Tag Archives: ux
I firmly believe that only Apple could deliver a device like the iPad 2. Their focus on usability and user experiences ushered in a post-PC paradigm in computing. The Cupertino company defined the tablet space and is expected to ship 30 million tablets in 2011. There is a reason other tablet makers don’t have Apple’s market share- their tablets just don’t measure up at this time.
I recently reviewed the Motorola Xoom, and in the first few seconds of interacting with it, it became clear that it was not an iPad. From the moment I picked it up, it just felt wrong. The first time use feels cumbersome and even languid. Motorola’s tablet asks me for account information – user names and passwords – before I can do anything with the device. When I pick up the iPad, it works – quickly and effortlessly. There are other differences, as well. Stability, for one. As the venerable Walt Mossberg puts it in his iPad 2 review: “[The iPad] never crashed in my tests, unlike every Android tablet I’ve tested.” Then, of course, there is the price point ($800? Really?). And finally, the news that Xoom owners will have to send their devices back to the manufacturer for a 4G upgrade. Quoting Dvice:
Poor Motorola Xoom. We all wanted to love you, but you may have popped out of the oven a bit too soon. If you want 4G LTE on your shiny new Xoom (goes on sale today), you’ll have to return it back to Motorola for the upgrade.
This debacle is more Motorola’s fault than Android’s. Someone at Motorola said that this tablet was ready to ship when it clearly wasn’t. Who is that guy? What motivated his decision making? At what point did making customers return their product for an upgrade seem like a good idea?
Hardware makers must innovate tablet technology while delivering fun, functional user experiences. The reviewers and consumers have weighed in and at this point only Apple can deliver a tablet worth waiting in line for.
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.
Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox has a well written piece up today that looks at mobile usability. The post examines a recent article in the International Journal of Mobile Human Computer Interaction that studies how screen size affects reading comprehension. The article found that “when reading from an iPhone-sized screen, comprehension scores for complex Web content were 48% of desktop monitor scores.” That means it is twice as hard to understand what you are reading on a mobile display.
A smaller screen hurts comprehension for two reasons:
* Users can see less at any given time. Thus, users must rely on their highly fallible memory when trying to understand anything that’s not fully explained within the viewable space.
o Less context = less understanding
* Users must move around the page more, using scrolling to refer to other parts of the content instead of simply glancing at the text. Scrolling introduces 3 problems:
o It takes more time, thus degrading memory.
o It diverts attention from the problem at hand to the secondary task of locating the required part of the page.
o It introduces the new problem of reacquiring the previous location on the page.
The study, performed by R.I. Singh and associates, highlights the need for mobile application developers to deliver clear, simple content to their users. Both the content and the UI must help people understand key messages of the application.
Kinect, the XBOX peripheral that lets users control games with their bodies, breaks new ground in ten foot usability.
Despite having few established usability standards (this makes sense for a new product) the article points out the many strong points of the device. Quoting from the piece:
Kinect has many great design elements that clearly show that the team (a) knows usability, (b) did user testing, and (c) had management support to prioritize usability improvements, even when they required extra development work.
This makes sense; the only reason for Kinect to exist in the first place is as a casual game system that’s easy to pick up. It’s not for hardcore gamers who are willing to suffer through contorted combos of button-pushes to make their game characters do moves. Kinect is targeted at the much broader masses, which requires strong usability. (Indeed, the game sold 4 M units during the first 6 weeks after launch.)
The article then compares the 10 foot usability with the iPad’s 2′ usability.
While Gestural UI is not a viable path for corporations, governments or NPO’s, the piece concludes that the device makes a strong showing in game usability.
If your friend or family member had an ugly baby, would you tell them? Would you go out of your way to say something like, “Man, that is one of the oddest looking kids I’ve ever seen- is it even human?”
Of course not. Because that ugly baby is part of your family now. And even if it is the ugliest, weirdest looking kid on the block, the only thing you can do when you meet it is smile and say, “Congratulations.”
What is true for parents and unfortunate looking children is also true for websites, mobile apps, and consumer electronics devices.
Many times friends and family members are introduced to a terrible product by an entrepreneur within their social circle. And even if it is the ugliest, most difficult to use contraption ever conceived, people will smile – and lie – and say what a great site/app/gadget it is. They’ll never, ever, use it, but they’ll praise it, ask how it’s going, and even buy presents for its birthday (note: we prefer charitable donations).
Societal norms demand we all lie to one another in order to not hurt people’s feelings. And we understand the power of white lies at cocktail parties and play dates. We’re not anthropologists, but we’d wager these kind of friendly support systems help build the fabric of human society (part of why there’s a like button, but no “dislike” button – which we’d love, but that’s another story).
To all product managers, entrepreneurs, tech upstarts and parents-of-ugly-babies: we hope you have great friends and family in your life to support you and say you’re doing a great job. May they applaud you and expound on how wonderful you are and beautiful your baby is. These people are your cheerleaders. If you want to hire cheerleaders to tell you what a great business you are building, you can. Some people do.
We are not cheerleaders. We call it like it is. We shoot straight. If we like your product, we’ll tell you. And if we don’t, we’ll tell you that too. Why? Because you need to hear it. Because it helps. We’d take a little wager that there’s nobody at team Apple that praises products for the wrong reasons. Neither do we. We believe that consumers should only experience the best of technology, and it should make things fun, easy, and a pleasure to use. Part of building great consumer tech is destroying mediocre tech. That’s what we do every day. With sledgehammers.
We are Stage Two. We don’t mind saying your baby is ugly. It’s probably why we don’t get invited to many parties, but that’s okay with us.
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!