UXPin Design Tool

Pretty cool new tool by UXPin. You can use it to collaborate, create wireframes, and keep track of design iterations.

What I love is that you can also use it to help people understand your design process. Although this is nice for clients and stakeholders I think it’s especially useful for educating your design team and keeping everyone on the same page.

…because written Standard Operating Procedure Manuals and Best Practice documents are soooo last decade (and nobody ever read them then anyway).

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Users Don’t Know What They Want…Or What They do

We’ve heard it time and time again: People don’t know what they want. We’ve heard it from usability experts and UX designers…

To design an easy-to-use interface, pay attention to what users do, not what they say. Self-reported claims are unreliable, as are user speculations about future behavior. (Jakob Nielson, First Rule of Usability? Don’t Listen to Users)

You can’t ask users outright what they want. You get theoretical answers. You don’t get the answers that result from real choices in real situations. You don’t get the truth about how people think and work. (Robert Hoekman, Designing the Obvious)

The “listen to your users” produces incoherent designs. The “ignore your users” can produce horror stories, unless the person in charge has a clear vision for the product, what I have called the “Conceptual Model.” The person in charge must follow that vision and not be afraid to ignore findings. Yes, listen to customers, but don’t always do what they say. (Donal Norman, Human Centered Design Considered Harmful“)

We’ve heard it from Apple…

You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new. (Steve Jobs, quoted in “The Entrepreneur of the Decade“)

And we’ve heard it from pop-culture (thanks, George, for reminding me of this example):

[Homor’s half-brother] Herb decided his company needed a new car that would appeal to the “average” American. Despite the many objections of Herb’s employees, Herb encouraged Homer to follow his instincts in creating a car that American consumers would want to buy. Homer took charge of the project after Herb encouraged him to obey his gut when it came to what kind of car he wanted. Motors. (Simpsons Wiki, “The Homer”)

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We Don’t Buy Products. We Buy Experiences.

Whole foods, Audi, Starbucks, MoleskineWhole Foods. Audi. Starbucks. Moleskine.

Each of these brands develop and sell vastly different and unrelated products, but it’s not just “stuff” they market to consumers, it’s experience. There’s no doubt that Whole Foods is more than just groceries, Audi is more than simply automobiles, Starbucks is more than just coffee and pastries, and Moleskine more than stationary.

Whether we’re motivated by a personal attraction to elegance and quality or enticed by the cultural and societal status these brands signify, we still place a premium on the experience they provide. The experience embedded into these brands is why we pay $2 for a grande coffee at Starbucks when we could brew it for $0.47 at home or $10 for a Moleskine notebook instead of buying a $1 notebook from The Dollar Tree.

Even Stanford University President John Hennessy alluded to the draw of experience in an interview with Salman Khan about the future of credentialing in higher education. When asked if Stanford would ever consider implementing a completely online learning model for undergraduate, Hennessy quickly replied no”:

“We require our [undergraduate] students to live in a community for four years. And we believe that’s an important part of the [education] process…Will fully online learning be an experience that we feel is equivalent to the on-campus experience? That will be the question.

In other words, a significant portion of what these students (err–their parents) are paying for at these elite institutions has nothing to do actual classroom education. Of course I acknowledge that more prestigious universities attract high quality professors and can afford to provide student’s access to exceptional resources, etc… But my point is that students are not paying for the quality of the information being delivered (you can pretty much find all of that online, free of change); they are paying for the community, the culture, the experience.

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Is Web Usability Persuasive? Let’s ask FedEx.

Can web usability be persuasive? Honestly, I hadn’t really thought about it up until a few weeks ago. We think of great writing and speeches as being persuasive. . .but usability?

J. Anthony Blair in “The Rhetoric of Visual Arguments” (a chapter from Defining Visual Rhetorics, edited by Hill and Helmers) takes on the question of rhetoric, argument and persuasion in regards to images. He explains that historically, rhetoric, argument, and persuasion have all been connected to “verbal phenomena” (41). Ultimately, Blaire concludes that “arguments” can only be assigned to words not images, because images “cannot provide reasons for accepting a point of view” (44).  Although visuals can “[supply] grounds for beliefs, attitudes, or actions,” visuals arguments cannot be a substitute for verbal, and the two work best when combined together.

So what does this have to do with usability (and FedEx)?

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Death to Word?

Not the written word, of course… just the application. At least that’s what Tom Socca is calling for in an article he posted last week on Slate called “Death to Word: It’s Time to Give up on Microsoft’s Word Processor.” While this might be a bit extreme, I have to agree with Socca on a few points.

Word’s menu bar looks like the dashboard of a commercial airliner…not a tool for processing words. And although I think I’ve finally figured out how to maneuver my way around most of its forced defaults (like the auto-formatted outlines, bulleted lists, and incorrect grammar alerts), I could certainly do without many of Word’s “helpful” options.

Throughout its many releases in the past decade, I’m afraid Word has fallen victim to “feature creep.”  Its functionality has overtaken its usability; its many features actually slow people down and keep them from performing what should be a very simple task: creating a document.  Sure, I guess it’s nice that Word gives me seventeen different options for cover pages. But do you know how many times I’ve used them? Not once.

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Commonality: Final Product for Global Service Jam 2012

Over the past two days, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible graphic artists, UX specialists, industrial designers, content strategists, copywriters, and social media experts.

We all met at 5:00, Friday evening at Info Retail to kick off Global Service Jam 2012–48 hours of brainstorming, strategizing, planning, designing, and creating.

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Inventing the Medium–Trying to Find the Words

Inventing the Medium Cover

For the past two weeks I’ve been reading Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice by Janet Murray.  And I’ve been really struggling to find the words to discuss this book in a formal post.

It’s a much slower read than the books I’ve gone through up to this point–in large part because I’m so afraid I’ll miss something important. Murray does such a wonderful job of connecting ideas about design, the creation/consumption/use of text, changing mediums, Human-Computer interaction, information architecture, and usability.  But as I read, a part of me becomes frustrated because even though the content itself is clear as I’m reading it, I don’t know that I could actually explain those same ideas to someone else. (Another part of me has been stuck in a succession of “Ah-ha!” moments, where I find myself saying, “That’s what I’ve been thinking all this time but haven’t been able to articulate in words!”)

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Rhetoric Makes Me Cynical and UX Makes Me Critical

I remember voicing a complaint in my Historical Foundations of Rhetoric class several years ago that all this “rhetoric stuff” was making me cynical (well, even more so than I naturally am). I felt like it was leading me to over-analyze everything and to think that everyone had hidden agendas and manipulative motives.

Well, I’m experiencing a related reaction toward the texts I’ve been reading about user experience and user-centered design practices. Although instead of becoming even more cynical (I think I’ve hit my ceiling), I’m just becoming hyper-aware of every little error message, dialogue box, and confusing task or setting on every single piece of technology I use.

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