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.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Instagram's Tips for Success

In this talk given by the founders of Instagram, co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger discuss what they say are the myths of entrepreneurship based on their personal experience in building and starting Instagram. With the recent acquisition of Instagram by Facebook for $1 Billion it seems maybe we should be taking notice of what they have to say.

Firstly something important to remember is that they didn't just create Instagram from nothing and turn it into a company valued at $1Bn over night. Their first venture was an app called Burbn, that allowed people to check in different places and then share pictures and video of what you were doing. They admit themselves it was a huge failure. But what is most significant is how it lead them through those mistakes to work on Instagram, with this acquired knowledge. They soon realized that what people liked most about their original idea was sharing images of what they were doing.

Here are the myths and lesson they feel they have learnt from their adventures.

1. You cannot learn entrepreneurship from and book, blog or talk.
A day on the job is worth a year of experience. It is important to learn how to make snap decisions in the face of uncertainty. Only experience can teach you to make better decisions. It is important to listen to what you know and what your instincts tell you. They suggest that you trust your gut, and chose your investments on those feelings. Then see those ideas and investments through to the end. It is a good idea to have many side projects that can be running at any one time to learn from. It is critical to do something you can feel passionate about, and are willing to invest the time in to get things done, expect long hours. Remember it is not about being a entrepreneur but about the end product and what you deliver to users that really matters.

2. Startups only come from computer science students.
Neither of the Instagram founders were computer science students. They taught themselves enough to get initial prototypes built, and get things rolling. They believe that having the mindset of not knowing the answers but spending time finding those answers is important. Questions such as "what do we need to keep people using our product?" and thinking about scaling is critical in the initial phases of setting up. Networking socially is helpful in finding the right people that can help you. Try and find cofounders that compliment your skill sets. Generalists are great for startup companies, the ability to wear many hats helps.

3. Finding the problem is the hardest part.
Finding solutions is far easier once the problem is well defined. Instagram spent time writing down the top 5 problems people had with mobile photos. Such as, bad quality pictures, uploading and sharing. Then they looked to see how they might solve those issues. Solving problems people actually have is far easier to work on than making up something from nothing. They set about addressing something as trivial as uploading by reducing the image size, and starting the upload while someone writes the caption. They set about delighting people with their application by making it seem easy and seamless. You should verify you are solving the problem people have, and the only real way to do that is get your product in people's hands for use and test your hypothesis. Many people wait to long to test and invest to much into unknowns. Don't be put off by having simple solutions to simple problems. You don't always need to solve huge problems, and sometimes the small problems at scale are hard enough and worth solving.

4. Stealth Start Ups don't give you feedback quickly enough.
In order to test the thing you are working on is working, you need to put it in front of people. Build the minimum viable product is a good thing to aim for. Don't build past what you need to build to answer the questions. Start everything as "what is V1 of this feature". Fail early and fail often, make failing as cheap as possible. You need to fail to find the right solution. You need to fail your way to success. It is notable that the Instagram guys gave their initial prototypes to people that had large twitter followings in certain communites. Especially the designer community and people that would have an interest in this type of iPhone app. This is something that Malcolm Gladwell talks to that helps spread an idea quickly. Finding those influential people that have many contacts and push over other people. They go on to say that although it proved successful, they still believe that the fact that the product was useful and usable were the most influential factors of why it became such a success.

5. Start a bidding war among VC's with a slick pitch deck.
Raise only what you need to get of the ground. Optimize for people not for valuation, if you have a great idea it will do well and it will most likely get a great valuation anyway. Seek out the people you want to work with, don't just hire people on their resumes. Raising VC, is like hiring people to be on your team, find people who believe in what you are doing. Do not assume you need a lot of money to get going, Instagram raised only $60k to launch their first version. Focus on the prototype and gaining traction do not waste time on a fancy pitch deck. Bringing a prototype into a meeting speaks louder than graphs predicting future earnings. Prototypes are tangible and something that people can understand and talk about.

6. Starting a company is the same as building a product. Starting a company is only 50% of the work you'll do, starting a company is also about bank accounts, building and managing a team, raising capital, paying taxes and getting insurance. The other stuff is a lot of work. As Jim Collins suggests in his book, bringing in the right team and having the right people on board can change a company from good to great, it applies in start ups as well. Building a company is not like building a product. Growing at the right stage is key to keeping at the right size at the right time, don't be larger than seems right at the beginning, without testing out the ideas first. You should work hard but not long, or else you will burn yourself out. Remove distractions, be productive. Always be aware and you find that work and life blends into one state of consciousness. Watching people use your product, using it yourself in the field, these are all part of the process.

7. Ideas don't hit you in the shower. Ideas are the result of a lot of iterations. Ideas in the social space are often combinations of other ideas. Allowing ideas to mix and fold with each other with an eye on the problem space, allows more useful solutions to come to mind. Sharing and discussing ideas is part of the process, also getting the ideas in front of people is critical to knowing if you have something they may want to use. The first idea is not going to be the last one, you will have many ideas. It is important to explore the solution space. Certain themes will follow you. You will find yourself attracted to certain problems and ideas. Teach yourself the skills that help you grow in that domain of knowledge, try out ideas and explore. It will not be an overnight success but will evolve over time, often years. Most companies are not overnight successes. Make sure you know what question are you answering. It never gets easier or less busy, it is a lifetime commitment, so make sure you love what you are doing. It is a good attitude to realize that things change and it helps to be excited by those challenges and alterations from the original course. It helps to think about smaller goals than the end goal. Look to the next hill not the destination.

As they say there is no better time to start than now, starting a company is a huge learning experience and you have nothing to loose in terms of knowledge. It is critical to have the hunger to build stuff and put it in front of people.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Halo Effect

Google has always had an air of mystic around them, as a creative and honest company. It seems that even though they are a multi-billion dollar company they don't have the stigma of other tech firms of a similar size. People trust Google far more with their data and information than most high tech firms. You search using their search engine and store you email in their servers, and very few people question Google's good intentions to let you use their stuff for "free". It's almost as if because of the early reputation that Google gained as a open and honest company that enabled you to search more effectively and easily on the internet without in your face advertising and banner ads that they have now become an authentically honest company with a certain playful approach to everything. Of course, the reality of a multi-billion dollar company such as Google is that they have many of the same motivations and drives as any large corporation, they wish to make money and the easiest way to do that is to use our collected data and information to influence us. So how has this general positive perception of Google occurred? This is something that can be attributed to what psychologists call the "Halo Effect".

The Halo effect is essentially a biased heuristic that we have when we see something positive in someone or something we like. We are more likely to transfer those beliefs into other traits about that person or object. So in this instance the early reputation of Google that was perceived and promoted by people has now become the accepted attitude of Google to everything they do. They are now considered an honest open and trustworthy company, whether or not this is true, it is at least perceived that way. The same thing happens with real people, if someone you know has a reputation as being a "good" person through something they may have done in the past you will be inclined to transfer that perception to anything they do, you might assume they are more likely to give to charity for example, or may be more likely to take part in community activities, whether or not that would actually be true. The tendency is to assume if a certain trait is true such as being good, then you automatically assume that other qualities such as being kind, generous and humorous are also true of that person. Interestingly, it is even suggested that the attractiveness of someone can influence our perceptions of them without even knowing anything about them. We assume that attractive people are somehow nicer people.

The Halo effect has it's reverse referred to as the "devil effect" which as expected is if a brand or person has a negative trait, then the bias tends to influence all considerations of other traits towards the negative feelings.

Particularly in business this powerful and often subconscious effect is one that should not be overlook when considering any brand placement or messaging. It seems that it can work positively in a brands favor when encouraging positive marketing and PR, Google and Apple have definitely gained from this effect. However the reverse can also alter people's perceptions and these are the hardest influences to remove from peoples minds, I think the best example is Microsoft, that no matter how they innovate, has always had the stigma of being a monopolistic giant and carries even today a generally negative perception in the public mind. I think also it is important to think closer to ourselves about how we judge other people, we should try and be a little more conscious of what we truly know about other people and not fall into the trap of judging all things by limited knowledge. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Knowing Yourselves

We have all been in situations in which we don't quite feel like ourselves, it's almost as if someone else looks out through our eyes and takes over for a short while. Our friends notice and exclaim that we don't appear to be ourselves. Of course nothing really changes from our point of view we just respond to our environment and play the role that we think best suits that moment. Many thing can trigger this from work to anger from parties to gambling can release alternate versions of ourselves. It's almost as if we have multiple personalities within us.

Rita Carter in her book "Multiplicity", puts forward this very idea that within each of us are these multiple personalities and how they can affect and influence each other, sometimes in good ways and at other times in negative ways. She suggests that by better understanding ourselves and these alternate selves we can begin to affect how we feel and act. We can no longer think of ourselves as a single person or character but as summation of many selves working inside us.

First thing to make clear is that she is not talking about the mental illness of multiple personality disorder, where you have little control or consciousness over the people within you. She is suggesting that we are complex individuals with the capacity to behave differently in different situations and under different conditions. Her books helps you recognize and discover these personalities within and start to map them to better understand how they influence you in your choices and decision making. She argues that nobody is a single personality but is in fact made up of multiple characters within us, the important thing to do is recognize those that influence you in a positive way and those that do not and start to control which you wish to grow and those you wish to squash.

Her suggestion, is that most people have a few major personalities with many supporting minor personalities. The major personalities are those that guide a majority of our decision making, and whom we may most closely relate to, the minor personalities add to these cast members with less seen but equally important aspects of our character. It is very comparable to acting and playing parts within our lives all with the same shared life and knowledge.

She explains how these personalities can be mapped using the concepts of the OCEAN big 5 personality traits approach to mapping character. OCEAN is an acronym for:


This framework is a robust way for people to measure their personality type against. In Rita's book she maps these onto to a circular diagram with the opposing traits around the circle. Then through a series of questions you can begin to map your various personalities on the disgram to better understand their role in your mind.

The concept Rita puts forward is a fair idea and certainly it is consistent with new discoveries in science and psychology that she supports her argument with. It raises many intriguing questions. How well we can control these personality types is questionable, but at the very least recognizing them is a start in allowing you be aware when you might be behaving differently than your usual self. Equally interesting for me is the insight it gives to understanding ourselves and others and why people can appear inconsistent in some circumstances. It suggest that interviewing people for market research or using any kind of people study is going to only give a small insight to the complete domain of peoples thoughts and actions. As this area of study expands and gains insights it is going to go along way to explain many of the choices and decisions we make. Rita Carters book is a great introduction to these new ideas of the many selves within us.