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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.

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Don Norman on User Experience Design

I encourage everyone in product development and service industries to watch the talk which Don Norman gave at UX Week last year (video below). I finally had a chance to watch the video that was released earlier this year, and heard many gems. It’s great to hear the father of User Experience design advocate for the fundamental elements of good design, while also challenging the scope of the field to aid in its evolution.

Norman mentions:

  • “Know your users” – it’s still the most fundamental principle of design
  • The importance of terminology. He prefers the term people not users.
  • The essence of experience design is people’s memory. Every interaction contains good and bad, but it’s the final impression that matters.
  • There is a huge need for UX professionals to consider their audience: not the user, but clients and businesses. He advocates that we should “learn to speak the language of business,” including using numbers to sell our ideas.

Don Norman | UX Week 2008 | Adaptive Path from Adaptive Path on Vimeo.

Web Analytics and User Experience Design

Without user experience design to ground and inform it, trying to make sense of web analytics results in conjecture. On the other hand, user experience design without analytical testing to validate and fine-tune it can only be informed guesswork.

Analytics data is useful when it is utilized to measure success of goals and to understand performance issues. The elements of the user experience design field, such as user-centered design and usability paradigms, help to make sense of such data. In addition, while data can measure lack of success, it can not tell provide solutions; it takes a user experience specialist that has training and experience in optimizing such systems to offer potential solutions.

Just as analytics needs user experience design, the UX field also needs analytics. Otherwise, how can we tell that a redesign is effective? Perhaps the new design results in fewer sales, shorter user lifetime, higher bounce rate. There is absolutely no way to know such things without quantitative testing. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve witnessed seasoned experience designers being shocked by the unanticipated shortfalls or successes of their work when put to the test by analytics or other data-driven testing.

ClickZ, a popular information website for digital marketers, has an interesting post about how analytics and user experience design can work together. In the post, the author interviews ClickZ’s own associate director of user experience, Aaron Louie. In the interview, Louie states

[User experience design and analytics] are subservient to higher-level goals. In performance marketing, what drives both analytics and user experience are the business goals and user goals. We ask the fundamental questions: “Why does the site exist?” “What do you want users to do?” and so on. The answers to these questions determine what we design and how we measure the performance of that design….

During discovery, we review the baseline analytics to look for potential problem issues. We then collaborate with the analytics team to conduct the goals analysis, connecting high-level user and business goals to measurable user behaviors. During design, we collaborate with the optimization team to identify and generate design variants for A/B and multivariate testing. And then post-launch, we supplement analytics data with user surveys and usability testing, providing the “why” for the “what.” Then we repeat steps one through four.

I encourage you to read the full interview.

Visual Design Lead Leaves Google: Couldn’t Stand Design by Numbers

Douglas Bowman, largely credited with building the visual design team at Google, left the company on Friday, March 20. On his last day he wrote his reasons for leaving on his blog, Stopdesign. In the post he states his frustration with data dictating design and leaving barely any room for creativity. Bowman writes:

Yes, it’s true that a team at Google couldn’t decide between two blues, so they’re testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better. I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case. I can’t operate in an environment like that. I’ve grown tired of debating such minuscule design decisions.

Bowman further writes that in a company such as Google decisions are reduced to simple logic problems relying solely on data for solutions. However, he see the data acting like a crutch, “paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions.”

He closes by saying that although he “can’t fault Google for this reliance on data… [he] won’t miss a design philosophy that lives or dies strictly by the sword of data.”

Bowman and other visual designers’ recent departures from Google have created somewhat of a stir. Many take issue with the role and respect that visual designers have within a data-driven culture such as Google. However, for me, this has rehashed an everlasting debate that I have had many times with some brilliant individuals about the roles of art and science in functional design. When and to what extent should design be dictated by creativity, uniqueness, divergence as well as art, and when should it be dictated by empirical data and methodologies?

We founded Montparnas on the steadfast belief that data-driven design results in optimal user experiences. I stand by this assertion. However, I also value uniqueness and aesthetics as integral parts of any experience and realize that some projects require more art and less science to create experiences that are emotionally captivating. And while it is easy to measure click-through rates, it is much more difficult to measure brand loyalty and the value of brand fanatics such as many BMW owners.

This is a huge question without a simple answer – only beliefs and stances.

Google’s User Experience Director Speaks About Design Challenges

BuisinessWeek has a great Q&A with Google’s Director of User Experience, Irene Au. In the article, Irene Au is asked about Google’s approach to design and brand coherence across different Google products. Not surprisingly, Google has a very scientific approach to experience design, heavily rooted in quantitative methods:

[Engineers] and analysts pore over streams of data to assess the impact of experiments with colors, shading, and the position of every element on the page. Even changes at the pixel level can affect revenue….

A lot of our design decisions are really driven by cognitive psychology research that shows that, say, people online read black text against a white background much faster than white against black, or that sans serif fonts are more easily read than serif fonts online.

When asked if “decisions are based on data rather than on subjective opinion of what might look good,” Irene responded:

A lot of designers want to increase the line height or padding in order to make the interface “breathe.” We deliberately don’t do that. We want to squeeze in as much information as possible above the fold. We recognize that information density is part of what makes the experience great and efficient. Our goal is to get users in and out really quickly. All our design decisions are based on that strategy.

I am an unwavering proponent of data-driven design because I have personally witnessed seemingly minuscule design changes make immense impacts. The only way to capitalize on these effects was through data-driven testing to find the optimal solution.

However, I also believe that science can work with art and not against it. Aesthetics have impacts that are very hard to measure. Many of those effects can have long-term consequences for product loyalty or can affect the overall brand value in ways that are not measured in completion times or conversion rates–just take a look at good ‘ol Apple.

Irene Au also speaks about “brand coherence,” which is really a question about the consistency of the user experience across Google’s products. For those in the user experience field, it is an obvious fact that inconsistency and conflicting interaction paradigms cause user error, frustration, and product abandonment. Thus, it was no surprise to me to hear of Google’s conviction to align user experience paradigms across all their products. Irene states, “Inconsistency drives Larry and Sergey crazy.” Well, it drives everyone else crazy too, so kudos to making it a priority.

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.

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More Evidence that Speed Is Key to User Experience

A while back, Marissa Mayer of Google shared some very compelling research results at a Web 2.0 conference. In essence, she stated that an additional delay of 0.5 seconds to page-load time caused a 20% drop in traffic. Naturally, the first question that came to mind is whether this was an isolated case, or if others were finding such large repercussions for similarly small interaction delays. Greg Linden, writes a very compelling account, on his blog Geeking with Greg, where he remarks that the findings that Marissa shared mirror his own research experience at Amazon:

[We] had a similar experience at In A/B tests, we tried delaying the page in increments of 100 milliseconds and found that even very small delays would result in substantial and costly drops in revenue.

Reading that two mammoth websites like Google and Amazon experienced very large drops in traffic and revenue due to fraction-of-a-second load delays underscores the importance of promptness in the user experience. It is a facet that is very often overlooked and eclipsed by sexier interaction paradigms. However, cool and flashy interactions are often load-intensive and can really slow down functionality and interactivity. Even with internet connectivity becoming faster by the day, much attention should be paid to the effect of user experience designs on load speeds.

A Simple Product Line the Secret to Apple’s Success?

In these tough economic times, one reads of disappointing earnings and layoffs almost every day. Certainly, consumer electronics companies are not unaffected, and major players like Microsoft and Sony are seeing sales plummet and are cutting staff. However, there is one among them that is doing exceptionally well given the market conditions–Apple.

Matt Burns over at CrunchGear wonders in a recent post whether the secret for Apple’s success isn’t its simple product line. Matt notes in his post that Apple’s product line consists of “[one] cellphone, four iPods, three notebooks, and three desktop computers.” It’s certainly a fair question, and similar claims have been made by various academics including Professor Barry Schwartz who authored a brilliant book, on the topic of too much choice, titled The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More. (You can watch Professor Schwartz’s talk based on his book on Google Video.)

Matt also draws some comparisons with other consumer electronics heavy-weights like Motorola, which “[has] 27 cell phones available….” At the same time Apple’s singular iPhone has sold 88% more units this year than last. He also points out that “Garmin makes 82 GPS units that can be mounted in a car or carried in your hand. 82!?! … If Apple made a GPS, there would be two models available – maybe only one.”

I can certainly relate to the overbearing amount of choices in GPS units. I’ve been in the market for a GPS unit, but I still haven’t bought one because I am unwilling to invest the time and effort to wade through the innumerable choices. The point is that, if a customer is somewhat motivated to buy something, but has to decipher an overbearing amount of choices, they will not do it because the perceived reward is not worth the effort. This translates to foregone sales. Matt notes that

Consumers hate choices. They say they love them, but have you ever stood in front of a wall of plasmas and LCDs with a random person? … They get overwhelmed by the amount of options, but Apple has made it easy by producing top-notch products that are easily available.

It is difficult to agree with the assertion that Apple’s success is based on a simple product line; Apple also makes great products in many people’s views. However, I can personally attest that one of the easiest shopping experiences I’ve had was buying my MacBook Pro. The choice was fast and easy, and although I did not get a fully personalized computer, I got one that was more than sufficient for my needs.

I think this observation begs a bigger question: Are we giving too much fanfare to personalization and choice? A recent Economist article, The Long Tail (January 5, 2009), points out that

[One] American telecoms company, offering a wide range of packages for different consumer groups, was reckoned to have 377m different possible combinations of its services, many of which, of course, were never requested.

Is the paradigm of more choice really the most effective product model?

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.

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