Your car’s interface has come a long way, but has a long way to go.
Ok, I want you to do something for me. Take a minute and look at the image below. Just stare at it and try to figure out the use…
This is a picture of a dashboard/control panel that has been floating around the internet for a couple of weeks. Apparently someone shared a screenshot of what it looks like when accessing an ATM’s “Admin Panel”. I’ve kept this image on my desktop and occasionally open it just to stare and wonder about what the different levelers, buttons, and inputs do. I am especially intrigued by the bowling alley in the top right corner.
Is there an animation playing there? Why do the gauges go from red to green instead of the more commonly used green to red.
Honestly, looking at this image is a weird form of therapy – it’s an endless sea of options and settings and it baffles me. My brain locks up just trying to process how horrible it is.
Luckily, user interfaces are rarely this bad. This made me think about how we automatically tie the terms “user experiences” and “user interfaces” to websites or apps. We are truly surrounded by unique user interfaces and experiences in almost every part of our lives: our alarm clock that wake us up, our coffee makers automating the coffee brewing task, the menus on our TVs, information boards at the train station, the credit card terminal, the list goes on and on.
Is Your New Car Stuck in the Past?
Last summer I bought a new Audi Q5. It’s a great car and I love it. It gets me from point A to point B reliably and in comfort. While I was spending the holidays with my family, I drove my dad’s car – which is also an Audi, only 10 years older – and I was amazed that nothing had evolved in their digital interface. In fact, everything about the user experience was exactly the same. I don’t need to tell you that 10 years is a long time in the world of technology. As an example, the cost of touch enabled screens have dropped significantly while their resolution and general quality have gone up. Now, I don’t think that making everything touch screen is a good idea (physical controls work better when you’re wearing gloves), but no evolution says something about the industry.
This is absolutely baffling to me. I KNOW that there’s been a lot of effort, time, and money put into improving the engine, fuel consumption, and even things like the seats. Why isn’t the user interface considered just as vital to the success? Surely as our days are more saturated in technology, our perceptions change as well. What we found “good enough” only a couple of years ago now looks dated.
What Solutions are Being Attempted
While I was giving lectures at the University of Luleå in the very north of Sweden, I was invited to ride there with my good friend Patrick. He was shared with me the new digital dashboard on the Volvo he was driving. They allow the driver to customize the digital dashboard to better suit their taste and driving style. This is great from a user experience point-of-view, but there were a few things that irritated me about the user interface. Can you pick them out in this video?
Now, I’m not a typographic expert of any sort – just ask my wife! – but I can tell you that the kerning hurts the experience when the speedometer goes > 100 km/h. It doesn’t offer a great reading/viewing experience.
Considering Input / Output
When designing controls for a car, it is vital to have an easy input and a clear output. If I press a button, I should be confident of the result and I should receive a notification of some kind that my action was performed.
This isn’t as simple as it sounds. You need to think about the all the different parameters that are attached to that action; in what situation is the action being performed (standing still in park, highway driving, at a red light, etc.)
Secondly, it is important to scale the difficulty of the tasks. Is it an easy task or a more complex one that will require more concentration? Turning up the volume on the radio or adjusting the heat are quick tasks, but finding someone in your contact list and calling them is a much more complex one.
A great example of this is the digital dashboard that Audi is releasing on some models. This design is much like the Apple Watch as it is great for quick glances, but isn’t as efficient with longer engagements like switching music or browsing contacts. Take a look at their demo:
Lastly, who is performing the action? Actions that could be performed by the passenger shouldn’t have their visual feedback appear on the dashboard behind the wheel. Output, or the feedback that an action was successful, need to take different scenarios into account. Is the feedback visual like turning on the headlights? Is it a combination of visual and audio like using the blinkers? As cars move towards screen-based actions, are the tactile feedbacks still necessary?
So, What’s the Next Evolution?
I am looking forward to the time when we’ll see more actions that are voice controlled as that should translate to more accessibility and safety (as long as they work!). If, as anticipated, Apple builds their own car, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that it’ll be assisted by Siri. Asking her for directions to a place would be far easier – and safer – than using the input of most car controlled GPS systems! She would be able to call someone or play a specific song far easier than through a (visual) user interface and simplify that complex task. Wouldn’t it be nice to just ask Siri for a faster way home and have her reroute you around traffic jams?
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many fancy digital dashboards you have, it doesn’t really matter until you solved the basic user interaction problems. While they may seem trivial, like the kerning on a Volvo dashboard, they’re in need of solutions. The automotive industry is starting to catch on to how important user interactions are, but there are many industries that haven’t started their transformation yet.
So, I’ve got an assignment for all of you. In this video from my own car, there is a UX failure. Can you spot it? E-mail me what it is and I’ll mention you in the next newsletter!
(Sorry for portrait video!)
Simplicity – Be Your Own MVP
It’s a new year and, to many of us, that means we’re able to start with a clean slate. People all over the world say that THIS is the year of change and vow to change something about themselves – more exercise, healthier foods, less alcohol, more love, the list goes on and on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a strong support of the things above, but my promise this year is a bit different.
At the end of last year, I took a stand against the constant stream of information that interrupts every second of our lives. I did the unthinkable for most people in my industry – I disabled almost all of the notifications on my iPhone. I decided to stop spending my first waking moments pouring through emails and social media. I made the choice to focus on one thing at a time and if that one thing is just waking up, then that’s fine. If it’s drinking my morning coffee, then that focus means that I’m able to better taste it, not just consume it.
As a freelancer and one-man company, it’s inevitable that things get crazy at times. I’ve found that applying the same rule – focusing on one thing at a time – makes it feel less hectic and I can be more productive. I can take time to appreciate the little victories that focus brings and move on to the next task without feeling overwhelmed.
How does this translate to user experiences?
Previously, I talked about the importance of a MVP – a minimum viable product. The key to a great MVP is to really understand what one thing your product should do well and how it should do it in the simplest way possible. Even when it’s time for the product to scale up and add more features we know that having simplicity at the core makes for a better product. In the industry, apps and user flows are now recognized as being better if they concentrate on doing just one thing at a time.
“Fast forward a couple years and we’re now designing around time: from having all the information available at any time (e.g. Amazon.com homepage) to having just the right amount of information available at the exactly right time users need it:
People want to do one thing at a time, and they want to be guided through the flow as opposed to being prompted with multiple decision points at every step.”
Can WE be a MVP?
For some reason, human beings are so focused on being the opposite. We collect labels as if they are valuable to defining who we are. A person can be not only a great dad, but also a marathon runner, a designer, a tech lover, an equal rights active… oh, and play in a band too! It seems that the more we take on (bonus points for it being at the same time), the more society validates us as being successful. However, science has shown that we really aren’t built for multitasking. Multitasking doesn’t prove we’re productive, it just proves we are busy.
So my challenge this year is to MVP myself. What’s the essence of me? What’s important for me? I’ve spent years trying to please others and make decisions that I thought would fulfill their needs and desires. Turns out, this hardly ever works – not for them and especially not for me.
When I look at the products we create, the rule for me has always been that it is better to be loved by a few than liked by many. So let’s start living our personal lives that way as well. Here’s to an awesome 2016!
Why User Experiences Matter
Wow! It’s been a month since I launched my book, “User Experiences that Matter”, and I can’t begin to express how overwhelmed I am with the response and sales. If you bought it, please send me an email or tweet to let me know what you thought! If you’re still not sure – let me extend a 20% discount to you. Just use the code ‘friends’ and you’ll get the book for only $8! This is your last opportunity before I raise the introductory price and the book lands at it’s full price of $19.95.
Why User Experiences Matter
As I’ve been thinking about the book and what value it brings to you, I am beginning to realize that there was one subject I should have reflected upon more – why I think user experiences matter so much. The book even assumes that it’s a fact with it’s title – User Experiences that Matter – without considering that everyone may not share my reasoning. So, what’s a better way to kick off a new year than rewind a bit and trying to understand it all from the beginning.
Great user experiences can make you the market leader
Even though the first iPod disrupted what was then called the MP3 market by vastly improving the technical specifications – 5GB vs 128 or 64MB – this wasn’t the primary reason for its global success. What made it really stand out was that you could browse a VERY large collection of songs fairly easily (aka the user experience). Remember the Zune? It debuted just after the iPod with similar technical specification, but its complex interface drove away customers.
An error could be an incorrect assumption about what features your users want, how they will behave with your product, developing a navigation that isn’t intuitive, or even a design choice that doesn’t appeal to the user. Basically, these are things a User Experience Designer would have solved before development was even initiated. Taking the time to consider the user experience can save you hundreds of engineering hours and thousands of dollars.
Forrester Research agrees and say that “implementing a focus on customers’ experience increases their willingness to pay by 14.4 percent, reduces their reluctance to switch brands by 15.8 percent, and boosts their likelihood to recommend your product by 16.6 percent.”
The numbers add up, User Experience Design is worth every penny.
An Eye on the Future
How can we plan for a successful future?
As we approach the end of another year, we all begin the process of reflecting on what the past year has brought and start thinking about what we hope to achieve next year. As you look back on your personal struggles and how to overcome them, companies are also looking to re-evaluate their current projects and get their budgets straight for a successful new year.
Personally, I love this time of the year and especially love helping companies plan for their future efforts. There’s a handy approach that I like to follow that I read about on the great Intercom blog some time ago. They called it the 666 Roadmap. I’m guessing the name alone gets you interested. It got mine! Fortunately, it’s not about making a deal with the devil, but IS about a great way to plan for success.
How the 666 Roadmap Works
Think about your current products from all perspectives – what do you love about them and what do you want to improve? Consider specific features that goals for your product. Where do you want your product to be in 6 weeks, 6 months, and 6 years? – There’s the 666 reference! Granted, there are some people who prefer to use 10/10/10, but I think that 10’s are a bit too long to make sense. 6 weeks is great because it lines up with a usual sprint, 6 months is the halfway point to the year, and while 6 years seems like forever – especially in the startup world – it’s still a time period that most can relate to.
In most of my projects, a sprint is usually between 4 and 8 weeks. 6 weeks makes a lot of sense as it fits right in the middle of that standard period and is a great reference to see what’s critical to get done in that period. As you know, 6 weeks really is a limited amount of time. It causes you to prioritize and focus on what features need to be built and how they are going to be shipped. Consider this your high-alert to-do list.
This becomes your backlog for future sprints for smaller tasks or something that you break up into multiple sprints for larger tasks. 6 months is time to build a lot if you are well prepared, but can pass pretty quickly if you aren’t task oriented. Consider this your queue – small AND big projects fit into this and provide you with a bi-yearly goal plan.
This is a bit more tricky. It’s less of a backlog of things to be accomplished and more of a vision for the future. Considering you’ve implemented all of the changes you’ve wanted in the past 6 years, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself. Where is your product now? What does it do? How do your users relate to it? What do you think the biggest challenges will be 6 years from now? What kind of technology are your users using to access your service now and is that relevant to the future? Consider this the plan you need for achieving your vision.
I think this is an awesome exercise that you can use throughout the year. It forces you to think about the bigger end-goal while staying sensitive to the smaller tasks. What are your challenges in the next 6 weeks, months, and years? I’d love to hear about them so send me an email and let’s work together to a better future for ourselves and our users!
P.S. Though this may be my last work-related post for the year, I’m excited to share with you a ton more throughout 2016! (and 2021!)
The Fundamentals of Good UX
There’s a seriously misguided tendency for people to focus more on the ‘design’ in user experience design than the ‘user’.
But no matter how well designed your site is, if your user can’t do what they want, when they want, they’ll leave unhappy, and you’ll lose a potential sale.
If you’re involved in any type of online business, you’ve most likely seen the term UX design thrown around. You might even have a decent idea of what it entails.
So, as a seasoned UX designer, I took it upon myself to find a clear and concise way to explain the role, and the importance of good user experience design.
No amusing metaphors. No jargon. Just the raw truth about what it means to design an experience for real users, and why you and your business need to take it seriously.
So, what exactly is UX design?
At its core, UX Design is a mix of sociology and cognitive science that looks at how people and products interact.
As a scientific process, it’s an analysis of any time a person has an experience with the object of interest. This could be anything from a car, chair, or table, to how someone interacts with your website or app.
“User Experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services and its products”
– Don Norman
So, what are the goals of a UX Designer? When you boil it down, it’s actually a pretty short list:
To improve customer satisfaction
To improve the quality of interaction between a company and its consumer
To make sure that the product logically flows from one step to the next
If this sounds like a big responsibility, that’s because it is. UX design plays a crucial role in any product development because we all know that when your users are happy, business is good.
Designing for the human experience
When I tell people my job title there’s usually an assumption that I’m somehow solely responsible for everything that a user experiences. The truth is that user experiences are made up of so much more than just one person’s input.
As Mike Monteiro, one of my favorite thinkers, explains it:
“I don’t know anything about design. Bullshit. Look around you. You make choices based on design every day… You know bad design when you encounter it. From every chair you’ve sat in that hurt your ass, to every coffee cup that burned your hand, to every time your finger triggered the wrong link on your phone, to every airline booking site that pissed you off. You know bad design. You hate it.”
While Mike is talking about design in a more broad sense, his reasoning can just as easily be applied to UX-design (especially the part about the airline booking site).
What it comes down to is that we all just want things that work.
But that’s no easy task. Making things simple and easy is harder than it looks.
Because the user experience of a product is not based solely on its user flow or simplicity you can have an amazing experience that gets ruined by a slow server, a nasty customer service representative, or too many e-mail newsletters.
These are things that the UX Designer most likely doesn’t have any influence on or control of.
However, there are some key roles we play in making sure your experience is as enjoyable and easy as possible.
How do you know if your UX is good? You become a customer.
When I’m hired to improve the conversion and user experience e-commerces, I’m usually given a set of pages that a company wants me to pay extra attention to: homepage, category, and product pages.
While these pages are critical to the customer’s user experience and business performance, there is a lot more to look at when getting a holistic view of the overall product.
“Great user experiences take time to build and maintain, but can be demolished in just a couple of seconds.”
My first step when taking on a new project is to look at it from the customers’ standpoint, finding every experience as they go from discovering your service to receiving the end product.
Here’s what that might look like for an e-commerce site:
I do a Google search for a product and company name. This is the way most users will find your product, not through the homepage and category pages. Have I understood where I’ve ended up? Does the site give me a trustworthy experience? Can I easily get back to the previous category listing? What about the homepage?
From that product page I’ll go back to the homepage and then find my way to another product. Have they recommended other products that might be of interest to me? Is crucial information clearly displayed (size, color, price, delivery time)?
If there’s a chat function, I’ll connect to it and ask some questions, from obvious to complex, and see how they respond. Do you ship to Sweden? Can you describe the blue color to me?
I’ll then add products to my shopping cart and follow through with the purchase. Was the order form easy to fill out? Did I have to register as a user to buy? Did I have to sign up for a newsletter?
I wait for the order confirmation to arrive. Did it arrive promptly? Is it easy to understand? Does it have all the necessary information?
I take a close look at the shipping process and all the things users are going to be looking for. Do I get an email once my product has shipped? Does it feature a tracking code?
Once the product arrives, I look to see if everything is there including options like ‘added value’ items. Often these are things as small as stickers or can be hand written notes, sweets, and vouchers. Did everything arrive as promised? Are the added value items unique with the user in mind?
I contact customer support one more time to ask questions about my product. How quick was the response time? Under 24 hours? What was the tone like? Friendly or sour?
You may know your product through and through, but your customer doesn’t.
Seeing the experience through their eyes is one of the most crucial parts of the UX designer’s job.
UX is part of everything in your business
As you can see, the total user experience is so much more than just the three pages that most companies want to focus on.
Even if you don’t have the same chain of interactions as an e-commerce site, there is so much more to your user experience than the interface that your customer sees.
Is your customer support easily accessible and helpful?
Do you give added value in your communication with me?
Are your order confirmations and invoices easy to understand, printer-friendly (people still print!), PDF-friendly and OCR-ready?
What good is having the perfect product page if it doesn’t work on mobile, if the customer support is not friendly, and there’s no clear information sent after purchase?
The user experience consists of everyone at your company, from the marketers, managers, and customer service, to technicians and even other users. The role of a UX-designer is to take all these different inputs and craft the best way to package, position, and communicate them.
Success only comes from paying attention to the entire experience of the user, from beginning to end.
Who’s responsible for your user’s experience?
So, just who’s responsible when your user experience is failing customers?
Your business most likely has a CFO that takes care of financial issues, and a CTO that looks after everything technical, but what about the Chief User Experience Office (CUXO)?
(Disclaimer: I don’t think we should ever use this term, but follow me here…)
Your CFO is in charge of keeping your cash flow positive, even though they’re not the only one that is affecting cash flow, right? I believe we need someone to do the same job for experiences.
Currently, UX designers tend to work in a siloed environment and are given only a few small pages to deal with to ‘fix’ the experience without thought of all the outside aspects that affect your product. A CUXO would act like your CFO—not necessarily responsible for directly fixing all of the issues, but with providing the vision and understanding to guide all the moving parts to ensure a smooth experience.
Bad reviews? The CUXO’s job would be to understand why your customers are unhappy.
Low conversions? Again, what experience is holding the customer back from completing their purchase?
UX design is so much more than redesigning a page or two. It’s a mix of understanding technology, business, design, conversions, and psychology.
As design of all types becomes more and more of a differentiator for online businesses, your experience is what will set you apart from the competition. Don’t lose out because you’re unwilling to see the power of a good, clean start-to-finish experience.
Remember, UX design succeeds when you don’t even notice it.
This post first appeared on the Crew-blog. Crew is a group of highly talented designers and developers, allowing you to work with the very best (yours truly included) together with clear milestones and project management. Submit a proposal for a new project here to get started!
Honestly, many designers seem to be very fond of labeling themselves as UX Designers these days. I think it’s probably due to the corporate focus on the value they receive when they are attentive to creating great user experiences. While talking to others and explaining what UX Design really is – and what it isn’t – I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on the work I really do and the history of the field. For many years, people automatically related UX Design to wireframes. Perhaps it’s because much of the deliverable revolved around wireframes and they do vary quite a bit based on a style and purpose.
…But wireframes, though important to the bigger picture, are not the only way for a company to improve their user experience. You see, I rarely create wireframes anymore and it’s a tool that I really don’t miss too much. Most of my days are actually spent having real client conversations about focusing design decisions to improve conversions through close attention to the experience of the user and not just presenting a wireframe.
Here’s a few insights into how you can accomplish these goals and what the deliverables look like may look like for your project:
Augmenting Teams with Fresh Eyes
A few years back, I was contracted by a company that manufactures an amazing product and had recently launched a great new website. I got connected with them when a friend suggested that they may benefit from me taking a close look at their UX.
This company already had a great team of very capable designers and developers, who were responsible for the creative concept and development of the new website. They agreed that a second pair of eyes could help make things even better.
Because they already had designers that created both wireframes and designs, nearly all of my deliverables were mainly through e-mail conversations. I looked at the existing designs and gave them my detailed opinion on how conversions could be improved. It could be really minor suggestions like the wording in a button and its placement, or it could be more complex like the flow of the shopping cart.
“On the homepage, there’s no CTA visible, no price tag, and very limited product exposure. I know it’s always a struggle between brand and conversion/sales, just wanted to highlight that while I think your visits will increase, a conversion drop could be seen. Would it be possible to get “See all my products” above the fold?”
– Email snippet for a homepage UX tweak
I focused on the entire experience – desktop and mobile – and highlighted any inconsistencies that may derail the experience.
User Focused Product/Feature Design Done Right
Sometimes the process is multiphase and dependant on the origin of the idea. In this example, a client of mine provides the perfect example of what this would look like.
1. If it’s a feature that is desired by the client, it’ll usually be followed by a process of in depth learning about the system it is being developed for and all of the related systems. This can get incredibly technical. I certainly have a greater understanding of many industries than I would never have known otherwise!
From this meeting/learning process, I’ll head back to my office and assemble a very rough wireframe or sketch about the desired functionality and the flow of the feature. Basically I am nailing down how the user is presented information and all the different options and functionality. These will go back and forth a couple of times until it is well defined as being user friendly enough for the average user, but is still functional enough for the advanced user.
2. If it’s a feature/subject or area where I can see a need for improvement, I approach it very differently. Even though I’m not generally the target for the product, it’s my job to think like them and consider features that I would have liked to use. These are usually via an e-mail, during an informal meeting, or using Keynote.
Quick tip: Keynote is a great tool for visually communicating concepts and ideas that don’t have all the features set in stone, something that’s not a wireframe, and that doesn’t necessarily have a flow. The two advantages I have found Keynote has given me:
Clearly highlights the problem through a visual medium
Gives a strong representation of the solution (what is technically possible, economically sane, and represents a focus on improving overall experience)
Example: Let’s assume a project’s goal is to give a user access to manage and monitor all of the utilities for a company through an app. This company is multi-location with each of the facilities have specific, if related needs. Sure, the user could manually group managed facilities based on the relationships, but automatically providing the option for grouping could give the user more insights. The app’s job would be to create these groups without it being labor intensive.
Now that we have identified the root problem as the creation of the groups being time-consuming and confusing, we can recommend to the app developer to develop a feature that would allow the user to create dynamic groups themselves based on industry-specific standards. This way, the user is capable of yielding better information with less effort.
1 Hour Consultations
So far, I’ve talked about situations that are with clients who are long contracts, but companies also work with me on a consulting basis. This usually consists of 1 hour strategy sessions over something like Google Hangouts or Skype and are based around a set topic (on boarding, conversions, design style, or checkout flow)
This is super efficient for the client because they’ll get a lot of valuable information in a really short period of time. There’s usually not a set deliverable, but the take-aways are still very tangible.
I think it’s pretty easy to see that there is much more to good UX Design than wireframes. Sure, bigger picture elements – like wireframes – play an important role, but much of what the user encounters is actually based around smaller experiences with the product. Small features, user journeys, microinteractions, and targeted design help to create a better experience for the user and leads to better conversions for the client. As a UX Designer, being flexible with your process and deliverables based on the project can make your job MUCH easier.
ASSIGNMENT: Think of three different ways of improving your product. Now think of three different ways of adapting / trying out these ideas!
When creating great user experiences, we’re often focused on measurable outcomes. Conversions can be measured in the form of sign-ups or, honestly, any other measurable action. What would it look like if the user experience is really letting kids have a great time? I first met Emil when we started working together back in 2005 at Starring. My first impression was that his humane side really made him stand out from other developers. He sincerely cared about creating great things for people. Ten years later, he’s one of the founders of a wildly successful app studio, Toca Boca. There they create apps – or digital toys, as they call them – for kids of all ages to learn and grow. I wanted to be able to share Emil’s wisdom with you and sat down with him to get him to answer a few questions for all of us.
A: Hey Emil, could you tell the readers a bit about your background?
E: Absolutely. I discovered the Internet and computers at a pretty late stage. I was never a gamer, I didn’t have a computer nor a Nintendo which basically meant that when playing at friend’s houses, I got to play for about a minute, then watch for 30 minutes only to play for another minute. You can understand how that didn’t make for an exciting gaming experience. It wasn’t until I played a C64 game called Little Computer People that I was really hooked. The game didn’t really have an agenda, but was more about exploring. Think Sims in 1985. It was the first digital experience that made me excited.
I went on to study System Sciences and taught myself how to make web pages. I figured this was something I could do for a living. While working at Starring, I started to realize that I wasn’t really interested in development, but rather building great stuff that people love to use. I got more and more interested in things like interaction design, service design, and user experiences. All of a sudden, I started to realize that I had a talent for understanding the full experience, how people work, and that details matter.
A: Back in 2005, that wasn’t really a topic of discussion.
E: There’s a book by Jesse James Garrett called The elements of User Experience, where he discusses this theory of layers and how things work together. When reading about layers – I instantly thought that this is how we should work! We were operating (pretty much like most agencies at the time) where we’d spend 5% on the user flows/experience and 95% on visual design. We also used pretty much the same methods regardless if it was a campaign or a corporate site. I tried to convince management that this as an opportunity to make more money by providing clients with a better service. At the time, this discussion didn’t exist in Sweden and only with firms like Adaptive Path that charged for research and interaction design.
Later, when working for Bonnier, I got a more traditional User Experience role and realized that this is what I really enjoy doing. Essentially being able to combine research with a strategic guidance that always has it’s base in the user’s experience and always representing the end user. Being able to assign principles to projects so that you have clear goals for the user experience. Björn (Jeffery) and I became a great team at Bonnier as we both understood the importance of the user experience but also the business side of things.
A: Toca Boca allows kids to play, be creative, and learn how to use technology. So from a social perspective, that’s really User Experiences that Matter because it will also have an impact in the future. Is that something that you take into account when designing?
E: We’re not releasing products purely from a sales-perspective, no. We’re fully aware that the choices we make have an impact beyond today. Apple occasionally uses us as an example and sometimes asks for our advice. This could be when creating a new parental lock or, as an example, when they launched their Kids category in the AppStore. We were very clear that we felt it shouldn’t be gender-based. I’m not sure how much our opinion was taken into account. Maybe a company like Disney would have acted in another way.
We want to be a positive force in the industry and make a mark. We want to create a great culture for kids.
A: How long does it usually take from idea to AppStore?
E: It’s changed over time. During our first year we released 10 apps with no more than 3 months per app. Over time we’ve started to put more effort into every app as we realised that the smaller apps weren’t really good enough (nor were they profitable). This year, we’re expanding our target so every app must be fun for 3 year olds, but also be fun for 7 to 9 year olds. This means every app needs to have a depth to be able satisfy kids of many different levels. We’re investing a lot more into every app this year instead releasing more apps.
At the same time, not everyone will buy every app. Some buy 3 or 4 of our apps whereas some families trust our brand and buy every new app as soon as we release it.
A: Designing for kids must be a blast because kids are so honest in their feedback. At the same time, I’m guessing they’re not as predictable as grownups.
E: Very true. When working with kids, you can’t assume that you know what they’re thinking. Even if you think it’s similar to something that you’ve done previously that worked, you still have to test it. It could be a really minor detail that’s different and they simply won’t like it. You have to be on high-alert at all times and test often. You have to be great at observing and then test and iterate again.
Because kids are so honest, you become very humble. Never assume that you know.
A: What’s the biggest challenge with such a young target audience? What’s the biggest difference?
E: That you’re a grownup yourself. Everything you know, you have to re-evaluate. Every interaction whether it’s swiping, scrolling, or pinching have established user patterns for us as grownups, but you can never assume that kids have the same points of references.
A: Toca Bocas doesn’t have any text, labels, or instructions. Everything is very intuitive and made for exploration. How do you achieve simplicity?
E: We’re not really striving for as simple as possible but rather want to invite to play and exploration. A simple example: Say there’s four characters on a row. One of them is jiggling and bouncing and very inviting. Kids will try to touch that character because it’s the one that’s the most interesting. Kids aren’t trying to perform a task so you have to get them excited. “Who’s this? Who’s hiding behind that box?”
Our first criteria when creating new apps is: I’m curious about what this is.
When you get kids curious, you’ll find new solutions. Invite, excite, and create opportunities.
A: As opposed to many games, there are no levels or goals in your apps. There’s no conversion, there’s just the journey and play time. What ways does this affect your process?
E: I don’t think it’s because of the process, but rather our criteria. We’ve outlined criteria for what a great Toca Boca experience is. First, you should get curious about what this is. Then you should feel empowered – I can do this, but I can also do this. Finally, you should return to find even more things that’s possible and continue to explore.
This requires working with layers and details at a certain level. There should always be more to explore.
We put a lot of effort into creating details, because we think details matter. Even if everyone won’t find the ALL the details, it’ll spread online through forums and between friends. When creating experiences for grownups, not many companies invest in creating great details. When Twitter launched their pull to refresh sound and gesture was a great new experience that just felt right.
A: Often though when features like that are released, they get copied to tons of apps. All of a sudden it’s not a detail – it’s the default way to refresh and more like a framework. You’re designing digital toys, but are also launching a video service and physical products. How do you ensure that your users will feel at home?
E: We’ve discussed this a lot and there are several ways to tie things together. The easiest way would be to have an established character (like a SpongeBob), but we don’t really have characters in that sense. We don’t even have an established visual design language.
What we do have is our values: Always include others, how to play for the sake of play, and that there should be a dimension of play in everything. That’s what guides us. We’re working with principles that are emotional rather than a visual language.
A: How do you define a great user experience?
E: Sometimes it’s “wow, how efficient” whereas other times it’s “wow, I feel all these emotions.” Regardless, it’s about a getting that personal connection – that the person that created this product created it with me in mind. This isn’t created by a massive corporation, but rather by a person. This was created for me.
A: What defines a Toca Boca experience?
E: The above and… This is something I can play with. I’m in full control. I feel empowered by this.
I can explore, I can do this – but I can also do this! That emotion is important and it should always be based around play. You’re playing with Toca Boca, but you can also invite all your friends to play too.
A: What has been the biggest insight during the past years?
E: That kids know so much more than what most grownups think they do. Kids need creative tools to be feel inspired and when they don’t have them, they don’t feel motivated. If you do something that’s truly great, then free kids to do whatever they want. Kids deserve the best tools.
I would argue that the same applies to grownups! Thank you Emil.
What is a Great User Experience?
When working on my soon to be released book, User Experiences that Matter, I felt it was important to get people thinking about what defines a great user experience. It really is a tough concept to understand because it is so multi-layered. To help clear it up, I decided to include interviews with three super smart people to get their opinions on what makes great user experienced, great.
…I now realize that I should probably add my voice to the question as well.
How *I* Define Great UX
One of my mottos when working with (digital) user experiences is to always consider the bigger picture. I must confess that my background is primarily in design and it’s my go to, my bread and butter. However, I’ve learned that design can’t – by itself – create a great user experience. As users, we are often misguided into thinking that it’s design creating that experience. It’s much more. I think I put it simply when I talk about user experiences on my homepage:
“The value of your product isn’t measured in its function and design, but in how your customers value the experience of using it.”
I’ve had this same line on my website for years, but it was the other day when I really started to think about how this applies to my own life. What products/services would I label as having a really great user experience? Like I previously discussed in the Values article – it’s all about our expectations, what we’re being promised, and what the product actually delivers.
While my new iPhone 6s is a beautifully designed device packed with great features – the user experience isn’t really different from it’s predecessor. It is faster. It has a better camera. Do any of these things improve my life in a significant way? Not really. Similarly, Dropbox might sync files faster than Google Drive, but that isn’t something that is critical for me as a user – they both sync fast enough.
When we are creating user experiences, we can’t look solely at what we are offering – we also have to understand the user’s situation. Switching to an iPhone 6s from a Nokia 5110 would be a HUGE leap for the user and they simply won’t do it. They will be far more comfortable upgrading incrementally on the platform – Android or iOS – they are familiar with. Taking the user’s situation into consideration FIRST can help you weigh what you’re adding with the needs of the user.
So what product has improved my life in a substantial way recently?
When I was four years old, I was diagnosed with diabetes. Since I’ve been diabetic for most of my life, it’s part of my everyday experience. I have been lucky enough to live in Sweden (and previously Finland) and am assured great medical care and access to free medicine which is critical for me. However, I was always disappointed at how slow technology has evolved for diabetics. We’ve seen amazing apps, devices, and supplies come to market, but very few of these innovations have been focused on easing the struggle of people like me.
Treating diabetes consists primarily of two important steps: taking insulin and monitoring your glucose. While insulin pumps have become more and more common, it’s not something I’ve ever felt the need to have. You have to continually check to see if it’s working – which can be a confusing process – and you still need to keep an insulin pen with you at all times. Monitoring your glucose usually consists of placing a small drop of blood on a sensor connected to a fairly small device. With advancement in technology, we no longer have to wait 2 minutes for a result and some devices can give a reading in just a few seconds. Even with all these advancements, the procedure has not really changed for the past 30 years.
A couple of months ago, I was introduced to the FreeStyle Libre. With this amazing device attached to my arm (usually for two weeks at a time) I can wirelessly check my glucose levels at any time. I just swipe a meter and it displays my blood sugar. I am no longer bound to the process of constantly washing my hands, finding somewhere to sit, pulling out the different supplies, and actually doing the test.
The meter itself is surprisingly similar to what I’ve had for the past 30 years. Sure, it may now have a color touchscreen display and a better battery that is simple to charge (micro-USB), but what makes the user experience great is the difference in how I can use the product.
Due to it constantly monitoring my blood sugar, I am able to quickly see what my levels have been for the past 8 hours, giving me insight into how to manage my condition. The people at FreeStyle Libre didn’t just create an app, change the interface, or improve the device – they rethought the whole process of monitoring your glucose. They focused on living WITH diabetes. They’ve identified my pain points and acted on them.
Emil Ovemar from Toca Boca shared his thoughts on what creates a great user experience:
“…it’s about a getting that personal connection – that the person that created this product created it with me in mind.”
In order to create truly great user experiences, we need to rethink entire processes of our industry. Uber didn’t just launch a more user friendly taxi app, they disrupted the entire industry. That’s what made Uber a success – the simplicity and design of their app is just a result of that initial disruption.
So, instead of doing yet another redesign, think about how you can RETHINK your industry.
The Extra Effort for Great UX
One of the best books I’ve ever read on User Experiences is titled “The Elements of User Experience” written by Jesse James Garrett. In the book, he begins by telling the story of a man who wakes up and wonders why his alarm clock never went off. He goes to make coffee, but struggles with the coffeemaker. On his way to work, he stops for gas, but can’t get his credit card to work and has to stand in a long line to pay. When he is finally on his way, he is detoured due to an accident and arrives far later than he ever anticipated. He ends up irritated, sweaty, and lacking a much needed cup of coffee.
REWIND: Let’s look at WHY each one of these situations happen and how they relate to poor user experience design. The traffic accident caused by a man who had to take his eyes off the road to lower the radio’s volume. The radio had a poorly designed knob layout and was confusing to our driver. The line at the gas station was so long because the cashier had to use a complex and confusing system to charge clients. The fact that he had to stand in line at all was because the gas pump didn’t offer any instructions on how to properly insert your card. The coffeemaker didn’t work because he had to push the button all the way down but there was nothing to let him know it was turned on or not – no lights, sounds, no feedback. And everything started when his cat stepped on the alarm clock, resetting it without notification.
Can you relate?
I’m pretty sure we’ve all had experiences like this. Our technology and appliances aren’t always very clear in their use. However, we ALL are forced to interact with these failing user interfaces on a daily basis. It’s the TV remote, the pay kiosk at the parking ramp, and especially the custom Excel spreadsheet you use to track expense reports. In order to get what we want from these interfaces, we have to successfully interact with them and that can be difficult.
That said, we have seen a huge increase in good (read: not great) user experiences over the past decade. As we become more and more reliant upon different inputs, we’re bound to learn what works and what doesn’t and that directly affects the development interfaces we use today and in the future.
Assessing the User’s Needs
In 1943, Abraham Maslow introduced Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In it, he described what we need as humans to fully operate. From physiological (air, water, food) to safety (personal security, financial security, health), love (friends, family, sex), esteem (self-respect, self-esteem), and finally self-actuallization (reaching your full potential).
How does this relate to UX Design in the digital and physical world? Maslow gives us the method to understanding the needs of our users. Take online banking for an example:
1. Make the interface functional. It would mean the user being able to login, pay bills, and view an account summary.
2. Make it feel safe for the user to use. I don’t need to tell you how crucial that is for the banking industry and a user will refuse to use something that even APPEARS to be unsafe.
2. Make it usable. It needs to be easy to navigate between pages and it all the functions exactly as the user expects.
Note: This is where 99% of all services end, but great UX design goes further.
4. Make it pleasurable. I know what you’re thinking – a pleasurable online banking experience? Crazy! It may seem laughable, but it’s only crazy until someone actually makes one. Then the whole industry will scramble to catch up.
Using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to create great user experiences
The Extra Effort goes a Long Way
Great user experiences are the result of putting in the extra effort. When usable just isn’t enough. Maslow states that when a person is fully self-actualized, they find contentment as their needs have been all fulfilled. A user finds that same sense of contentment using a product that invested in creating a great user experience. That fully contented user is happier to be a returning customer and brand advocate.
Everyone is a UX-designer and Why I Hate the Term
When people ask what I do, I tell them I’m a UX-designer. Truth is, it’s not a title I’m a fan of. It’s true that I help companies design user experiences and you’d think the title would be suitable, but it also suggests that I am solely responsible for what the complete user experience will be. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. As I’ve mentioned before, the user experiences are made up of so much more and everyone has a role to play.
Mike Monteiro is one of my favorite thinkers. You may know him from his brilliant speech “F*ck You. Pay Me.” or his books “Design is a Job” and “You’re My Favorite Client”. Some of my favorite passages come from “You’re My Favorite Client” where Mike let’s the reader know that whether they believe it or not, they are a designer too:
“I don’t know anything about design. Bullsh*t. Look around you. You make choices based on design every day.
Even if you can’t design those things yourself, that doesn’t take away from your ability to decide that was the chair you wanted to sit on, or the shoes you wanted to wear, or the car you wanted to buy.
You know bad design when you encounter it. From every chair you’ve sat in that hurt your ass, to every coffee cup that burned your hand, to every time your finger triggered the wrong link on your phone, to every airline booking site that pissed you off. You know bad design. You hate it. “
It Should Just Work
Mike’s reasoning can be easily applied to UX-design – the airline booking site reference fits really well. As people, we just want things that work. This is, without a doubt, one of the reasons that Apple has seen such great success with their products.
Sure, the Android operating system has some awesome features. You can customize just about anything, but the vast majority of users don’t give it a second thought. Do we really think that people care whether or not you can customize what font the operating system uses? Most people don’t even know what a font is. What people do care about is getting on with their daily business. The faster I can pull the phone out of the box to start making calls, e-mailing, and browsing the web – the better.
More Options Don’t Equal Good Experience
I was recently hired to rethink the user experience of an e-commerce website that lets users customize shirts. The possibilities are absolutely endless. A user can choose different buttons, collars, pockets, cuts, and the list goes on and on. They can even upload their own measurements to ensure a perfect fit.
These endless possibilities can get overwhelming for first time users. They might just want to get a shirt where they can simply select a custom color. I suggested to the client to group options together to make the choices easier to grasp. Especially in this case, this grouping technique can help users more easily engage with the product.
Just think of Google. The possibilities are endless for what you can search for and how you can filter those results to see exactly what you are looking for. But the success of Google lies within the simplicity; that most users feel comfortable with a single text field where they can enter their search term.
This e-commerce client didn’t buy into my reasoning and thought that they would lose clients by grouping the options for ease of use. They believed that their user base desires to have all the options, all the time. We ended up parting ways because I couldn’t suggest a solution that would meet all of their demands.
I strongly believe that if you want to please everyone, you end up pleasing nobody – not even yourself.
The User Experience is SO Much More
Even though my title might be UX-designer, the user experience consists of everyone involved: marketers, managers, customer service, technicians, even other users. The role of a UX-designer is to take all these different inputs and suggest the best way to package, position, and communicate it. Success comes from paying attention to the entire experience of the user, from beginning to end.