Category Archives: New Zealand

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

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.

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.

Making the most of Optimal Treejack

If you want to find out how well your website navigation structure works for your customers, Treejack is a great tool for the job.
If you want to know why certain parts performed poorly, and what to do about it, you’ll need to get inside the head of your customer. The tools for this are your eyes and ears.

Treejack, was developed in New Zealand by Optimal Workshop so has been built with a user-centered approach in mind.

It’s a tool to test the navigation structure of your website. Treejack will pinpoint the most difficult areas or items to find, based on click-trails as survey participants navigate through a prototype of your website’s structure. (the prototype is a simple ‘tree’ of text links generated from a spreadsheet you paste  in… couldn’t be easier)

Treejack is a great tool, saving time and headspace, but it is no silver bullet.

You’ll get summarised and detailed outputs showing where each participant went, how directly and quickly they found set items during the survey. … but it won’t tell you how much sense it made to them, or why the tricky areas were confusing.

To design a website that’s intuitive to navigate it’s essential to understand how your customers will interact with it. There is simply no substitute for observation when it comes to gathering these insights.

Teaming Treejack up with qualitative one-on-one research makes a killer double-act bringing you the best of both worlds.

Some tips for integrating Treejack into user research sessions:

  • Run a warm up exercise on a generic ‘tree’ … Clicking through a bare-bones navigation is quite abstract so this helps participants get used to the interaction style.
  • Encourage participants to ‘think aloud’ while using the prototype. When you notice them pause, they’ll be thinking. Having them vocalise their experience is the closest you’ll get to knowing what’s behind their thoughts and any indecision.
  • Save your questions till after each task. Interrupting the participant mid-flow can make them change their behaviour, skewing the Treejack report. Let them click through naturally then discuss it afterwards. You’ll need to rely on your note taking here.
  • Have a duplicate Treejack survey open in another tab. This way you can ask participants to re-trace their steps without affecting the Treejack results.
  • Ask the participants to ‘rate’ each task for how much sense it made to them etc. Treejack tells where and how they found the item, but doesn’t tell you whether this made sense to them.
  • More participants, fewer tasks. As people develop a familiarity with the ‘tree’ they will start memorising where things are, making your findings less useful.
  • Use your eyes. The old adage, “it’s what they do, not say” is as relevant as ever here.

I’d be interested to hear anyone elses experiences …
Go check it out at

An augmented reality-check

Classic lack of end user understanding here from Weet Bix.
A marketing campaign using augmented reality aimed at early teenagers fell at the first hurdle owing to the myopic vision of those who designed the campaign.

Young All Black fans were supposed to hold a card from their cereal packet up to their webcam to experience their favourite player on screen in 3D.  .. all good in theory,
…in practice the promotion involved a lengthy signup, third party app. download and installation plus a browser restart, etc. etc.

Hardly the recipe for a campaign designed to spread by word of mouth.

Trent from Optimal sums it up nicely when he poses the question “did they ever sit down with a 10 year-old and get them to use it?”

Ben Gracewood runs through the ‘experience’ through the eyes of a 10 year old on his blog

… so, why couldn’t the marketing team see it this way?

Design teams make assumptions about their audience, project their own goals and needs onto the project and become too close to their products, losing sight of the big picture.

Usability testing with the target market at an early stage would have identified signup and installation barriers and very likely forced the team to rethink the way the campaign was rolled out. … before it was rolled out. Products are significantly cheaper to correct at prototype stage than post-launch with egg on your face.

Something tells me here that the campaign was pushed through despite its clunky user experience simply because the marketing team were so in love with the concept of augmented reality.

A shame their target market don’t share the love.

Back in Black

Since being back in New Zealand I’ve heard people reckoning we are a few years behind Europe and the States in terms of the acceptance of UX.

I’m back in London for a few weeks, consulting for Flow Interactive, … so if it’s true we kiwis are behind, I’m in an industry crystal ball here.

It’s great to be back in the saddle at Flow, the place where I first heard some of the many acronyms that have proliferated as the industry evolves. (UCD, UX, UE, IA, IXD, CHI, HCI… where do you want to get off?)

All these labels and sometimes glorified job titles aside, in the last few years in London, the biggest change I’ve noticed in the industry is the shift from usability to user experience.

Usability studies are often the first encounter clients have with a User Centred Design process, but these are notoriously carried out too late in the process to be of use. (telltale sign: more ‘oh shit’ than ‘a-ha’ moments)

Switched-on clients have adopted UX as an early strategic tool to gain insight, minimise risk and build competitive advantage.

As clients are exposed to user centred approaches and the results they bring, they aim to integrate UX across their entire product lifecycle. You know they see the true value of UX when they involve UCD in the earliest stages of a project

…Meanwhile ‘user testing’ (another horrific and misleading term) has become somewhat commoditised, seen by some as a ‘tick-box’ exercise routinely built into the development cycle particularly of websites. Usability is no less important, but less mysterious and more self contained.

If this is what NZ has to look forward to, then it looks like we have to push our clients over the usability hump, to see the full value of a User Centred approach
…And stop baffling them with acronyms.

The oldest trick in the customer experience book

Every Tuesday NZ business strategist Lance Wiggs issues ‘Three ways to improve your business’, Last week at number two is ‘Meet your customers’.
This simple advice represents the grass roots of a customer-centric approach to building a great experience for your customers, and competitive advantage for your business.

So, if this approach is simple yet crucial to design and business, why do we have to be reminded?

In the world of retail, gaining customer insight is; there for the taking, known best practice and as old as shops themselves.

In traditional retail, understanding customer behaviour is a matter of key staff keeping eyes and ears open. At base level, switched-on store managers can track and respond to demand and popularity of products simply by watching them fly off the shelf (or not). Front of house employees with their ears ‘on’ can gauge reaction to new product lines and track customer requests to inform potential new products or services.

Online, without face to face contact with your customer, you’re blinded to these insights and opportunities.
…of course web analytics can paint some of the picture, and tracking keywords in your site search can take you closer to the mind-set of your customer…

…but ultimately these aren’t stats or keywords, they are people and  it’s about meeting them, understanding the attitudes that drive behaviours in and around the context of your product or service, and their wider goals relating to what you offer.

This means qualitative research at an individual level. By building empathy with your customers, you can gain valuable insights into their motivations, monitor changing attitudes and expectations to inform vital changes to your proposition. …just like shopkeepers have been doing for thousands of years.

Lance’s timing is good however, as too many online businesses have failed to keep eyes and ears on their customers.  It’s an old and proven approach, and it ain’t going anywhere soon.

UX Research participants. Harder to pick than a broken nose?

Recruiting the right participants is a numbers game, so I was unsure sure what to expect returning to New Zealand from London.

All the insights, opportunities and reality-check moments which emerge from customer research or usability studies can be thrown down the pan if you’re not talking to the right people.

If your target sample is iPhone users who’ve downloaded from the appstore, that’s a pretty clear ‘consumer’ type brief. You probably won’t struggle to find a few of these and can’t go too far wrong.

…But what about when your client’s product is business to business and still at concept stage? You know the demographic, market segment, and perhaps the industry the potential customer base work in, but you need to know they are ‘warm’ to your product.

This is when a good recruiter is worth gold to the credibility of your User Experience project.
The ‘face to face’ research component is sometimes only a slice of a User Experience or User Centred Design project but the insights gained and direction provided can have a powerful effect on the end product. Being certain that these insights come from the right place and are based on truths is essential.

Finding a sample truly representative of your potential audience, achieving a realistic spread of demographic and many other factors across a small sample of people is a professional art form. Rather than asking yes/no screener questions, they’ll use subtle but revealing attitudinal questions to weed out the less useful participants.

I’ve recently worked with a company in Christchurch who had this level of attention to detail and came up with the goods on a tight brief.

If you are looking to find a solid and accurate sample, I can recommend you get in touch with Karen at Opinions

Do you know of any good recruiters for User research or Usability in New Zealand? or viewing facilities around the country ?   … or perhaps you know of some to avoid…
I’d be interested to hear.

Code Blacks’ winning website built on empathy

Yes, the New Zealand ‘Code Blacks’ team has retained the trophy.

Full Code Press is a competition big on challenges:
Build a charity website from scratch in a mere 24 hours with a team you’ve barely met in a tiny room in the middle of a seething exhibition hall for a mystery client, with reporters and cameras hovering and under the sleep deprivation of an all-nighter…all this and against the formidable Australian team.

My challenge as UX lead: How to apply user centred design principles under all those constraints?

I figured we’d take some leads from competitor analysis, undertake regular guerrilla user research (reality checking our design with people from the audience) to make sure we were heading in the right direction with information architecture, copy and visual design, and even iron out any usability issues.

How wrong I was.

With the clock ticking and a team hungry for UX direction,  IA and page layouts needed to be locked down within hours of kick-off. Time pressure ruled out the chance to validate our designs, so without any real user research we were left to fly seat-of-pants applying best practice.

I often turn down ‘expert review’ work when it’s clear a user centred approach is required, so this really tested my principles. It felt a little like being on a DIY home makeover show, where corners are cut and the clients end up with a half-arsed job they will have to re-do as soon as the cameras stop rolling.

But our clients from Rainbow Youth were different… They understood their audience.

Our clients shared theirs and others personal anecdotes inspiring empathy amongst our team, providing first hand audience insights, giving us the confidence to charge forward with a clear picture of their goals from using the site and the values to be conveyed through the user experience.

Picking ‘randoms’ from the audience to give feedback on our design may have worked on a high level, but empathy for and understanding of the end user put us in a great position to cater for user needs while achieving the support and fundraising goals of the charity.

It’s amazing what is possible in such a compressed timeframe when you have direct access to a client who themselves are user advocates.

I look forward to comparing notes with Patrick from the Australian team to get his take on UX under pressure.