Tag Archives: user experience
We recently blogged about how Apple’s commitment to amazing user experiences is ushering in a new Post-PC paradigm in computing.
Determining the best tech products was easy in the old PC era. The best devices were the ones with the best hardware. A 5 megapixel camera was better than a 2 megapixel camera. Specs settled all debates. End of discussion.
But in this new, post-PC world, usability dictates which device “wins.” ZDNet picked up on this theme in a post that claims “user experience is everything, hardware not so much.” Quoting from their article:
Apple has proven time and again that the user experience is the primary thing on any product that will get millions of mainstream consumers to purchase and enjoy using the gadget . . . The user experience is everything, from the way a device handles users’ common tasks to how pleasant that experience is perceived by the device owner.
The best device is no longer the one with the biggest chip inside. The best device – in this post-PC world – is the one that users enjoy interacting with the most. And with that definition of success, Apple products (including the iPad 2) will continue to outsell their competitors.
Engadget smartly highlights how specs are diminished in the new post-PC era of usability.
In a post-PC world, the experience of the product is central and significant above all else. It’s not the RAM or CPU speed, screen resolution or number of ports which dictate whether a product is valuable; it becomes purely about the experience of using the device. What that means is that while Motorola and Verizon will spend millions of dollars advertising the Xoom’s 4G upgrade options, CPU speed, and high-resolution cameras, Apple need only delight consumers and tell them that specs and and speed are the domain of a dinosaur called the PC.
Apple’s iPad defined the tablet space just as the iPhone changed the very nature of the telephone. But it wasn’t the hardware that made Apple the second largest publicly traded company on the planet. Their dedication to usability and creating simple, stable products that people love to use drove their growth.
Have you heard the one about the San Francisco designer who got so frustrated with a company’s website that he literally redesigned it himself in a couple hours? Oh, and in the process he managed to create an internet firestorm and get a company UX designer fired (but not for the reasons you think).
But before he took his business elsewhere, he wrote American Airlines a letter documenting his frustrating user experience.
Dear American Airlines,
I’m a user interface designer. I travel sometimes. Recently, I had the horrific displeasure of booking a flight on your website, aa.com. The experience was so bad that I vowed never to fly your airline again. But before we part ways, I have some questions and two suggestions for you.
He also took an an hour or so and redesigned the American Airlines homepage himself.
A clever move by a creative designer that shows not only how disgruntled customers can disrupt a major corporation online but also shows how central a great user experience is to brand loyalty.
But the story doesn’t end there.
After Mr. Curtis posted his very public complaint, an unnamed UX architect from American contacted him via email. The short form? “You are right, our website is a mess.”
Curtis published the email from the American Airlines UX designer and even though Curtis did not mention the American employee’s name (calling him only Mr. X) the company got wind of the email and fired Mr. X less than an hour after his response was published online.
What happened next presaged the Kevin Smith “too fat to fly Southwest Airlines” tweakout of 2010 (an epic customer experience fail that went viral and even got picked up by USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, ABC News and others). The internet picked up the story (1.2 Million unique views) and then the MSM ran with it, as well.
While American Airlines did a poor job of managing its online reputation and provided poor customer outreach, their chief failing was poor user experience on their website.
As Mr. Curtis notes:
Customer experience is the new brand
I’m not referring to a brand as a logo and a typeface. I’m referring to the new kind of brand, the one is formed by the entire experience of a customer’s interaction. That experience gets branded into his or her memory and leaks into the buzz of modern culture. If you can’t make a good customer experience from start to finish, you’ve failed to generate brand value that will attract customers to come back for repeat business and tell their friends to come back, too. That’s how good customer experience directly affects the bottom line.
Exceptional companies deliver exceptional customer experiences, even when things go wrong. Just look at Virgin America. They recently had their Australian computer system crash for 21 hours. 50,000 passengers were left stranded amid the chaos. Virgin quickly worked to remedy the situation.
The airline offered stranded passengers with free accommodation, traveling to airports (to and fro), re booking on Virgin or any other airline and a free flight ticket that can be used in the coming twelve months.
The company has a history of putting customer needs first. Last year a man wrote a letter to Sir Richard Branson complaining about the food on Virgin Air. Was he ignored like Drew Curtis and American? Hardly. Branson invited the troubled diner to the Virgin headquarters and had him help select future food offerings for flights. The airline turned a negative into a positive through responsive, thoughtful action.
Creating a great experience for customers translates to increased customer retention and greater brand affinity. It is not only the right thing to do, it makes business sense. If a company or brand that people love makes a mistake, the consumer is quick to forgive and forget. Building goodwill through proper customer care is key to navigating the ups and downs of business today.
At Stage Two we interweave marketing strategy with product experience work because we believe they are highly related. When your customers love your products, they’ll love your company, and when they love your company, they’ll tell people, they’ll forgive your mistakes, and they’ll stay your customers for a much longer time than if they just buy stuff from you.
As product design consultants, we love simplicity. While many in tech think typical users are stupid, we disagree. The problem is complex procedures often lead to difficulties with information retention and an increased likelihood for user error. This is particularly true during a user’s first experience with a product (aka “out of box experience” or “OOBE”). User error during the OOBE is more likely to give the user a negative view of the product and potentially cause them to not want to come back for a second try (or worse, abandon ship immediately and forever). What happens to many products is the desire to simplify, which is good, but often to simplify merely by reducing the perceived quantity of steps, which is not so good. To the right is our mocked-up screen shot (thanks again Balsamiq – we heart you!) of a not-to-far-from-real lousy OOBE.
To demonstrate, we’ll cook ourselves some chicken. Yes, chicken (don’t worry, it’s pasture raised). Imagine you’re getting ready to cook your first chicken parmesan. You buy the ingredients, prep the kitchen, grab the cookbook and open it up to find this “easy” recipe with “only” 2 steps:
Step 1: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and pour beaten eggs into a shallow dish or bowl while, in another shallow dish or bowl, mix together the grated Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs, then dip chicken breasts into beaten egg, then into bread crumb mixture to coat then, in a large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat then add coated chicken and saute for about 8 to 10 minutes each side and pour tomato sauce into a lightly greased 9×13 inch baking dish. Add chicken, then place a slice of Monterey Jack cheese over each breast, and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until cheese is completely melted.
Step 2: Serve
Anyone finish the chicken? Nope. Anyone think that was either (a) only two steps or (b) easy? Nope.
Now for industry-relevant context (we have no recipe book clients at this time, but hopefully are well on our way). Imagine that Step 1 was all contained on one pop-up window on your computer screen with a big “NEXT” button and, once you click that button there’s no way to go back. Such is the case with far too many OOBE’s in the consumer tech space.
In a way, cookbooks are actually a great template for building a good first time user experience. A good recipe informs the user up front what they will need to get through the process, and how long it will take. It then walks the would-be chef through each step from prep to service. While we won’t bother outlining the above recipe (we’re kinda over the chicken thing by now), I think anyone preparing dinner would’ve been a lot more comfortable with the “real” 7-10 steps it takes than the “faked simplicity” the 2-step version proposed.
Steps are steps – whether you have a web service or a physical product, you need to strive for simplicity, but make sure you are only combining logical steps. For a tech example, let’s say your product requires the following steps (yes, ours goes to 11):
1. Connect device to power and confirm
2. Connect device to your internet router and confirm
3. Confirm internet connection
4. Register device
5. Give your device a name
6. Sign up for an account
7. Confirm account information
8. Disconnect from router
9. Set up Wi-Fi connection
10. Confirm Wi-Fi connection
11. Execute first “core” action in product (share, create, store, etc)
There is no reasonable way to take these 11 steps down to 2, so don’t even try. Instead, assess the logical fits in the user’s setup process (read: not what our super-smart engineers think a user’s setup process is – remember the whole inmates and asylum thingie?). So the above 11 steps are shrinkable, but our version brings it to 5:
Step 1: Connect your device to power and your router – these are both physical connections, easily explained in a graphic
Step 2: Register your device and give it a name you’ll remember – we’d envision a screen with a single “name” field and a big button with the word “Register Now” on it
Step 3: Sign up for an account – choosing a user name and password are effectively commonplace
Step 4: Disconnect from your router, choose a Wi-Fi network and enter your password to connect. Once connected, you will see a confirmation window appear. – again, something that might sound wordy, but really simple to convey with simple imagery either in a quick start guide or on-screen
Step 5: Welcome to your home screen! Let’s get started…
The key here is to present a logical flow of actions and not overwhelm the user with 10 things to do on a single screen. By reducing the number of steps we have created a more immediately satisfying user experience. By not overloading the user with steps, we’ve reduced the opportunity for user error.
To sum up, here are our 7 high-level rules on steps:
1. Never combine steps just for the sake of reducing steps
2. Never combine 2 elements if one of them has an effect on the other (e.g. “Name Your Recording” should not be in the same step as “Create Your Recording”)
3. Find logical combinations and put them together, where logical combinations are from the user’s eyes, not from the developer/system side
4. Always inform the user of the total number of steps they will have to complete and what they will need to complete them (for all of you hardware developers out there)
5. Less is not by definition better, in fact more is often better
6. Eliminate any step that is not essential to the process at hand. You want to get the user through your steps and into your product quickly. If the user doesn’t need to do some deep setup element before they can use the product, pull it from your setup flow and ask them to do it later.
7. Listen to Wolfie - the “right” number of steps are “just as many steps as are required. No more, no less.”
Take a hard look at the steps you’ve created for your first time user, apply our rules, and you should have happy users in no time (or, if you’ve read the wrong steps, you will have cooked a chicken parm). Either way – enjoy!