- The Product Is You, No. 12 – Rob Walker does a series of advertisements that reveal a customer segmentation and the associated characteristics. Similar vein to my postings about personas leaking outside the enterprise
- Please vote for our SXSW panel "Culture Kicks Our Ass: How To Kick Back" – The conference lineup is chosen partially based on input (i.e., voting) from the community. Even if you don't attend, you still have a voice about what the discourse should be in our various fields, so please vote for this panel from Steve Portigal and D. P. Haine, of Obvious Design.
We’ll explore the different cultural challenges that breakthrough products must overcome: emergent usage behaviors that are impossible to predict, a global customer base and cultural barriers inside the corporation that suffocate innovation. We’ll also share best practices for addressing each challenge.
- Please vote for our SXSW panel "FAIL: When User Research Goes Horribly, Horribly Wrong" – The conference lineup is chosen partially based on input (i.e., voting) from the community. Even if you don't attend, you still have a voice about what the discourse should be in our various fields, so please vote for this panel from
Steve Portigal, Portigal Consulting
Nate Bolt, Bolt|Peters
Dan Saffer, Kicker Studio
Aviva Rosenstein, Ask.com
Mark Trammell, Digg
Best practices for user research are not hard to come by, but experience is the ideal way to develop mastery. And with experience inevitably comes failure. Embarrassing, awkward, hilarious failure that gives the gift of self-improvement. We’ll share our own unvarnished examples and what they taught us.
- Do programmers still buy printed books? | Zen and the Art of Programming – Likewise, when I’m holding a book or have it open on my desk, I’m in “book reading mode”, which makes it far easier to immerse myself in it. This means that I’m focused on the task and can proceed quickly. The only context switch that happens is between the book and the editor/shell, if it’s the kind of book that warrants typing along. If you are reading a book in a browser tab, it’s very easy to think, “I’ll just check my email for a second”, or introduce similar distractions. I’m sure I’m not alone in this respect.
When I buy a physical copy of a book, I feel psychologically more obliged to at least try to get through it. Online I experience a paradox of choice of sort. With hundreds of interesting books available there in front of me, I’m more inclined to excessively multitask, and end up checking out different books while I should still be reading the current one.
(Thanks @onwardparam and @chirag_mehta)
- New study suggests people from different cultures read facial expressions differently – East Asian participants in the study focused mostly on the eyes, but those from the West scanned the whole face.
They were more likely than Westerners to read the expression for "fear" as "surprise", and "disgust" as "anger".
The researchers say the confusion arises because people from different cultural groups observe different parts of the face when interpreting expression.
- You Can't Innovate Like Apple (the best summary of Apple's approach to innovation/domination and why it's tough to replicate) – The point is not to go ask your customers what they want. If you ask that question in the formative stages, then you’re doing it wrong. The point is to go immerse yourself in their environment and ask lots of “why” questions until you have thoroughly explored the ins and outs of their decision making, needs, wants, and problems. At that point, you should be able to break their needs and the opportunities down into a few simple statements of truth.
(via Joshua Porter)
In addition to the summary posted last week, BayCHI has now posted the presentation (with audio) from my recent talk, “We did all this research … now what?”
- UX guy complains about AA.com being crap and UX guy from AA.com responds – UX guy reprints email and then attempts to address corporate culture issue; strong opinions follow but most compelling part is the insight from the AA.com UX guy himself (known as Mr. X)
"But—and I guess here’s the thing I most wanted to get across—simply doing a home page redesign is a piece of cake. You want a redesign? I’ve got six of them in my archives. It only takes a few hours to put together a really good-looking one, as you demonstrated in your post. But doing the design isn’t the hard part, and I think that’s what a lot of outsiders don’t really get, probably because many of them actually do belong to small, just-get-it-done organizations. But those of us who work in enterprise-level situations realize the momentum even a simple redesign must overcome, and not many, I’ll bet, are jumping on this same bandwagon. They know what it’s like."
- Health management goes for ethnic marketing/customization: Asians and diabetes – Rice is a carbohydrate that is particularly unhealthy in large quantities for people with diabetes. That's why doctors and other health care providers are increasingly trying to develop culturally sensitive ways to treat Asians with diabetes – programs that take into account Asian diets, exercise preferences and even personality traits. "Diabetes is primarily a self-managed disease, and you have to try multiple approaches with different patients. But many of those are not culturally appropriate for Asians."
- Cows with names produce more milk, scientists say – The story is slightly hyperbolic – a cow with a name is a proxy for all the other differentiating factors in cow-care. "Placing more importance on knowing the individual animals and calling them by name can – at no extra cost to the farmer – also significantly increase milk production. Maybe people can be less self conscious and not worry about chatting to their cows."
- Time magazine has called Beer Lao Asia’s best local beer, but outside Laos it's almost impossible to find – Like a film festival winner without a distribution deal, the rice-based lager has struggled to turn cult status into anything other than good press. Just 1 percent of its annual production is exported. Lao Brewery hopes to change that. It would like to see 10 percent sold abroad, and it is counting on Vang Vieng’s beer-loving backpackers to help them make the sale.
Lao Brewery is building a network of fans-turned-distributors who import and sell the beer in select markets. Some distributors are former travelers who see potential in a brand with little international exposure. Others just really like the beer.
- What Does Your Credit-Card Company Know About You? – "In 2002 J. P. Martin, a math-loving executive at Canadian Tire, decided to analyze almost every piece of information his company had collected from credit-card transactions the previous year. His data indicated, for instance, that people who bought cheap, generic automotive oil were much more likely to miss a credit-card payment than someone who got the expensive, name-brand stuff. People who bought carbon-monoxide monitors for their homes or those little felt pads that stop chair legs from scratching the floor almost never missed payments. Anyone who purchased a chrome-skull car accessory or a “Mega Thruster Exhaust System” was pretty likely to miss paying his bill eventually. Why were felt-pad buyers so "upstanding? Because they wanted to protect their belongings, be they hardwood floors or credit scores."
The article goes on to describe how debt collectors build relationships with (rather than harass) debtors, who pay off more to the brands they have a relationship with.
- We Are Now In The Age Of Nice – another Sunday NYT unsubstantiated trend-attempt – That amiable guys and uncomplicated sweethearts could be today’s pop heroes is one sign of an outbreak of niceness across the cultural landscape — an attitude bubbling up in commercials, movies and even, to a degree, the normally not-nice blogosphere.
- Can supposedly-predictive quantitative market research techniques help Hollywood? – Still, is it smart to bring on pricey consultants when corporate overlords are demanding cost cuts? And what of the parade of failed attempts by consumer research firms to break into Hollywood? Few people in the industry can forget Tremor, the research firm that was owned by Procter & Gamble. It came to Hollywood in 2002, signed up with Creative Artists Agency and roped clients like DreamWorks — though its ideas often proved prohibitively expensive.
- FitFlops – the FlipFlop with the Gym Built In – What we girls really need is something like a flip flop that tones and trims our legs while we run errands. We have no free time…We Want a Workout While We Walk!” FitFlop midsoles incorporate patent-pending microwobbleboard ™ technology, to give you a workout while you walk. One woman reported feeling like she’d had a ‘bum-blasting’ workout after a half an hour of FitFlop-shod walking.
(Thanks to CPT!)
- Love Land, first sex theme park in China closed before construction completed – Photographs showed workers pulling down a pair of white plastic legs and hips that appear to be the bottom half of a giant female mannequin towering over the park entrance. The mannequin is wearing a red G-string. The park manager, Lu Xiaoqing, had planned to have on hand naked human sculptures, giant models of genitals, sex technique “workshops” and a photography exhibition about the history of sex. The displays would have included lessons on safe sex and the proper use of condoms. Mr. Lu told China Daily that the park was being built “for the good of the public.” Love Land would be useful for sex education, he said, and help adults “enjoy a harmonious sex life.”
- Air Traveler Satisfaction Goes Up? Look Beyond The Data – The airline business scored 64 out of 100 in the first quarter of this year, a 3.2% increase over the same period a year ago. Airlines were still among the lowest-scoring businesses in the index, which measured customer satisfaction with the products or services of hotels, restaurants and 14 other sectors. Full-service restaurants scored highest at 84. Airlines scored far below their own index high of 72, achieved in 1994. "It certainly looks like most of these increases, if not all, are due to lower passenger load," says Claes Fornell, professor of business at the University of Michigan and index founder, noting that the recession has kept many Americans from traveling. The lower number of passengers "means more seat availability, shorter lines, more on-time arrival, fewer lost bags, and all that probably adds up to a slightly higher level of satisfaction." He noted that a reduction in the number of flights offered could erase the slight gains achieved in passenger satisfaction.
- Mass Customization of the Fiat 500 – A number of folks we recently met in Europe mentioned this new (although an updated classic) car as being perfect for their needs. The variation and customizing, while perhaps not unique in today's marketplace (I'm imaging the Mini's variability is similar if not beyond) was still striking: "The 500 is available with four different trim levels: Naked, Pop, Lounge, and Sport. Customers can choose also between 15 interior trims, 9 wheel options, 19 decals, and 12 body colours. There are over 500,000 different personalized combinations of the 500 that can be made by adding all kinds of accessories, decals, interior and exterior colours, and trims."
- Searching for Value in Ludicrous Ideas – Allison Arieff writes about "inventor/author/cartoonist/former urban planner Steven M. Johnson" whose "work tends toward the nodes where social issues intersect with design and urban planning issues." I'm reminded of my formative experiences with Al Jaffee features from MAD magazine where he's describe future products or technologies, or explain (fancifully) the workings of some current product (i.e. bars of soap that are made with quick disappearing stuff on the outside and then a small interior core that takes a long long time to dissolve).
- Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt – Suggested to me by René Vendrig at the Amsterdam UX Cocktail Hour, after my talk on looking at cultural differences based on everyday observations. He tells me "It is about traffic, but the real subject is human psychology and how we deal with that kind of situations."
- It's Not TV, It's HBO – HBO's standard-creating slogan, giving words to the premium experience of their programming.
- It's not just coffee, it's Starbucks. – New ad campaign for Starbucks attempts to differentiate on quality, but sounds just a bit familiar.
- All This ChittahChattah | Flying the sneaky skies – (see link for screen grab)
While checking in online for a United Airlines flight, you may be offered the opportunity to upgrade to Economy Plus. It’s likely that most people decline upsells in many situations, though. The default would be to click “no thanks” and move on to completing the transaction. But United has done some tricky and manipulative interface design. The bright yellow arrow with bold text placed on the right is almost irresistible. E-commerce sites have trained us to envision a transaction moving from left to right (granted that they’ve landed on that model since it corresponds to how we read and other cultural factors); it’s very easy to click on the arrow and make a purchase you didn’t want. It takes cognitive work to search for the preferred option which is a lowly blue-underlined unbolded text link off to the left.
- Evil-interface design in airline website design spanked by European Commission – "Another common problem is the use of prechecked boxes offering services like travel insurance; consumers must uncheck the boxes to remove the unwanted charge." I've written before about United's website being slightly more subtle in their evilness, by offering an upgrade during check-in where the highly visible (colored graphic arrow) button in the default location will cost you tons of money; it's more effort to realize, locate, and decline the offer. Why do we live in a world where major brands want to sell us things that we don't want by tricking us? It's unconscionable that any company can claim to respect consumers and then pull crap like this.
- Cyd Harrell of Bolt | Peters reacts to the ludicrous Dell campaign trying to sell computers to women, in 2009 – "…a woman, with the last Dell I will ever own. It’s my current laptop, and I chose it because I needed a computer powerful enough to run screensharing tools and high-res video; I needed mobile broadband to stay in touch with my clients and employees, and not just my kid (heresy!); I needed my screen to look great when I go to meetings with clients. That is to say, I needed it for work. Dell, let’s make it official: you can bite me and the millions of other women who take themselves and their technology seriously."
I love the articulate passion here, as well as the insight into what may have happened organizationally/culturally at Dell (ahem, really crappy research) that leads to such a horrendously offensive sales pitch to HALF of their buying population
- Listening to customer feedback? Twenty-Five Years of Post-it Notes (Thx, @susandra) – In '77, 3M decided to test-market. It failed to ignite interest. “When we did the follow-up research, there just weren’t a lot of people saying this was a product they wanted.”
"We knew the test markets failed, but we just kept saying, ‘Maybe it was us. Maybe we did something wrong. Because it couldn’t be the product—the product was great.”
To see for themselves how people responded to Post-it Notes, 2 execs cold-called offices, giving away samples and showing people how to use 'em. The responses were more enthusiastic. “Those things really were like cocaine. You got them into somebody’s hands, and they couldn’t help but play around with them.”
1 more test was in order. They got newspapers to run stories about it. They festooned stationery stores with banner displays and point-of-purchase materials. 1000s of samples were sent to office managers, purchasing agents, lawyers, etc. People demonstrated it to potential customers. It was a huge success, and 3M decided to launch Post-Its.
- Listening to customer feedback? Peter Arnell Explains Failed Tropicana Package Design – Big outcry over the Tropicana packaging design (which this suggests was NOT tested but that's hard to believe) led to a return to the previous packaging.
- Listening to customer feedback? Malcolm Gladwell on the Aeron chair – The Aeron chair was originally despised and deemed ugly. It didn’t catch on for 2 years, and then it quickly became the most popular chair. Everyone came to love it. Gladwell concludes that people find responses about some topics extremely difficult to articulate. While they may think they dislike something (like the Aeron chair), in their hearts they may actually like it. There is a disconnect that causes people to express dislike in their heads while they actually like it in their hearts (and vice versa).
- Listening to customer feedback? Hate Facebook's new look? You'll like it soon enough. – Slate advances the point that people react to change negatively but eventually get used to the change and make it work.
- Listening to customer feedback? Problems With NBC’s ‘Parks & Recreation’ – When do you listen to negative feedback and when do you follow your vision? I think there's an important middle-ground that is often ignored: understanding what lies beneath that feedback and choosing carefully if and how to respond to it, or how to create supporting activities that help get over the barriers that the rejection points to
We Need Your Help, Vancouver, February 2009
The Killarney Market in Vancouver, B.C. accepts the inevitable: customers will take shopping carts in order to transport their groceries home. Rather than scolding customers or making the behavior illicit, they give permission and provide an extra service: cart retrieval. Sure, this could be better presented and better implemented, but it’s an interesting response to the common behavior, giving permission and supporting the obvious instead of demanding or forcing it to stop.
And a refreshing contrast from the increasingly common post-design solution (using our friend, technology) that locks cart wheels if they leave the property boundary, deterring removal in a rather unsubtle fashion.
Carts and Borders 1, Oakland, August 2006
Carts and Borders 2, Oakland, August 2006
Oh no, Oakland, August 2006
- Percival Everett's short story, “The Appropriation of Cultures” – This is the second story in this podcast and is an entertaining and powerful piece of fiction about the meaning of symbols and the power that we might seize to change that meaning. Culture jamming as narrative device, in other words.
- Ethnography is not an in-home interview – Grant McCracken considers the emerging finger-pointing as Tesco doesn't do as well in the US as they had hoped. Was research (or rather, poor research) to blame? I share his concern about people going through the motions and claiming they've done the research. A prospective client asked us the other day why they would hire us as opposed to simply borrowing a video camera from his brother and dropping into some of their target offices. It's an important question because it reveals a common mindset. My short answer was that they should definitely do that, but that the expertise we are bringing includes (but is not limited to) the ability to plan and execute those interviews so you really do get to something new, and the process for analyzing and synthesizing that data so that we can identify what it means to them and what the opportunities are. Perhaps, as McCracken suggests, Tesco failed to do just that.
- Standing/adjustable height work surfaces, long available in workplaces, are being tried out – with seeming success – in schools – Teachers in Minnesota and Wisconsin say they know from experience that the desks help give children the flexibility they need to expend energy and, at the same time, focus better on their work rather than focusing on how to keep still.
“We’re talking about furniture here,” she said, “plain old furniture. If it’s that simple, if it turns out to have the positive impacts everyone hopes for, wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?”
Recently I was in the Starbucks in the Lucasfilm Letterman Digital Arts Center and was surprised to see what was written on the chalkboard
Starbucks is the same EVERYWHERE. What makes us different is our customers = YOU. We’ve worked all over the city, all over the state and we can honestly say that you are the BEST customers EVER. PERIOD. We see you everyday. People from LUCAS, PAC UNION, YMCA, B&B, THE PRESIDIO, THE MARINA & so many more…
You make us love our jobs, make us love coming into work – thank you! Thank you for being you.
I am not a regular at this Starbucks, so I don’t know how genuine this acknowledgment of a special relationship feels. It’s a curious example of transparency, asking customers to care about whether or not the workers like their jobs or not, and it’s a curious example of localized empowerment. Does corporate really want individual stores making statements like “Starbucks is the same everywhere?”
What do you think? Is this believable or giddy holiday spirit from someone who used to work on the yearbook team in high school? Should Starbucks be encouraging or discouraging this sort of expression in their stores?
In 2006 Half.com (remember them? I barely do) decided to delete my inventory for sale as a response to level of activity not meeting their standards.
Today I got this email
I haven’t been selling my stuff there for two years, since, well, they got rid of my inventory listings. And now I won’t be buying stuff since they aren’t going to maintain my wishlist? I am amused at the patronizing and punitive tone they’ve taken in writing this email. One wonders what the cost is for them to maintain this data, and what they gain by purging their database of crappy customers like myself.
Of course, there are so many more positive ways they could come up with to encourage my action. What sort of non-monetary incentives could they provide for getting me to add something to my wishlist in the next 24 hours? They’ve got this amazing opportunity to interact with me and make it positive, instead they ridiculously negative about it. Wouldn’t you expect better from eBay?
U-Haul, Montara, CA
What use case is eMove targeting? What narratives are implied by this advertisement?
My first interactions column, Persona Non Grata, has just been published. In the article, I consider some of the fatal problems with personas and how they can hurt while pretending to help.
Get a PDF of the article here.
As the interactions website only has a teaser, we’d like to offer a copy of the article. Send an email to steve AT portigal DOT com and tell us your name, organization, and title. We’ll send you a PDF.
See what else we’ve written about personas.
- Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me
- The Journey Is The Reward
- Hold Your Horses
- Living In The Overlap
- Some Different Approaches to Making Stuff
- Poets, Priests, and Politicians
- Interacting With Advertising
- Ships in the Night (Part I): Design Without Research?
- Ships in the Night (Part II): Research Without Design?
- We Are Living in a Sci-Fi World
- On Authenticity
- The Hard Work Lies Ahead (If You Want It)
- What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting It
- Elevator Pitch
- Kilroy Was Here
- Never Eat Anything Raw
- Content, the Once and Future King