Category Archives: Life and Technology

Tools Not Included

While working on my presentation for Mobile Camp Chicago 2013, I’ve talked to fellow user experience pros about mobile user research. After multiple stories that involved everyone doing their best MacGyver impression to capture usability feedback, I got fed up. Why aren’t usability testing tools part of operating systems? Think about it. We know that the best solutions are created when the people who create them watch real people trying to use what they are building. OS creators have a vested interest in providing the best platform that delivers the best experience. So give the people who build the things people use on your machines the tools to do this easily.

Microsoft, Apple, Google, everybody listen up. Here’s my feature request: An integrated, standardized tool to screencast, with audio while recording.While you’re at it, please capture clicks and gestures. Throw in the ability to capture the user’s face with the camera at the same time. And make it a part of the operating system. For every device.

The world of UX will write you love letters and you will have the best, most usable software for your customers. It seems so obvious. Let’s do this.




Are We Going too Fast?

I want to say I love technology and the challenges we face due to its rapid change. There will always be more to learn, and that keeps me from getting bored. In fact, it would be fair to say that my career has become my hobby because I truly enjoy finding new ways to enhance people’s lives through technology.

I often find that the pace at which most projects need to get out the door prevents us from shipping something that matches our vision. We skimp on the time spent understanding what users need, implement the minimum functionality required, or miss details because we simply had to move too fast to keep up with them all. We watch it go out the door proud of what we accomplished but knowing we wanted to do better.

A lot of us attempt to make up for this by working more hours or running as fast as we can every moment we’re in the office. It makes up a bit of the gap, but makes us vulnerable to burnout, divorce and illness. Not exactly what you want for your most valuable talent.

What is driving us too keep up this speed? I remember when I first started my career “Speed to market” was the mantra. I truly don’t know of business leaders still consider being the first to bring an idea to market is more important than bringing quality to market, but the pressure is still there. I do agree that timing is critical when you put your product out there. Just look at the recent upswing in flickr usage. They released a much needed app revamp right after Instagram made an announcement that turned off their users. That may be the best bit of timing in business history.

The other factor that sets the pace of a project is how many hours of labor someone is willing to pay for to create it. Whether you are working in house for internal clients or at an agency for customers, an agreement has to be reached on how many dollars will be spent toward that project. And dollars=time.

Are we undervaluing what we deliver? Should businesses take more care with the technology they put into the marketplace? I truly don’t know. When we look at all of the possibilities to improve business and provide valuable experiences to consumers through technology, most industries are woefully behind where we’d like them to be. So many opportunities are not seized because of lack of time and budget. If we slow down, this situation gets even worse.

Perhaps, the issue isn’t a lack of time or money, it’s how it’s spent. Companies need to bring their budget priorities up to date. Organizations continue to spend more money on ineffective, outdated advertising techniques such as print or direct mail and none on content for their online presence. If they matched their spending to their value streams, there would be much more money to spend on technology. More funding, equals more people working toward your goal.

That brings up another variable in the equation, the talent shortage. There aren’t enough people with the skills needed to do the work we want to do. Even if there was money to pay for them, you can’t find people who are able to do that work.

Where does that leave us? Our industry is a passionate lot, frequently willing to spend extra hours to see that the quality is delivered or to push the envelope. The speed at which technology has been advancing is due to that passion. Perhaps the most viable solution is that we channel that passion into training the next generation and fix the talent shortage. Many hands make light work.

Easier Choices, Happier People

“Every waking moment is a shopping moment. Anytime, anywhere.” -Steve Yankovich [1]

We the hyper-connected, never-slow-down people have taken our shopping mindsets out of the store and into our other daily experiences. The explosion of mobile devices also provides access to content from any context.  The increase in our mindshare devoted to shopping gives marketers unprecedented opportunities to deliver their brand message. But there’s a downside to increasing the time a consumer spends thinking about buying your product.

Could always shopping behavior be a coping mechanism rather than an obsession with getting more stuff? Every day we encounter a daunting array of options for everything. “Would you like organic, low fat, nonfat, or sustainably sourced ranch dressing on that salad?” We are challenged with fleeting windows of opportunity, and limited resources.  At least we have an endless font of data to help evaluate our options (snark)! In order to cope, we extend our data gathering and product evaluations beyond the marketplace. Always shopping means hyper-vigilance about what’s available, our needs, and our means.

Grocery Store
Photo Credit: Lyza Danger Gardner copyright 2004

Barry Schwartz has done great work understanding our world of abundant choice. He’s found the more time we spend evaluating options, the less likely we are to feel satisfied by them. Instead, we experience anxiety and doubt. By extension, the less effort we spend in choosing, the less self-doubt we experience.[2]

Look at the near religious fervor among Apple customers. Apple extends its simple is better design philosophy to the product selection process. Few options are offered within each product family compared to the decision gauntlet you need to navigate when buying a PC. Since there are fewer opportunities for picking the wrong option, Apple customers have more confidence in their selection, contributing to higher enjoyment with their purchases.

The narrower the difference within our decision set, the less confident we are in our ability to select the right one. Products that break away from a cluttered field clarify the options into this or that. Upon their introduction, the Dyson vacuum clearly differentiated itself from its competitors. They also inspired passion in their customers. Are these people really that happy about cleaning their carpets? Or was their enjoyment freed of self-doubt?

Offering a better environment to choose a product has a huge impact on the perception of brand as well. I love cooking, but hate supermarkets. Picking between 4 types of fresh strawberries and 10 brands of ice cream while managing a cart and trying to remember what is currently in my refrigerator takes the joy out of an ice cream sundae. Peapod gives shoppers an organized, low pressure setting to shop. Their fans rave about the service’s ease and simplicity. It may be a hassle to arrange delivery of these perishables, but I’m saved the anxiety of staring at that wall of salad dressings while my child runs into my ankle with the cart.

Woman hugging her new car
Photo Credit: Ross Berteig copyright 2007

Seizing every moment as an opportunity to get in front of consumers’ eyeballs may increase brand awareness, but negatively impact customer satisfaction.  Minimizing the effort it takes to select your product will improve satisfaction, as well as reviews and social activity. The real opportunity in this “always shopping” culture is shortening the time it a person considers your product before choosing it and completing that transaction. Faster, clearer choices make happier consumers.


[1] Steve Yankovich, head of eBay’s mobile business, 9 August 2012

[2] Barry Schwartz: The Paradox of Choice, TEDGLOBAL 2005