Posts tagged “ease of use”

Steve quoted in “Digital Products Flunking User Test”

I was interviewed by CruxialCIO about how companies can design and redesign digital and mobile products that engage rather than frustrate. The article (Digital Products Flunking User Test) is broken across three tabs (SituationSolutionsTakeaways) and the quotes from me appear on the second two tabs. FYI, the pages are a bit slow to load.

Remember the precedents. While copying competitors isn’t necessarily advisable, it doesn’t make sense to design, for example, a fly swatter that you use by swinging a string around with the flat swatter piece attached to it. People expect a stick at the end. “You can’t fail to acknowledge that there are precedents out there,” says Portigal.

“There’s some history about how customers are going to expect something to work. Everyone is a consumer so in an enterprise situation, we bring in expectations about how something should work.” If people expect that swiping left or right, double clicking, or other gestures will have a certain outcome, the lack of that outcome will be confusing. After Apple came out with the iPhone, for example, it became quickly clear that when consumers wanted a smartphone, they expected something fairly similar in form factor and function to the iPhone.

Take It from Consumers: Simpler Is Better

I’ve got a short article in the latest issue of Photo Reporter (a trade journal for the imaging industry). Check out the PDF here.

These problems should be obvious, yet manufacturers consistently fail to take them into account in their product development efforts. “Ease of use” has become a buzz phrase commonly uttered in consumer electronics circles, but technology manufacturers have a different mindset than their customers. They seem to think people want an endless array of features, and they continue to market products based on that.

We’re finding consumers would trade a lot of the excess functionality built into their digital cameras, cell phones and other devices for a less complicated and ultimately more rewarding user experience. Perhaps now is the time to listen to consumers a little more closely. There’s a significant opportunity for companies to embrace the consumer’s burning desire for simplicity.

Paying for ease-of-use/trust

Yesterday’s NYT Magazine article about the check cashing industry offered an insightful anecdote about the sometimes counter-intuitive tradeoffs people make:

I met Oscar Enriquez leaving the Nix branch in Highland Park, a working-class area near Pasadena. He was skinny and just shy of middle age, with a quick grin and tattoos down his sunburned forearms. Enriquez worked in the neighborhood as a street cleaner; he picks up trash and scrubs graffiti. The job paid about $425 a week, he told me, a good chunk of which he wired to his wife, who has been living in Mississippi and taking care of her ailing mother. He told me he tries to avoid debt whenever he can. “If I don’t have money, I wait until the next payday,” he said firmly. “That’s it.” But he pays a fee to cash his paychecks. Then he pays even more to send a Moneygram to his wife. There’s a bank, just down the street, that could do those things free. I asked him why he didn’t take his business there.

“Oh, man, I won’t work with them no more,” Enriquez explained. “They’re not truthful.”

Two years ago, Enriquez opened his first bank account. “I said I wanted to start a savings account,” he said. He thought the account was free, until he got his first statement. “They were charging me for checks!” he said, still upset about it. “I didn’t want checks. They’re always charging you fees. For a while, I didn’t use the bank at all, they charged like $100 in fees.” Even studying his monthly statements, he couldn’t always figure out why they charged what they charged. Nix is almost certainly more expensive, but it’s also more predictable and transparent, and that was a big deal to Enriquez.

Banks (and phone companies, cable companies, airlines, etc.) are institutions that are not easy to use. There’s a lot of fine print, arcane legalese, hidden fees, and a general lack of transparency. Here’s someone with a limited amount of income that makes the calculation and pays a significant amount of that limited income to avoid going through that. The relationship with the bank failed for Oscar, and he’s paying money to avoid dealing with them.

We normally think of the privileged as those who buy their way out of inconvenience and hassle, but really, it’s something we do at all income levels. It’s just that our experiences frame what is and isn’t a hassle. If we’re middle class then we expect to be jerked around by Big Business because we have all our lives-as-consumers. If we’re lower class and we haven’t had those experiences, it may be less likely that we’ll tolerate them.

I guess I must be dumb.

flickr now lets you add location information (“geotagging”) to your pictures. This raged through the blogosphere over the past few days (e.g. here ) with all the usual fawing over how great it is and how easy to use it is.

It’s not easy to use. People need to refine their definition pretty dramatically or we need to stop paying attention to sophisticated blogger/RIA/Web 2.0 types telling us what is easy or what isn’t. The feature started me with a map of the world. I wanted to find a location in Washington, D.C. Every time you zoom in, it recenters somewhere, and it’s pretty hard to get it to center on the part of the world you want. Not to mention the map itself is a horizontally scrolling box that seems to repeat itself, as if you could put some pictures in one part of the planet and then on another copy of the planet you could repeat the same process with other pictures. What the hell is going on?

People like to say “drag and drop” as if that is obviously going to be a trivial task – so I’ll hand you an icon that is about 1.5″ x 1.5″ and give you an entire planet that is about 6″ x 6″. You try to precisely drop that icon on that planet.

I eventually got it, but was pretty fed up after a few pictures and (let’s not even talk about why this is something we’d want to do – I haven’t got there yet, I just wanted to try it!) didn’t bother to continue. If my picture is tagged “washington d.c.” maybe the interface could try starting me off with a map of Washington?

I’m mostly posting this for contrariness; my experience was counter to what I’m seeing gushing forth elsewhere.

I heart flickr, I don’t think that everything they do is automatically perfect and “easy to use” however.

Designed for a woman?

SF Chron revisits this story yet again, taking the unfortunate thrust (backed up by lots of examples) that designing for women specifically means making it a pretty color, like pink.

Technology companies say they’re getting the message. Kodak, which has introduced a line of fashionable digital cameras in black, silver, red and — you guessed it — pink, also plays up the camera’s ability to take high-resolution pictures and record up to 80 minutes of video.

Likewise, Sony, whose products include a red digital camera, red laptop and pink digital music player, said it has studied not just appealing colors, but also how easy it is to use once the customer takes it home. Features such as the ability to charge the digital music player in three minutes and get three hours of use appeals to women, especially mothers on the go, said Kelly Davis, a Sony senior product manager.

‘Women are not just making the purchasing decisions, but making the purchases themselves,’ she said. ‘I think it’s definitely increased dramatically over the years.’

Nearly half of Sony’s digital music player customers are female, up from around 30 to 35 percent several years ago. Pink has been the No. 1 color sold among its Walkman Bean digital music players.

Cingular said it added the pink Motorola Razr to expand its line of popular black and silver models, which are super-slim camera phones. ‘We looked at it and said, ‘Can we expand our demographic and offer a different color?’ ‘ said Jennifer Bowcock, director of consumer media relations for products. ‘We want to hone in on the female audience.’

Is it the color? Or is it ease-of-use? It doesn’t seem anyone has any good (and non-insulting) ideas about designing for women.

30 must-have PC skills

30 must-have PC skills

Here’s the top 10, just to make the point

1. Move and copy files
2. Navigate using keyboard shortcuts
3. Use shortcuts in Word
4. Install and remove new hardware
5. Send image files as attachments
6. Search your hard disk
7. Hard disk maintenance (including disk cleanup and defragmenter)
8. System restore and backup
9. Update software online
10. Create desktop shortcuts

How many can you do? To me, this list suggests how daunting a lot of this stuff is. I know several PC users that don’t understand file systems – where files are stored when you download them or save them. To ask them to attach something, say, by finding it somewhere on the vast structure of files and folders, yikes. They’ve managed to use apps without building that level of knowledge. So doing these tasks, I dunno, it’s pretty challenging without getting a sense of the underlying model of the system that these tasks all require.

I’d opt for things like “cleaning up the desktop” “knowing what the start menu is” “choosing a printer” – some real fundamental stuff that you can build on to get to these skills.

But anyway, the fact that the 30 things they picked are actually pretty hard just confirms my sense that computers are still too hard to understand/use.

Update: A reasonable-looking intro/tutorial on Windows XP can be found here.


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