Archive: June 2, 2008

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user experience

Monday,  06/02/08  09:41 PM

Hi all; here's some musings on user experience...

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I’ve had a couple of “user” experiences recently that reinforced each other, and wanted to share some observations.

First, I bought a new phone, a Centro, to replace my old Treo, and second, I bought a new Tivo, a TivoHD, to replace my old Tivo Series/1.  In each case there was one single feature that drove the purchase decision (phone = smaller size, TivoHD = HD support).  And each case after having the new gadget, I am delighted by a whole raft of improvements and new features that I didn't know about.

So first, the conclusions, and second, some discussion.

  • People make purchase decisions for simple reasons, often one single factor.
  • People’s subsequent satisfaction or delight (or dissatisfaction or frustration) is driven by an overall experience that includes many complicated factors.

The implications for product design, packaging, and positioning are interesting.

If people make a purchase decision for one single factor, you want to provide that capability, and feature it alone in packaging and positioning.  But different people might value different things.  I bought a Centro because of its size, but someone else might buy one because it was cute, or sounds good, or has a nice keyboard.  So you have to figure out the set of individual factors that drive purchases, implement those, and feature those in advertising, packaging, sales demos, etc.  A small set is good, for simplicity and to avoid confusion. However there are many other factors that you know people will like, but that will not drive a sale.  For example it is cool that you can charge a Centro with just a USB cable, but that alone would never drive a sale.  These characteristics should not be “on the box”, or featured in advertising.  For an example of this, contrast Apple packaging with Microsoft packaging.  Apple tends toward simple messages, like one thing, while Microsoft seems to cover their entire package with bullets.

If people are delighted by the overall experience, you should include a bunch of other characteristics.  The essence of delight is positive surprise.  I bought a phone for its size, so I knew how big it was, and while I like the size, that was not going to delight me.  But I had no idea I could charge the phone from a USB cable, so finding that out was delightful.  How did I learn of this?  The product itself told me; “did you know” tips are a good way to share this sort of stuff.  (It is easier for users to digest one feature at a time, and that way they remain delighted for a while as they keep learning about new features.)

The “delight” can go the other way too; if people are consistently frustrated by a new gadget, they will like it less and less.  For example what if my new phone kept dropping calls, or inconsistently synced with my computer?  (Or was just plain hard to figure out?)  That would be irritating, and the fact that the phone was small would be outweighed by the ongoing irritation.  Even though people buy stuff for simple reasons, they evaluate them over time based on a whole bunch of more complicated ones.

For a personal analogy, think of a major purchase decision you recently made… a car, or a house (or a purse, or a piece of furniture).  You probably bought it for one or a small number of simple reasons (often including appearance!)  And then as you used it over time, your opinion has evolved based on a lot of more complicated reasons, to the point where you might recommend it to a friend, or not, based on entirely different reasons from the ones which determined your purchase.

I know, this isn’t any deep insight, but it just struck me as somewhat non-obvious and interesting...



Monday,  06/02/08  09:52 PM

Well as of today I am no longer the Motrin man; I've gone off the stuff cold turkey.  Felt okay and even worked in a nice 25 mile ride, although a fit of hiccups was not a good thing.  Sometimes a bruise is just a bruise, whew.

Today for some reason the people at StumbleUpon decided to feature this blog; I've received hundreds of referrals that led to thousands of page views.  Interesting, I cannot explain why, but I'm happy to have the visitors.  Perhaps some of you will enjoy the site and bookmark it or subscribe to the feed...  in any event thanks for stopping by.

Okay, so let's make a pass on the blogosphere, shall we?

Now that Obama's nomination as Democratic candidate seems assured, we're starting to see a bit more criticism in the press; like this: should have walked before they made him run.  Ironically I think this will help; right now there are some - possibly including me - who could like him but are turned off by the sense of entitlement that seems to surround him.  Turn him back into a normal person, and he's probably quite likeable. 

The always reliable and interesting Victor Davis Hanson gives his autopsy of the primaries, including advice for both candidates.  "There is a certain irony here. In a year that for historical and contemporary reasons should be a Democratic shoo-in, the Democrats have nominated about the only candidate who can lose in November, the Republicans the only one of their own who can still win it."  Still you'd have to say Obama has the edge, given Democratic demographics.  He's bound to move toward the center once the nomination is secure.

One more thing: Obama is going to have to stop changing positions.  I realize some of this is inevitable, but he's starting to remind everyone a little too much of the twistable turnable man, John Kerry.

More on the Centro, and the iPhone...  So apparently I'm not the only one who likes the Centro; Engadget reports Palm's share is up because of it.  Nice.  And this was apparently at the expense of Apple, who's share went down, despite selling a passel of iPhones.  Not everyone has had a great iPhone experience; Brad Feld is reconsidering using an iBrick.  In fairness his problems seem more Vista-related than iPhone-related. 

Joel Spolsky pontificates about Office Space: "During the lease negotiation, I sent the landlord a long list of upgrades we wanted -- at our expense, of course.  Glass partitions, floor-to-ceiling mosaic tile, imported German fittings by Dornbracht, granite and marble -- and that was just what we wanted for the shower.  I think the building management went into a little bit of shock.  What?  You want nice?  Unheard of.  Don't you know that you're going to have to pay money for nice?"  We just built out a new building ourselves, so I could relate.  Our philosophy is a bit different to his, though; we go for nice and cheap instead of just nice.  I think we ended up with nice, pretty much, but we also sent a message with cheap that we're not Google or Microsoft.  Yet.  And have no aspirations to be like either one. 

Another place where we disagree is the office vs cube thing.  Joel is a passionate defender of giving every engineer their own office.  We created an array of 40 9x9 cubes, surrounded by 10 conference rooms.  Every engineer has a laptop (anyway), so they can pretty easily move into a conference room when they have to, either to work quietly, have a meeting, conduct a conference call with a client, or fight with their boyfriend.  Or maybe just a change of scenery.  Meanwhile we think the cubes foster a team feeling and design crosstalk that we couldn't get from a bunch of offices.  A row of closed doors kind of scares me.  Yes of course I have a cube like everyone else :)

Peter Bright has published part III of the series chronicling his conversion from Windows to OS X.  This article gives us a nice overview of the Mac OS internals, including why Objective C was chosen as the "system" language.  Peter notes, as he did before, the difference in UI consistency between Windows (not so much) and OS X (quite a lot).  A key difference is that while Apple engineers pretty much eat their own dogfood, at Microsoft just about every team has their own set of nonstandard controls! 

In the same vein, Jeff Atwood wonders whatever happened to UI consistency?  "And for my money, nothing is more disappointing than the overall fit and finish of Vista, which is truly abysmal. It's arguably the worst of any operating system Microsoft has ever released."  Menus, buttons, windows, scrollbars, each team seems to be rolling their own – within Microsoft.  And third parties just make things worse.  This is what makes Windows such a UI mess.  Either because it is easier to use the standard controls or harder not to, Apple developers seem to use them, which is the source of the relative consistency. 

If, like me, you have wondered how Microsoft is going to escape from the Vista swamp, here's part of the answer: Microsoft warns hardware makers to begin testing Windows 7 ASAP.  They're going to rush it out, partially to fix the most egregious faults of Vista (backward compatible video drivers!) and partly just to change the momentum; Vista's reputation is now irreparably damaged.  I think this is a good move.  Maybe they'll even fix paging?  Nah...

This is going to move the share needle: New Microsoft-HP Live Search deal is all about Silverlight.  Well not all about Silverlight, search share is a big part of it too.  The power of defaults in action...  Still, having HP bundle Silverlight instead of Flash is a pretty big deal.  And pretty rotten for Aperio, now we have to make sure everyone knows how to install Flash.  It's not like we're going to abandon Flash for Silverlight just because of this.  And it's not like many other vendors are going to either.  So HP will basically be reducing the functionality of their machines - and increasing their support costs - because Microsoft paid them to do it. 

Finally, here we have goosh, the Google shell.  Now that's cool


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