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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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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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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About Face (Part 5): Using Idioms to Re-envision How We Understand and Interact with Texts

This is part four of a series of blog posts in response to About Face, by Alan Cooper, Robert Reinmann, and David Cronin. This is certainly the logest of the five-post series. Apparently I felt strongly about the topic!

What is the balance between meeting user’s mental models and creating new idioms?

There seems to be a slight (but necessary) conflict between two key principles mentioned throughout About Face.  The first half of the text strongly reinforces the idea that programmers and designers must work together with users to understand users’ mental models.  Software should match how users think—even if this contradicts the “logic” within the code.

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About Face (Part 4): About Face and Teaching Writing

This is part four of a series of blog posts in response to About Face, by Alan Cooper, Robert Reinmann, and David Cronin.

How can we use the versioning, auto-save, and undo capabilities to re-envision the ways we teach writing?

 Many teachers will tell you that students perform better when they can see measurable progress. Just like the users of a software program, students want to know “where” they are in a process. Although we can’t always give students a virtual “status bar,” we do try to help them see their improvements.  This is why, at the end of the semester, many writing instructors require students to return to a paper they wrote during the first few weeks of class. The goal is to help students actually recognize how much they’ve (hopefully) learned throughout the semester—in terms of content and grammar, in addition to rhetorical writing strategies.

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About Face (part 3) About Face and Learning Spaces

This is part 3 of a series of blog posts in response to About Face, by Alan Cooper, Robert Reinmann, and David Cronin.

How do we avoid creating situations where users get lost in the interface, or experience “navigational trauma?”

Several times throughout the About Face, the authors quote Antoine de St. Exupery saying, “in anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”

To me, this principle seems to be at the core of usability and good design: Give people exactly what they need without all the other “stuff” that distracts, frustrates, or impedes progress and effectiveness.

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About Face (Part 2): Applying About Face to E-Texts

This is part four of a series of blog posts in response to About Face, by Alan Cooper, Robert Reinmann, and David Cronin.

How might all these principles apply to e-texts?  

Although About Face focuses almost exclusively on desktop or laptop computers and the applications and software designed for these technologies, I kept trying to relate their concepts back to textbooks. At first I found this annoying and a bit frustrating. Finally I just decided to give in and run with it.  Most, if not all, of the principles in About Face can be easily applied to iPad app design—more specifically, texts that can be read on an iPad.  For this reason, many of my observations about and responses to About Face deal with e-texts and come from the perspective of a Digital Rhetoric scholar and English composition instructor.

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About Face (Part 1): Personal Connections

At 650 pages, About Face offers so many different entry points into the discussion about usability, interaction design, and graphic design, and industrial design.  Looking back through my notes, however, I noticed several themes coming up again and again. I’ve tried to group these themes and my comment/responses into several blog posts to make them a bit less overwhelming:

  1. Personal Connections
  2. Applying About Face to E-Texts
  3. About Face and Learning Spaces
  4. About Face and the Teaching of Writing
  5. Using Idioms to Re-envision How We Understand and Interact with Texts

This post begins with the theme of Personal Connections. And, as with the posts that will follow this one, I’ve tried to direct my commentary and response to About Face through a series of questions, which I then attempt to tease out and answer.

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