Category Archives: User Experience

Mobile experiences are shared experiences

On the way to work this morning I encountered the following scene. Ten or so students sharing their morning journey with and through their smartphones. Received wisdom says we are alone with our smartphones, due to our intimate relationship with them. However, recent observations  show mobile experiences can also be shared experiences.

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Of special note is that they weren’t involved in isolated activity, the majority were involved in at least two other friends’ activity.

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Service delivery by bus

It is always a treat to be proved wrong and to have your preconceptions challenged. I had a common problem earlier this week and the company resolved it in a very commendable manner. All it takes is one employee going a little out of their way, sometimes breaching policy, to make a customer forget the inconvenience that required attention in the first place.

I am afraid that as a user experience consultant I often have to discover fault with sites or services, and from that, recommend improvements. That discovery phase occurred yesterday morning when my bus ticket got stuck in the machine that validates fares on the bus. No amount of repeated thumps on my part or presses on the eject button by the driver managed to dislodge the reluctant ticket.

the green ticket machine in a Sydney Bus

Apparently, the only way to reboot the machine is to reboot the bus itself, something he tried several times while waiting at a traffic light, with no luck. When I asked why he did not have a key to the machine, in order to dislodge stuck tickets, he good naturedly replied, “Good question, Mate!”

He asked for my mobile number to contact me later as he might have a chance to dislodge the ticket at Central Station. I handed him my business card, since that was easier than writing my number on the back of a receipt on a moving bus. I tweeted about it, received a few comments from followers, and thought no more about it as I settled into my latest report.

I assumed I would never see that ticket again, or, at best, would receive it in the post several months later.

Imagine my surprise when a fluoro-vested dude showed up at the office asking for me by name. Handing me my travel card not two hours after the machine ate it, he politely, and very diplomatically, offered advice on how to avoid it getting stuck again in future.

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I would therefore like to thank both the bus driver and the representative who hand-delivered the ticket for supplying a great service to me. It really was jaw-droppingly wonderful to have that level of service, even if I do work close to the Central Station depot, they didn’t need to hand deliver it.

Many thanks Sydney Busses for hiring such great people! I’m not sure if this was policy (doubt it) as much as it was sheer enthusiasm (most likely) by the driver and supervisor (?) who went out of their way to deliver a great service.

Beautiful simple solutions

I was getting frustrated, as were others, about the Mac OSX default column width in column view.

Yes, you could handily double-click the column handle and it would expand that column to the width of the longest file name (you knew that one right?), but I often have to use long filenames.

So I recently decided to change the default column width, opened Terminal and steeled myself to having to hack some core setting with some command-line arcane incantations. After a search of a few seconds I came across this video from Jason Glaspey

Change default column widths in Finder (Mac OSX) from Jason Glaspey on Vimeo.

What I love about this control of the interface is that I could have discovered it by accident but it was also put there on purpose, by an interface designer who thought about (or paid attention to user testing about) the sorts of thing a user might want to modify globally. In addition, the change is shown in real time, across all windows, communicating very simply and elegantly, the results of the change to the user, immediately, without text or technical explanations.

That is what good design, and good user experience is about.

Humanising the product

I ordered a book from a US online book retailer who redistributes used books in decent condition at a reduced cost compared to new books.

Besides a noble act, recycling, using some of the profits to support global literacy and reducing landfill, they also communicate on a very human and personal level, so that when the book is ready to be shipped, the book (!) writes you a letter. As below.

==============

Hello Joseph,

(Your book(s) asked to write you a personal note – it seemed unusual, but who are we to say no?)

Holy canasta! It’s me… it’s me! I can’t believe it is actually me! You could have picked any of over 2 million books but you picked me! I’ve got to get packed! How is the weather where you live? Will I need a dust jacket? I can’t believe I’m leaving Mishawaka, Indiana already – the friendly people, the Hummer plant, the Linebacker Lounge – so many memories. I don’t have much time to say goodbye to everyone, but it’s time to see the world!

I can’t wait to meet you! You sound like such a well read person. Although, I have to say, it sure has taken you a while! I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but how would you like to spend five months sandwiched between Jane Eyre (drama queen) and Fundamentals of Thermodynamics (pyromaniac)? At least Jane was an upgrade from that stupid book on brewing beer. How many times did the ol’ brewmaster have one too many and topple off our shelf at 2am?

I know the trip to meet you will be long and fraught with peril, but after the close calls I’ve had, I’m ready for anything (besides, some of my best friends are suspense novels). Just five months ago, I thought I was a goner. My owner was moving and couldn’t take me with her. I was sure I was landfill bait until I ended up in a Better World Books book drive bin. Thanks to your socially conscious book shopping, I’ve found a new home. Even better, your book buying dollars are helping kids read from Brazil to Botswana.

But hey, enough about me, I’ve been asked to brief you on a few things:

We sent your order to the following address:

Joseph Ortenzi
123 Your Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
AU

Order #: XXXXXXXXXXX

We provide quick shipping service to all our customers. You chose International Mail shipping, your book should arrive within 10 – 21 business days. Some shipments may take slightly longer to arrive.

At this time, we are not able to offer tracking on our International Mail shipments.

If you have any questions or concerns, please email my friends in Customer Care at help@betterworldbooks.com. If you could please include your order number (XXXXXXXXXXX) that would be very helpful.

Eagerly awaiting our meeting,

Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation

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One way of personalising an otherwise impersonal service, with a very human voice.

Nice

test for failure, not success

I’m visiting Toronto at the moment and had an experience with a boutique hotel and their website.

As you can see, their room request form is wonderfully simple and usable in design.

Availability request form

It was easy to use, clear and offered just the right amount of options to get the request in. Very pleasing. I’m willing to forgive the copy being sub-standard since the form is so straightforward and is exactly what I need from a booking request.

Unfortunately the message that followed was less than useful.

Lack of availability at the Gladstone Hotel

in text:

You requested:
1 () room for a 3 night stay, arriving on Thursday, October 14, 2010, departing on Sunday, October 17, 2010, to accommodate 1 adult per room.
Room Availability
.. Requested daily number of rooms is greater than maximum.
Click ‘Change Request’ to revise your selections.

I’m not sure what they think I might conceivably derive from this response, but what I actually did was book a room in another hotel down the road, where I could get the sort of room I wanted and the booking was straightforward, and more importantly, successful. I contacted the hotel to let them know of the error, trying to be helpful and the response I received was that the site was not “broken”. I was told the error arose because there were no vacancies on Oct 14. They did not explain why the error message did not say this. They did not try to discover where I experienced a problem, but to their credit, asked several questions to attempt to find me a room, albeit 2 days later.

.. Requested daily number of rooms is greater than maximum.

This clearly is a statement that was never tested with users, for I cannot imagine a test user understanding what went wrong here. Not only was the information supplied unhelpful, clicking either button (Change Request or Continue) produced an application error (Error:500) and stopped me in my tracks. There was no further progress possible. You should attempt to never deliver an application error to your customers and this article from Smashing Magazine might help give you inspiration on what types of response you can give. It shows 404 errors (page not found) but with some clever coding, you could also use it for application errors, like Twitter does when their servers are feeling a bit stressed, causing them to deliver the Fail Whale page. In fact, the Fail Whale is so popular it has it’s own fan club. You should be so lucky with an error page!

This to me was an obvious example of where user testing would come in handy, in particular, testing what happens in the system when someone tries information that produces an error or is outside of expected inputs. If I had changed my dates (not possible in this example) I may have received a better response from the site, perhaps.

It appears to me they spent little if any time working out what would happen if something went wrong and the system needed to deliver an error message. They also didn’t spend any time testing what messages would be delivered to users under different, normal circumstances, like when a room is not available for a desired date.

A valuable lesson is that when planning, building and testing, you need to make sure your communications are succinct and clear, and to test that your error messages make sense to they types of users who come to your site. In addition, you need to prepare for when things go wrong, when people break the bounds of expected or calculated behaviour, and not just when they make choices you are prepared for.

How much business or attention are you losing by not having thought of the errors deeply enough?

User experience in a nutshell

User experience in a nutshell, thanks to the always interesting XKCD:

university website Venn diagram

While I was at UX Australia last month I saw a load of venn diagrams, many of them useful as a conversation-starter, to focus on the subject, but to me they ended up mostly saying: “this bit in the middle is what I want to talk about”. My problem with venn diagrams is they can be created without meaning or value and  are indicative only of one’s intentions, one’s desires, one’s own perspective, not a truly factual or researched mapping.

But I like this cartoon as it describes almost every initial meeting or workshop moment I have experienced with a client in the past.

Very often the problem with a User Experience exercise is that the client wants what is on the left and the user wants what is on the right and for some reason, the left often wins. I completely understand why they find the left important and the right scary, but isn’t “a little scared” where you need your clients to be, in order to push forward with improvements, or truly deliver on their real business goals?

Very often the information on the right is readily to hand  but they fear it is problematic or scary to release all of it or to set up the workflow and administration for it to happen. But they’ve come to you to deliver a solution to their problems, and it may be that the way to do it is to ignore their “delivery” problems and solve their user’s problems first.

You should always “scare” your clients, just a little bit, and definitely within their tolerance, but scare them a little. They’ll often understand it if you make it easy for them to do so.