Designing journeys from the hamster’s point of view

Want to be “customer-centred?” Instead of designing from a birds-eye view, the simplest change to make is to use journey maps and design each step as the customer would experience it.

On Saturday mornings, we occasionally build mazes for the kids pet hamsters out of Duplo. This is fun for everyone, including the hamsters who get a chance to come out of their cages and stretch their little legs.

As the architects of the mazes, we come up with various features that make the mazes more interesting to us. Rooms full of tasty treats at the end of long and complicated tunnels. We even did an elevator once. Here’s a typical maze…

A maze for the hamsters, made of Duplo bricks and viewed from the top

The hamsters have different ideas. They rarely go for the tasty treats because they are rarely aware they exist. From the their perspective the maze looks like this…

The hamster's view of the maze. Just a few walls and a left or right turn.

As you can see, it’s pretty hard to tell where the rewards will lie. To the left? Or the right? That’s all the hamster can see. Very often, the hamsters choose to escape from the experience altogether. (It’s amazing how tall you need to build the walls to stop this. That’s a lesson in itself.)

The hamster pops out the top of the maze and stops playing.

To make a successful maze that the hamster will run around it, we have to appreciate that the hamster can’t see the whole maze at once. They can only live through the experience of it step by step. And if a given step isn’t easy and clearly rewarding, then they won’t take it – even if there’s a mountain of popcorn waiting for them just a little further on.

As Flow has worked with various corporations in South Africa, it always seems to come down to the same key activity: Helping teams think through “what would our customer want to do next”. The simple act of viewing an experience step by step, as a customer would, solves squabbles, uncovers points of pain, and drives out simple new ideas that make things work better for everyone. Without doing this, business units and dev teams tend just to think about the component parts and how to click them together. And customers are faced with fragmented experiences that range from irrelevant to downright bizarre.

A sample scenario/simple journey map

The tools I’m talking about are just personas, scenarios, and journey maps here – techniques that are as old as the hills. But they’re still fundamental, and if you do them earnestly and intelligently they make all the difference.

Design thinking: Make your business amazing

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Originally posted on memeburn.com

What is design? Most people will answer that question by pointing to a designed object – the iPhone, for example. Now that’s good design! The Mini Cooper. London’s famous map of the Tube. Anything ever built by Norman Foster. That’s design, right?

Wrong. Design is not the object, but the process that created that object. It’s a process that is part creativity, part method. A process that takes a lot of time, much instructive failure and a great deal of thinking. And thinking is something that looks a lot like Doing Nothing At All.

Amazing: The only adjective that counts

It’s very hard to explain this to a client. The Silicon Cape is beavering away right now, making software and websites and iPhone apps. Just do me a design! I need to show my investors something by next Tuesday, and we’re launching before the end of the month. You guys have designed stuff before, right?

Yes, we have designed stuff before. So we know that if you just take assumptions and preconceptions and bundle them up in the first format that crosses your mind, you might churn out something decent, but you’re never going to make something amazing. And given how much stuff is out there, and how little attention people have left to give to it, amazing is the only adjective that counts.

If you want to make something amazing, you have to be prepared to do the following:
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Flow project: MWEB’s uncapped broadband site

MWEB’s uncapped broadband will revolutionise the web in South Africa. But there’s another revolution here – they designed for their customers and took the complexity out of buying broadband.

MWEB has launched affordable uncapped broadband in South Africa. Flow Interactive has been working with them on the interaction design for the launch website and the sign-up process. It’s been a complex but exciting project.

Working with Flow, MWEB took a user-centred design approach to this project. We started by doing a round of usability testing on their existing website earlier this year. This gave us many insights into how people buy ADSL. The most notable of these was that  people were almost utterly clueless about the terms that ISPs use on their sites. ADSL? HSDPA? Unshaped? Even the IT consultants we interviewed weren’t completely sure what it all meant.

MWEB's new ADSL pages

MWEB's new ADSL pages

There was a second layer of complexity: there were so many variables to the choice. ADSL vs 3G. Three different line speeds. Multiple data caps that depended on the line speed you chose. Pricing that was affected by the choice of router.

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Vodacom service: Experience the dancing bear

Signing up with Vodacom for an iPhone: it worked, but only just. Next to Apple’s amazing user experience design, Vodacom’s service design looks distinctly shabby. Sorting it out would benefit customers and shareholders.

A “dancing bear” is Alan Cooper’s term for a piece of technology that gets accepted because it does something valuable – not because it does something well. The miracle is that the bear dances. But if you needed a dancer, you wouldn’t hire a bear.

The Diamond RIO. It played music!  Amazing. But it was a pain.

The Diamond RIO. It played music: Amazing! But it was a pain.

A classic example. The Diamond Rio: dancing bear. iPod: Prima ballerina.

Service design is another form of experience design. And it can have dancing bears too.

See the bear dance

So low are our expectations of South African mobile service providers, that we applaud when they manage the absolute basics of their business: connecting new customers to their service so they can make money out of them. A service provider that actually tried to provide a real customer experience? We can bearly imagine it.

The actual Vodacom experience (as braved by my wife, Debre):
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Completed UX project: Desktop design tool for antenna engineers

“Awesomeness” was one of the project goals. User-centred design helped to deliver it.

As we use wi-fi networks, satellite TV, mobile phones, we don’t give a thought to the antennas that makes them work. But designing antennas is hard. It’s almost as much an art as a science, takes lots of knowledge, dedication and experience… and months.

Antenna Magus is a new piece of software which cuts weeks off the antenna design process. It represents a revolution in antenna design. (If you want to know what it actually does, your best bet is to watch their chuckle-provoking video).

Antenna Magus screenshots

The Magus team wanted the software to be useful and quick to use. They wanted it to be “awesome” (with tongues slightly in cheeks). Most of all, they wanted it to be exportable globally and generate significant revenue, in a shortish time frame. So they asked me to help get them there.

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Destructive excuses

Here are four excuses I’ve heard recently. Not delivered in these exact words or course. I’ve summarised them to save us all time.

I’m too busy coding to work out whether people will want the product I am trying to deliver.

I’m too busy fighting fires to make sure we have a reliable process and happy staff.

I’m too busy thinking up new features to focus on what people really need.

I’m too busy trying to push the product to think about how to make people choose to buy it.

These are the underlying thought and behavior patterns behind some very expensive mistakes.

Extreme e-commerce

“South Africans would always rather jump in the car to go an buy something than buy it over the internet,” says Andrew Smith, director of YuppieChef. He’s right. And it means that if you can design an e-commerce site that sells in South Africa, you can do it anywhere.

At the end of May, there was a free one day conference about South African, digital entrepreneurship: Net Prophet. Andrew Smith, a director of South Africa’s most delightful e-commerce site, YuppieChef, gave a great talk about e-commerce in South Africa. It was called E-commerce is not a technology problem.

Andrew Smith's recipe for a successful e-commerce site

Andrew covered user experience and customer experience in a completely jargon-free way. And he offered a great summary of the themes that an e-commerce operations needs to consider.

Of course e-commerce is not primarily a technology problem. But when you meet organisations starting e-commerce operations, you still need to spell it out every time. A great example from Andrew:  Pick and Pay’s website is high on technology and short on selling. The search engine returns results, sure, but if you search for milk, you get milk stout and milky bar buttons coming up first. Surely cartons of milk would make better sense.

(My limited experience of talking to the Sainsbury’s and Occado teams in the UK tells me that getting supermarket IA right takes about 2 years, or four iterations. So don’t give up, Pick and Pay).

Andrew also offers some great checklists for what it takes to run a successful e-commerce operation.

  • Product: Hard to find, trusted brands, easy to deliver
  • Marketing: Offline credibility, word of mouth, community
  • Customer service: Real people, in touch, full time

It’s a great introduction.  But what’s really intriguing is that online trust-building and persuasion tactics don’t seem to be enough. Andrew is convinced that in South Africa, you have to establish trust via telephone calls and offline marketing. Like I said: if you can build a successful e-commerce business in South Africa, you can do it anywhere.

Ten things user experience design is NOT

Whitney Hess has written a really good post on Mashable which summarises ten major misconceptions that organisations often have about user experience.

I don’t usually post straight pointers to other people’s work, but this one is a beauty.

The 10 things user experience design is NOT…

1. …user interface design
2. …a step in the process
3. …about technology
4. …just about usability
5. …just about the user
6. …expensive
7. …easy
8. …the role of one person or department
9. …a single discipline
10. …a choice

Organisations and teams that understand this will stand a much better chance of generating a good user experience, happy customers, and a profit. Here’s the full post…

What makes us productive and what makes us stupid

Your working environment has a big impact on your productivity, creativity and happiness. And good user experiences follow the same rules.

The interruptions caused by email and other digital communications reduce your IQ by up to 10 points, and cost large corporations UD$1m in revenue per annum. They also make people unhappy. Among many corporations, Intel has been running a “quiet time” initiative, where every Tuesday morning is set aside for quiet thinking only. No email, no IM, no phone calls, even.

On the flip side, I found interesting research about how corporate environments that provide clear goals, facilitate progress and praise success make people happier, more creative and more productive.

It struck me that most of this is linked to the concept of Flow, proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. Flow is a state of optimal experience (very closely linked to happiness). If you’ve ever looked up at the clock and realised that an hour or two has rushed past unexpectedly, chances are you were in a state of Flow.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi proposed the idea of Flow

Flow is frequently caused by having clear and worthwhile goals, making visible progress towards those goals, and being appropriately challenged as you go. Almost exactly like that description of the happy and productive working environment.

But how many times have you sat down at your desk expecting to make rewarding progress, only to realise that you have a pile of unread email? Suddenly you’re wading through unexpected issues and problems, and your original goal for the day is pushed further away. That’s a recipe for no flow, and a feeling of frustration. No wonder the Intel pilot group look forward to Tuesday mornings.

Happy interaction

So, if you’re a manager, you need to be shaping your team or organisation to work in a Flow-inducing way.

If you’re an interaction designer, you need to design interfaces to help your users experience Flow. Three fairly plain lessons:

  • Don’t interrupt your users. People using computers are goal directed – they’re online to get a task done. Excessive confirmation dialogs cause frustration. Interstitial and pop-up ads are worse. Flash intros are, mercifully, a thing of the past.  And perhaps the cardinal sin is emailing your customers too much. Why any brand would want to be associated with these negative, frustration-causing events is a mystery to me. “Are users stupid?” some unenlightened designers have been heard to ask. Well, if you keep interrupting them, you’re reducing their IQ.
  • Help your users to accept new ideas. Innovation is a hot topic for corporations looking for an edge. Helping your customers to innovate makes them happy too. Blogger.com helps new users understand blogging and create a blog in astoundingly simple steps. Google Adwords suggests new products and services that are specifically selected to be relevant to the user’s goal. Amazon does the same, and also keeps many of it recommendations for after you’ve made some productive steps towards your goal – it recommends most stuff when you add to basket and when you complete a purchase.
  • Help your users to think creatively. A lot of Web2.0, and the latest thinking in UCD, is about helping people to express themselves by building or creating something. Myspace and Facebook pages and relationships are a labour of love for some. Family trees are loving crafted in Geni. Photobox lets you craft beautiful paper photo albums using custom software. All Flow activities, where users make clear progress towards desirable goals, and learn something on the way.

To be effective interaction designers, we need to be happiness experts. And because the organisation behind the interface will always show through, we need to be happy and work in happy places. Now that’s a goal worth working towards.