Feature Articles

Viewing posts from the Feature Articles category

A Survey of Lufthansa’s Touch Screen Entertainment Application

I flew on Lufthansa during a recent trip to Europe. Not only was it one of the nicest flying experiences that I have ever had, but it also turned out to be an opportunity to experience a very well-done interactive experience. Despite some shortcomings, Lufthansa’s touch screen entertainment application was a prime case study in good user experience design. I have seen and used other in-flight applications on other airlines, but they were always clunky, often confusing, and not very enjoyable to use. Lufthansa’s application (pictured below), on the other hand, was elegant, simple, intuitive, and did everything that a typical passenger would likely need without mucking up the experience with useless features.

Home (Welcome) Screen

I witnessed something that was a true testament to the entertainment application’s outstanding design. Even before I had a chance to play with it, I looked over across the aisle where an elderly woman in about her seventies ventured to use the touch screen application. She poked the touch screen with resolute force and very intently examined the screen. From having done a number of usability studies, I guessed that she was a rather novice computer user, and I got excited to witness her use the application. From past usability studies with inexperienced participants, I anticipated that she would quickly get lost, confused, frustrated, and would abandon her task. To my astonishment, she prodigiously navigated through the application, browsed TV programs and movies to watch and ultimately played a movie on the touch screen in front of her. Needless to say, I was completely astounded by how easy to use and intuitive the application was even to a computer novice.

After studying my unaware participant, I quickly took out my camera and examined Lufthansa’s in-flight touch screen entertainment program. Below are my observations. I draw on some particular screens to illustrate certain points, and all of the ones that I photographed can be seen in the gallery at the end of the post.

Read More

Privacy and Security Concerns of Online Applications

As seemingly everyone is moving toward working online, security concerns are being thrown to the wayside with troubling consequences. A recent occurrence at a hot start-up made me seriously think twice about how safe our online data is from malicious eyes.

One of the main themes of Web 2.0 is the large-scale migration to the ‘cloud’. Many work-related tasks such as email, word processing, day planning, and idea sharing are being done online rather than on the desktop or across the desk. Hordes of users and technologists sing unmitigated praises of online applications and collaboration services. I too love the ability to quickly and easily collaborate on an online documents with my co-workers or clients.

We are so focused on the benefits of working online that we often forget the serious drawbacks which include access and data security. The chief drawback for me is the fact that my data is sometimes only one login screen or checkbox away from being seen by anyone, including those that would use the information in egregious ways. In some cases, my data is even more exposed than that.

Read More

User Experience Design: An Executive Summary

This article strives to explain, in non-technical terms, what is user experience design, why it is critical in the modern business landscape, and how businesses can take advantage of what the field has to offer.

What Is User Experience Design?

User experience design is a specialized field that combines product strategy and usability engineering. It aims to make products and services useful, enjoyable and easy to use, which drive competitive advantage and profitability.

Making Products Useful

Customers use and buy products because they are useful, enjoyable, or both. User experience designers use their expertise and methodologies to establish what specific features and traits can render a given product useful and enjoyable to the target customer.

Making Products Profitable

User experience designers constantly strive to improve products, and they have the expertise to evaluate the most promising product features as well as to analyze the competition to discern how to gain advantage over them with new features or by improving existing ones as well as ease-of-use. Not only that, but for certain products and services like web sites, they can formulate a strategy that will increase target user actions such as online purchases and page views.

Making Products Easy to Use and Enjoyable

In today’s business landscape, ease-of-use is increasingly becoming a competitive advantage and customers are demanding and expecting products to be intuitive and easy to use. User experience designers are trained to systematically improve the organization of information and the intuitiveness of interactions of products and services.

Read More

On Usability Problems with Voting Machines

Today is the big day, and no matter for whom or what you are voting on November 4th, you not only want your vote counted, but you also want it counted correctly. In the spirit of fair elections with a twist of usability geekiness, we at Montparnas compiled a few resources where you can learn more about usability of voting machines.

Usability in Civic Life: Voting and Usability Project

The Usability¬† Professionals’ Association (UPA) has been running a great project that seeks to evangelize good usability in voting machines. It’s one thing when it’s difficult for a user to add an item to a shopping cart, but it’s a whole different ballgame when votes that determine a presidential election are miscounted or not counted at all. Usability in voting machines is perhaps the most important application of the usability engineering field. The UPA writes on their site

Read More

Engaging Users with News Feeds

ReadWriteWeb wrote on Thursday that the news feed is the “dominant information paradigm of our time.” I don’t know that I would go quite that far, but it has spread like wildfire throughout the web despite causing a ruckus when its originator, Facebook, first launched it just two years ago. Today, most respectable social websites have some form of a news feed.

Why has something that was once so hated, suddenly become indispensable? Well, it was hated because it gave others visibility into one’s actions. Why did we eventually fall in love with it? We fell in love it because our voyeuristic tendencies eclipsed our privacy concerns, and those services offering news feeds improved the paradigm by giving users greater control over what is broadcast and to whom.

Vimeoland - Community News Feeds 3.0

Read More

20 Ways to Supercharge Any Social Media Website

Social media includes community-based video, photo, audio, and news websites as well as blogs. Although each of these types of websites has unique content and dynamics, they are also alike in many ways. This article explores various ways to get the most out of any social media site.

Social media sites rely on user-generated or user-submitted content to draw other users (visitors). In turn, users add content to these sites because they reach a broader audience. Additionally, the social interactions that are made possible by these websites create further draw. It is in these three areas – sharing, consuming, and interacting – that social websites can be optimized.

Empower Dissemination and Interaction

Don’t let the website’s content sit idle. One of the most difficult things in creating and running a successful social media site is amassing content, whether it be video or news story submissions. That is why it is critical to get the most of out the content by allowing and encouraging users to disseminate it throughout the web and fostering various interactions that bring that content to life and build a community around it.

1. Let users submit content to third-party social news and bookmarking services like, Digg, StumbleUpon, etc.

Read More

Virgin America’s Customer Experience

From mood lighting, to an exhaustive entertainment system, to reasonable fares and good service, there is a lot that Virgin America is doing right. I recently flew the airline, and was taken aback by the attention to detail and the luxury experience that VA has created. I flew on their 1 year anniversary so there were added perks such as red cake and champagne at my destination. These are beyond the differentiators that the company highlights, but exemplary of the company’s outlook–it’s about the experience.

Inside a Virgin America plane:

Virgin America plane interior

Read More

Facebook Effectively Rolls out Experience Redesign

A while ago, I wrote about the dangers of radical experience redesigns and how to implement them so the fewest number of users will abandon the product during the transition from old to new. The main points articulated in the article were:

  • Make only changes that really will benefit users
  • Let users know what improvements will be made and why
  • Give users a preview of the new design
  • Make sure that users will perceive the changes as beneficial in the short-term as well as long-term
  • Give users aids such as tool tips, tutorials or an overview of changes
  • Give users the option to continue using the old version

Facebook’s limited launch of its new design serves as a great case study of putting these points into practice, and it also serves to extend them.

In the past, Facebook has  launched a number of radical changes to its product with little forewarning or transition strategy, which resulted in great unrest and even upheaval among its users. They have finally learned that just thrusting large changes into the experience upon its users can be dangerous to their business. Facebook chose a more sensible approach this time to ensure that they avoid user discontent and facilitate adoption of the new design. They employed many of the recommendations mentioned above. Specifically, they

  • Gave users a preview of the new design
  • Gave users the option to continue using the old version
  • Gave users aids such to help them learn the new experience

Easing Users in

It is almost a given that all major changes to a product’s user experience will displease some set of users. By giving users a preview of the new experience along with giving them the option to continue using the old version, Facebook effectively eased users into the new site. This ensures that users give the new version a chance rather than dismissing it outright, and this also attenuates negative opinion. There are many anecdotal stories of users vehemently opposing changes to products to later adopt them to the point of not being able to live without them. And if the new version is thrust upon them, users feel like they are backed into a corner and are likely to have a stronger reaction to change and less likely to give it a chance., an online web analytics company, recently released some compelling analysis of users slowly adopting Facebook’s new design (

People Using New Facebook Design

While the above graph shows the number of users trying the new design increasing rapidly, another graph (below) showing the proportion of those users trying the new site and going back to the old site projects a slightly different picture; many users are resistant to Facebook’s new design.

People Using New Facebook Design and then Going Back to Old Facebook

The percentage of users reverting to the old site has dropped from about 55% to about 40%, but that is still a large chunk of its user base. I guess the larger question that arises from this is: What proportion of users must adopt the new design to roll it out fully?

Help Users Learn and Adopt the New User Experience

One thing that Facebook did with the redesign that I found very helpful as a user was providing visual aids that identified major changes and explained how to user them.
Examples of Tool Tips and Aids on Redesigned Facebook site

The above screen shot shows how visual aids (cues) help users learn the new experience on the redesigned Facebook.

Giving Users a Voice

One point that I missed in my previous article is giving users a voice. Giving users an opportunity to provide feedback and vent empowers them and reduces their anxiety, and thus frees them to explore the new design. Facebook allows users to provide feedback by clicking a link in the upper right of the page and also created a discussion forum where users can also voice their concerns and ideas.

Going the Extra Mile

The jury is still out about whether the changes to the user experience on the new Facebook site are truly beneficial for users in the long term, but it is certain that they made design choices aimed at improving the user’s experience on the site. However, beyond posting a press release about the redesign, Facebook did not greatly reach out to its users to explain the redesign. Effectively communicating to users changes to the product, explaining their underpinnings, and assuring users that the redesign is aimed at improving their experience is key in reducing anxiety and encouraging adoption.

All in all, Facebook has been doing a great job in rolling out its new design in a way that minimizes negative impacts and improves adoption of the new site.

Examples and Trends of Headers and Navigation

This survey takes a look at the various example and trends of headers and navigation across major websites. (Scroll down to see examples.) In particular we focus on headers coupled with horizontal navigation as that has become the industry standard. Many top sites, like those shown below, have adopted this paradigm. A few notable exceptions include shopping sites like and news sites like and Typically those sites that opt for vertical main navigation tend to have too many top-level navigation categories to fit in the horizontal space and resort to a vertical listing out of necessity.

For the majority of other well-known sites the header and horizontal main navigation ensemble offer a compact and elegant solution allowing users to access all major areas of the site as well as critical functionality like site-wide search. In addition, this solution frees up the entire horizontal real estate below the header and main navigation–a welcomed benefit considering conventional size limitations.

Header and Horizontal Navigation Trends

It is well known by now that the top of the page is by far the most precious real estate on a web page and making the best of this space is vital. By using desktop applications and by continually encountering similar navigation paradigms, users have come to expect the top of a web page or web application to provide pathways into the most important sections of a web site as well as access to critical functionality like site search. At the same time, web sites and web applications seek to promote their brand, spread their message, make money, and drive users to high-value actions such as uploading media. And even though almost all of the sites surveyed share the same goals in designing their headers and main navigations, there are two main schools on designing a user experience to meet them.

One school of thought is to make the header and navigation as simple as possible and thus to focus user attention and interaction on a small handful of sections and interactions. This, of course, has the serious limitation that users have to perform more actions to get to many of their destinations or to perform desired tasks. The master of this approach is none other than Apple on as well as other popular sites also surveyed here like,, and

The other approach is to expose a great number of navigation paths and interactions allowing users to quickly get to their goal. Conversely, the latter paradigm spreads users’ focus and interactions among many items. The best example of this approach in our survey is The majority of the sites that we looked at fall somewhere in the middle.

Other smaller trends that we have found are that more sites now put a prominent search bar in the header, more sites put large advertisements in the header, and some are starting to move user-centric navigation like login close to the branding on the left.

(Examples are listed in alphabetical order.) Header and Navigation

Apple Header and Navigation

CNN Header and Navigation

CNN Header and Navigation

Current TV Header and Navigation

Current TV Header and Navigation

DeviantART Header and Navigation

Deviant Art Header and Navigation

Digg Header and Navigation

Digg Header and Navigation

Ebay Header and Navigation

Ebay Header and Navigation

ESPN Header and Navigation

ESPN Header and Navigation

Flickr Header and Navigation

Flickr Header and Navigation

Flixter Header and Navigation

Flixter Header and Navigation Header and Navigation Header and Navigation

Hulu Header and Navigation

Hulu Header and Navigation

LinkedIn Header and Navigation

LinkedIn Header and Navigation

MetaCafe Header and Navigation

Metacafe Header and Navigation

MTV Header and Navigation

MTV Header and Navigation

MySpace Header and Navigation in Logged-in State

MySpace Header and Navigation in Logged-in State

MySpace Header and Navigation in Logged-out State

MySpace Header and Navigation

Netflix Header and Navigation in Logged-in State

Netflix Header and Navigation - Logged-in State

Netflix Header and Navigation in Logged-out State

Netflix Header and Navigation

Sony Playstation Website Header and Navigation

Sony Playstation Header and Navigation

Technorati Header and Navigation

Technorati Header and Navigation

Veoh Header and Navigation

Veoh Header and Navigation

Yelp Header and Navigation

Yelp Header and Navigation

YouTube Header and Navigation

YouTube Header and Navigation

Zevents Header and Navigation

Zvents Header and Navigation

The Power of Iterative Design and Testing

Jakob Nielson’s article, Weekly User Testing: TiVo Did It, You Can Too provides a great case study supporting testing early and frequently in the design process to produce exceptional design. Having worked with TiVo, I can say that their approach to usability and research is stellar, and their user experience team is very talented, so it is great to see this recognition.

The specific web redesign project mentioned in the article enforced TiVo’s user-focused culture, and finally brought user-friendliness to its website. As Nielson quotes:

“I’m selling you a product where the key differentiator is ease of use,” says Margret Schmidt, the company’s vice president of user experience and design, “but if the website isn’t easy to use, how will you believe that the product is? We tried to bring that to the site.”

The outcome: TiVo’s new website is simple and clear while still being media-rich, and scored in the top 20% of Nielson’s study on web usability.

Nielson summarizes the benefits of this approach well with the following main points:

  1. Costs the company less.
  2. Offers motivation.
  3. Helps drive business decisions.
  4. Creates a testing culture.
  5. Builds internal knowledge.

I wholly advocate for this approach as it improves design. Period. No matter how good a graphic designer, interaction designer, content writer or product manager you are; there are invaluable insights you will get from testing frequently that will improve your final product.

Testing at this level not only reduces costs, but also facilitates inter-departmental collaboration (see our previous article: Avoiding the Problems of Design by Committee). Just think, TiVo conducted only 12 tests in 12 weeks. How many projects do you know of that have accomplished that much in 12 weeks with such a usable and appealing outcome?