Listening to customers

Back when I was in Product Management, I used surveys to gather feedback from beta testers. Given how valuable (and appreciated) the feedback could be, I now make a point to participate in surveys when asked. Unfortunately, even something as simple as a survey doesn’t always go as planned. Here’s what I was greeted with yesterday during an attempt to provide feedback:

Screen shot 2010-08-24 at 9.16.04 AM.png

Pretty awesome, huh?

I had better luck loading the page today; However, after spending a few minutes filling out a survey, guess which button didn’t work?

Screen shot 2010-08-25 at 10.58.30 AM.png

I generally expect only a very small percentage of customers to fill-out surveys, so the reliability of the survey service is of utmost importance — if you actually want to listen. In this case, I hope that web metrics can be used to track how many customers started the survey vs. how many completed the task. [NOTE: If you’re designing surveys, tracking abandonment points during the survey process can also give you an idea whether your surveys are too long, or asking the wrong questions.]

Sketching interaction stories with markers and iPhones

I recently posted about Bill Buxton’s book, “Sketching User Experiences, so I thought I’d share an example on using these kinds of techniques on a recent project.

The problem at hand involved concepting a number of new features for an existing website, and sharing these concepts with a remote team. (When you can’t get everyone in the same room, it’s key that the team can quickly share ideas.)

For this session, we used:

  • Whiteboards
  • Paper
  • Markers, scissors, and tape
  • iPhones
  • Keynote

The goals were to:

  • Tell a story
  • Leave room for creative thinking
  • Validate concepts
  • Align thinking

After open brainstorming and traditional white-boarding, a number of concepts were quickly sketched on paper (generally one sheet per screen.) These screen sketches were taped to a whiteboard, allowing quick note-taking and annotations:

photo of whiteboard working session

After walking through the concepts (and iterating) with a number of local victims, the screens were captured with an iPhone camera and pulled-into Keynote to create the storyboards. With each screen as a slide, a story can be told within the presentation format:

bringing images into Keyboard

Using this approach, stories can be shared globally, and changed in minutes. The hand-drawn images ensure that no-one gets hung-up on colors or copy writing, and they require a little creativity on the part of the reader, which gets the gears turning and leads to fantastic questions.

Book: Sketching User Experiences

I finished “Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design last week in preparation for the upcoming UX Austin Book Club meeting.

It’s 400+ pages, but a rather easy read. The book covers a range of topics, including:

  • The value of good design.
  • Good design only happens when designers understand the context of use, and explore many possible solutions.
  • Sketching allows designers (and potential customers) to explore ideas at low cost.
  • Sharing sketches enables early feedback.
  • Techniques for sketching interactivity.
  • Sketching can involve computers, cameras, and smoke-and-mirrors provided that it remain quick, inexpensive, disposable, etc.
  • There are many examples of quality sketching available in the archives of HCI history, and replicating these experiments is good practice for a budding interaction designer.

My opinions on the book are mixed. It definitely offers positive motivation for sketching — and some great stories to feed those “why are we drawing pictures instead of coding” conversations that come up all-to-often with clients unfamiliar with UX Design. However, the book does come across a little passive, yet arrogant at times, while making numerous references without context. This gives it a somewhat academic feel, reading more like a light-weight thesis than a typical design book. That said, if you work in UX Design, being familiar with the ideas in this book will go a long way toward helping your career.

While reading, I highlighted a few quotes, which I’ll list out below. I grabbed these not because they represent the theme of the book, per se, but because they had unique meaning to me, or something I’m working on. (For example, I’ve already used one of the quotes below in a presentation on the design process.)

Quotes:

“In order to design a tool, we must make our best efforts to understand the larger social and physical context within which it is intended to function.”

This is a classic UX/HCI principle of understanding the user and their context for interaction as a design constraint/criteria. It’s a basic requirement in designing a product/solution that delivers value to a customer.

This next quote is an interesting one for companies thinking that they can solve “design” simply by hiring a few designers:

“It does not matter if you already have the talent to save your company among your current employees. If you do not have the vision, will, and power at the highest level, then that talent is almost certain to remain as wasted as it is frustrated.”

Becoming a design company isn’t as easy as hiring designers (just like becoming an innovative company cannot happen simply by filling the ranks with a few smart people.) Companies can only lead the pack when these values go all the way to the top. Until that happens, organizational practices (and politics) will keep those talented stars from shaping the companies’ future.

This one’s fantastic (and the one I used in a presentation):

“Even if you do a brilliant job of building what you originally set out to build, if it is the wrong product, it still constitutes a failure.”

Meaning, that even if your company can execute a product vision perfectly (ie., you have great developers/craftsmen/etc.), you’re still wasting your time, and money, if you haven’t validated that your concepts will provide the market value you’re trying to achieve.

On the reason it’s important to share all ideas when brainstorming:

“…better idea[s] would never have come about were it not for the idea that it replaces.”

In other words, even bad ideas provide value via the thinking that occurs when we consider them.

On team dynamics and the work environment:

“A healthy team is made up of people who have the attitude that it is better to learn something new than to be right.”

“A design studio without ample space to pin up sketches, reference photos, clippings, and the like,… is as likely to be successful as an empty dance club.”

And finally, a reminder on why you never skip peer reviews:

“It is better to have your preliminary work critiqued by your colleagues while there is still time to do something about it — no matter how difficult the criticism might be — than to have the finished project torn apart by strangers in public.”