When people consider buying anything, whether it be clothes, a gadget, or home, they often spend a lot of time comparison shopping and trying to gather information to inform their choice. In fact, a major effort is generally exerted to try to experience the item:
When shopping for shoes, we will put on one shoe and walk back and forth; then the other shoe, check ourselves out in the mirror and hold on to the item while scanning for other options.
For hotels and trips, we read reviews, look at pictures, and find out what our friends know about a destination or establishment. We look out for those horror stories and shop around for a balance of quality and price.
When shopping for a home, we take tours, learn about the previous owners, walk/drive through the neighborhood, look for restaurants and amenities nearby that match our interests and try to picture how we would arrange the rooms and furniture.
What this all leads to is a frame of reference. People try to create and imprint a picture in their minds of the item, not just on its own, but within their lives. It is easy for businesses to lose sight of this fundamental aspect of the decision-making process and leave it to the customer to do all this leg-work with little assistance. But this is a mistake.
Jonathan Hassell of BBC online shared a presentation on the challenges and methodologies of the company’s Usability & Accessibility team. The short presentation describes the challenges, such as a wide range of platforms and audience types, as well as the wide-range of research tools that are used to understand and address them, from card sorting to ethnographic research.
Although, I would have liked more details as to the organizational interactions and long-term research approach, and don’t necessarily agree with the over-simplification that “TV is simple,” the slides do show the breadth of methods used to satisfy the BBC online audience and can be viewed below.
UPDATE: The video of the presentation is also available (requires registration, go to “Web 2.0, Social Networking, Usability, Design & Build Theatre,” then “Wednesday at 13:00”). See comment from Chris Rourke below.
John Battelle and Tim O’Reilly recently published a fascinating white paper on the evolution of the Web (PDF). The report, titled Web Squared: Web 2.0 Five Years On gives an excellent analysis of the last five years of Web 2.0, current trends, and where the Web is heading in the future. Battelle and O’Riley write that “Web 2.0 is all about harnessing collective intelligence,” and in the future, it will be the semantic web, sentient web, social web, and mobile web combined. The web will increasingly happen in real time and will harness network effects to learn from the vastly expanding body of aggregate data that comes not only from users but also from sensors (like GPS). The applications based on these paradigms will provide new, elegant solutions to real-life problems. The authors write:
The “subsystems” of the emerging internet operating system are increasingly data subsystems: location, identity (of people, products, and places), and the skeins of meaning that tie them together… A key competency of the Web 2.0 era is discovering implied metadata, and then building a database to capture that metadata and/or foster an ecosystem around it.
I flew on Lufthansa during a recent trip to Europe. Not only was it one of the nicest flying experiences that I have ever had, but it also turned out to be an opportunity to experience a very well-done interactive experience. Despite some shortcomings, Lufthansa’s touch screen entertainment application was a prime case study in good user experience design. I have seen and used other in-flight applications on other airlines, but they were always clunky, often confusing, and not very enjoyable to use. Lufthansa’s application (pictured below), on the other hand, was elegant, simple, intuitive, and did everything that a typical passenger would likely need without mucking up the experience with useless features.
I witnessed something that was a true testament to the entertainment application’s outstanding design. Even before I had a chance to play with it, I looked over across the aisle where an elderly woman in about her seventies ventured to use the touch screen application. She poked the touch screen with resolute force and very intently examined the screen. From having done a number of usability studies, I guessed that she was a rather novice computer user, and I got excited to witness her use the application. From past usability studies with inexperienced participants, I anticipated that she would quickly get lost, confused, frustrated, and would abandon her task. To my astonishment, she prodigiously navigated through the application, browsed TV programs and movies to watch and ultimately played a movie on the touch screen in front of her. Needless to say, I was completely astounded by how easy to use and intuitive the application was even to a computer novice.
After studying my unaware participant, I quickly took out my camera and examined Lufthansa’s in-flight touch screen entertainment program. Below are my observations. I draw on some particular screens to illustrate certain points, and all of the ones that I photographed can be seen in the gallery at the end of the post.
This year’s batch of nominees for the Oops Award for Bad Product Design are truly exemplary. I highly encourage the reader to feast your eyes on some of the world’s biggest product design disasters. While most of the nominees have earned their spot in these echelons for aesthetic reasons, there are also some that are clearly included for their utter lack of utility—see below.
The Web is abuzz with news that Google finally took its office suite, including Gmail, out of beta. Initially launched on April 1, 2004 as an invitation-only release, over five years have passed before Gmail finally graduated to a fully mature product. I would love to know the reasoning behind such an uncommonly long beta period, especially since many have considered it fully-baked for quite some time now.
LG ARENA won the IF Communication Design Award for the 3D S-Class User Interface featured on its latest handset, LG ARENA, which was awarded Gold in the Product Interfaces category. The interface, which won over all graphic user interfaces in several product categories, is used on LG’s other high-end phones, namely: Viewty Smart (LG-GC900), LG-GM730 and LG-GD900 Crystal.
On a recent trip, I was reminded of the illogical separation of the international and domestic terminals in airports. I, like many, have been confused as to where to go when flying overseas; if you have a stop-over in your origin country, do you go to the domestic terminal or to the international one? Why does the separation exist really? It seems like an antiquated system that no one has bothered to rethink. Furthermore, there has been little room to grow with this separation. In the San Francisco International Airport, for instance, JetBlue has been relegated to the international airport because there was simply no more room in the domestic area. You can see how this begins to further complicate matters for airport patrons.