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Archive for the ‘Usability’ Category

Usability, Instructions, and Foreign Airports

Posted by matteverard on August 3, 2006

I recently traveled through Toronto International Airport for the first time and the experience reminded me of how it is nearly impossible to communicate an unintuitive process to a listener. Take, for instance, trying to teach somone how to drive a manual transmission auto (“Let out gently on the clutch, slowly engage the gas…Slowly…Slooowly…GOOD LORD I SAID SLOWLY!!”).

Or teaching a 6 year old how to punt a soccer ball (“hold it like this, and drop the ball when it gets just below your knee…No, don’t toss it up…up is bad, let it fall…whatever…just have fun, you’ll get the hang of it).

So, OK, I’m waiting in terminal 1 for my baggage…waiting…getting nervous…watching the same two forelorn bags circling and circling without any new friends to join them. Then I did what I normally do when I can’t find my luggage (and don’t ask me why b/c it has never yielded results, but it just seems like “common sense”), I walk around the other baggage carousels thinking there’s a mix up. I think I blew 30 minutes before I went for help.

Baggage guy: “Oh, you’re going international, so you pick up your bags in terminal 2. Which is way over there.” He looks at me, twists his head a bit and points to a vague, far off land that requires a bus ride. To him, looking for international luggage in term 1 was just insane. Just then I remember hearing something in the PA system talking about international passengers which I had tuned out. Sure enough, it gave me perfect directions.

Yep, the manual was there but I didn’t read it. Why? Well, I never read manuals b/c they are usually very, very dumb. Here was an exception, but I’ve already figured out how to navigate these types of systems and the PA system has never before contained critical information. (BTW–my friends in Vancouver had warned me of the weirdness of the Toronto luggage system before I left, but I had no category to receive the data. I just didn’t get it.)

So to me, looking for luggage in a remote terminal is insane. Sure, I live in Ohio and don’t get out much. Go ahead, make your jokes. Never mind. This is the way software works. People don’t read the instructions b/c they’ve, say it with me, used this stuff before and know how it should work.


OK, so, here’s the moral of the story: I hated the Toronto International Airport and blamed them for my bad experience. “That’s not fair,” you might say. True, but that’s the way it went.

I think end-users grow to hate sofware through similar experiences. If you don’t design a highly usable UI/flow, don’t count on warning signs or manuals to help with adoption.

Posted in Society, Usability | Leave a Comment »

Reduced Feature Set = Better Product?

Posted by matteverard on July 10, 2006

Yes, it’s true. Here’s a great post by DabbleDB’s Andrew Cotton Catton (demo of his new product here) explaining why his product doesn’t have templates. Answer: it used to but they cut that feature after user testing. I love it! This reminded me of two things about design that every PM should know:

1. More features != better product. More features usually means more options to consider. “Considering” is thinking. Thinking leads to confusion. Confusion leads (quickly and unavoidably) to a bad experience.

2. You don’t know anything until you watch someone use the product. Actual user testing is the only way to know what’s good and bad in your design. You can get user input during design, recruit a great team of interface designers, and do paper prototyping, but you’ll never get the real deal until it is a tool in someone’s hand.

It’s very difficult to cut a feature (after pouring hours into development and design, you’re emotionally committed to it), but that’s the kind of discipline that needed to make a great product. Congrats, Andrew!

Posted in Leadership, Program & Project Mgmt, Usability | 1 Comment »

Microsoft Designs iPod Packaging

Posted by matteverard on June 28, 2006

Hilarious, short video showing how MSFT would apply their design philosophy to the iPod (ironic note: the video was created within MSFT).

Posted in Innovation, Usability | Leave a Comment »

An Open Letter to the Audible.com CEO

Posted by matteverard on June 28, 2006

I sent this email a few weeks back and have not heard a reply. Perhaps it was too cheeky–this was after a very frustrating visit to the site. Let me know if you are an Audible subscriber with similar complaints.

Dear Mr Katz,

I have been an Audible customer for several years and frequently evangelize your services to friends and colleagues. Recently my “customer experience” has been going down the toilet, and I’m starting to loathe visits to your site. I write this email in the hope you will make the necessary changes before people like me defect in droves.

1. I can’t find what I want. Your (new) merchandising layout is awful. I don’t say this kind of thing lightly (I know how hard it is to strike a balance between marketing needs and clean design). I put up with your old layout (which was lacking but serviceable), but this newer version has these fatal flaws:

a. Home page real estate never has anything for me. Over 50% of the space is dedicated to huge spotlights (today Ricky Gervais and Dan Brown? No thanks. I read Mr Brown a while ago and Gervais may be interesting, but I’m a monthly subscriber and not interested in getting out my wallet). Key fact: I’m spending 2-3x as much time trying to locate a new book as before. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your average customer visit time has increased? Don’t take that as good news.

b. The left-hand categories are too numerous (humans can manage 5-8 well and maybe up to a dozen but you have over 30!) and, in my case, they are irrelevant. Do I want a bio or a biz book today? I don’t know. I want to listen to something good. My interests are eclectic (last month The Wisdom of Crowds but in January it was The Year of Magical Thinking). Why can’t you show me books that have high review scores from readers and critics?

c. Your “New Releases/Our Top Sellers/In the News” area is a nice idea poorly executed. You can’t read the titles of most of the books b/c of space (e.g. a featured product reads “What Price L”?), can’t see any blurb about the book without clicking through (take a look at Netflix for an elegant solution to this type of problem), and we only get <12 recs, many of which are really old.

d. The top categories “Best Sellers/Award Winners” are at times usable, but most of the inventory is old–is there a shortage of quality product on the market? The top “New Releases” category is also unhelpful–today a long list of $1 items from the Biography station. I am a monthly listener–I want to find another BOOK!

e. Who came up with the left hand navigation elements such as “I want to: feel like a kid again”? Maybe some focus group liked that approach, but I think it stinks. I want to find something good. So much of what is out in the market is rubbish, and I want you to help me avoid it.

2. Major usability issues. I get “This American Life” every month. Why not let me sign-up for an automatic renewal? Last monthy it took me ten minutes to find TAL and buy it. I wanted to upgrade a few months ago to get two periodicals per month, but your site wouldn’t let me upgrade my basic listener program until my year was over! I got a new computer and your DRM software said I had too many devices. On top of this, everything loads very slooooowly. All user actions require a page reload?!! Where is the AJAX? Is BroadVision the problem? If so, dump it now.

3. Summary: it feels like the VP of marketing runs the site. He’s always trying to sell me something and he’s doing a bad job. Mr Chairman, if I were you, I’d put an ombudsman in charge of the site, someone who is sympathetic to the customer’s needs. You are running a community (at least for monthly subscribers). It needs to feel like a comfortable, smart place that is solving my needs for intellectual content collection and delivery.

With all respect,

Posted in Anti-pattern, off-topic, Usability | 2 Comments »