Category Archives: Observations

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.

…Brilliant.
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.

Explaining UX research to my mum just got easier

6 memorable design research projects from 2010When I designed and made things for a living it was easy to explain what I did. People formed a mental model of what I did and pigeon-holed me instantly.

… but when my design career was t-boned by research I became a hybrid. Finding the words to articulate my work became much more difficult.

I soon realised that describing whatever project I was working on was the best way to help people understand what I do.

This works well socially, but I figure that my ‘case studies’ list is the professional equivalent.

2010 delivered a fresh and diverse set of examples, so I’ve updated my UX consulting website with some memorable projects.
…should come in handy when I’m asked … “so, what do you do?”

My answer…  “from a mouse to a medical device, mortgages to meteorology, click here to check out 6 UX research case studies

Oh, and THANKS to y’all who read my blog, I don’t know who all of you are, but wish you a great 2011.

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?

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.

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…

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?

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.

Equal opportunities in User Centred Design?

IDEO, The worlds greatest proponent of User Centered Design have released a ‘toolkit’ to promote a human centred approach to social development projects.

It’s full of top tips… one of which seems worryingly chauvinistic

If you can’t read the image, it kindly reminds us; “To ensure there is a balanced gender perspective involve female staff in all aspects of this process” … (eek!)

I’m sure IDEO had the best intentions, but with half of the world’s humans being female, do we really need to be told to include women in a Human Centred Design process ?

Customer experience pilgrims: Experience economy brings a new kind of tourist to NZ

Some Kiwi brands are attracting their global customers back to the source of their product, creating new customer experience touch-points as well as fuelling tourism.

Companies exporting products ‘made from NZ’ are seeing their customers make pilgrimages to experience NZ brands at the source, connecting with the origins of the product.

Tourists have journeyed to previously ignored parts of our landscape thanks to Lord of the Rings. Now they are visiting high country sheep stations to come face to face with the sheep whose fleece they have been wearing. More than 10,000 people worldwide have traced their merino garment right back to the sheep station here in NZ where the wool was sourced using Icebreaker’s ‘baacode’ trace-ability technology.

Last week an American man whose leg was saved from amputation by a Manuka Honey dressing  has been to visit the apiary here to ‘meet the people who changed his life’.

With an increasing number of global NZ brands trading on the unique geography and natural resources of our country we could see more tourism based on these brand pilgrimages.

Blinded by mass production, availability, and homogenous strip mall shopping, today’s discerning consumers seek authenticity of products and experiences. Providing a traceable origin and conveying the authentic root of the product seems to be winning Icebreaker wearers over, so will 42below vodka devotees visit glacial springs where the magic brew is sourced, virtually, then in person?

What sort of experience are people expecting when they arrive, traditional retail or a gumboots-and-Hilux adventure into the depths of our countryside, both, or something completely different?

In an experience economy, opportunity awaits those who seek to understand their customers motivations, then define and create the types of experiences and touch points these ‘authenticity seeking’ visitors are drawn to.