Category Archives: Insights

Tool tips – When should design explain itself?

My Hacksaw and Stapler basking on the lawn

Should a hacksaw or staple gun need a manual?

Mine have permanently moulded instructions to help get the most out of using them.

Handy hints built into my stapler

This hacksaw pre-dates the internet by 20 years, but look at all those tool tips!

This sort of thing has become commonplace in the digital world too. Hover your cursor over any button or tool  and you’ll see prompts, tips, guidance, explanation etc. as you explore and use websites, software and devices.

Tool tips could help you find this remote New Zealand surf spot

Whether you’re using software or a saw and need that extra ‘tool tip’ …you’re generally alone, doing your own thing … so what about when you’re around other people… Can we learn by watching others?, does the ‘how to’ of using things travel by osmosis in a social or group situation? or, in other words – do people become the tool tips?

In the physical world, it seems this is true, as I noticed on a Sydney train recently.

These Sydney train seats can be switched to face either direction

You could argue the train seats should have a ‘tool tip’ to show that they can be reversed, but there’s also something satisfying about discovering it for yourself, or through watching others.

…My latest UX research project is for a multi-user ‘touch table’ designed for an exhibition space. The content is navigated by individuals and groups with a similar emphasis on ‘discovering’ how to interact with the environment, rather than being signposted at every step.

Often things in the physical world help explain user behaviour in the digital world and I’m thinking this train seat scenario might be a good analogy… but despite how much more natural it feels to be facing forward when getting from A-B, few passengers actually do change the seating around…

So, I wonder…

  1. Would a visual cue take the satisfaction away for the few to improve travelling for the many?
  2. Do people suffer performance anxiety the first time they try to move the seat? (I waited until I had an empty carriage)
  3. Are those ‘in the know’ motivated to share what they’ve learned, or do they keep it to themselves?
  4. Are we more likely to make these ‘discoveries’ in the physical or digital world?
  5. Is it possible to move through a digital journey facing backwards?
  6. Is it more valuable to discover a feature by serendipity, or to learn by observation of others?

I’d like to hear of other scenarios where people learn how to interact with a product or service purely by watching others…

…Do you know of any?

Visualising UX research

I’ve never seen clients stand around a written report gesturing at various pages discussing their implications… but when this happens with a drawing, I really feel like my job is done.

A written report can be restrictive when working with rich, emotive material, so I often use visuals to communicate insights and what they mean to my clients.

The same drawings I use to help myself ‘see the wood for the trees’ can be a valuable tool for sharing findings and concepts.

Until recently I’ve produced these to a simple but polished level:

Polished visuals can extend beyond initial graphic impact to tell stories, build context, explain relationships and show processes.  Until now I’ve used these as part of a final deliverable as they can be absorbed in a fraction of the time it takes to read a report, are well circulated and fantastic for getting buy in.

…more recently I’m using sketches earlier in a project as a different kind of tool – a platform for discussion.

Although clients don’t always consider it up-front, consensus building can be a valuable outcome from customer research. Teams across design, product, marketing etc. often need to just ‘get on the same page’.

Bringing the voice of the customer, or insights from their behaviour alive with a simple cartoon and can really get people talking.

A polished deliverable always has it’s place but the pencil is getting a workout earlier in the process these days. I’ve realised different stages of a project require different styles of visual and by using the appropriate level of detail for the audience and the decisions they face at the time, they can be one of the most powerful tools in the box.

By popular demand I’ve put a few more examples on the ‘approach’ page of my design research consulting website. … and there’s a link there to request a fuller set.

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.

Swipe this way

You know you’ve overlooked basic design research when your customer can improve your product in a few seconds using a pen and some tape.

This is the case with these three payment terminals.

The design usually includes a discreet symbol to indicate which way the card should go through the slot, an interaction that occurs millions of times per day.

The symbol alone doesn’t get the message across, especially when customers have a queue of people behind them and don’t want to look like a goof.

To save time explaining, and customers feeling like idiots, these shopkeepers have removed all ambiguity with a simple message explaining how to insert your card.

It took observation of customer behaviour to improve this interaction, something the designer should have done, not the shopkeeper (who pays for the service).

Last week, for the first time, I saw this.

I like to think that a designer out there took notice of these shopkeeper hacks, then integrated them into the new design.

If your customers could hack the design of your product or service what would they change? and how will you respond?

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.

User Centred Design, for the long haul.

air-new-zealand-user centred design of seating.

During a 9 month project with IDEO, Air New Zealand took a user centred approach to improve seating design for their long haul services. They built full scale prototypes of cabin interiors to carry out design research, evaluating seating and service concepts with real passengers.

The project began in 2007 with a goal of understanding passenger needs during long haul flights. Following extensive interviewing of passengers and flight attendants, a design team built seat concepts from polystyrene and cardboard.

Paid actors, as well as customers sat (or lay) through three hour research sessions simulating the in-flight experience. The actors were included to enhance the sense of realism, in addition to engine noise and full cabin service.

air-new-zealand-ideo-design research

Finding a point of difference is a challenge for airlines. While Qantas’ recent design efforts focussed on the aesthetic, commissioning Marc Newson to add a layer of style to the A380 interior, Air New Zealand choose to tackle the challenge from the customer’s viewpoint, leaving style out of the question until the functionality was humming.

As well as researching the way passengers used the seating concepts, a ‘fresh eyes’ approach was taken when selecting a design team. Air New Zealand opted to work with industrial designers who had ergonomics experience, but were new to airline seating, avoid preconceptions, maximising  freedom to take risks and innovate.

A groundbreaking three year project with User Centred Design at the heart, resulting in true innovation based on fresh thinking and real customer insight.

What a dream project.

Watch an unexpectedly cheesy 2min video which will give you some glimpses into the process.

View the website created to showcase the new seating types

When less is less and more is too much.

Honda. Door handles optionalThis Honda trunk-lid has been simplified and streamlined so much that the owner has crudely screwed on a ‘hardware store’ handle to make it easier to use.

Mazda. Where is the 'forgot pin' button?This Mazda door entry has gone the other way by adding complexity; a key-code entry, which looked to me like it had never been touched, whereas the standard key-hole had seen plenty of action.

Less features or more?
Your new product needs a point of difference in a crowded market, but there’s a fine balance between adding features and taking them away.

The key to this balance lies in how useful and intuitive it is for the end user.
In these examples, the product teams have gone out of their way to either simplify or complicate a conventional and accepted way to open a car door, at great cost to the carmaker, and with no benefit for the end user.
So, how can you tell which way to go?

  • When does more become too much, and less not enough?
  • At what point does the investment your customer has to make in adapting their behaviour to a new design outweigh its benefits?
  • Exactly how minimal can you go when stripping back those features to make your customer use your product without having to think about it? (let alone hack it to make it more usable).

User research
We can get a good feel for where this balance lies by watching the way people use existing products and prototypes of new ones, gaining an understanding of what they need and don’t need, what works for them and what doesn’t.
If either of these two carmakers had spent time purposefully watching their customers use a prototype of these products they would never have made it to market.

…or perhaps Honda just wanted to sell door-handles as a premium accessory?

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.

UX in the physical world

Individual user experience in the physical world. Custom built surfboards.
This project from 2009 allowed me to work on interactions with a different kind of digital – gripping fingers and thumbs, … taking me back to my surfboard building days.

A kiwi company was developing a new type of mouse. I’used UX methods to help refine the design, starting off with some user research to understand how people will use it.

Working with a physical object so closely tied to the task at hand is a challenge. Asking people how they’d use it can be misleading as they often struggle to articulate what they want from a product they aren’t always conscious of using.

This really takes me back to my first encounter with User Centred Design – making custom surfboards in the early 90’s.

My first customers would fill out an order form with their height, weight and suggested measurements for the board. These were often based on their vision of riding in a certain way, on waves which often only happened twice a year, or in their dreams.

When viewed through the right lens, observing people use a product can convert directly into design requirements to improve the user experience.

Wherever possible, I’d go surfing with my customers, to get a feel for their riding style and the conditions they most often rode in.  Watching them ride provided a more reliable brief of what they needed from a board than they’d written on the order form.

When you’re riding the right board, you forget it’s there; it’s like an extension of your body. Making the board ‘disappear’ was my measure of whether I’d made it right for the rider. (As well as the smile on their face at the end of a session)

Using a mouse with your computer is similarly sub-conscious but it’s not a sport, and doesn’t need to make you smile.

… but there’s a first time for everything.

Running. A user centred business.

Where can I go for a run around here?

Concierge at my hotel in Singapore only needed to be asked this a few times before they found themselves offering directions.

…But all too often they’d spot their guests returning by taxi after getting lost in the suburbs.

This jogger’s map started out when a staff member sketched a suggested route over a city map for a guest. This evolved over time through photocopied and laminated versions into this runner-friendly neck-tag.

Not everyone’s idea of going for a run is the same, so hotel staff asked sweaty runners how far they ran and looked at the ways they folded their improvised city map. This way they could adjust the route and the boundary of the map to suit all levels of runner.

I love the way this jogger’s map came about, it’s like a condensed example of a User Centred Design process:

  • None of the staff were runners themselves
  • …but they strove to understand their customers
  • …they generated a solution in response to an observed need
  • …evolved the design through user feedback
  • …and iterative improvements
  • …adjusting the design to suit the context of use
  • The result benefits both the business and the customer

It’s also a good example of how the little things can make the a big difference.

Chocolate on the pillow is always a nice touch and a no-brainer for hoteliers. …but businesses who listen to and observe their customers are in the best place to discover new and sometimes simple ways to provide both a point of difference and an improved customer experience.