Marketing Strategy and Innovation Blog

Building a Good Reputation Can Lead to a Strong Brand

To some ‘reputation’ and ‘brand’ may be one and the same. I consider reputation to be an integral part of a company’s brand. Beyond reputation, brand can include things like popularity (market penetration), identity, uniqueness, etc.¬† Yet reputation probably pays the biggest role in building a valuable brand. Indeed, this past week Forbes released its list of the 75 most reputable companies in the U.S. It is not surprising that there is a strong correlation between Forbes’ list and Millward Brown’s list of the 100 most valuable global brands. In fact, the list of the most valuable brands in North American on Millward Brown’s list has an even more striking correlation.

Of course, we can’t assume causality just from correlation. However, it is true that many of those companies with the best reputation and highest brand value, like Google and Toyota, stress customer satisfaction, reliability, and excellence of their products and services. These are the same values that are the basis of effective user experience design.

What can be learned from this? While business needs are critical, user needs are just as important. When the two don’t align, we must make design decisions that take into account both, not just business decisions.¬† As a concrete example, advertisements are can be detrimental to users’ experience, particularly the invasive ones that pop up and flash. While they may be good for business, they will hurt the user experience and the company’s reputation and probably the value of its brand.

Touch and Usability

Based on this week’s talk of the rising importance of universal design, one may ponder whether this trend is actually real and to what extent it has manifested itself in daily life. Are products really easier and more accessible for everyone?

Although I think the global trend is moving in the right direction for the most part, there are areas of concern. Awareness of accessibility is up, and design processes are being adjusted to accommodate ease of use, but are our products universally usable? David N Wallace, an IT coordinator who has first-hand experience with living with a disability, writes about the concerning trend around touch technologies in physical devices.

Wallace writes:

Boiled down to its most base level it’s about access and in this instance the barrier to access that the proliferation of skin-based touch devices brings with it. I’m specifically talking about touch devices that require skin to work.

[…] Barriers aren’t new to me and neither is finding ways around, over or through them. But what’s different is the pervasive nature of “touch” technology of today. Here’ an exercise, try and find a laptop that doesn’t use a touch pad or that has an alternate input method.

He goes on to write about possible solutions and existing experiments. More than anything he encourages us all to think about accessibility even further at the design phase from both the hardware and software front. This is not to say that touch technology is ineffectual or does not have its place, but we need to recognize that it remains an open challenge at being truly accessible.

Pay Attention to Universal Design

Beth Tauke of uiGarden.net recently posted a pretty complete article on universal design’s rising momentum in the global marketplace. Admittedly, universal design has been around for over twenty years, but as the writer points out:

“Recently, universal design has been cropping up in places in which it would have been unwelcome twenty years ago. The term is now peppered throughout design firm websites, product websites, and design magazines….”

The article cites various reasons for this shift, including:

  1. World demographics are changing
  2. World economics are changing
  3. More societies throughout the world are valuing human diversity
  4. Major corporations are developing ad campaigns that foster ease of use and inclusion
  5. Mass customization is making it easier to develop universally designed solutions

It’s great to see that universal design is gathering more traction, but surprising to me that it took so long. This is often the perspective taken with many advancing social changes which this is for many. As more and more agencies and governments push accessibility as the law and companies recognize the advantages of designing for all, among the other factors mentioned in the article, universal design may finally become a fixed standard that everyone needs to fulfill.

CNET Jumps on the Bandwagon, Redesigns Its Site

CNET has posted that it will be rolling out a new user experience design over the coming weeks. The new website will not only look different, but will contain modern interaction elements to simplify its pages while exposing more content. The main goals for the user experience redesign are to “make the site easier to use and speed it up.”

CNET's New User Experience Design

Like many news and published content sites, the new CNET homepage includes a rotating carousel that highlights stories from its three main content categories: technology news, product reviews, and downloads. They also incorporate some other elements that are becoming de facto standards such as the expanded footer that acts as an abbreviated site map and prominent video module. The redesign also follows another recent trend, putting large advertisements in the header. After all when a website has a strong brand and a loyal following of users, it can get away with putting ads in such visible places and generate greater ad revenue without alienating too many people.

There are three lessons from CNET’s handling of the user experience redesign that other companies should follow. First, CNET considers speed to be a vital part of the user experience. Other notable internet giants like Google agree. Second, CNET is proceeding with the redesign very meticulously, gathering plenty of input from analytics and alpha testers to optimize the final version. Even after all of the careful thought and improvements that have gone into the alpha version, they have opened the design to public comment by posting it on their website. After all, a drastic redesign like theirs can have huge, tangible benefits as well as potential pitfalls. Finally, CNET does something that we at Montparnas advocate when dealing with a radical redesign, roll it out slowly to gather more feedback and let your users get used to the new version. You can read about more ways to deal with radical user experience redesigns in an article I previously posted.

A Tour of Google’s Gmail Usability Lab

TechCrunch has posted a brief look inside Google’s Gmail usability lab along with some interesting pictures of the testing and observation rooms. One thing that I found interesting is the large monitor in the testing room–not a typical features in most testing set-ups. Other than that, it’s a pretty standard usability lab. Another thing worth noting is that the usability folks at Gmail rely on Google employees as well as outsiders to test their products. This is an often overlooked testing practice. Even though internal folk can identify major interaction issues at the beginning states of product design, they are often not included in testing. Why not use those easily accessible, free resources?

Amazon Kindle Customer Experience Review

Mark Hurst of Good Experience writes an excellent review of Amazon’s Kindle product, which was released a few months ago. Among the pros, he cites:

  1. Easy pagination
  2. Fast delivery of books

Cons mentioned include:

  1. Sub-par search capabilities
  2. Unclear upload tool
  3. Awkward button design (beyond “NEXT PAGE” and “PREV PAGE”)
  4. Illogical pricing models, particularly for internet content
  5. Disappointing out-of-the-box experience (no content pre-loaded after spending $300)

Despite the length of the con list, Hurst does support the potential of the product, saying “the Kindle is fairly good, and it’s bound to improve. With several fixes to its customer experience, this little device could become (or remain) the leading platform for reading ebooks for many years to come.” I hope that this product lives up to its potential, and builds upon its great start.

MySpace Launches New Design

MySpace finally cleaned up its act by launching a new, more elegant interface design. Mashable broke the story about a possible MySpace redesign on June 13 after images of the new interface design were leaked to Mark Hopkins.

In the user experience sphere MySpace has often been cited as a paragon of bad design, and many users share this sentiment. It’s a shame that it took them so long to address glaring user experience problems, but as the saying goes, “better late than never.” Below is the newly designed MySpace homepage.

Redesigned MySpace Homepage

The new homepage employs proven interaction paradigms like tabbed modules to provide a deeper content structure and thus expose more content to users on its main page. To my chagrin they have kept the annoying flash advertisement on top of the page, but they are a for-profit business, so I can understand why it needs to be there.

The new design also features a redesigned header and navigation that seek to bring to the fore access to things users need like their mail, profile, and friends. They also simplified the number of navigation choices, in both the logged-in and logged-out versions, by grouping like items into logical main and sub-navigation schema. One touch that especially appealed to me was addressing new users in a prominent area right next to the branding. Below are the old and new headers and navigation for the logged-out state:

Old MySpace Header and Navigation

The previous MySpace Header

New MySpace Header and Navigation

The redesigned MySpace Header

The logged-in versions of the header and navigation also saw a vast improvement:

New MySpace Header and Navigation - Logged in

From a cursory exploration of the new MySpace design it seems that the new homepage and header were primarily the items that were redesigned. The vast majority of the rest of the site, like the user’s homepage and public profile, seem to have been left untouched.

Although there are still a lot of issues with the site’s user experience, this is a good start, and hopefully they will keep going with it. My main qualm with MySpace? It’s so darn slow!

News Round-Up for June 10, 2008

Input Structures for International Addresses

Yesterday, Luke Wroblewski covered the intricacies of international address input structures for forms. After covering common layouts for American addresses and generic international formats, the article goes on to describe the variations within these constructs. One of the great points made by the article include the observation:

Through years of experience with mailing and postal systems, people have a pretty concrete idea of what constitutes an address block. This common understanding is so definitive that eyetracking data suggests, once people begin filling in a set of input fields that make up an address, they often cease looking at their labels.

Additionally, Wroblewski points out:

Luckily there is a fair amount of commonality between the elements that make up an address across the world. In most countries, the destination, or recipient, in an address structure progresses from most to least specific – Russia and Iran are notable exceptions.

The article provides a very good overview on the variations and how to manage them; certainly worth a read.

User Expectations Impact on Design

Last week, Jared Spool wrote about various user expectations for web experiences, particularly in reference to login and search modules on web pages. In their research on travel sites a key finding was that location had a relatively negligible impact as opposed to presentation. The central purpose of the article was to evaluate the reliance that designers should place on these expectations, challenging “not every de facto standard is the optimal way to design something.” Nonetheless, it is important to be aware of these expectations and to be able to design for learnability in the new design.

Windows UX Taskforce: Why Didn’t Microsoft Think of It?

Microsoft toots a vastly improved user experience as the cornerstone of Windows Vista. One look at the software maker’s marketing or Vista packaging reveals this constant, droning message; it almost seems that Microsoft tried to stuff all marketing collateral with the maximum number of various ways to say ‘easy’. Indeed, even the packaging was designed to be user-friendly according to Nick White, a Product Manager on the Windows Vista team.

Despite Microsoft’s best efforts to make Vista a paragon of good user experience, they seem to have failed in the eyes of many customers. Users complain about innumerable issues from bad design, to bugs, to incompatibilities. Well, one young college student from Australia has set out to do something about this. He has created a forum for Vista users to submit and vote up user experience issues with the software. The site is called the Windows UX Taskforce, shown below.

Screen Shot of Windows User Experience Taskforce Website

Users can submit issues with the Vista user experience along with screen shots. The community votes on which issues are most pressing, comments on them, and so forth. Like most great ideas, Long Zheng’s Windows UX Taskforce website is so obvious it makes one smack one’s forehead and exclaim, “Why didn’t anyone think of this before?!” Every software maker should have a forum like this to gather feedback from their customers.

Most Visited Sites On the Mobile Web

According to the Business Week, Americans don’t visit the same web sites on their mobile devices as they do on their PC’s. Websites such as craigslist and eBay, ranked at number 1 and number 2 respectively, gain six or more spots in the mobile realm than on traditional devices. The article goes on to explain the browsing habits for weekends versus weekdays, stating “On Saturday, Classifieds Rule.”

Other leaders behind craigslist and eBay include Facebook at number 3, MySpace at 4 and Walt Disney’s Go.com at number 5.

See also the accompanying slideshow: Where People Go on the Mobile Web.