Monday, June 18, 2012

Stay Focused

When you create your company you set out with ideals and build on a promise to the customer or client, this grows into your brand promise and becomes your position in the consumers mind. Use our service or product and you will receive a level of quality that isn't offered by our competition, we are what you want, because we are better than anyone else. If you are wise early on your will already have established dominance in your domain and niche in the marketplace, either being first to market or by solid marketing.

Sadly though as you grow and think of investment and future positioning it is tempting to consider something that isn't exactly aligned to your current business. It offers riches and success beyond your wildest dreams, and surely everyone else seems to be making the changes. Trouble is though that this probably isn't exactly in the your domain of expertise. So you go ahead and make the move as company anyhow, whether through acquisition, investment or merger. The reality is that what you have started to do is blur your companies boundaries, take it out of focus. This not only causes confusion within your own company for employees but more importantly it affects the mind of your customers. Your brand maybe known for reliability or safety and the wrong growth in the wrong area may make people start to question what your brand stands for. You may offer one very successful product, but then start to offer alternatives not quite in alignment. What happens, you muddy the waters of all that you had laid down before. It can lead to short term gains, but ultimately alter the brand perception.

So how to avoid this. Stay Focused. Keep to your company goals and brand values. Keep to your core products and improve all that surrounds them. Of course disruption comes along and times change, but think how to integrate the right opportunities that continue with the right brand voice. Don't be tempted to blur your company or brand for the sake of a quick profit, the damage maybe hard to undo.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What Star Wars Teaches Us About Branding - Audience Participation

When you create something and place it in the public domain, there is value in leaving enough space for people to project their own personalities onto it. Create a compelling message and wrap it in a evocative story. The critical part is to let the audience grab the concept or idea and make it their own, give them the tools to edit, copy and paste their own content into the work, this not only can increase your marketing reach with word of mouth and social sharing but also it starts to create unique stories and a shared culture that can live without the original creators input. The brand can become far more organic and find a more natural path to success.

Catastrophic Star Wars Costumes

A great example of the power of this is the film and franchise of Star Wars. It doesn't take much to find Stars Wars on YouTube and see all the fan videos, remakes and outtakes that they have made. Search for Star Wars on Google and see all the fan sites and forums about the Star Wars universe. Think about how a whole generation bought into the story and still talk about it today. Consider the iconic characters and their cultural place as references in conversations. Did George Lucas plan all of this? Or did this occur through the adoption of the film by people that fell in love with the brand all the way from films and books to toys? 

The genius of the Star Wars brand is how people adopted it and made it their own. There was enough space and depth to give people a platform to build from. They could relate and find meaning inside the story. There is a powerful brand lesson here about telling stories, allowing room for adaptation and most importantly allowing audience participation in the messaging. Don't just build a brand with dogmatic imagery and messaging, keep some space between the lines for people to fall in love and become your biggest fans.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Innovation Begins with Real People

If you are trying to innovate and are looking for new ideas and insights for new products or services, nothing proves more useful and fruitful than getting out of the office and out from behind the computer, then immersing yourself in the World outside. Where real people live and work. Go to where your customers and potential users are.

The art of seeing and observing people with an open mind and especially recording those observation with good ethnographic techniques, such as video, diaries and in person interviews. Makes you more aware of existing pain points, that can be fixed and improved upon. It can also fuel new ideas for things that can be introduced and created to improve peoples lives and make your services and products better and easier to use. Techniques such as participant observations where you try for yourself what others have to go through, will give you incredible first hand experience of what people do and how they do it. Living with a customer for a day or watching them use your service or product without prompting can be incredibly insightful, about what is lacking, and where improvements can be made. The data and information your gather can fuel many insightful innovations.


This you cannot gain from sitting at a computer and just assuming what people do in the outside World, where noise and distraction can occur. You cannot even always believe what people say they do, you sometimes are best seeing them do it and then trying it for yourself. Then you can better empathize and really begin to use design to solve and build something with a clear purpose for improvement. Designers are incredibly adept at solving problems and coming up with innovative solutions, sadly though their focus is not always finely tuned to the exact problem they are solving or they are tasked with the wrong problem to solve by their clients. Getting them out of the office and educating your clients that can hide behind their data from focus groups gets you closer to problems and ideas that really need fixing, inventing or improving.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Core of the Brand

Too often the style guide is confused as being a brand guide in design projects. The style guide document says that the logo is yellow and the suggested color palette along with that is black and the font Helvetica, that doesn't mean that the brand is the summation of all these design elements. The brand is not about the right combination of these elements. To often the company focuses on seeing beautiful design work and expect that it will fit their definition of cool, versus their rivals. The designers themselves can also be to blame about what a website or interactive experience can be. They sit down and produce portfolio worthy concepts that look amazing and really make those brand elements shine. 

However, underneath all of that is the true brand of the company. The story that the company tells itself and it's consumers or customers of it's content. They should all be focused on making all decisions on building and supporting those messages. Once you pull back the curtain and see the client and their brand at its core then you can begin to make design decisions that help support those ideals. Until then you are only working on a fraction of the overall brand value you should be thinking about. Yes the logo is important and the style sheets valuable, but they do not get to the heart of the message and the direction things should move in. The visual aesthetic can be thought of as the language of the company the brand though is the message and meaning they support.

The great thing is once you get to the brand core then decisions become surprisingly easier. What should our website experience be? Look at the brand. What user experiences should we work on in mobile? Look at the brand. I think the concept is clear. The brand can be the driving force behind many decisions and help design teams focus their ideas and attention to the right ideas. The client is also about to understand an idea and it's true value if they to are reminded of their brand value and messaging.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Doodling in meetings is a good thing

Drawing skills are an important skill for any designer, but especially for user experience design.

Whenever you attend a client meeting you should automatically start doodling, and ideally get up to the whiteboard and capture the moment visually for all to see. People tend to talk in abstracts and your job as a user experience facilitator is to help not only the client solidify their goals but help the team you work with understand the vision. So why doesn't this happen more? Well most people's first reaction to being asked to draw anything is "oh I am not good at that, I do stick figures only". Well guess what they work too.

Here are a couple of considerations of how you might go about capturing user experiences with sketches.

Firstly loose the detail. Yes people and hands are difficult to draw and we all struggle with them if you try to capture the details. If you think of people as stick people. It gets a lot simpler. Take for example these examples from Austin Kleon about how to draw faces. Communicating an idea doesn't need a Michelangelo rendering to get the point across.

.how to draw faces

Simplicity is key to communication, especially in meetings and when using a white board, because after all as your sketching you meant to be listening to the client speak and be ready to step back into the conversation. Anything longer than a couple of minutes work is probably too detailed and missing something simple about the concept you are capturing. Sometimes it is unnecessary to draw complete people, just hands work or a close up of a face. Just drawing objects helps, especially in UX where devices are just boxes(think the black brick that is every mobile phone), this means that you can convey a moment of interaction by doing a close up of the device and maybe just a hand gripping it. Again think cartoon style, I would even say that like Disney only use 3 fingers to represent a hand, it works fine it has enough information to express action.

 disney 4 finger hand sketch quebob

These are the types of sketches you need to be practicing when you are doodling, these basic drawing techniques. Think of a action like holding a phone and try and draw it on your note pad. Think how you might draw a gesture such as waving, or pointing, action arrows help a lot in capturing motion. Study how others draw storyboards. I find that thinking about people as Lego figures helps, I always find that these simple characters can capture a whole host of interactions just by playing with poses and making a small additions to what they hold and how their faces look. People don't get represented much simpler than this, plus if you use the real Lego's you can practice drawing what you see.

What is critical about these drawing skills is to use them to help remind all in the room of the discussion that took place and allow people to review them at their leisure during the communication. Also, their value is in the storytelling of the experiences and touch points with end users and consumers. It gives you something to capture and share at the end of a meeting that helps everyone remember some of what was discussed, more than just a bullet list of notes. I always try my best to do more drawing in meetings and I think all designers should have the skills to draw what they are talking about as part of the communication process.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Technology for Consumption

Introducing a new technology into a retail environment requires a good understanding of the types of customers you are trying to entice to use it and why. Technology can be rejected and ignored if it is not adding value to the consumers shopping experience. Is the technology there to enhance an existing product experience or inform the consumer about the product to help in the decision making process? Do your research and get to know your customers, their shopping habits and process. Most importantly get to know how they shop your services or products.

Technology should move beyond being merely digital billboards and displays that offers an alternative marketing message with more glitz design, and work towards helping consumer learn and make informed choices. The consumer is often either already fairly sure what they are looking for with existing knowledge gained from the web or social groups, or are making a compulsive purchase there in the store. This is when they are most influenced by what they learn on the spot. Making the technology available to help with either of those scenarios is going to delight and ultimately gain the consumers trust and desire to use the technology at hand. Even if the sale is not made at that moment the brand loyalty will be building, and will lead to greater return for the next purchase.

Consider how the technology can be integrated into people's digital lives. Allow sharing socially what they find and ask questions to those that they trust easily. Think how the experience can be pre-sale, present-sale and post-sale. What might they bring, create and take away from an interaction in your retail space. Building brand recognition and loyalty will ultimately lead to repeat business and word of mouth spread of your name and the experience.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Microsoft Kinect for Retail Experiences

Microsoft Kinect seems to be popping up everywhere and is definitely a topic I find myself talking about more with retail clients on projects. With the general acceptance now of the Kinect on the XBox platform and with all the Kinect game titles, people are beginning to understand gesture based interactions. Plus with the new Kinect Xbox applications such as TMZ and iHeartRadio, that I have worked on these interactions are moving beyond games towards application experiences. The next logical question we are addressing now is what comes next and how might we use this device in the consumer space, other than what Microsoft has planned for the technology on Xbox. Clients now are coming and asking how they might get in on the Kinect buzz and incorporate it in their retail space. We have all seen the research and hacking projects that people have already started making using Kinect, such as controlling helicopters and making shadow puppets, the reality though is how can these ideas translate into an in-store experience. Before I get into that let's outline some of the considerations that need to be given to a general Kinect interaction.

Give me some space, please.

The first thing to understand about Kinect is that it needs more space than a standard touch Kiosk. Ideally it should have a dedicated area for the interaction that allows for someone, or maybe a few people, watching or interacting, to be standing around and most likely be waving their hands about, 8-12ft is not unusual. So depending on the overall experience you are trying to create you may want to think how it can work in your retail environment, especially if space is an issue.

What you need to be careful of is anyone that is just trying to passively shop and maybe wants to pass by the display isn't inadvertently sucked into the interact zone. You should make sure they aren't going to interfere with the Kinect camera, breaking the experience for someone else and more importantly doesn't end up getting a slap to the face by a energetic consumer already in the zone. I think, as the examples below shows, that Best Buy and Microsoft Store, do a good job of defining a space for the interaction and making it clear to passersby not to enter the "interact zone" with the use of colored carpet and a small wall at the back of the zone to allow people to pass in safety. The Microsoft store places the experience at the back and at the front of the store in dedicated areas out of the way. The individual using the Kinect can also see where they are meant to stand and move and not have to worry about bumping into people. This keeps everyone aware of their place in the interaction or not.

Consideration also needs to be given to the height of the camera, it is optimal to have the camera at about waist height to allow for tall and short people(think children) but it can also be placed in other locations but it can affect it's visual zone or picking people's full bodies up for the tracking.

Get Moving.

Next consideration is to the interactive experience that best suits a Kinect device. The Kinect camera is not at this point as sensitive to body detail as you might expect, it at this time cannot pick up for example individual fingers and facial details without some modifications or custom work, that is not to say it cannot be done or isn't being worked on by others. The out of the box experience is much more about skeletal tracking. Below shows an example of what the Kinect sees and interprets to make the interactions. As can be seen it is basically a skeleton stick figure.
This means that the interactions are all about moving parts of your body, hence the warning about space for people to move. The motion tracking is really very good and fast, very little delay. The real issues arise in what gestures work best and are most easily picked up by the camera.

I have found that big exaggerated gestures are easiest to learn and use for the camera and the user. Something like swiping your right arm from far right to left (or vice-versa) or raising you arm in front of you. Lifting you legs and leaning also work well. These gestures really benefit from short animated tutorials with the experience or some clue to what the interaction needs to be with arrows for example. Things get a little difficult when you try spinning around or standing sideways, the camera tends to get confused when parts of the body overlap, it can make the skeleton jump around and get a little funky. We have found that we can make these harder interaction work by placing the camera off center but this starts using more space and makes the arrangement more awkward for a tight retail environment. We even worked out some solutions using two cameras but that we found works best for autoshows where space isn't an issue.

With that in mind the interactions for Kinect are best for big interactions versus very detailed and intricate manipulations at this time, we are not quite at the level that "Minority Report" has filled our heads with, but I am sure we will get there. Still you can come up with some neat interactions and designs using these limitations. An important thing keep in mind is that many people do the same action differently. Just asking anyone to swipe in front of them and see how many ways different people do this action, so every interaction should be considerate of interpretation, by the individual. Allow for the gesture not being recognized the first time by the device, make the user feel compelled to try again and try to minimize frustration.

So now we understand the basic requirements of Kinect the really interesting next phase is how we might use this platform to improve a retail experience for consumers. Where does Kinect find a natural fit?

Kinect with Consumers

Kinect was of course designed to be used as an entertainment device for the Xbox, and that is where it excels in its experiences. Those experiences that consider it's origins seem to perform best. People like moving around and it makes them generally happy to do so, hence it's great success in the game sector.

However, people don't like to look like fools in front of others, and nothing is going to make you look more foolish than the wrong experience in the wrong environment at the wrong time. This means that this device and it's interactions can create amazing marketing and in-store experience but chose the experience carefully. Careful consideration needs to be given to the consumers you are targeting and where you position this interaction, as well as, what you goal is in getting people to use this gesture kiosk. For example, of course children are happy to jump about and be energetic interacting with Kinect, but older people less so. I would say the safest bet is to think about what supporting role a Kinect can play in a retail environment as either an extension of a marketing campaign or as a concentrated interactive experience. I wouldn't for example recommend thinking of the Kinect experience like you might a touchscreen kiosk and start product browsing your entire catalogue and filtering results.

Because Kinect is often setup with a large display, remember people will be 6-8ft from the screen for the camera to do full body tracking the content needs to work at distance. I would even say that the bigger the display the better to not only allow others to notice the experience from across the store but also as it gives a wonderful sense of control moving larger than life objects and keeps with the entertainment factor. This means you need to think more like a billboard designer than a touch screen. Content needs to be big and have nice large target zones for interactions to occur. It is a little like designing for mobile and finger interactions scaled up. Density of buttons should be very light and spread out. I would suggest 10 or less items on the screen at anyone time, and definitely people are not going to be reading product descriptions at this size, leave that for the touch kiosks, or mobile users.

Something else I should add, is that Kinect also does voice detection and can be setup to recognize certain key-phrases, I won't go into details here, as voice activation and use can be difficult in noisy environments such as most retail stores. Of course, if your retail environment is quiet and maybe more exclusive this can be a great way to also interact with the device commanding things with your voice.

So where to use it?

I would suggest studying your consumers interacting with your store and watching where there might be a good fit for a device that creates dwell time and think about the interference with regular shoppers doing ordinary shopping. I would also be considerate of products that you sell in-store that would benefit from a motion based interaction like Kinect. Looking for screws in a hardware store or finding a pair of shoes may not be the best product to target with this experience. Kinect will never replace the value of actually trying something on or make easy a entire catalogue browsing experience. I also would not recommend using it as a store map experience, it would be difficult to have multiple users and probably prove more frustrating to get to what you were trying to achieve than just using a more standard kiosk.

Where Kinect excels is in enhancing an experience of a product as say a virtual mirror allowing uses to do things they couldn't ordinarily such as see the back of themselves or change their environment they see themselves in.  So changing rooms would be an ideal experience, as well as quite private for someone whom might be self conscious about showing off.

I recently worked on a compelling example of one use for Kinect that allowed a consumer to browse and try a "virtual" 3D Nissan Pathfinder, that hadn't yet gone into production. The model was detailed enough to show all the details and features of the car, as well as, change color and walk around the car in real-time inside and out. These beyond reality experiences work well with Kinect and with a supporting interaction such as touch kiosk for more detailed browsing and interaction can be very pleasing to use and create social buzz.

In summary, Kinect is a new and exciting development in technology, it offers yet another way to interact and leave an impression with consumers. At this point its value is in extending a brand with an entertainment factor, it can engage with a consumer and offer a great way to see things beyond a physical product. Most people we have watched using this interaction have enjoyed the difference it brings and will often encourage others to get involved. It reminds me a lot of chimps watching each other and learning something new, people like chimps are inherently social animals and Kinect is a public and social experience, it works well to produce crowds and giggles. I hope that this article gives a little insight to some of the realities of Kinect for retail but also some of the possibilities. As the technology gets more accurate and better the experiences are likewise going to improve and be even more engaging to use. I am looking forward to where my clients want to go with it.