This post about FedEx courier devices was just brilliant. I’ve often wondered about these onerous-looking contraptions, and how much training they must require. The mere look of them is not very enticing. Joe Pemberton’s recount of this encounter is a story to which we can all relate. How many times have we heard people gripe about the devices they have to use to do their job?
Two user experience researchers share on the Google Blog how their team conducted eye-tracking studies on the interface of Universal Search to gain insight into optimal information design. They write in their post:
Our User Experience Research team has found that people evaluate the search results page so quickly that they make most of their decisions unconsciously…. Of course, eye-tracking does not really tell us what they are thinking, but it gives us a good idea of which parts of the page they are thinking about.
As seemingly everyone is moving toward working online, security concerns are being thrown to the wayside with troubling consequences. A recent occurrence at a hot start-up made me seriously think twice about how safe our online data is from malicious eyes.
One of the main themes of Web 2.0 is the large-scale migration to the ‘cloud’. Many work-related tasks such as email, word processing, day planning, and idea sharing are being done online rather than on the desktop or across the desk. Hordes of users and technologists sing unmitigated praises of online applications and collaboration services. I too love the ability to quickly and easily collaborate on an online documents with my co-workers or clients.
We are so focused on the benefits of working online that we often forget the serious drawbacks which include access and data security. The chief drawback for me is the fact that my data is sometimes only one login screen or checkbox away from being seen by anyone, including those that would use the information in egregious ways. In some cases, my data is even more exposed than that.
A while back, Marissa Mayer of Google shared some very compelling research results at a Web 2.0 conference. In essence, she stated that an additional delay of 0.5 seconds to page-load time caused a 20% drop in traffic. Naturally, the first question that came to mind is whether this was an isolated case, or if others were finding such large repercussions for similarly small interaction delays. Greg Linden, writes a very compelling account, on his blog Geeking with Greg, where he remarks that the findings that Marissa shared mirror his own research experience at Amazon:
[We] had a similar experience at Amazon.com. In A/B tests, we tried delaying the page in increments of 100 milliseconds and found that even very small delays would result in substantial and costly drops in revenue.
Reading that two mammoth websites like Google and Amazon experienced very large drops in traffic and revenue due to fraction-of-a-second load delays underscores the importance of promptness in the user experience. It is a facet that is very often overlooked and eclipsed by sexier interaction paradigms. However, cool and flashy interactions are often load-intensive and can really slow down functionality and interactivity. Even with internet connectivity becoming faster by the day, much attention should be paid to the effect of user experience designs on load speeds.
In these tough economic times, one reads of disappointing earnings and layoffs almost every day. Certainly, consumer electronics companies are not unaffected, and major players like Microsoft and Sony are seeing sales plummet and are cutting staff. However, there is one among them that is doing exceptionally well given the market conditions–Apple.
Matt Burns over at CrunchGear wonders in a recent post whether the secret for Apple’s success isn’t its simple product line. Matt notes in his post that Apple’s product line consists of “[one] cellphone, four iPods, three notebooks, and three desktop computers.” It’s certainly a fair question, and similar claims have been made by various academics including Professor Barry Schwartz who authored a brilliant book, on the topic of too much choice, titled The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More. (You can watch Professor Schwartz’s talk based on his book on Google Video.)
Matt also draws some comparisons with other consumer electronics heavy-weights like Motorola, which “[has] 27 cell phones available….” At the same time Apple’s singular iPhone has sold 88% more units this year than last. He also points out that “Garmin makes 82 GPS units that can be mounted in a car or carried in your hand. 82!?! … If Apple made a GPS, there would be two models available – maybe only one.”
I can certainly relate to the overbearing amount of choices in GPS units. I’ve been in the market for a GPS unit, but I still haven’t bought one because I am unwilling to invest the time and effort to wade through the innumerable choices. The point is that, if a customer is somewhat motivated to buy something, but has to decipher an overbearing amount of choices, they will not do it because the perceived reward is not worth the effort. This translates to foregone sales. Matt notes that
Consumers hate choices. They say they love them, but have you ever stood in front of a wall of plasmas and LCDs with a random person? … They get overwhelmed by the amount of options, but Apple has made it easy by producing top-notch products that are easily available.
It is difficult to agree with the assertion that Apple’s success is based on a simple product line; Apple also makes great products in many people’s views. However, I can personally attest that one of the easiest shopping experiences I’ve had was buying my MacBook Pro. The choice was fast and easy, and although I did not get a fully personalized computer, I got one that was more than sufficient for my needs.
I think this observation begs a bigger question: Are we giving too much fanfare to personalization and choice? A recent Economist article, The Long Tail (January 5, 2009), points out that
[One] American telecoms company, offering a wide range of packages for different consumer groups, was reckoned to have 377m different possible combinations of its services, many of which, of course, were never requested.
Is the paradigm of more choice really the most effective product model?
The BBC reports on a study conducted by Mformation, which reveals that of 4,000 people interviewed in the UK and US, 61% claim that “setting up a new handset is as challenging as moving bank accounts.”
The report reveals other details of the complexity users face, such as using various applications, browsing the web, reading email, and sending picture messages. Results include:
“Of those questioned, 95% said they would be more likely to use new features if the initial set-up were easier.”
“Some 61% of those questioned said they stopped using an application if they could not get it working straight away.”
“Having icons for all a phone’s available services at hand was better than burying them in a sub-menu …”
YouTube announced yesterday yet another way to access its videos on a TV: through the Sony Playstaion 3 (PS3) and Nintendo Wii. The service is now in beta but there are many other devices that can access complete versions today. YouTube has made several deals with set-top box manufacturers and TV manufacturers, releasing its first TV application on AppleTV in June 2007. Other devices that now boast this service are:
- Sony Bravia TVs via its wireless module
- HP MediaSmart TV
- VuNow by Verismo Networks
- D-Link Media Lounge / Active TV
YouTube seems to really be living up to their goal to “accelerate an industry evolution towards open television access to Web video.” The list above proves the openness of the team to collaborate with all types of consumer devices to extend its reach and accessibility.
Furthermore, the iterations I have seen of the various UI’s are very consistent with what people are familiar with from its traditional web implementation. Search is key, but the browse experience is still preserved around those familiar categories such as most popular and most viewed. Below are various snapshots of the YouTube interface across several of these devices:
Gary Hustwit brings us “a look at the creativity at work behind everything from toothbrushes to tech gadgets” with his new feature-length documentary film, Objectified. The film includes interviews with international visionaries and design leaders such as Jonathan Ive from Apple and Chris Bangle from BMW among others. “[The] film documents the creative processes of some of the world’s most influential designers, and looks at how the things they make impact our lives.”
Objectified will premier at the South by Southwest Film Festival from March 13th to the 21st.
With the Consumer Electronics Show and MacWorld underway here on the West side, I thought it would be good to highlight some key user experience and product development events that have already been scheduled for the year ahead. From virtual sessions to week-long events, here are some events worth checking out across the globe. Please add a comment below if you would like to add other events here.
As the year winds down, we come to expect many “best of … ” lists. An interesting one that caught my eye today was Business Week‘s top ten books within innovation and design.
The list includes books from authors such as Procter & Gamble’s CEO A.G. Lafley, analysts at Forrester Research, a senior writer at Business Week, and various professors.
One of the books, Stephen Baker’s The Numerati, of which I had previously heard, seems particularly intriguing in the realm of user experience (here’s an excerpt). It examines the use of copious data and trends in creating customized products and services. I hope to find the time to read this one in the near future. Take a look and see if any on the top ten list appeals to you.