Last week I had two different user experiences of the same location, and the juxtaposition gave me pause. A beautiful new Blue Bottle coffee had opened in an old San Francisco office building. Passing by, I admired its clean, fresh, and inviting appearance. A few days later, I went to my dentist appointment in that same building, and experienced what the Blue Bottle architects had created from a completely different perspective.
I’ve been going to the same dentist in that downtown office building for over 15 years. And the same lobby receptionist greets me with a welcoming nod every time.
Last week as I entered the building for my appointment, something felt different. It was loud, and there were people in the foyer. A lot of them. Patrons were spilling out of the new Blue Bottle Coffee into the marble-clad corridor in that unmistakable, ever-present Blue Bottle customer line.
I headed for the elevator, but then I turned back to talk to the receptionist because I realized his environment was now so radically different. He told me it was noisy all day long. “Cacophony” was the word he used. And he remarked that because of the noise, he no longer could read at his desk.
While Blue Bottle (the Company) and its customers are experiencing a lovely new location, there is one person whose life is changed — for the worse — as long as he wants to stay in his job. The receptionist’s experience is peripheral to the one that was designed, but it should have been considered. A line at Blue Bottle is a given; the architects could have situated that line outside, or could have acoustically dampened the sound in the foyer.
While we often assume what we are designing is contained within set boundaries, looking into the places where a design spills over is always warranted. It is important that we understand and consider the full context in which our designs will live.
I hope that I still get a nod next time I go see my dentist, but I fear my receptionist could be gone by then. Will an entry kiosk replace him? Only a computer could ignore the aural difficulties of his current work environment.
I was participating in a UI brainstorming meeting recently with four other designers and a product manager. The meeting was focused on “solving” the UI for a mobile app. I was struck by how many times I’ve been in this type of meeting — where the team hopes to emerge with the design for the app — but no particular process is in place to ensure it can happen.
Here are 5 techniques for making UI design meetings actually succeed.
1. Know exactly what features you are designing for
You can’t move a group conversation forward if you don’t have shared knowledge of the features you are going to provide. And no individual designer can possibly create a holistic UI framework without knowing all the pieces that need to be supported.
If there isn’t a well-defined list of features that everyone is privy to, then it’s too easy to get bogged down in “are we doing that?” feature wrangling. Inevitably, there is tension between what the MVP should contain and what ultimately could be delivered. It is beneficial to have that ultimate picture in mind so you don’t end up ‘band-aiding‘ additions at some later point. But if you don’t have justification that users would be interested in a specific feature, or engineering can’t possibly build it, or the marketplace doesn’t warrant your product containing it (because it’s peripheral to your offering and someone else is already doing it better), let that feature go. It is just creating noise.
What to do: Identify what your product is going to offer. Make a list, or better yet, construct a taxonomy — where larger features that encompass sub-features are clearly spelled out in an outline format. Then make sure that product management and engineering have signed off on it and that the designers are familiar with it before you head into a design meeting.
Continue reading 5 Ways to Make UI Working Meetings Work
On the night of November 29th, the 65-foot sailboat Team Vestas Wind slammed into a reef at 19 knots (a significant speed in a boat) in a remote part of the Indian Ocean.
They were on their way from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi, along with 6 other boats, in the second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race — a round-the-world sailboat race and one of the toughest sporting events in the world.
How did this happen? These were professionals — some of the best sailors in the world. The obvious answers are that either the charts were inaccurate or the boat’s crew committed “human error”. The consensus in the sailing world attributes the accident to human error. A recent New Yorker article sums it up:
“At a press conference on Monday, Team Vestas admitted that the crash appears to have been caused by ‘a simple human error’: the navigator, Wouter Verbraak, did not zoom in enough on his charts. Race organizers have pointed out that it was a high-stress situation caused by approaching bad weather.”
At the risk of reviving an age-old discussion, the navigator’s (in)action may have failed the crew, but the charting software’s user interface clearly contributed to the wreck.
Continue reading Uncharted UI Hazards
Why is this year different than all other years? Because so many people are holding events on Jewish High Holy Days – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the most solemn day of the year) – that have nothing to do with those holidays. In fact, the scheduling of events on these days is likely to preclude Jewish participants.
In particular, I noted:
- A business is holding its 30th anniversary party the evening Yom Kippur starts.
- The University of California San Francisco is holding a neighborhood fitness festival on Rosh Hashanah.
- A Jewish friend was invited to her good friend’s wedding shower on Yom Kippur.
- A neighbor noted that his vintage car club decided to hold their special drive on Yom Kippur, thereby inadvertently excluding a bunch of members.
I have a hypothesis: might widespread adoption of digital calendars have fostered this?
Continue reading Is Cultural Insensitivity a Side Effect of Digital Calendars?
Many of our prospective clients don’t understand how an interaction design consultancy can possibly come up to speed on their complex domain. And understanding their domain is central to creating or improving their product’s user interface.
What these clients don’t often realize is that neither an interaction design consultancy, nor their users, need to know everything they know.
The reason complex product user interfaces are often hard to use is because they expose too much. The people creating these products assume their users will be as singularly focused on the product as they are. They expect their customers will equally value every last feature and function, and will devote significant time to mastering the product. That is akin to assuming every motorist wants to be a mechanic. In truth, most people just want to get somewhere.
Continue reading Why Good UI Designers Can Work in Any Domain
When meeting new people, I’m often asked, “So, what do you do?” I usually throw out various terms like Interaction Design, UI Design, UX — all the while scanning the questioner’s face for a hint of recognition. More often than not, the person politely smiles and nods…and then asks, “What’s that?” Once I finish explaining the particulars of interaction design, I’m often met with “Oh, I didn’t know that was a specific job.”
A colleague recently pointed me to an article in the Wall Street Journal discussing David Zweig’s book (“Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion”) about professions that are mostly “invisible” — e.g., anesthesiologists, fact-checkers, translators — that is, their work, when done well, goes largely unnoticed by the public. This got me thinking that this is exactly what we strive to do as interaction designers. We design interactions that aren’t unnecessarily showy, but are so seamless and integral to the product that they just feel right. It’s a tenet that users notice interaction design only when it is done poorly, or when it wasn’t considered at all.
And yet — as the WSJ article points out — purposefully dedicating oneself to working in a largely unrecognized milieu is anachronistic in this age of relentless self-promotion. If our best work doesn’t loudly toot its own horn, how do we convince prospective clients that we are good at what we do?
Continue reading Invisibility is Our Superpower
I have an interesting anecdote about the persistence of data, the ramifications of a poor UI, and the unintended consequences of things talking to other things on one’s behalf.
I recently traveled from the Bay Area to Arizona on Southwest Airlines. The day before my flight, I received a flight confirmation email – but it came from a completely unrelated airline, and for travel dates that were slightly different from the days I was supposed to be traveling.
I confess, I momentarily freaked out. I hadn’t made the reservations myself, but I was pretty sure this couldn’t be right. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that this was a reservation for “Mary” – someone I didn’t know – who was traveling between cities on the other side of the country.
So, I emailed Mary to let her know what happened (her email address was on the confirmation), and suggested that perhaps she should contact the airline.
My involvement in this bogus trip didn’t stop there. The information in the reservation email propagated to a number of services, and they all came rushing to help me:
- TripIt automatically scanned my Gmail account and generated an itinerary for Mary’s flight – a flight I wasn’t taking – which it emailed to me.
- TripIt also let my network know about the trip.
- Google started sending me notifications when Mary’s flight was delayed.
- While I was in Arizona, Google Now began providing me cards of interesting things to do – on the opposite side of the country – based on Mary’s destination. This seemed particularly odd. Google Now should have known where I was based on my phone’s location.
Continue reading Tripped Up
A quick quiz: name the brands represented below.
No problem right? These are clear, distinct and easily identified.
Extending this a bit, the same should be possible with other design elements and imagery – specifically, a brand should be easily identified by its website as well.
Quiz #2: name the brands represented below by their websites.
Not so easy, is it?* Here’s the problem: when everyone adheres to the current flat design trend, distinguishing branding elements disappear. All brands tend to look very similar, essentially defeating the effort to create a lasting, memorable, and recognizable presence.
This critique usually applies when any design trend becomes adopted by millions. For example, the same thing happened with the Apple-originated aqua-like UI elements; once introduced, the style was widely adopted by many applications and platforms, resulting in a similar loss of brand differentiation.
Continue reading When Branding Falls Flat
There is a lot of chatter about the Virgin America beta site, lauding its delightfulness, simplicity, and ease of use. It is an immediate marketing success. People are excited and tweeting about it.
It has an up-to-date look that’s responsive (a first for airline booking) and designed from the ground up to play well with mobile. Its playful, simplified visual design makes it appear fun and easy to use. Virgin touts the speed of booking flights because you make one decision at a time.
The process is very linear, designed to lead you through each step in a strict sequence. If you stick to the script and proceed along (the designers’) optimal path, then it is easy and straightforward to book a flight. But, if you stray from that path — because you want to change your return date, for example – usability quickly diminishes. Whenever I change an earlier selection, I have to repeat all of the steps from that point on – work that I’ve already done once. And it’s not especially clear where I am or what I can do – feedback fades off the screen too quickly; the lengthy scroll, back arrow, and occasional ‘X’ control seem at odds with each other.
Continue reading A Handsome Virgin, Lacking Experience
I spotted this remote at a senior home. Presumably, the design goal was to make the buttons easier to read and target for elderly people with poor vision. However, this ginormous remote leaves the user awash in a sea of buttons. It has a less optimal layout than any remote I currently own.
While the seniors might be able to read the buttons and accurately tap them, can they figure out which ones to use to watch their favorite show? It looks orderly, but does this arrangement communicate useful relationships between buttons? Does it emphasize the most important functions, making them easy to find?
Communicating how to use this remote should be just as important as making the buttons easily seen.
Many people fail to realize that UX / UI encompasses so much more than the surface-level visual design. It’s also about crafting how the user moves from function to function to accomplish a desired outcome. While the way a product behaves is not something customers notice at a glance, when poorly designed, it is something they become painfully aware of during actual use.
With respect to the remote-for-the-elderly problem: here’s a creative approach to delivering the most important functionality: humanfactorsblog.org/2013/11/19/age-related-design-of-a-tv-remote/