Empathy & UX

Seth Godin writing on Empathy:

The useful answer is rarely, "because they're stupid." Or even, "because they're evil." In fact, most of the time, people with similar information, similar beliefs and similar apparent choices will choose similar actions. So if you want to know why someone does what they do, start with what they know, what they believe and where they came from.

Dismissing actions we don't admire merely because we don't care enough to have empathy is rarely going to help us make the change we seek. It doesn't help us understand, and it creates a gulf that drives us apart.

Empathy doesn't involve feeling sorry for someone. It is our honest answer to the question, "why did they do what they did?"

Cannot stress about how important it is to ask these questions when you are doing your user research. I have always asked random, unrelated questions that has paid of in the end because it allows me to know where the user is coming form. What type of gadgets they use and what type of apps and software they use in their daily lives has an impact on how they are using a particular system.

Its called "User Centered Analysis" for a reason.

Documenting UX

A lot of companies today implement an agile process and the remaining ones like to call themselves agile. A few years back any designer (UX/IX) would pull out their hair because turning around design details wasn’t easy given the amount of time a sprint would end. Years go by and processes have evolved. Processes like LeanUX and staggered sprints or design and R&D sprints in parallel have more or less solved this issue. However these processes have reduced the amount of documentation.

We have user research data, but never used it to create personas. We have analytics data but never exported them out of their software/databases. There are a list of scenarios or stories that are important or have a higher priority, but they never made it to the official todo list or backlog. All, I see is wireframes, trolls of em. Some of them make sense like login screens and forgot passwords; the others I have no idea. Today wireframes have become one of the most important means of documentation. I even see scanned sketches, photographed whiteboards and clickable wireframes. One change in the use case or workflow, and you are back to square one.

It does capture details; however, chances are when I see someone else’s wires, I may not like a solution. How do you support your solution? 

And I have made them all; mistakes. The fact that the requirements or priorities are in my head and not anywhere else does not do good for me to convince someone why these things need to be done the way I intend to. 

Over the last couple of months I started maintaining a combination of few documents that has helped me transition stuff and propose design easily. Here is a short run down of these documents and processes: 

We all do our bit by venturing out and talking to users. We capture notes and lot of em. When you do so, try to capture them as quotes. There are two important advantages in doing so. One, Its faster to write them while you are interviewing/talking to them and Two, it preserves the context. 

"I have to apply the same filter every fucking time I visit this page" 

“See I like this pages concept in OneNote. This way I can just have multiple notebooks and go and write down in pages within them..."

One of the important thing is to digitize these notes. It could be in a notepad or Evernote; I found excel helpful (yeah!). I was able to create buckets/categories and then write the quotes in these specific buckets. Also, when I digitized these notes; I was able to add attributes to them; like screen resolution, position, firm, interview date, system usage, type of user, etc. These become important when I really wanted to narrow down to specific kind of users.  Apart from that I color codeed these quotes - for example. Red for negative, Blue for positive and Greens for opportunities; this gave me an idea on the state of the existing software.  

I haven’t created any personas (and I might not for the time being) for my work. But when I was working on a specific problem, I was able to filter down to a handful of target users in my excel sheet then parsing through notebooks of research data. Once I have narrowed it down to a bunch of users, it is easier for me to identify patterns in their quotes (colors added value). Those attributes that you add now allows you to see how much is in common between these users.

After looking at my excel, I note down tasks/use cases/stories. I maintain a list in a todo list. Apple reminders does the job for me. Nothing fancy. This allows me to scope out, prioritize stuff. Anything that is high priority gets a date and bubbles up, rest of them just remain at the bottom. Simple.

Analytics - If you have it, great. This comes in use when you really want to see what users are doing with existing systems. How are they using it. Export them and keep them handy. Don’t rely on your system that you did log in and get data. Historic data is fine. Patterns are not going to change overnight. Export them because you can quickly pivot data. That is important to figure out supporting numbers for your uses cases. 

This accompanying my wireframes/sketches is a good combination. I try to ensure my wireframes are also not too elaborate. Stick to the specific workflow or use case and thats good enough. 

Trying to Keeping it Simple and Stupid. So far it has worked for me. Maybe over the next few months or a year I will know if it was effective enough.

Please leave your comments and suggestions or any of the processes you personally follow or send an email to get in touch.

 

Moment Lens - The saga behind buying one.

I have been toying around the idea of getting one of those snap on lenses for my iPhone for a while now. I use my phone for photography a lot and you can see my snaps on Instagram and some of them on Flickr. 

One of the things I have always missed while clicking on iPhone is that extra bit of zoom. The digital zoom absolutely destroys the picture and you don't not want to use that. I did some research and came across a few snap on zoom lenses for the iPhone, of which Moment Lens and Olloclip. Both of these are great products. While Olloclip is endorsed by a few photographers I know; Austin Mann is one of them.  

So, before I put any money in them, I wanted to see if I could try these out. A friend lend me his Olloclip lens and the performance was good.

The Olloclip is a 4-in-1 system that has 4 lenses - a fisheye, wide angle, 10x macro and a 15x macro. Olloclip is like a snap on lens that you clip it on your iPhone and remove it when you don't want them. The two lenses that are fish eye and wide angle; you flip them and they become macro lenses. The same way you would reverse a lens on any DSLR camera to make it a macro lens. These are great lenses, however I'm not a big fan of the fish eye, and the iPhones current lens is wide enough to take great pictures (there is always panorama mode). I was intrigued with macro, but somehow I wasn't impressed with what I clicked.

I tried the Moment lens as well and I was impressed with its performance.  With moment lens it's a different story. To use these lenses you have to glue its sense holder on to your phone around the camera (they are well designed and don't look ugly) which allows the moment lens to snap on, much like those DSLR cameras and that's where the quality and sharpness is amazing. So if you are not serious about these lenses, or you like the aesthetics of your phone; you probably should not be investing in moment lenses. 

Both these products are really great, however the Moment Lens impressed me the most. It takes a while for you to get used to attaching that lens to your phone but once you get the knack of it its easy. Every product has a learning curve, this one its not that long.

No doubt the product is great. But you need to have the same experience when you are selling one. 

I was going on a vacation in about 5 days time and I wanted to make sure I got the lens before Friday evening. For the time being the express shipping option was disabled on their site since they were working with the shipping guys to make sure everything is in place.  

I sent a mail to the team at Moment Lens in Seattle and I got a reply in about 20 minutes with a solution. The team at Moment Lens came back to me saying I could place my order and then call them on a number with my order number and they would ship it to me using FedEx and they would charge me the shipping cost. Not a problem. I was all set to place my order, however my gut feeling was no. So, I borrow my friends lens for my upcoming vacation and place the order once I'm back. 

I place my order for my lens on April 10. Immediately I get a confirmation mail with my order number and an invoice. Since I wasn't in a hurry now I was ok with their 10 day shipping option. Three days later I get an email that my order has been shipped and something in that email confirmation caught my eye. 

Your Order has been shipped via HongKong POST.
Tracking #XXXXXXXXXXXXX
Click HERE to track your shipment.

Why is my lens being shipped by HongKong POST and where the heck is this coming from? Not that it surprised me that the lens was manufactured and assembled in China (of course), but what surprised me was it was also being shipped from there and not from Seattle. In any case as long as it gets shipped and delivered to me in 10 days I was ok.

When I tried to track my shipment, all it said was "Destination - United States of America". I waited for a week and mailed the team at Moment Lens and sure enough within a few hours I got an email apologizing for the delay and finally the status on shipment had changed. Now it said:

Destination - United States of America
The item (XXXXXXXXXXXX) left Hong Kong for its destination on 20-Apr-2015

That was great, finally it was shipped after 10 days of me placing this order. I wait.  I wait for another week and yet again Is end another email to the team at Moment Lens on April 27 talking to them about my frustration and the fact that it was supposed to be shipped in 10 days. And there it was in a hours time I had a response with an apology and this time with a link to USPS where I could track the progress of my shipment now that it was shipped to the United States.

I'm not sure if I should consider this to be helpful or not. However this was the status on April 27 and it remains to be the same status on May 1. If you have a great product, make sure you give a great service. At this point in time I'm looking for options on Moment Lens website to see how do I go about canceling my order. 

And the worst; after talking to Moment Lens about my frustration I get an email form them:

There is a certain threshold when even the most patient person would loose it. When this post makes it way to twitter and other social network sites; I won't be surprised to receive an explanation on the delay or the fact that it does take such a looooooong time to ship something out. It doesn't matter; my experience buying this product wasn't great and it does not motivate me at all to go ahead and use it and enjoy my post buying experience.

Banner Blindness

An update to my previous post on Google Ads, here is an interesting article from Nielsen Norman Group. 

The most prominent result from the new eyetracking studies is not actually new. We simply confirmed for the umpteenth time that banner blindness is real. Users almost never look at anything that looks like an advertisement, whether or not it's actually an ad.

The trouble with eye tracking is that it only tracks where your direct line of vision is. Human eyes are equipped with peripheral vision as well and that is where the trouble lies. Although the user is focused on reading what is important, he/she is completely aware of their surroundings. No wonder you would see banner ads that are "gif-fy" with saturated colors or text on them.

Google's New Chrome update is interesting...

I don't use Chrome browser at all. But I have it installed on my iPhone and MacBook - well its work related.

Every once in a while Chrome gets an update on my iPhone and I make it a point to check only if there have been new additions or changes to the browser. Today when I checked my App Store updates, Chrome was on the top of the list and the first update said "New look with Material Design bringing bold graphics, fluid motion and tactile surfaces". I had to check it out.

The one thing that struck me right away was the missing address bar. At first it put me off but then it made complete sense. Also, the title of this blog post has the word "interesting". I realized after using this browser for a few minutes that I was enter a search more often then entering entire URL addresses (I do that out of habit). Because now I wasn't tapping the address bar, but Google's search box. 

Google would like more people searching for websites then entering actual website addresses, because even though the search result will provide the website users intended to browse as the first result, chances are its a promotion. 

What level of fidelity you want to prototype?

Following up on my article I wrote some time back, "Wireframing is NOT Prototyping" - a common question that got asked was, well if its not prototyping, what is it and what level of fidelity one should expect?

I have read books and blogs and a lot of them and everyone has one theory which has worked for them.  And the more I read the more I realize fidelity of prototype completely depends on your audience. 

If your company follows an agile model or does not, one of the most common ways to track deliverables is to create an MVP (minimal viable product).  And one of the best ways to create this MVP is by prototyping this experience.  This brings back to our question again - What exactly is prototyping?  I ran a Google search and this is the definition that shows up:

pro·to·type
ˈprōtəˌtīp/
noun
1.   a first, typical or preliminary model of something, especially a machine, from which other forms are developed or copied.
verb
1.  make a prototype of (a product).

So in software terms, prototype is a rough/comparative/almost/close/near/relative something of an experience that allows you to simulate what it is like to use the product or service in question.  This something is the answer to my next question - how much fidelity one should expect?  Similar to wireframes, prototypes should be cheap and one should spend as little effort as possible which is one way to decide on how much fidelity you need.

One of the most important aspects of creating a prototype is to answer some basic questions:

  1. What is it that you want to know/learn from this prototype?
  2. How much time do you have at your hand (let me guess - extremely short)?
  3. And one of the most important - Who is the audience interacting with the prototype?

Why is your audience important here?  Knowing your audience will allow you to create the smallest possible prototype that will yield you maximum feedback.  So if you are tasked to create a prototype to communicate to a group of developers, chances are you are good with just paper and pencil, since they have the ability to focus on the task you are trying to get feedback on and ignore the other parts of the products that remain unaffected.  For example, it wouldn’t bother them if you don't show a detailed global navigation if you are trying to demonstrate shopping cart interactions. 

When the stakes are high, you get in to extreme details.

I was listening to John Gruber's "The Talk Show" after the iPhone 6 launch and he mentioned that when Apple decided to make two big screen phones, they made prototype for every 1/10 inch from 4 inches to 6 inches.  The result, 10 million iPhone 6 and 6+ sales in 3 days. 

Why I continue to use Apple’s Calendar app

Calendar on my iPhone is one of the most used app.  It’s one of the first app that I open in the morning to make sure how boring sometimes ridiculous my day looks like and to ensure my weekends have whitespace.

Using calendar can be frustrating at times; especially looking at those pale translucent multiple calendar view all day long. On an average you tend to have more than 2 calendars.  I have 6(?) - Work, Gmail, My Mac, Facebook, Facebook Birthdays & US Holidays.  

I did not know until this point that I had Facebook calendar(s) added to this list until today.
Why 2 calendars?

Apart from calendar I also use the reminders app, with and without reminder tagged to specific date, time and sometimes location - something calendar would do but wouldn’t do.  

Over the last few days I have been asking/looking around about different calendar/productivity apps everyone has been using.  And after some snooping around I came up with a list of 4 apps to look for:

Peek - suggested to me by a number of colleagues 

Timeful - This has been the buzz of the town for the last couple of weeks with almost every tech blog talking about it.  

Acompli - I was happy to be a beta tester for Acompli and it was a great app.  Now with the finished version in the market, I decided to give it a try especially when all productivity apps are integrated into one - something like Microsoft Outlook.  

Daily Routine - honestly I liked the screenshots and their app icon on the app store.

I used each app for two weeks before deciding if I want to move over to the next app and see if I can replace using Apple’s default calendar app.

Peek

Peek Calendar by Square Mountain is designed to make your calendar experience more enjoyable.  I believe if an application needs a tutorial to learn how to use it, its not a great user experience.  Besides the point; Peek has an amazing minimalist design which I like, makes me focus on today’s task and most of the task are on swipe, press & hold and tap.  

Peek was easy to get started with.  On my first launch it offers me to import my existing calendars and I was all set.  Any changes made to my calendar from anywhere, be it web or desktop, reflected on peek instantly.  

Peek is definitely not built for power users, so if you are someone who uses multiple calendars, peek isn’t for you.  Adding a new appointment was a different and fun experience but that fun quickly vanishes away when you realize the amount of time it takes to add a new appointment.  I was using my web & desktop to add events rather then using peek.  

The main interface is designed to behave like an accordion, you tape a day and it shows the appointments for that day as a list. This way it provides only the necessary information without any overwhelming data, however, the ability to just ‘peek’ at your calendar and look at any free slots is gone.  

Even after using it for 2 weeks, it was difficult for me to remember what happened when I swiped from left to right and from right to left. 

It’s an app if you are the one with a few calendar and an appointment a day or week. 

Daily Routine

Reading the description and some of the blogs; Daily Routine is designed to help organize your life, and is packed full of useful features to help you do this.  

I could not take it anymore after using this app for a couple of hours.  The UI was a disaster.  Its too overwhelming and the fact that there is not much automation drives me crazy.  Every single thing you want to do is a manual entry.  Also the lack of developer support and the fact that this app hasn't been updated for a long time; its a total mess.  Spending 2 weeks was not an option.

Acompli

When I read/heard about Acompli I was curious to use this application and I signed up for their beta app.  Very soon, I got an email to download the beta app and test this out.  One of the main reasons why users still end up using the default mail app or in my case multiple email apps is because of the lack of a unified email client.  What Acompli did was to take it 2 notches up.  A unified inbox for all your email and add to it, calendar and cloud file integration (or whatever it is called).

Acompli set out to make a better mobile email experience for business professional - well I wasn’t interested in the mail application for now (I am happy using Mailbox), but if the calendar app was any good, I had no problem switching to Acompli.  

One of the first things that I noticed was the striking resemblance to Apple’s Calendar app.  Also, because Acompli was so focused on solving issues with Email, the calendar (in)app felt it was a rush to get it out there.  I set up my Gmail and iCloud app and I could only get my Gmail appointments.  Even after using Acompli for about a week and a half my iClound appointments still haven’t made it.  

I have my reasons for not using Google Calendar for everything.

One of the biggest frustration about the calendar app was the lack of animations.  When you swipe left or right to go to previous or next day respectively, the only thing changing is the round highlight on the date.  If you have an empty calendar (remember my Mac Calendar did not sync), it would take a good 10 seconds before you realize the days are indeed changing.  The blue oval on the bottom right corner also does not ring a bell that its a short cut to go back to today unless you hit it.  Again lack of animation, you don’t realize you are back to today.  

Timeful

I like timeful.  The pre-defined to-dos and habits that show up in the beginning feels good, but they soon become frustrating since they keep appearing on your calendar on the top.  

The UI is more or less similar to the native app, and the best part was it also picked up the calendar colors of my native app.  Now if this was planned or a total coincidence I don’t know.  But I did not have to learn the colors associated my calendars again.  

The month view with intensity of appointments is my favorite view.  This is the view I take a look at when I launch Timeful the first time in the day.  It gives me a good idea, how my day looks like.

The more I used Timeful, I realize I have stopped scheduling my todo’s and habits.  After about a week I got rid of them completely because it was making my calendar too cluttered.  I later figured out an easy way to get rid of them is to reduce the suggestion frequency to low in the settings.

One of the other things that I did like in Timeful was the ability to set your work hours and sleep hours in the settings.  However it does not add any visual affordance to my calendar rather it just uses this setting to schedule your habits.  

All in all, Timeful is a great app, however the one thing I miss was the lack of a week view that I used extensively on the native app.  The reason why this week view is so important for me is because I can quickly look up on what day and what hour of the week I am free.  I realized I was swiping way more compared to the native app.

Tempo Calendar

Setting up Temp was a pain — Facebook worked out perfectly fine, however LinkedIn, Twitter, Gmail would just error out. After a while and reinstalling the application, it worked.

I don’t understand why do I need to connect to these services.

It synced with my native calendar app and maintained all my defaults including calendar colors. Perfect.

The most impressive was the way it synced reminders with the app. Timeful tried doing this to a certain extent, but the idea of using multiple to do (reminders) lists was not an option. Tempo got it right. Also it does not show me my reminders all over the place, they start showing up based on time and location — very impressive.

I like the timeline view and the fact that there is a teeny row on the top to show my location and temperature — which I got bored with very soon (2 days) and annoyed because at times it would just take half of my screen showing me an image that I am not interested in.

One of the features that I liked was it shows me the organizer’s name and a picture (if available) on the calendar event. But since it was MY calendar, most of the events are organized by me. So ends up my name shows up 90% on my calendar in very noticeable fonts and for some odd reason the app kept showing my profile picture as the bald eagle.

Makes sense to show me my participants if I am the organizer — smaller fonts and the first two with an ‘…’ is good enough — Turns out this happens with my Exchange Calendar.

One more interesting thing that I noticed was the use of icons. Now Tempo does this extremely well especially while adding an event. However many organizations including mine use names for conference rooms and like many other organizations we use different city names. So I started seeing a small little plane icon on almost all my corporate calendar appointments.

That brings me to adding an event. This was one of the best features of Tempo. It allows you to add an event in your natural language — for example I was able to add an event “Lunch next Friday with Jane” and it was able to add the correct icon, the correct date (picked up the default time as 12 pm) and linked the contact from my organization contacts — very impressive. The bummer part, it took Gmail as my default calendar, and I would say this again, I have my reason not to use Google Calendar.

Once again, too many options, too many choices of view. And the fact that I had to jump to the menu every single time to change the view is bothersome, unless there is a shortcut or gesture to access other views, I am sorry they were not discoverable in the 2 weeks I have been using this app.

After using almost 5 apps, I realized the native app does the trick on a lot of things that none of the apps does. Timeful came pretty close but the lack of a couple of features and the intrusive habits and todo made me go back to the native app.

flickr finally gets it right

Some time back I wrote about flickr's new design and especially about the new photo experience page here.

Looks like flickr has been reading feedback published by various blogs, twitter and I am sure the feedback option they had while flickr was in beta (I still don't know if they are out of beta).  The overall design on their website including navigation hasn't changed much, however the photo experience page did make drastic changes.   

Here's a screenshot:

flickr-photo-experience

Comparing this view to what they had, this is much better.  My actions are clear, I see the total number of views, favorites and comments instantly creative commons license agreement.  The most important change that I notice is that the view now is much clear, simple and I know how to go back from here.  

So far so good, one complain I do have is when I scroll down, I loose my context - my picture.  

ANY Point of View

It did be great if flickr could some how maintain this.  So far so good.  

Thank you flickr.

 

 

 

Technology is changing us... daily!

In the last ~ten years I have changed my mobile phone a number of times, from Nokia 5110 to Palm Treo to Blackberry Curve to Android Droid X and finally settling down with an iPhone. Its amazing how technology has evolved from large mobile phones to small tiny Nokia phones and back to massivesmartphones phones.

Designing for mobile is different and not just with regards to the shape and size. Because mobile devices are lighter and more portable (in some cases), we find it more convenient to use them. And because we use them so often, we feel a unique, emotional connection to them.

One more thing I realized in the past few week is my transition from being a true Microsoft user to an everything Apple user in the past five or so years. I realize I have every single Apple product and everything is connected to the cloud. I am not talking about the wonderful (pun intended) ecosystem that Apple provides, but my motivation to move everything to Apple. And this does not end with just hardware; of course the transition to Mac OS X was smooth, I missed MS Office (IE was replaced with Chrome a while back). But in the past year, I have seen myself transitioned to iWork and when I think about this transition, I questioned myself why? Why did I move away from a software that I used for almost a decade.

Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word

“Clunky!”

It struck me when I heard this from my customers complaining about a system that they have used for years. It baffled me that the same users who have used this system for so many years are now finding this system clunky. Why?

Apple Pages

Apple Pages

Tracing back to my own transition, I realized how simple Gtalk, Gmail and Chrome browser were to start with. After getting my hands on my first tablet in 2010, I slowly transitioned to Apple mail and it didn’t take me a while to move to iWork when I used their 30 day trial version. The fact that I was not looking at too many things in my face made me feel better. Just like my iPhone (in my case) I could concentrate on a task that I was currently doing rather than find something in that massive ribbon on the top with icons that I found it difficult to understand at times.

We have different attitude, behavior and priorities while using our gadgets. They come with us on the bus, walking down the street or watching TV. Users expect more contextual based actions then an al-a-carte menu system where they are expected to find an action they want to take. Because mobile devices have changed user expectations, it is extremely important to consider them is user studies since their influence is much larger then we can think of.