that any recommendation I make for Select Comfort’s product in the future will have to be tempered by serious reservations about their service.  And in the 21st century, is there any difference between the two?

Rule No. 7 – Customer service is the product too.

Give us a call, Bill.  We can help.

Sogni d'oro,

Lynn

FatDUX Los Angeles

A method for quantifying user experience

05.10.2009 | Author: Eric Reiss
Back in January, 2009, I published my definition of user experience. UX, as user experience is popularly called, is a difficult subject to discuss with business clients. To them, “UX” is just more expensive hot air from the folks who brought us the dot bomb.

The basic problem is that discussing an experience – any experience – is highly subjective. And although others have attempted to set up metrics (notably Robert Rubinoff’s User Experience Audit, and Livia Labate's User Experience Health Check), we don’t always end up with particularly useful data. Here at FatDUX, we were looking for a simple tool that could help us turn observations and subjective conclusions into useful dialog with our clients.

Our UX quantification model will undoubtedly be criticized by the scientific hardliners. But it does help us uncover many problems and communicate these to the client. And it works better than beating them over the head with statistics.

Please note, we take a very broad view of “user experience,” incorporating both online and offline interactions of three types:
 
- active
- passive
- secondary

Please refer to the original user-experience blogpost for details regarding these types of encounter.

Avoiding complicated algorithms
There are lots of complicated ways to work numbers, particularly when dealing with the subjective data that invariably lies at the heart of any discussion of user experience. But rather than putting together confusing formulae to present our research, we work directly with our clients to quantify empirical observations in a very simple model.

The model in brief
We start by consolidating our research findings in a single first-person narrative – an X-log (experience log). This is somewhat related to phenomenology. Once we’ve assembled this story, we work together with the client to:

1. mark each individual interaction – we call these “snapshots”
2. assign a value from 1 to 3 to each snapshot in relation to its contribution to the overall experience
3. grade the experience on a scale from -3 to +3
4. multiply the value by the grade to get a score (this is the really useful number)
5. note any events that are recurring, unique, or may be influenced by chronology (cause and effect relationships).

Plugging in the numbers
We mark each interaction, but some may later be thrown out if they are sufficiently trivial or so unique in character that they are deemed irrelevant in the broader, generic sense of the project. Although no individual snapshot can be assigned a value of 0, if you really think it deserves a value of 0, this is probably an interaction you'll want to ignore.

When we grade the individual snapshots, we use the following scale:

+3 = fantastic
+2 = good
+1 = better than expected
0 = no effect on the ultimate user experience
-1 = poor
-2 = awful
-3 = mission critical

Unique or chronological events won’t always influence the score, but in the case of repeating events, the interaction clearly needs to be looked at carefully.

A sample narrative
Here’s a simple story based on a trip to the movies. It represents an amalgam of several user interviews, onsite research, review of user-satisfaction surveys, etc.

My family (my wife, myself, and our two kids) decided to go to the movies. We checked the internet and found the website for our local cinema complex after a quick search on Google. But we had to click three times to get to the program page and wait through a silly animated ad for a movie that hadn’t even been released yet. Worse still, we were forced to download a pdf to find out the specific movie names and playing times. And after all that, we couldn’t even order tickets online, much less purchase them, so we couldn’t avoid waiting in line when we arrived. You’d think a big four-screen complex would have a more sophisticated website. But we did find out what was showing, decided to see the latest Harry Potter movie, and piled into the car.

Finding a parking place was easy. The theater has a big lot, which is important since driving to this particular theater is really our only option. Just as we were leaving the car, it really started to rain, but happily, the entrance wasn’t far away.

There were three ticket windows open, so the lines were short. The girl behind the counter was noisily chewing gum and barely looked up during the entire transaction. In fact, she didn’t say a single word to me except to ask for the money. Wow, prices have really increased this past year. I was surprised at how expensive it was.

The lobby was inviting and quite clean. We bought popcorn and soda at the concession and found our way to our particular auditorium. It was easy to spot the signs pointing the way. As we approached, we noticed overflowing trashcans with popcorn and other garbage from previous audiences.

The seats were well-marked and easy to find. The seating was comfortable but there was old popcorn underfoot. The temperature in the room was pleasant, although all of the wet people made it get a little steamy. The sound was great and really enhanced the special effects, so we really enjoyed the movie. When we left, there was a nice usher, who opened the exits and wished us a pleasant evening as we went out. And it had stopped raining. A nice end to a nice family outing.

Defining the interactions
Reading through the narrative, we mark the individual interactive events – the snapshots. This gives us the following list:

1. Find website on internet
2. Click three times to find relevant page on site
3. Reaction to irrelevant animation
4. Find schedule (download PDF)
5. Reaction to lack of purchasing options
5a. Opinion of website
6. Park car
7. Reaction to parking lot
8. Reaction to rain
9. Reaction to proximity of parking to entrance
10. Reaction to short line
11. Reaction to rude ticketseller
12. Buy tickets
13. Reaction to ticket prices
14. Reaction to lobby
15. Buy popcorn and soda
16. Find auditorium
17. React to overfilled trashcans
18. Find seats
19. Reaction to seats
20. Reaction to popcorn on floor
21. Reaction to temperature
22. Reaction to steaminess
23. Reaction to sound
24. Reaction to movie
25. Reaction to nice usher
26. Reaction to dry weather
26a. Opinion of evening

Note that opinions are not really interactions, hence we have 5a and 26a.

Assigning values and grades
Ask your clients to help you fill out the values and grades. This is a great way to get clients emotionally involved in the design project without having to show them pretty layouts.

x_log 

Conclusions
Having made this chart, there are several things that become painfully apparent. First, the lack of purchasing options is really a major problem. The need to watch irrelevant animations and resort to PDFs for information was also pretty bad. Snapshots 11, 15, and 25 suggest that additional emphasis should be placed on customer-service training for front-line personnel. Snapshots 17 and 20 illustrate that cleaning is a problem. Snapshot 22 revealed that the climate-control system was out of whack, which proved to be an easy repair.

The most important point of the exercise, though, was that the client suddenly understood how all of these events ultimately contributed to the total perception of the movie-going experience. The X-log narrative started a productive dialog about user experience and not about the color of the links.

We hope you’ll find it useful.

First encounters with UX

06.08.2009 | Author: Frederik Myhr
Before I started working at FatDUX, I didn’t know of such terms as ”user experience” or  ”usability”. Of course I had had both good and bad experiences with both – I just wasn’t aware of the fact that I was dealing with stuff that people actually write books about. But more importantly, neither did I know that a large group of people was lacking this knowledge, and because of that, caused me countless moments of frustration and hair pulling. I do have very healthy hair, but I see now, that it is most likely just due to good genes, and definitely not thanks to bad designers.

What I quickly discovered though was, that the “not knowing” part in most cases really is the criteria of success. “Don’t make me think” by Steve Krug made this very clear to me, and I can only give my best recommendations to newcomers in the field.

Relief
One of the things I love most about being a part of all this, is that my dread for failing as I use new stuff, is completely vanished. The worry I sometimes had, looking stupid not knowing which button to push or which way to go, has been replaced with this new feeling of being enlightened.

I conceive myself as rather competent when it comes to logic and common sense, and even though, all kinds of stuff from websites to electronics to road signs, have left me feeling slow and incompetent numerous times. I’m pretty sure I will never stop pulling my hair in aggravation every once in a while, but instead of feeling stupid, I’m merely intrigued – intrigued and urging to pinpoint the wrongdoings and suggest a better solution.

There is however a downside to this as well: as much as I hated being the laughee – an easy victim for not knowing how to use a specific item - just as much did I love being the laugher. I could of course give a rat’s ass and just keep demeaning my friends anyway, but nobody likes the double standards-guy.

Ignorance is bliss
Our job here at FatDUX is to design great user experiences. Sometimes we do this from scratch, and sometimes we correct other’s mistakes. Correcting mistakes is a discipline that requires a targeted search for errors, and this is done by using your error-goggles – goggles it’s crucial for you to take off at the end of the day. Because wearing these in your everyday life will surely cause your brain to overload.

Let me try to exemplify this in a different context:

Besides from being an intern here at FatDUX, I work as a bartender. What I have discovered along the way is that my standards and expectations have increased in step with my expertise. That means that I’m quite likely to be a mean critic when I’m out for cocktails myself. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss! If I hadn’t developed a taste for expensive whisky, I might as well pay 10€ instead of 20€ for a manhattan.

An expert of all things
I guess what I’m trying to point out is true for most occupations, but working in the field of user experience must be one of the most extreme cases. I mean, as a bartender, I can at least limit my criticism to the cocktail bar. UX has no perimeter. Weather you are using the toilet, drugs, a hat or Windows Vista, you are being a victim of a user experience. Anything can apply to the term. A very overwelming thought given the fact that certain people are experts.

I, myself, am no near being an expert as far as UX goes, and that’s what scares me the most; I’ve only just looked through the peephole, and yet, the analyzing-everything-era of my life has already begun. I fear ending up a grumpy old hind sighted man.

On the other hand, I know my boss Eric Reiss pretty well by now. He is no grumpy old man, but an expert indeed. I guess he has found a way to balance out these things – I sure hope I will too.

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Sex in centre court: user experience at Wimbledon

27.06.2009 | Author: Eric Reiss
Let me make this clear: I have no intention of making this post politically correct. If you’re easily offended, click off now.
 
CNN Sports just aired a weird report about the women tennis players, currently slogging it out on the three courts at Wimbledon. The “centre court” is the most prestigious place to play. And yet some major tournament winners (Svetlana Kuznetsova, for example), have been relegated to side courts while lesser players are being showcased in centre court, such as Denmark’s Caroline Wozniaki (Danish born of Polish parents, if you were wondering).
 
Now Caroline ranks number nine on the WTF’s list for women’s singles, so she’s clearly no slouch (Svetlana is ranked number five). But it was fascinating to see CNN work so hard to avoid mentioning the obvious: the good-looking women are getting centre court exposure. Caroline ranks number three on cutiepietennis.com. Svetlana didn’t make the cut.
 
“I don’t understand this scheduling,” asked Svetlana with innocence in her voice and daggers in her eyes. Great CNN interview where a picture was truly worth a thousand words.

 

tennis 

Caroline (left), Svetlana (right). Images borrowed from cutiepietennis.com and svetlana-kuznetsova.com]


Wimbledon is about user experience
Although no one will ever have proof, it would seem the organizers of this tournament have considered that sex appeal will create a better user experience and raise more cash. And centre court is the pricy ticket (and where the TV cameras are). Now this theory is just guesswork on my part (wink, wink), but the strategy certainly makes sense. The fact that this story made it to CNN suggests that there is something to it.
 
Political correctness doesn’t always mean good business
Here in Denmark, many people still believe it is bad manners to discuss money. This is also an example of political correctness – at least in terms of our local culture. For decades, “profit” was a dirty word, never spoken in polite society. This started to change in the late 80s and early 90s. But the problem still lurks just under the surface.
 
Problem, you ask? Yes, that’s exactly what it is. You cannot run a business without thinking about profit. And you cannot make wise decisions if you avoid discussing profit with your colleagues and advisors. Or avoid talking about the use of sex as a commercial draw at Wimbledon.
 
And this relates to the web…how?
When FatDUX pitches new Danish clients, you can almost hear the gasp when we suggest that a website should become a profit center. There are three things at play here. First, older business leaders still think that a website is just an electronic brochure, so using the web in a more proactive manner is a very hard concept for them to grasp. Second, how can a site become a profit center? (“We’re not an e-commerce company. We don’t sell online.) Third, it’s still rude to talk about money.
 
The first issue is tough. But as the economic situation becomes more and more dire for those companies that have dropped their advertising and fired their sales force, some business leaders are starting to see that a good website is a must-have asset.
 
The second issue is even tougher. If people are not willing to talk about profitability, it’s difficult to formulate an effective internet strategy. This has very little to do with online sales. Rather, it’s about building trust, creating the shared reference that helps potential customers make the decision to contact your company. And ultimately, it’s about improving the bottom line, no matter which revenue streams are in play.
 
It’s not particularly difficult to create a useful website that supports business goals. But if this is what you need to build, then take my advice: get past the internal politics and forget political correctness.
 
And as to the third issue? To paraphrase the American advertising guru Rosser Reeves: “Do you want to be politically correct or do you want the damned sales curve to go up?”
 
Wimbledon seems to be getting it right. Are you?

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