Category Archives: Customer experience

Dream design research projects from 2013, Part 2

The second half of the year was no less exciting with client work, but was boosted by the buzz of my own product hitting it’s stride in the market.

From July to December: Home brewing, TV, Mr. Tappy and Motorhomes.

Here goes…

5. Craft brewing insights

Location: Portland, Oregon. Micro brewery capital of the world.

Client: imake / (Part of the Better by Design programme).

Portland is the world’s capital of micro breweries and craft brewers. Visiting with imake’s team from NZ, Australia and USA, we stepped inside the garages, basements and minds of craft brewers, aiming to understand what makes them tick, and how they approach brewing.

My role as part of Better By Design is to help build design capacity within NZ export companies like imake. In many cases this starts with understanding customer needs, so getting out in the field like this was a perfect first step towards customer empathy.

In Oregon, I briefed the team on how to get the most from contextual interviews, supported them in the field, then coached them through collaborative analysis.

A deep dive into brewing culture, but my satisfaction came in that it was the client team who drew out the insights and identified opportunities for marketing and product development.

6. How do you view?

Client: SKY TV.

Location: Around NZ.

A classic contextual study in homes around NZ to understand how TV fits into people’s lives and how? / when? / where? / why? they get their fix.

Having run studies like this for BBC and SKY in the U.K. back in the late noughties it was super interesting to see shifts in consumer expectation and behaviour. Back then it was ‘time-shifting’, now it’s ‘omni-screening’. From devices to content sources, this felt like a ‘snapshot in time’ in the dynamic landscape of TV.

Insights from this project fed into new product development and an upcoming redesign of

7. Tapping into the mobile market

Client: My alter ego – Mr. Tappy.

Location: My kitchen table, and 30 countries.

Yes, from kitchen table to global tech giants in 2 years and just 700 easy steps.

My side-project, Mr. Tappy, (a product I’ve developed to help film people interacting with mobile devices) continued to surprise me with sales to the point where I can nearly hear myself blush when I see my list of customers.

Taking this product to market has been a humbling learning curve for me. Even when working alone I find myself being design, marketing, sales, distribution, customer service, etc., discovering how easy it is to work in silos and lose customer focus – Something nobody can afford to do, especially when your customers are expert product evaluators.

Having ‘skin in the game’ has resulted in greater respect for my design research clients‘. Running day to day operations, and shipping product is challenge enough let alone keeping an eye on customers. This first hand experience helps me understand my role as a design researcher with each client.

The entire product is made right here in NZ (some in my home workshop) and the next iteration will ship with a purpose designed HD camera.

8. Living the dream, via your own motorhome

Client: Tourism Holdings.

Location: Australia and NZ.

We’ve all been stuck behind one on a hill on the way to the beach, but what’s it like to buy a home, and a vehicle at the same time? We set out to find out.

I worked alongside Ed Burak, THL’s lead experience designer to provide research muscle on a project around motorhome sales. Motorhome buyers are a fairly relaxed bunch, usually at retirement age and with some time on their hands, but buying one of these rolling holiday homes is not always a holiday.

From a few dozen interviews with owners, buyers, salespeople and experts, we poured our insights into a customer journey map highlighting parts of the buyers’ journey where the experience could be improved.

… and as you’ll see, some of my illustrations  for the journey map were verging on the autobiographical. Yes, the waves were always like that in my memories.

…What’s next?

All the talk of holidays and time away was perfect timing for the end of 2013 and inspired me to use the caravan (which was once my office) a few times over the Christmas period. Good timing.

If you missed my previous post, here are the first four dream design research briefs from last year.

Motivations. Delivered fresh to your door

I’m in London this month and just received a boxful of fresh produce from Abel&Cole.

Two things become very clear upon opening the veggie box;
They know who their customers are,
…and that
each customer has a different set of motivations to use the service.

A great example of this is in the friendly Spring magazine inside the box.

From a quick flick through, I’ve split out the content and some potential motivations Abel&Cole might be targeting in their customers.

  • Spring issue.  To know I’m eating what’s in season
  • Recipes.  To feel inspired
  • Large close up photos.  To feel close to the goodness
  • Place of origin.  To know where the food comes from
  • Names of growers.  To feel a connection to the source
  • Foodie person profile.  To feel I’m in good company
  • Tone of voice.  To know I’m dealing with down to earth people
  • Food facts.  To feel informed about what I eat
  • Animal welfare article.  To know that Abel and Cole cares
  • Green credentials.  To know I’m having lower impact on the planet
  • Eco focussed articles.  To feel part of a movement for good
  • Fitness related article.  To know I’m eating what’s right
  • Recipes on a budget.  To feel like I’m getting value
  • Photos of the staff.  To know who I’m dealing with

Only some of these are relevant to me, but I do see a pattern of :

To know’ and ‘To feel’

At first glance… about half of these appeal to the customer knowing they’ve made a good choice, the rest speak to their emotional motivations.

Abel&Cole have clearly done their research and spent a lot of time to deeply understand their customers. It shows in the way they’ve appealed to their motivations, peppering  emotional hooks and affirmations throughout the magazine.

I wonder though…

Does anyone actually read the magazine?
Does the usefulness of the content matter or is the message and motivational triggers behind it more important?
After thirty years in the vege business does this level of customer understanding come by default?
Perhaps Abel&Cole is a business which is by its ethical nature brimming with empathy for it’s customers?

How much of their intelligence and feedback comes through their social media channels?
To what extent do they use their delivery drivers to capture customer feedback?
Have I read too much into this?

As for the contents of the box …The veggies are all great, but as I discovered in a recent project,

It’s a lot more than just the fruit and veggies which can add goodness to the customer experience.

End to end customer experience for Swiftpoint

All too often, I’m working on one aspect of a product while valuable insights emerge relating to other areas of the broader customer experience.

Classic example: A website usability study generates feedback around physical product, brand, delivery, billing or in-store interactions.

In theory this offers double or triple whammy for the sponsor of the project. …but not always in practice.

…In some (often larger) organisations, each channel of the customer experience is ‘owned’ by a separate department, and there’s no guarantee insights will be shared with those who can use them to improve their part of the product or service.

In a welcome change I worked with a bite-sized firm where it was possible to actually ‘get everyone in the same room’, for industrial, web, marketing, packaging designers and copywriters all able to benefit from each round of research, acting on insights relevant to their design process.

Swiftpoint, a nimble Kiwi start-up were well aware their customers would interact with more than just their website, or the physical product.

I ran several streams of user research, covering all customer touch-points, knowing every insight would be put to good use.

…A refreshing change to know each part of the team could have their part of the customer experience informed by the research.

Here’s a step-by-step case study to reveal the approach I took.

Anyone else had similar experience getting this level of buy-in with small teams? … or better still, with departments in larger companies?

User Experience takes hold in NZ

These two snippets make me wonder if a customer focused approach to business and design has truly taken hold here. One’s about Banks, the other Camper-vans.

Banks were some of the first companies in NZ to make a significant investment in usability and customer research, with leading banks improving their online and offline products and services. From internet banking, to call centres and even in-branch experience. Kiwibank even used this as a point of difference.

According to a recent survey, This User Centred approach has paid off.

The up-shot of the study was that ‘Banks provide the best customer service experiences’, with 7 of the top 10 spots in the survey taken by banks.

The survey company concluded that banks were “much more customer-focused” than other service providers

With people changing banks more frequently than ever before, it’s no wonder they are discovering and paying attention to the details which matter to their customers. (Telco’s fared the worst in this survey, but that’s another story)

Oh yes, and the camper-vans.
A coachbuilding firm in industrial South Auckland who build camper-vans are advertising a ‘User Experience Design Manager’ position.

They’re looking for an industrial designer who’ll need to ‘advocate and have a strong end user focus’ with the end result being “unforgettable holiday experiences” for their customers.

Many website design firms pay lip-service to user experience, but here’s a manufacturing company who’s seen the value of UX and is backing it up with budget and action, from a strategic level right down to the factory floor.

Maybe it was osmosis, or maybe there’s an exciting undercurrent of User Experience in the world of tourism and camper-vans.

Either way this is a great sign, and perhaps something to remember when you’re next stuck behind one on a hill.

Tune in to customer behaviour, or you’re buggered

Process from an ethnographic study to understand media use in early adopters.
With technology and the way we consume all types of media advancing at a blinding pace, following changes in behaviours, motivations and expectations of customers plays a critical part in informing and providing a great user experience.

It’s nice to think we kiwis are up to date when it comes to technology and that our media providers are armed with this rich customer insight, but in a weekend radio show some TV folk discussed the future of TV in NZ.

TV3 have this to say:

“TV companies have not yet cottoned-on to the internet generation’s wavelength.

We haven’t caught up with them yet … with their understanding of technology… their understanding of the process.

The world is SO different and I’m buggered if I know how we respond to that”.

mmm, Well …now I’m not so sure.

Apology, or invitation. What’s your message?

Are you being served?

If this were a checkout operator speaking to you, which would you think was most friendly and helpful?

Two signs; Same context, audience and purpose. More design effort has gone into one, but it is the choice of words here which has the most impact on the message they convey.

So when it comes to fine tuning a digital user interface, why is there such a focus on graphic interaction design elements, often tweaked to the nearest pixel with less importance given to copy and messaging?

Refreshingly, a recent website usability project came from the opposite angle. My client had accepted they were deeply immersed in the technical nature of their product and their way of communicating it was out-of-whack with terms their target market would relate to.

The team realised that regardless how perfectly their visual design and site architecture presented their product, it was the words they used to communicate their product which would make it fly…. Or not.

Working with a technical copywriter we were able to identify phrases which really resonated with people, which to avoid and critically, what copy should be ‘front and centre’ to engage and convert potential customers.

During the flow of research participants, we made copy changes on the fly, gaining immediate reaction to provide a rapid cycle of improvement.

As well as taking us down the path of making sense and talking people’s language, it was a strong lesson to get rid of that ‘lorem ipsum’ placeholder text as early as possible when getting feedback from customers.

Skype takes the hassle out of remote usability

Remote research brings cultural relevance to usability findings, providing the kinds of insights which can only be gained by being there…virtually at least.

I recently ran some remote website usability sessions for a Kiwi startup whose main customer is in the U.S.A. … sure, ‘isolation breeds innovation’ and all that, but when your customers are on the other side of the world, it’s vital that your product connects with them.

A fun project, but choosing which software to run during the sessions was a headache… There’s a boggling number of services to choose from (25 on this link) and there’s no clear winner.

After some experimenting, I went with Skype and it did the job nicely.
Here are some benefits over paid and more sophisticated software I’ve used previously:

  • It’s easy to recruit participants who already use Skype
  • Familiarity means no learning curve for you or participants
  • No install means no wasting valuable session time setting-up
  • Sending links and files is instant with built-in messaging
  • It’s possible to make contact with participants prior to the session
  • It’s free, so that’s hard to argue with

During the sessions, I was able to video chat with the participant for a while, then fire up Skype’s screen-sharing tool, so I could observe their movements on the website while  hearing their thoughts and reactions etc.

Skype’s screen-sharing only works between two computers so if you have clients observing, this will have to be through an external monitor (Make sure they are sitting out of view of your webcam and preferably out of earshot).

The project generated rich insights and shaped the design process moving forward.
I’d definitely use Skype for this again, but would love to hear from anyone who’s used anything else with success.

I also had Adobe Connect recommended …anyone tried that?

Keeping it ‘old school’ with Diary Studies (Or not)

Yep, the original article from 2010 has mutated and is now about halfway down this page because:

UPDATE 2017. Seven years on and the landscape of remote diary and journalling services has exploded.

I’m always looking for better ways to understand customer behaviour and the experiences customers have in their own context, out in the wild.

The latest of these is Streetbees, ‘your eyes and ears on the street’ which has coverage in 87 countries and looks like a ‘selfie’ version of remote usability testing service, where consumer ‘bees’ get paid a small sum to film their impressions while they complete a task. I’m seeing insights dripping in honey.

… and Over the Shoulder, less of a DIY tech platform and more of a managed service for qualitative mobile ethnography.

Also… I believe Sarah Cambridge has the definitive article on Diaries here on a slideshare:


Also… I’ve now had a crack at running a video diary study (with a camera couriered out to each person), with great success, and in the ‘how-to’ article show you what’s involved with some tips from my experiences. Article here: Capture the moment with video diary studies

There are some interesting ‘mobile ethnography’ tools on the market, using web and mobile channels to capture, collate and filter all this stuff as it occurs in the field:

7daysinmylife …Which might be more ‘manual’ than it looks.
Consumerthink …Which appears to do everything. Hmm. I guess you have an account manager to build out the tool to fit your project.
CX Workout A mobile diary and ‘co-design’ platform which apparently builds journey maps. 
D Scout Which has fast become the UX researcher’s favourite way to capture participants’ ‘mobile moments’ during diaries, lifestyle and retail studies.
Experiencefellow …Why not slip into your customers’ shoes?
ethosapp …’An ethnographer in your pocket’, apparently.
Overtheshoulder … Seems similar to Streetbees, but less of a DIY platform and more of managed service.
Revelation … A versatile platform at a premium price …with what look like some useful data analysis tools.
Streetbees, more (and probably more reach) in the moment video vox-pop.
thethinkingshed …Which seems to be like a blog platform for your participants.
Watchmethink …for some in the moment video vox-pop.
webnographer …Which smells like a remote usability tool.
Voxpopme … Which is a little like Watchmethink, but with an impressive transcription and compiling function. I’ve tried a beta of this and while a bit clumsy for long form, it’s great for highlights and the technology is going to be truly amazing one day.

From speaking to John, the founder of ‘Watchmethink’, it seems quality and motivation of the sample is the big ‘gotcha’ here for serious researchers – as opposed to vox-pop collectors – so quite possibly the way to get the most from these services is to do your own recruit and just use the tool as a platform. 

Oh, and here are some filming gadgets which ‘log’ activity from the subjects’ point of view:

Narrative Clip

Now… here’s that original article:

Keeping it old school…

Impressive technology, but ‘whizz-bang’ isn’t always the answer. I sometimes stick to the traditional pen and paper approach for a diary study, as this also has it’s benefits over the digital tools which seem so tempting…

For the uninitiated, diary studies in UX are a qualitative research method where participants record events, interactions, attitudes etc. in diary format over days or weeks. They are a great way to study customer behaviours in the context using a product or service over time, as opposed to during a traditional in-context interview.

In the study which prompted this article back in 2010 I was interested in how and where people used a prototype mouse in their day to day activities and how well it performed in each situation.

For a mouse project I had users try different prototypes and rank them against each other during a week... using paper forms.

For a mouse project I had users try different prototypes and rank them against each other during a week… using paper forms.

Here are some ways I feel the old-school method holds its’ own:

It’s human
No learning curve, no teething problems. Paper and pen doesn’t require login details, needs almost no instructions, is ultra portable, and doesn’t rely on web or mobile coverage. Participants don’t have to think about or remember anything other than jotting down their thoughts.

It’s flexible
Photos are great, and really help to add context, but I’m always amazed at how pictorial some people make their diary notes. Sketching and doodling on a blank sheet of paper is always going to win over an online text-entry box.

‘till the fat lady sings
The real gems from these studies emerge in the exit interview with each participant. When they’re looking back over their own handwriting, these paper diaries transport people back to those moments in time, where you can access the rich detail needed to paint the full picture. It’s literally a trigger for them to share stories, which is where the ‘gold’ always reveals itself in interviews.

It’s immersive
I love the process of pinning-up diary data around a room.
Having met each participant, built rapport and empathy, this is somehow retained when you’re surrounded in their scrawl. All those attitudes and responses pop back in your mind, help you get into their character, see things through their eyes and in relation to their context.

When the right type of project comes along, I’ll give the ‘digital ethnography’ tools a shot, but until then, I know I’ve got paper.

UPDATE 2015: I’ve now had a crack at running a video diary study, with great success.

Even so …I’d love to hear from someone who’s run an ethno project using any of these tools.

The tip of the User Experience iceberg

Some websites provide more of an experience than others, but the number of web agencies and even individuals who offer User Experience in their list of ‘services’ indicates there’s a chunk of lip-service being paid to what has become an almost industry-specific buzzword.

Although many techniques and approaches to UX have been honed and made popular during online projects, if New Zealand businesses associate User Experience only with making a well considered website, the power of taking a user-centred approach will be diluted and practitioners risk limited uptake from business in the design/research/strategy of their other channels and customer touch-points.

There’s so much more ground to cover and value to offer away from the web and I hope I’m not alone in my ideal that businesses and organisations should involve customers in the planning and design of all facets they interact with, on and offline, physical and virtual.

Tell me I’m not alone…

Air New Zealand listens to customers. Or do they?

Watch campaign clip on YouTube

A UK based Air New Zealand campaign highlights the attitude and friendliness of cabin crew as something uniquely kiwi.  The idea for the campaign was apparently inspired by a passenger’s tweet;


… but given that the tweeter is a London-based digital marketing consultant who’s own website has a page of  “10 reasons why you should engage your customers in an online conversation”

…I’ll let you be the judge of how genuine this is.

Customer blogs and tweets about your product can act as a great barometer of how your customers perceive your product or service.

With most airlines competing on price, this campaign shows Air New Zealand as being responsive to customer feedback, and focused on the in-flight passenger experience.

When you look at the dozens of touch-points involved in a travel experience; research, planning, booking, in-airport routines, transfers and accommodation details that sandwich the actual flight, it can almost dwarf the on-board component of the passenger experience. Especially for short flights.

An Airline I worked with in the UK carried out an ‘Experience evaluation’ seeing and measuring the entire process through a customer viewpoint; from the inspiration to take the trip, right through to uploading your photos when you’re home. By identifying which of the touch-points work well and which ones frustrate passengers, these airlines can identify ways to improve the passenger experience.

This ‘personality allowed’ campaign is aimed at long haul flights where the actual flight is likely to be the memorable aspect, hopefully blanking your memory of the queues at immigration and perhaps even something worth shouting, or tweeting about.