Archive for the ‘User Experience’ Category

Easy Hotel – Redefining Hotel Expectations

Ben Fowkes - March 6th, 2014

I’m lucky enough to spend a lot of time staying in the finest (read: worst) hotels that London has to offer, particularly around Victoria, where our government clients are based. As such I think I’ve probably stayed in every ‘quirky’ room available, ranging from ones where you can easily touch all four walls at once, to basements with mysterious and unidentified sounds of running water. Recently, I couldn’t help but notice that an Easy Hotel had sprung up in my favourite strip of ‘unconventional’ hotels and I knew I’d have to book a room – what were ‘Easy’ going to bring to the hotel table? Well, to cut a long story short, it was a bloody revelation, changing my view about what a good hotel should be, from the process of booking through to checking out. Without further ado then, here’s some thoughts about the Easy Hotel experience:

Booking. As soon as you start the booking process, you know you’re in for a different experience. Ordinarily, you might be asked whether you want breakfast included, or maybe wifi, but not so with Easy. Instead it immediately asks whether you really need that window? They’ll happily sell you a single or double room without windows, and frankly, once you realise you can save a tenner by disposing of natural light, you wonder what you’ve been paying for all these years. I treated myself to a window, next time I won’t bother. Well played Easy Hotel.

Furniture. Easy Hotel is not just a place to stay, it’s also a way to imagine what prison is like. Do you really need furniture, they ask? It turns out, you don’t. With the use of only two hooks I managed to hang all of my clothes for the next day, with merely the smallest of crumples. And it’s not just the lack of cupboards that changed me, Easy helped me to realise that I don’t need a bedside table, a chair, a desk or any frivolous non-nailed down item.

easyhotelhooks 300x225 Easy Hotel   Redefining Hotel Expectations

No furniture? No problem – use the generous amounts of hooks available.

Lighting.

Do you really need a lamp, or alternative lights? I always thought you did, turns out I was wrong again. Actually a single, glaring hospital style light works just as well and helped me to imagine I was in the Heartbeat spinoff ‘The Royal’ which I certainly wasn’t expecting. I now question the former decadence of my life.

Colour.

I’d always assumed that a room for sleeping in needed to be a restful colour – magnolia, an organic green, maybe a soft blue, but no, it turns out that bright orange walls are extremely conducive to sleep. I couldn’t help but lie awake and think about all my future Easy Jet based holidays. I should point out however that by 3 a.m, not even the thoughts of holidays or indeed the bright orange walls, could keep me awake anymore. I am now, of course,  redecorating my entire house in line with ‘Easy Orange’ policy. As an aside to this point, the Easy Hotel urls plastered on both walls were really handy.

easy hotel walls 300x225 Easy Hotel   Redefining Hotel Expectations

The restful orange walls and handy branding

So, what did we learn? Hotels are ordinarily a pompous, overblown and frankly expensive waste of time as they currently exist. Do we really need furniture, windows, good lighting or tasteful decor? I would argue that are all redundant because these days we instead have Easy Hotel.

WooCons #1 Extras

Andy Parkhouse - May 20th, 2012

I really like the WooCons #1 icon set from WooThemes (drawn by Janik Baumgartner). It’s a great set, with a clean style, and is licensed under GPL(v2). Janik and WooThemes seem like nice people too 🙂

For one of our apps, I needed a couple of extra icons (‘Add Contact’ and ‘Boxes’).

‘Add Contact’ was pretty easy, I take no credit for that. ‘Boxes’ was a hack on Janik’s work, and I’m not totally satisfied with it, but I ran out of time to spend on it.

woocons1 tr extras WooCons #1 Extras

These extras are downloadable here as a zip, licensed under GPL(v2).
woocons1-TR-extras.zip

Who says you’re any good?

- August 31st, 2010

thumbs up Who says youre any good?I’ve been reading Andy’s post on “What makes good?” and it’s got me thinking about what or who determines whether something is “good”.

Andy’s post is a philosophy on how to make “good” apps. It’s a great post on the principle of having 80% practicality, 10% glamour and 10% character. Ideologically, this will provide you with an app that people will love and make you a multi-millionaire! However, it doesn’t always work out that way. We’ve seen it many times on Dragon’s Den where a young, hopeful entrepreneur presents their idea, only for the dragons to rip them apart and leave them empty-handed with their dreams in tatters……So who says it’s “good” – my argument is stress the importance of user-centred design.

Who holds the purse strings? Your wife, your boss, the queen? I work in part of a team that develop large scale websites for government organisations as well as advertisers with large budgets hoping to attract millions. The app / pitch can sometimes appear to be king. It’s what wins the client over and wins us contracts. However, that doesn’t always define your app as “good”, just because the CEO of the company loves your app doesn’t mean Joe Bloggs who subscribes monthly and uses your app day-in day-out will too. If Joe Bloggs and countless others like him, hate your app and it flops……is your app still “good”.

Andy’s model sits perfectly in terms of assessing the values of the user. Ultimately, an app needs to work – 80% practicality. Too often products are thrown by the way side for not solving a problem or doing the job it was meant to do. This is particularly emphasised in our consumer culture today. The user’s value may indeed fluctuate between glamour/character and practicality as good marketing is always effective in blurring a user’s sense of need.

For an app to succeed, the user’s voice is priceless. An app will either thrive or dive by the user’s voice. This can be seen in Apple’s App Store. Angry Birds is currently no. 1 paid for app. This follows Andy’s model of 80% practicality – it’s essentially a great game. It’s engaging, not to difficult, but challenging enough to leave you wanting more. 10% glamour – it looks good, but more importantly it doesn’t distract from the game. The graphics don’t slow the game or make things difficult to see. 10% character – the birds are fun. There are talks of a TV series based on the strength of the characters in the game.

The user ratings and reviews for Angry Birds has propelled the app to the top of the store where it has sat for a good number of months. When making a transaction decision, advocacy is key. A recommendation from a friend, a high rating or positive feedback can carry a lot of weight for a user in whether to take the plunge with your app. Andy’s model is the foundation for creating a “good” app but ultimately the end user will decide whether the app is indeed good.

Hopefully, you’ll see the importance of valuing the user in every stage of the development of an app. User-centred design starts and ends at the user. It continually comes back to the issue of “who is this for?”, “what problem are we solving” etc. it uses usability testing to measure how we’re doing in the process, whether we’re still on track or veered way off course. It isn’t a launch and cross fingers….

Andy’s Rules #1631 – What makes “good”?

Andy Parkhouse - August 27th, 2010

4931298501 2d1396933c Andys Rules #1631   What makes good?

This is a

rule I’ve been using for a while now. Great for making web apps “good”, but can be used in other places too (product design, customer service, copywriting, advertising). Being “good” is a route to “win”.

80% practicality (“job done”); 10% glamour; 10% character.

So how does it work?

“Job done” practicality is the price of entry for your app (or product etc). You need to to give the user what they want, helping them achieve their goal easily and with minimal fuss. If you can’t deliver on this, the app or product will probably fail. It won’t be good, it won’t sell, it won’t gain users. You need to at least do what it says on the tin. That can be a lot of work, as rule of thumb, probably 80% of your effort.

Being ruthless about delivering practically is a great tactic for many reasons, including:

  • can reduce your overall costs (by removing un-needed stuff that you have to make and support)
  • benefits users (by decreasing the friction of using your app or product)

Practicality also has a couple of serious limitations:

  • doesn’t distinguish you much from your competitors. Being better at “job done” might keep your existing customers, but it probably won’t create passionate advocacy and recommendation. Passionate advocacy and recommendation is great, it’s a route to “win”.
  • practicality alone tends to lack warmth, soul, personality….the stuff that makes us human 🙂

Glamour make people feel smart, make things shiny, make people go ‘ooh’.

Emphasising glamour might sound shallow, but – take a peek – we can take glamour to mean beauty, elegance, chic, style; charisma, charm, magnetism, desirability (worth). The word ‘sprezzatura‘ might be better, but I’d be forgetting how to spell it 😛

In a web app, glamour comes from the appearance of effortlessness. This could be things like outstanding graphic design or providing interactions that feel just great. Using javascript drag-and-drop to make a list much easier to use is glamour. Slideshows and lightboxes can be glamour. One way to increase glamour is by showcasing the user’s stuff and keeping your app out of the way – perfectly crafted background can enhance the glamour of a foreground subject.

Be ruthless with glamour. The goal is to flatter the user, not the designer. Make the user feel smart, make them feel they’ve made great choices. Glamour done wrong = tawdry, cheap, nasty, irritating, and might give you a rash.

Character is who we are. Who we are is a factor in having users come back to us, and in creating passionate advocacy and recommendation. Be ruthless with character – you’ll be judged by it. Be ruthless, but be generous. Character comes out in tone of voice, customer service, and (worthwhile) quirks. I could write more on this, but I couldn’t think of anything useful and I’m running out of time. You probably get it, ‘cos you’re smart people 😉

— postscript —

This rule *is not* an 80-20 law, although it might look like one 🙂 » Learn why.

This rule *is* effectively a variation of “Sell the sizzle, not the steak” 😉

Bath openMIC #4 – Mobile Web, HTML5 and CSS3

- February 12th, 2010

Picture 8 Bath openMIC #4   Mobile Web, HTML5 and CSS3

Yesterday, I attended the Open Mobile Innovation Camp at the innovation centre in Bath. The event was hosted by Chris Book and had talks from Giles Turnball (Freelance Journalist), Bruce Lawson and Patrick Lauke (both from Opera). The focus of the day revolved around the current trends in mobile app development and the tensions between Native, Web and Widget apps.

The day kicked off with tech writer Giles Turnball talking about how technology has turned the press industry upside down. He recounted tales from the 90s of infra-red modems, Palm Pilots and GoType keyboards, and being one of the first journalists to actively embrace remote reporting and email. Although initially laughed at, remote journalism is now standard and Giles encouraged us not to neglect advancing technologies, but to learn about them and look to integrate them into our businesses and working lives.

Next up was Richard Spence who ‘controversially’ spoke about non-iPhone development. He reminded us that only 8% of the mobile market is iPhone whereas 71% is browser based. Richard didn’t slag of the iPhone, on the contrary, he “thanked Apple from the bottom of his heart” and agreed with Stephen Fry’s eloquent observation:

Does anybody seriously believe that Android, Nokia, Samsung, Palm, BlackBerry and a dozen others would since have produced the product line they have without the 100,000 volt taser shot up the jacksie that the iPhone delivered to the entire market?

Richard went on to give a brief history of mobile development platforms and where they are at now. J2ME, Blackberry and Symbian were all covered and commended for their recent improvements in the light of the ‘iPhone effect‘.

The final talk of the morning was from Bruce Lawson from Opera. Bruce was in jovial mood and was quick to evangelise the latest Opera Beta which claims to be the current fastest Javascript engine. Bruce championed the W3C Mobile Web Best Practices and also highlighted some of the UX and accessibility challenges that await. Bruce emphasized the importance of optimization and minimising HTTP requests. He went on to talk about future advancements in HTML5 and CSS3 and the features that the latest Opera already supports. One particular point of interest for me was the use of Media Queries to change CSS layouts dependent on screen size, without JS sniffing. Bruce finally talked about the potential of Widgets, that Opera are involved with in editing the W3C standard.

After a lunch at the local chinese and heated debate on technology, we broke into smaller groups for our barCamp sessions. The philosophy of barCamp is to create open group dialogues about an agreed topic and to work / explore collaboratively. I attended a discussion on HTML / CSS3 with the guys from Opera, and for my second session W3C Standards for Mobile Web. Both sessions were really insightful and was particularly interesting to hear peoples’ comments from the mobile industry on mobile web.

I also picked up a couple of useful tools:

Native Mobile Development Platforms for Web Developers

Appcelerator Titanium

PhoneGap

W3C Mobile Validator

http://validator.w3.org/mobile/

Perhaps most surprising, coming to the event as a pure Web Developer (with past dabblings in mobile), I certainly didn’t feel like an outsider or feel like the technology was flying over my head. In fact, I came away with an increasing awareness that, whether I like it or not, Web Development is not simply going to be solely about the Desktop. As hopes of an archaic browser death is on the horizon, another friend is also lurking. In our discussions on Mobile Web Standards, we were reminded that the largest mobile usage is not in China, the US, or Europe, but in developing countries. If the days of IE6 support is numbered, then the days of mobile WAP support may be coming back from the dead!

What do you think?

- December 9th, 2009

A common design question that’s asked is ‘What do you think?’. A question we often ask when presenting design ideas or when the product is publicly launched. The anticipated outcome of that question is often expected to be a lateral answer, best illustrated in the diagram below:

Picture 4 What do you think?

But we all know that subjective design opinions are not as black and white as this. Along the spectrum are a number of complex influences that affect the outcome of the answer. One way to explore the outcome of this answer, and so to influence the approach to your design, is to ask a different question: ‘How do you think?’.

In designing user experience, user behaviour must be taken into account. But what determines a user’s behaviour? Now I’m no psychologist or sociologist, but do understand the importance of understanding user behaviour to influence design decisions.

When approaching a design decision, often the common influences are made by budget, client preferences (eg. colour), technical restraints, web trends etc. A common oversight is why the work is happening in the first place – why is the end user not using the product and making the client more money? How can we encourage the user engage more? etc.

There are lots of helpful tools to explore these questions – Personas, User Testing, Mental Models, Wireframing, User Interviews, Google Analytics and site monitoring tools etc.

However, at the heart of all these tools are not ‘What do you think’ but ‘How do you think?’

I was reminded of this again when Andy showed me a map of Russia from the Cold War era, I’d never seen Russia as a country from this perspective before. I’m very familiar with the classic landscape view of the world, even Google use it:

Picture 5 What do you think?

From this perspective it’s easy to see how, during the Cold War, Russia appears to be an imposing mass, disproportionate from it’s surrounding neighbours. However, in the perspective below, it’s easier to see the surrounding threat from all sides:

world war ii eurasia 682x1024 What do you think?

Indeed, from this perspective it’s easy to see how Russia is encamped by every major continent with the exception of Australasia. From this perspective it is easier to explore decisions and expectations made, and maybe change our thinking or approach.

The challenge to us as designers, is not to get consumed with the end result to the point that we miss the very questions that start the process.We need to be looking for examples to learn how our users are thinking, what decisions they make and why?

I’ll finish with some insight from Albert Einstein:

“Innovation is not the product of logical thought, although the result is tied to logical structure.”

Oops, Sorry, Whoops, Oh Pants

- October 20th, 2009

We all make mistakes – that’s life! But how should we own up to it? Whose fault is it?

Carsonified have a great blog article about this very issue – 10 Tips on Writing Hero-worthy Error Messages by Christine Brodigan.

Great design is FUN design

- October 9th, 2009

This video is a great example of fun, interactive and social design. Interesting experiment too!

0 Great design is FUN design

Usability in game design (Portal)

Nick Dymond - September 7th, 2009

I’ll admit to being a little behind the curve on this one, but last weekend I finally got around to playing Portal, the 3D action-puzzler from Valve Studios. Much has already been written about the game, but what I’d like to briefly discuss is the work that went into usability during the game design process. In this respect, as with many others, Portal is a master-class.

Valve have a culture of play-testing from week one of production, something that has obviously had a large impact on the success of their games (http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=19523). The developers’ primary challenge was to introduce the new gameplay element of portals’ – doorways that can be opened up by the player using a portal gun’, a device that allows the player to fire two portals. The antagonist can then walk through one portal and out of the other. Simple, right? Wrong. The system opens up a whole world of perceptual confusion in novice players, who find it difficult to comprehend the rules of the new physics they are manipulating. One common mistake is to believe that you are switching between dimensions, rather than remaining essentially in the same locale. To counter these issues, Valve introduce game elements gradually, allowing the player a level of independence and experimentation, whilst guiding them subtly towards a greater understanding of the game. Obviously this hand-holding approach is common in game design, but I can’t think of any other instances where it is so transparent and effortless. It never once patronises the player.

The visual design, although completely immersive, is relatively spartan, reflecting the research facility scenario and more importantly creating a strong, consistent aesthetic to the puzzles encountered. One good example of their ethos is that all interactive elements in the game world are circular or rounded, whereas non-interactive elements have squared edges. There are many more complex aspects to the design work, but unfortunately I have work I ought to be doing…

If you’re interested, there is a developers’ commentary (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JB97SyCr8Wk&feature=related) in the game that is as revealing as it is enlightening. I would certainly suggest playing through it first before taking a look at the commentary. See how many mistakes you’d have made were it not for the exhaustiveness of Valve’s design methodology.

P.S. Oh, I almost forgot (thanks for the reminder Jess): there’s a 2D flash version that gives you some idea of how the game works http://portal.wecreatestuff.com/