Optimal by design

Feb 10 2012
You’re in a problem-solving business, and you don’t solve problems with documentation
— Jeff Gothelf at London IA February 2012, talking about “Getting out of the deliverables business”

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Nov 02 2011

The baguette experience

You are a weary business traveler at an international train station. And you have one pressing problem: you are hungry. Luckily, you spot a baguette chain store and decide to take a closer look. Their baguettes look amazing, especially that one on the right; fresh tomatoes and mozzarella in a crusty French baguette. Yes, that is it. You want to buy it, but no one behind the counter seems to be paying attention to you. “Hello, excuse me?” But there is no response. The staff are ignoring you. “Hello”, you raise your voice, “can I have this baguette please?” The guy behind the counter looks at you, and without a word, grabs the baguette you pointed at. “Anything else – tea, coffee, juice?” replies the guy, evidently annoyed that you bothered him, and hands you your baguette wrapped in a paper bag. “No, thanks, here’s the money. Bye.”

One transaction complete.

You walk away with the precious paper bag in your hand, looking forward to devouring that wonder of a baguette, while trying to forget about the unpleasant guy behind the counter. After all, you got your baguette, so it is all good. You board the train, take a seat, and realise that the baguette looks significantly less mouth-watering than the one you saw just a while ago. It is all squashed and looks as tired as you are. You start unwrapping it…oh no, it is stuck to the paper bag. You wrestle with it for a few minutes. Pieces of the paper got torn away and glued to your baguette. And why is the bag so ill-shaped anyway? Has anyone actually considered how people will be eating the baguette on a train? No. It turns out that the fancy paper bag is completely inappropriate in this situation.

At this point you are rather disappointed with your baguette and all the hassle it has caused you. But it looked so good in the store! Anyway, you decide not to buy this baguette again. What is more, you actually also decide not to buy from this chain’s store again.

More transactions? Unlikely.

What we can learn from everyday interactions

You might be thinking this has nothing to do you and your online business. But it does. Regardless of whether you are selling baguettes or monthly subscriptions to a Software-as-a-Service online CRM platform, you need to consider the same things to create a positive customer experience and build a base of loyal customers that keep coming back.

There are a few lessons we can learn from this baguette fiasco:

  • Don’t focus just on your product, but also on how you are delivering it.
    Even the best product could be ruined by a poor purchase and post-purchase experience.
  • Don’t ignore customers, however subtle their interest in your product.
    Have customers phoned your call centre to get help because they failed to buy your product through the website the day before? Have they still not bought your product a week later? Then you should be following-up with them.
  • Don’t try to up-sell and cross-sell, at all costs, all the time.
    Pick your battles wisely and focus on the most susceptible moments. Customers might not be ready to buy another product right after buying the first one. They might want to learn more about the first product before buying another product from you.
  • Don’t assume everyone will use your product in the same way.
    Learn about your customers, their preferred ways of doing things, and their context of use. Then design your product so that it could be appropriated for multiple situations that are likely to occur.
  • Don’t design just for the product’s peak usage moments.
    Think also about the moments when the product is not being used, or when it is being shut down. Or thrown away. Let your products disappear from the scene gracefully.

Next time you experience a pleasant or unpleasant interaction with a service or product in the physical world, think how it would translate into the digital world. And vice versa. Both worlds are a great source of inspiration for each other when designing.

[This post was originally published on Flow Interactive’s blog]

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Oct 01 2011

Communicating and Selling UX Design Deliverables - resources

Here are some resources related to my talk about communicating and selling UX design deliverables that you might find useful.

Article by Jared Spool that I mentioned, talking about key qualities for UX designers: Five Indispensable Skills for UX Mastery.

Great articles on designing wireframes

A Practical Wireframe Primer

Three ways to make your wireframes more useful


Books on deliverables design, communication, and information design

Communicating Design (2nd ed.)

Communicating the User Experience

Envisioning Information

Gamestorming

Visual Meetings

And lastly here are my slides:

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Apr 25 2011

World with unlimited resources

I was travelling South-east Asia recently and on that occasion I read a comic book retelling the classic ancient Chinese texts upon which Taoism is based.

These texts made me realise that the human society really hasn’t changed that much over the last two thousand years. People’s needs and desires are the same.

Then a question came to my mind: What would a world with unlimited resources look like?

I pondered this question and not being able to find a satisfactory answer I asked on Twitter. Here are a couple of great bite-sized answers that I think are quite insightful.

pigcore Katerina Skotalova: we would destroy ourselves much earlier.

elreiss Eric Reiss: Access to unlimited resources of any kind make it even tougher to set priorities. Judgement atrophy sets in. Necessity is necessary.

janbrasna Jan Brašna: Stalling in steampunk utopia perhaps? Constraints, threats and limited resources is what drives innovation and development.

Darrenux Darren J Smith: crowded

simplydt David T Kramaley: Then humans brains would be so small & stupid from the lack of challenge!

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Apr 01 2011

Automated airport assistant - a bad colleague?

A few weeks ago, I flew from the London Luton airport and was surprised to see this low-cost airport equipped with a few automated customer service assistants. The airport is trying to reduce costs everywhere and so replacing real humans with automated assistants that work nearly for free comes as no surprise.

Upon reaching the departures hall, a male assistant (picture below) reminded me that certain items are not allowed on board aircraft. Later in the security check hall, another female assistant informed me that liquids should have been placed in transparent plastic bags and laptops were to be taken out of bags.

I was queuing for the security check for just a few minutes but the messages became very repetitive. What had been a useful reminder, quickly became rather annoying noise. I noticed there was a human operator standing not far from one of the automated assistants, telling passengers which queue to join. After observing this guy for a while, I asked him whether he found the automated assistants a little bit irritating. (A leading question, I know!) Almost instantly, as if he had uttered it for a hundredth time that day, he replied, “You tune it out mate. You just tune it out!” He also told he had been working there with the new ‘colleagues’ for two weeks then.

The way he replied instantly made me realise that work shifts with the non-human colleagues are probably not very popular with the airport staff. No wonder, imagine a colleague of yours repeating the same line for the whole day. For the whole week.

Automated Virtual Assistants are an interesting invention. They surely get much more attention than a boring notice board on the wall. However when designing a customer journey within a service, it is essential that all stakeholders are taken into account. In this case, while virtual assistants might be fulfilling the short-term business needs by reducing costs and speeding up the queue, their implementation means that neither the customer’s nor the staff’s experience is improved. On contrary, they might be potentially causing friction. In the long term this may damage the brand, affect traveller’s choice of airport, and would make staff more likely to quit their jobs.

Service design needs to address the customer experience holistically, and any potential knock-on effects need to be considered. Subtle changes could make all the difference. All airport customers follow the same route which makes careful positioning and Directional Sound a possible solution. This would ensure the message gets heard in context without becoming just annoying noise.

[This post was originally published on Flow Interactive’s blog]

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