Archive for the ‘Usability’ Category

When it comes to mobile, most of the leading mobile strategists and designers that I know put an emphasis on utility.  This sentiment, in large part, is probably driven by the plethora of completely useless “throw away” apps that were prevalent shortly after the iPhone’s launch (did the world need another “beer pouring” app?).  During that exuberant period, creative directors everywhere were proposing the next “gimmicky” app that would make a brand famous. Only to find out that without a significant promotional budget, most apps never got downloaded.  And if by chance they did find their way into a user’s hands, they got used once — maybe.

So, most smart digital and mobile marketers ensured that the emphasis was placed on providing “useful” app experiences (anyone else having flashbacks to 1999?).  UX began touting navigation best practices and iOS design guidelines.  Brands started to create platforms that connected their consumers in deeper ways than ever before…Nike+ being one great example.

The trouble is, much of the new design work being done in the app space today looks the same as everything else that’s been done.  For some elements like global navigation that makes perfectly good sense.  I liken it to the evolution of e-commerce shopping carts.  Once someone landed on a model that consumers liked, then why not replicate instead of reinventing the wheel and spending tens of thousands on usability testing.

Lately, while reviewing design concepts for a project we were working on, it struck me that once the various art directors applied brand standards, that many of the designs started to look the same.  It prompted me to ask the question — Is there room for creativity in mobile?


The Complexity CurveAt the beginning of an interactive project, we are excited about the possibilities and think we understand what it is we are setting out to create. Then, as we dive into things and begin to shape the work, we start to add complexity. We add new features and new information, give in to the “wouldn’t it be cool” impulse, and begin removing or changing features. We also hear from stakeholder requirements have changed or evolved, or we discover that the technology doesn’t support what we want to do.

Eventually, our features list is complete and we believe our design to be complete. At this point, we are balanced at the top of the Complexity Curve: the product is full of features and maximally complex.

Complexity takes many forms. It can result from poorly designed interfaces, too much irrelevant information, or actions that are difficult to complete. It can be caused when a user’s expectations are not met by the design and functionality. And when we ask users to think too much, or make too many decisions, it feels like we have created and unnecessary complex interactive product.

So how do we reduce complexity in the things that we create, making them simpler?

Shift the complexity from the user to the designers and developers.

Don’t make the user, the consumer, work too hard. It is your team  that needs to work hard in the design and development of the interactive product to ensure that your user has the best experience possible - otherwise they may not be your user for long.

Here are 10 ways to help reduce complexity and design for simplicity:

  1. Clean up messy and confusing interfaces.  Basically, apply the principles of strong graphic design.
  2. Get rid of indirect action. Don’t make people interact with one thing to affect another. You’ll just lose them along the way.
  3. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Focus on who you are designing for and what you are doing for them.
  4. Give up on design by consensus. Cross-discipline teams and multiple points of view are good. Averaging the work out across the opinions of the team is not. Use the team to find the best solutions, not the ones that everyone will accept as a compromise.
  5. Eliminate “nice to have…” It’s either essential or it is not. If a feature isn’t essential, get rid of it.
  6. Stop copying solutions. Solutions to other problems can be inspiring, but probably won’t apply directly to the problem your team is trying to solve.
  7. Don’t map structure of experience to organization or technology. That’s a long way to say don’t put a square peg in a round hole. Don’t shape a user experience into something it shouldn’t be because you are tied to a certain technology or organizational way of doing things. Consumers don’t care how your database is structured, but they do care if it impedes their interaction with your brand.
  8. Don’t lead with technology. It often results in solutions in search of a problem.
  9. Stop designing for yourself. Follow user-centered design. Think of their needs and design for their motivations and behavior.
  10. Always exercise Critical Thinking. And definitely stop accepting assumptions. Think hard about everything that you are doing. Recognize assumptions and question them instead of accepting them Assess relationships. Optimize solutions.

And always remember what Einstein said: make everything as simple as it can be, not simpler.

This is a recap of the SXSW talk by David Hogue, VP of User Experience at Fluid, Inc.

This is the first in a two-part series rethinking what it takes to make a best-in-class website.

We get a lot of RFPs for website redesigns. All of them are well-intentioned. Some are granular in detail. Others are more “big picture.”  Some have a clear sense of what they want to achieve. Others haven’t a clue. Some are so procurement-driven they feel like a tax audit.  But they all say “website redesign.” And whenever I see or hear this phrase—website redesign—it conjures up the same image:

Five years ago, I got a note from a former client who had just moved into a new job. I printed it out and put it up on the wall, because it challenged the conventional wisdom of what it takes to truly be best-in-class.


A website overhaul is expensive, time consuming, and requires an enormous commitment from a client and the partner they choose to help them lead it. So with all that’s at stake, why redesign when you can realign? It may sound academic, but there are several critical distinctions.

A redesigned site:

is driven by a creative brief

understands the target

aesthetics first, then content

focuses on form

starts with design mock-ups

pleases mgmt in the short term

A realigned site:

is driven by business objectives

unlocks the key consumer insight

content strategy before aesthetics

focuses on form and function

starts with an idea

accomplishes business and user objectives

More after the jump.


We get this question twice a week so here’s the big picture on making QR codes work for your brand.

What is a QR code?
Start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_Code

How big should they be?
As a rule of thumb, codes shouldn’t be much smaller than a postage stamp. For print, about the size of a checkerboard square. If it’s on a skyscraper in TimeSquare, larger.  Perform a Google image search for “QR codes” and you’ll find myriad shapes and sizes.

What content should I drive to?
The content should deliver on your communications objective. Codes can  deliver all sorts of things:

  • Text msg
  • Website URL – is it optimized for mobile?
  • YouTube video
  • Telephone number
  • Email message
  • Vcard
  • Google map
  • WiFi Login (Android only)
  • PayPal Buy Now link
  • Social media (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, etc)
  • iTunes link


The more time a visitor spends on your site, the more likely she is to buy. Carts experience the highest drop-off in the first two or three pages visitors see. Once they’re into the process, drop-off rates decline precipitously. To improve conversion rate, focus on providing relevant and persuasive content based on understanding visitor intent. Persuade on every page. Link pages together, in a step-by step-fashion, to guide visitors through the buying process. Hold their hands, and anticipate their every move. Make them feel comfortable and in control.

Here’s a list of eCommerce best practices we’ve curated from some recent reading:

1. Reduce the number of steps in the process. Combine the logical steps first (shipping and billing address information as an example). But don’t make brevity a goal in it of itself. Once the user completes the first page, they are invested in the process. Long forms at the front end result in higher abandonment rates. But once the user completes they first page, they are more likely to finish the job.

2. Manage the user’s expectations. Always let the user know where they are. Add visual process indicators to the checkout procedure. In addition, use headlines and breadcrumb navigation to show shoppers where they are. Page elements like large text headings and subheadings can help customers establish which page they are on and what the topic of the page is. Breadcrumb navigation helps customers establish how deep they are within the site structure and what is available to view before and after. Breadcrumbs and page headings have SEO benefits as well. If the process takes longer than 5 minutes, consider telling the user that as a courtesy.

3. Give them someone to call. Keep contact information prominent and include it on each page. Place a customer service phone number in a clearly visible location with the text “Prefer to order by phone?” to help decrease cart abandonment. Sites that provide this assurance perform better than those that don’t.

4. Let users easily modify contents. Keep the contents of the cart accessible and easy to find, so they can be changed along the way. Don’t just provide a link back to the cart. Visually show the cart–and its contents–at every step during the path to purchase.

5. Don’t require registration to checkout. This is difficult for some stores to implement because of the architecture their cart is built upon. However, if you have the ability to offer what is often called a “guest checkout” feature, you should do so.

6. Make the experience social. Incorporate user reviews through a tool like BazaarVoice. Products are 10% more likely to be purchased when accompanied by a user review. Port those reviews to your Facebook page and to retailer sites. Use Facebook Connect to make the process even more social. In addition, remember users when they come back. When someone returns—even as a guest—their cart should be waiting for them.  And don’t forget to remind users of abandoned carts via email or through your CRM program.

7. Make error messages clear. Red is the most common color for error messages. Target is a one color brand and still uses red in its error messages. Blue text with an alert icon could work just as well. Look at a couple different options and test them.

8. Clearly display your security and trust seals. Customer privacy concerns are paramount. Provide this assurance.

9. Only cross sell relevant products. Cross sell before the checkout process and after items have been added to the cart. Grouping products, showing related items and cross selling is important for customers and helps lower shopping cart abandonment rates.

10. Test, measure and refine. To a certain extent, every experience is unique. Test different combinations. Study user behavior. See which ones produce the best results. And make small changes based on what you learn.

Resources (these guys deserve all the credit)
• http://www.clickz.com/2245891
• http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/03/23/designing-for-the-user-experience-in-ecommerce/
• http://www.grokdotcom.com/2008/02/26/amazon-shopping-cart/
• http://www.getelastic.com/measuring-cross-sell-success/
• http://www.ecommnewz.com/2009/07/22/decrease-cart-abandonment-with-a-sturctured-checkout-process/
• http://www.searchmarketingstandard.com/tackling-the-shopping-cart-abandonment-rate
• http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/05/28/12-tips-for-designing-an-excellent-checkout-process/
• http://econsultancy.com/blog/1828-ten-ways-to-improve-online-checkouts
• http://www.elated.com/articles/10-ways-to-improve-your-store-checkout/

I recently tweeted that lately the interactive industry was feeling to me like 1998 all over again (I qualified this by saying “the good parts”) and wasn’t really speaking about the financial bubble per se.   At the time I posted that tweet, I was coming off an unbelievable day of new business interest for our agency, several solicitation calls from web/social start-ups, and a couple of conversations that started out as “I need a viral video like Old Spice“.  The day reminded me of the period in time when we would get numerous calls each month where the caller would say “I need a website up and running asap, can you do it?”; “I’m a start-up .com and do you want to invest?”; “My Uncle’s cousin’s brother did the web design but can you program it?” and finally, “We want a viral video like The Dancing Babies.

The response to that spur of the moment tweet was interesting.  On the one hand, there were a couple of immediate and resounding “YES, EXACTLY” type of responses from a couple of the grizzled digital marketing veterans that were also around through the ’90’s.   I suppose I expected that.  But there were more than a few “What does that mean?” direct tweets and hallway conversations.  I realized that there are some very experienced 10 year veterans, who don’t have that historical perspective which caused me to really think about the parallels between those crazy late 1990 years, and today.

The digital marketing industry today is every bit as exciting for me as it was in those exuberant “we’re inventing something” years.  But at the same time we made a lot of mistakes along the journey that I’d like to work hard to avoid this time around.  So I started thinking about some of those mistakes that we made and how we might apply the learnings from them today — so that we end up looking back and saying “Man, 2010 was a crazy year, but a great year”.


Consider that $899 flatscreen on your living room wall. In a few years will it still be a television, or will it merely be a screen hooked up exclusively to the internet where you can access your stored media (housed locally or somewhere in the cloud)?

For some of the attendees at SXSW, it’s a perplexing question, one of thousands being debated here at the interactive festival. But for Mark Cuban (he of Broadcast.net, Dallas Maverics, Magnolia Pictures and HDNET) and Boxee’s CEO Avner Ronen, those are fighting words. The two media heavyweights went nearly toe-to-toe at one of Friday closing the day’s sessions to the delight of 500 fans and the cyberazzi clicking away from the first few rows.

The staged tête-à-tête was actually a re-match, if you will, a resumption of hostilities between Cuban and Ronen late last year on a chat room debating cable TV’s dominance despite its shrinking penetration.

The jabfest Friday was part AV Geek Debate, part professional wrestling weigh-in and part “you’re mama’s so ugly …” smackdown. Except in place of “your mama,” insert “your business model is so screwed, I’ve lost more money in a day than you could hope to make in a whole quarter.”

The argument comes down to a few salient points, one of which was made repeatedly my Mr. Cuban: “In an a ‘la carte world, the cost to create, produce, distribute and market content via internet is unsustainable under any business model.” Coming from a person who made his first billion selling off Broadcast.net to Yahoo, that doesn’t make Cuban a hypocrite as it does make Yahoo a patzee.

Ronen of Boxee on the other hand blames greedy content providers and their billionaire enablers like Cuban and Comcast that perpetuate the strangelhold on household penetration and true net neutrality that will allow all of us more freedom and lower costs in selecting video entertainment content through the web. His company Boxee, which is commonly lumped together with HULU in articles, develops cross-platform freeware with a 10 foot user interface and built-in goodies like social networking tools that have to this point around 1 million subscribers.

Watch the video. It’s not pay-per-view, but it could’ve been. Cuban is always a delight to everyone not wearing a referee’s uniform

My highlight was going up to him during an unexpected building evacuation break. Mark’s a jeans and t-shirt guy who actually went to the high school where I live (Mt. Lebanon). We reminisced about the town and he was aware of the recent high school renovation, as well as the proposed pricetag.

“What, is it something like $113 million?”

“No, Mark. It’s exactly #113 million.”

“Wow, that’s a lot.”

“You know you could do a lot for my taxes and get a the Mark Cuban gymnasium and media center named after you. What do you say?

“No, I don’t do that.”

“Save me taxes?”

“No, put my name on anything.”

He missed the point, or at least avoided it. The same bobbing and weaving he continued the next 60 minutes with his worthy, but overmatched adversary.Mark Cuban and Avner Ronen

Digital ideas to help you sustain attendance (and look smart in the process)

It’s been an unpleasant year for the tradeshow marketer. No one is traveling (ouch) and attendance levels have dwindled as a result. Nice knowin’ ya, Vegas boondoggle.

In response, tradeshow marketers are scrambling to find new ways to reach members, buyers, prospects and exhibitors. Some have even have migrated their content entirely online (cool!). But let’s face it. There’s no replacement for the personal interaction that occurs on the tradeshow floor or at the hotel bar.

EDITORS NOTE:  There’s one shining star in the virtual tradeshow world. TED does a wonderful job of making you feel like you’re really there. But don’t overlook that TED, at its core, is still an in-person show.

What follows is a quick reference guide on tradeshow tactics for the digital age. CAVEAT: Strategy comes before tactics (but that’s not the promise of this post). (more…)

Photo courtesy of William Stadler and stock.xchngThis past weekend, a few of the kids in my neighborhood came over to our house to play with my daughter. The group, ranging in ages from 5 to 9, went off to the family room for a while, and for about within 15 minutes things were pretty quiet.

“Dad, you have to come eat at our restaurant,” called my daughter.

When I walked into the family room the scene was abuzz with activity. Kids were rushing around everywhere with toy food, plates, utensils and cookware. Each was wearing a few articles of dress-up clothes and busily handling different jobs in what appeared to be a pretend restaurant.

The Brand Concept

“Welcome to Fasty’s, where our specialty is super fast service!” said the eight-year-old as I was lead to a small table set for dinner. I sat down and within seconds had toy bread, cookies and a drink cup set in front of me. “Can I take your order?”

These kids didn’t just imagine a pretend restaurant, but they named it, branded it and gave it a very specific niche: super fast service. They were wearing uniforms to show that they were part of a team and from the amount of running back and forth that we going on they were certainly being true to the brand image that they had created.

The Brand Experience

I was impressed, so I gave them my order. The two kids rushed around gathering up the toy food that I had requested and delivered it at almost a sprint to my table. Meanwhile a third brought over a new drinking cup “in case I wanted something else to drink”, and a fourth brought over some wooden cupcakes which were “on the house”. I was told that it was to make sure that I had a wonderful time here at Fasty’s.

So these elementary school aged kids had not only created a differentiated brand, but everything that they were doing was contributing to that brand experience. And they threw in a few premiums to ensure that my experience with that brand was a positive one. Good thinking.

Customer Relationships, Two-Way Dialogue and the Web

Finally, after I had pretended to eat all the food that had been placed in front of me, the 9-year-old came over to the table.

“Hi, I’m the manager,” she shook my hand. “We’re so glad that you came in to eat at Fasty’s. I hope that you had a wonderful time here. Please leave us some feedback on our website. It’s at www.fastys.com. We would really appreciate it.”

Wow. My first thought was ‘This kid eats out too much.’ But then it occurred to me that, not only did these kids understand the importance of developing great customer relationships with a personal touch and the need to create a two-way dialogue with customers, but they understood a bit about the web as a marketing tool. I was impressed. They probably don’t know that they understand these things, of course. To them, that’s just the way things are when you have a business.

A clearly differentiated brand with a strong concept behind it. A consistent experience that support that brand position. Great customer service and extra touches to ensure it. Two-way dialogue with the consumer. And digital taking an integral role. These are all essential elements for building most brands these days, but how often do we as marketers cut corners when it comes to these things, or ignore them altogether? Too often. Perhaps we can learn - or at least be reminded of - a thing or two about brand building from a bunch of kids playing restaurant.

So the next time that you take a look at your own brand, ask yourself: “what would a kid do?”

To improve conversions, focus on providing relevant and persuasive content based on a sound understanding of visitor intent. Persuade on every page. Link pages together to guide visitors along the way. Hold their hands, and anticipate their every move. Make them feel comfortable and in control.

The more time a visitor spends on your site, the more likely she is to buy. Shopping carts experience the highest drop-off in the first two or three pages. Once they’re into the process, drop-off rates decline precipitously.

More e-Commerce best practices: