Posts tagged “usability”

Curating Consumption

More observations and stuff that Beth and Steve have assembled over the past few weeks.

Can’t get there from here
sorry
This is such a fundamental usability issue I have to think there’s something wrong with my iPad or the Kindle app. Which operation is not supported? Buying this book. That’s right…click on that inviting little link down there that says “Buy Now” and get this error. Okay, this is Amazon taking a swipe at Apple (“Mo way you’re getting 30% of our revenue for something on the Kindle!”) But I’m not sure the average user will get that. They’ve helpfully provided another link for me: “What? That Buy Now link that should take you to iTunes to purchase this book doesn’t work? Goodness! Well, how about you See details for this book in the Kindle Store!” Nope – no mas. That operation isn’t currently supported either. So two lovely, juicy links tempting me to buy this book with no way to act [Conceptual sidenote: This would be an ideal design for many vices if they could tempt you but never give you the ability to follow through…the beer that can’t be opened, or the hermetically sealed chocolate bar]. I imagine there’s a product team somewhere at Amazon scratching their heads wondering why sales aren’t tracking but see an astronomical number of clicks on their buy links.Hint: we users will keep clicking thinking we must be doing something wrong, thinking “surely both buy options aren’t dead ends”. When we realize that they are, we get frustrated and take our own stand, in this case simply not buying. /BT

Two is better than one?
soap
In nearly every bathroom I’ve been in (in the US at least) there are at least two soap dispensers – one in use and the other over to the side like yesterday’s newspaper. They’re in all shapes and sizes, usually one (like this one) is discreetly attached to the sink while the other is mounted proudly on the wall. I’m guessing it was aesthetics that sold the sleek little bar peeking from the counter top, I just wonder how long it took for the folks who had to crawl under the sink and refill it to put up a silent revolt – leaving people to pump furiously at one sink, then another then another, to no avail – before management broke down and put the one on the wall. /BT

Too soon or too late?
gang
Gangnam Style is the global sensation that ever your parents know about. I imagine the restaurant owners protest-too-much denial of cashing in on a (no doubt fleeting) trend by pointing to the district in Seoul over the song. But then why is the clucky poultry mascot doing such a distinctive little dance?

Update (June 2013) – Church’s Chicken in Canada is doing something similar (thanks, Mom!)!
/SP

The remote control that gives you a lecture in virtue
patience
In a hotel in Melbourne, the staff have clearly become tired of people complaining. Sure it’s partly about delayed gratification but it’s also a well-understood usability problem when feedback is slower than we expect. If the elevator call light doesn’t go on, you’re going to hit it again. But the warm-up for hotel televisions is its own flavor of usability hell. Will the set turn on? Will an LED change color? And how quickly? Apparently this particular TV set is so far off of expectations than the solution was a lovely sticker appealing to your sense of decency. Whatever, that’s a multiple of 8 seconds I’ll never get back again. /SP

Thanks Bolt | Peters, for a great URF10


All of us here at Portigal Consulting participated in Bolt | Peters’ mostly-annual User Research Friday conference (URF10) last week. URF is a conference designed to be

A full-day conference all about user research! This time it’s also two optional half-day workshops on advanced research techniques you can choose from on the preceding day. There has been an explosion of apps and services to conduct research over the past year, and so this year’s theme is “Vendor Circus.” We’ll bring user research experts together for advanced discussion, beverages, relaxed learning, and heavy socializing.

Steve and Julie also co-led an aforementioned half-day workshop on the preceding Thursday (you can read more about that here).

Friday’s line-up of presentations was interspersed with just the right amount of mingling and networking. Thoughts were provoked! Here, in no particular order, are some of them:

Steve sez
I’ve been part of “user research” type events for well over a decade, but on Friday I finally felt that our field has reached a point of maturity where events like these are effective venues to address some of the issues we’re facing. I saw a remarkable absence of posturing, very few “Gaze upon our perfect case study!” presentations, and none of the “Here’s why we can’t do research in my organization” whining. The best presentations of the day were those that explicitly raised (and often didn’t answer) questions that we should be thinking about. They brought out a certain collective humility that I found refreshing and compelling. Of course, organizers Nate and Cyd helped set the right tone through their deliberate planning to make that possible.

Julie goes on
The day featured great pacing and a spectrum of perspectives and styles of presentation. And cake-pops. I enjoyed the tension between the group’s characterizations of User Research as sometimes highly qualitative and sometimes very technology-driven/quantitative. Both camps were represented without bias. Nice! I guess we can all just get along. Several conversations I had touched on the challenge of selling the value of qualitative, consumer-based insights in a world increasingly influenced by complex tools that derive assertive analytics. Why do numbers seem to have more credibility than stories? Naturally, this seems counter-intuitive to me. Jared Spool gave some compelling ammo in his discussion of the importance of inference as a step in the analysis process of quantitative data. From a methodology standpoint, Dana Chisnell’s simple but provocative observation will stick with me: when research requires people to “pretend” to do something it exposes its flaws.

Wyatt burbles
The highlight for me was Dana Chisnell’s presentation, which reminded me to check myself before I wreck someone else’s user experience- specifically, pointing to something I would call “legacy metaphors” (although I’ve just learned they are actually called skeuomorphs), which are things like the “cc:” and “bcc:” fields on an email, the 12 key configuration on mobile phones, or the clicking sound when you take a picture on a digital camera. These conventions, appropriated from the analog world, may be a step forward in aiding adoption of the new and unfamiliar, but the question Dana threw out to the audience (and I’m paraphrasing here) is, “Are we really helping people, or are we propagating some archaic interaction convention because it’s easier than figuring out a better one?”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] DarkPatterns.org – [This site seems aimed at designers but could also be the seed of a User Literacy effort to raise awareness among consumers] This pattern library is dedicated to Dark Patterns: user interfaces that have been designed to trick users into doing things they wouldn’t otherwise have done. Normally when you think of “bad design”, you think of laziness or mistakes. These are known as design anti-patterns. Dark Patterns are different – they are not mistakes, they are carefully crafted with a solid understanding of human psychology, and they do not have the user’s interests in mind. The purpose of this site is to catalogue various common types of Dark Pattern, and to name and shame organizations that use them. [via @kottke]
  • [from julienorvaisas] How to shrink a city [The Boston Globe] – [The shrinking economy has forced a new way of looking at strategic planning and innovation in the housing and urban planning sector.] “It’s so contrary to what most planners do, it’s contrary to what we spend our time teaching students, [which is] all about how do you manage growth and accommodate growth,” says Joseph Schilling, who teaches urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech University and helped launch the National Vacant Properties Campaign. “The challenge for planning is how do you adapt existing tools and planning strategies to deal with an economy and market that is either totally dysfunctional or will have maybe slow, modest growth at best.”
  • [from julienorvaisas] Americans Demand Crispier Outside [The Onion – America’s Finest News Source] – [Alas, if only the elusive consumer would come out of hiding and just tell us what they want, nay, what they need!] Irate citizens have rallied in front of shops and drive-thru windows nationwide to outline their demands, which include extra chunks, meltier bits on top, that classic buttery flavor the whole family can enjoy, and a wider array of sizes, shapes, and colors to mix and match. Sources are also calling for cleanup to be a breeze.
  • [from julienorvaisas] What If Google and Bing Waged a Search War and Nobody Noticed? [Advertising Age – DigitalNext] – [Full of quippy critiques of the nutty design evolution of search, reviews, online advertising from a "real person's" perspective, this slightly ranty column by Kevin Ryan is really a lament to how beholden so many of our experiences are to today's digital monoliths.] Instant search is another one of those solutions created by engineers completely out of touch with humans. Like instant coffee, it sounds like a good idea until you have to consume it. My guess is boredom and fatigue from all that free food and the happiest work environment on the planet has finally taken its toll. In other words, idle hands solve problems that don't exist.

Sexy Ergonomics

I was shopping for laptops recently, and was shocked by how difficult it was to find a reasonably priced model with a comfortable keyboard and trackpad, and a front edge that was wrist-friendly. The experience made me wonder why so little attention seemed to be being paid to such a fundamental aspect of the product.

Why don’t ergonomics have more sex appeal? Shouldn’t a well-designed physical interfacing of human and built object be one of the most valued aspects of design? While in truth ergonomics are interwoven (or should be) with aesthetics and materials, our excitement seems to gravitate towards how things look and feel, or cleverness of concept, rather than how well they work with us.

A quick read through this recent interview with Jonathan Ive on Core77 reveals a worshipful discussion of iPhone 4 materials.

It is this sort of materials obsession and constant experimentation that led to a decision to use scratch-resistant aluminosilicate glass for the front and back of the phone, as well as developing their own variant of stainless steel to edge the device.

I had to travel all the way back to 2007 to find someone talking specifically about a sexy merger of design and ergonomics/usability.

Is it that when ergonomics work, they are invisible? That they generally succeed by creating an absence of negative experience, but don’t extend into the realm of pleasure creation, where they might generate more attention?

Dieter Rams’ “weniger, aber besser (less, but better)” design philosophy – and indeed Jonathan Ive’s as well – heads in a similar direction – the absence of superfluous elements, but yet we still find it sexy.

Perhaps part of the picture is the lack of sex appeal that discussions of ergonomics tend to have. Is this an issue of professional culture? What is more important than objects that – never mind giving us pleasure – at the very least don’t injure us? Maybe that’s it – it’s too serious an aspect of design to engender the fun spirit we find in aesthetics?

The movie Waterworld (one of a handful of movies-most-people-think-are-bad that I like), while over the top and mostly quite silly, nicely illustrates the balletic relationship of person and object that good ergonomics make possible, as Kevin Costner’s character Mariner single-handedly sails and otherwise operates his boat throughout the film. The boat’s steampunk aesthetic won’t be for everyone, but it’s perfectly designed to work with the needs of its user, and to me there’s something really sexy about that.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] BJ Fogg’s Behavior Grid – Stanford [www.behaviorgrid.org] – [This framework is helpful in thinking about how new products, services or technologies influence or ask people to change behavior.] This grid describes 15 ways behavior can change. The purpose is to help people think more clearly about behavior change. Each of the 15 behaviors types uses different psychology strategies and persuasive techniques. For example, the methods for persuading people to buy a book online (BlueDot Behavior) are different than getting people to quit smoking forever (BlackPath Behavior). My new terms give precision. But this innovation goes beyond identifying the 15 types of behavior change and giving them clear names. I also propose that each behavior type has its own psychology. And this has practical value… the Behavior Grid can help designers and researchers work more effectively.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Ring Pops Inspire Mariah Carey Fragrances [ NYTimes.com] – [Perhaps this is the future: multi-layered endorsement/licensing/line-extensions/cross-promotions] Mariah Carey’s Lollipop Bling, three fragrances that Elizabeth Arden based on candy flavors and that will appear in stores soon, is the product of a partnership with the Topps Company, which makes Ring Pops. “Topps sells tens of millions of units of candy,” said E. Scott Beattie, chief executive at Elizabeth Arden, which also has fragrance licensing deals with celebrities including Britney Spears, Danielle Steel and Elizabeth Taylor. “Combining their customer base with Mariah Carey’s fan base and our fragrance base is a great way to cross-promote all the brands.” While the scents “take a candy element as a thread to be woven in a fragrance,” they do so in a way that “elevates candy into a prestige environment,” she said. (Thanks, Gavin!)
  • [from Dan_Soltzberg] Bowman vs Google? Why Data and Design Need Each Other [OK/Cancel] – [Tom Chi's thoughtful post on how engineering and design need to work together] "Design is really a kind of multi-variate optimization of extreme complexity…I’ve often said that 'Art is about freedom while Design is about constraints.'”
  • [from Dan_Soltzberg] INTERVIEW: Sougwen [Design Noted from Michael Surtees] – [Nice reframing of drawing from a method of artifact production to a way of creating experiences] "I’m pushing a process with my work that counters the preciousness that some designers find fascinating. My performances are expressions of drawing as an activity, not about making a pristine or perfect image."

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Rent a White Guy [The Atlantic] – And so I became a fake businessman in China, an often lucrative gig for underworked expatriates here. One friend, an American who works in film, was paid to represent a Canadian company and give a speech espousing a low-carbon future. Another was flown to Shanghai to act as a seasonal-gifts buyer. Recruiting fake businessmen is one way to create the image—particularly, the image of connection—that Chinese companies crave. My Chinese-language tutor, at first aghast about how much we were getting paid, put it this way: “Having foreigners in nice suits gives the company face.” We were supposedly representing a California-based company that was building a facility in Dongying. Our responsibilities would include making daily trips to the construction site, attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and hobnobbing. During the ceremony, one of us would have to give a speech as the company’s director. That duty fell to my friend Ernie. His business cards had already been made. (via @Kottke)
  • [from julienorvaisas] Hey Facebook! Here’s your privacy redesign [Fortune.com] – [The community is now literally begging Facebook to fix this issue. Free design!] We asked several leading user experience designers how they'd overhaul the social network's obtuse privacy settings interface if given the chance. Here, in their own words, are their innovative solutions.
  • [from steve_portigal] For Forgetful, Cash Helps the Medicine Go Down [NYTimes.com] – [The challenge of marketing, design & other forms of corporate persuasion is revealed when you see that people need incentive/motivation to take medication] One-third to one-half of all patients do not take medication as prescribed, and up to one-quarter never fill prescriptions at all, experts say. Such lapses fuel more than $100 billion dollars in health costs annually because those patients often get sicker. Now, a controversial, and seemingly counterintuitive, effort to tackle the problem is gaining ground: paying people money to take medicine or to comply with prescribed treatment. The idea, which is being embraced by doctors, pharmacy companies, insurers and researchers, is that paying modest financial incentives up front can save much larger costs of hospitalization…Although “economically irrational,” Dr. Corrigan said, small sums might work better than bigger ones because otherwise patients might think, “ ‘I’m only doing this for the money,’ and it would undermine treatment.”
  • [from steve_portigal] Creativity thrives in Pixar’s animated workplace [SF Chronicle] – At another company, the employee in Payne's position might be a feared corporate rules-enforcer – the guy who tells you not to put tack holes in the plaster or forbids you from painting over the white walls next to your cubicle. But the architect and 14-year Pixar veteran embraces the madness. Among the more creative additions on the campus: One animator built a bookcase with a secret panel – which opens up into a speakeasy-style sitting area with a card table, bar and security monitor. Other employees work in modified Tuff Sheds, tricked out to look like little houses with front porches and chandeliers. "Sometimes I just have to let go," Payne says with an amused sigh, as he walks into a newer building with a high ceiling – where someone has interrupted the clean sightlines with a wooden loft. A couch and a mini-refrigerator are balanced 10 feet above the floor. [Did a mini-ethnography of Pixar a few years ago and the cultural factors around creativity and community were outstanding]

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Subway To Start Tessellating Cheese July 1? [The Consumerist] – Three years after the protests began, it seems Subway has finally listened to its customers and will start tessellating cheese on its sandwiches, according to what appears to be an internal weekly newsletter. As anyone who has gotten a Subway sandwich knows, most Subways layer their isosceles-cut cheese in an overlapping fashion. This means one side of the sandwich gets more cheese than the other and leaves pockets of zero cheese, resulting in a uneven flavor and texture distribution. As the newsletter says, "This will improve the cheese coverage on the sandwiches."
  • Reading Lolita On Paper [graphpaper.com] – Throughout the final terrifying third act of the book, Nabokov knew that the reader would be constantly, sometimes consciously, sometimes not, seeking (or deliberately avoiding seeking) a single word, a word whose distinctive typographical form would light up like a flare in the reader’s peripheral vision, paragraphs in advance, impossible to miss. Every time you turn a page, even if you avoid it, your eyes will, in an instant, claw through the one-thousand characters in every new two-page spread to find it, the word, the single characteristic letter. He plays with this visual expectation so thoroughly — torments the reader, in fact — that it’s inconceivable that he wasn’t always thinking about printed words, words on pages being turned in a reader’s hands. Oh, how glad am I that I was unable to find Lolita in any sort of eBook format.
  • Kno is a digital textbook that is about to change the way knowledge is transmitted and the way students learn – First we did our homework about the way students do their homework. We studied the way they study. We probed them about the best way to re-imagine the analog studying and reading experience in the digital world. The Kno’s two generous panels open like written material has opened for hundreds of years. The experience is reassuringly book-like. Indeed, because we respect and honor the textbook, content of 99 percent of all textbooks – including the charts and graphs – fit flawlessly. No material spills beyond the screen, so there’s no awkward scrolling or manipulation required. If Kno only transferred existing textbooks into a digital form, we might as well sleep in and skip class. Kno pushes further than that. Our mission is to create a new kind of immersive, fluid, fully-engaging learning experience – made possible because the power of the physical is combined, for the first time, with the potential of the digital. It’s a whole new form factor that feels natural because it is natural.
  • Christina York’s sketched notes from UPA2010 – [Her summary of my presentation begins on slide 5] This was the perfect complement to Rachel Hinman’s opening keynote. Steve enthusiastically dives deeper into cultural clues, cues and gaps that impact our work and our own experiences in this world. In this session I sat at the front, which I usually don’t do (I like to observe the entire room). However, I am a fan of Steve’s and was like a groupie in the front row. How embarrassing. But Carol sat next to me, and I felt better about myself. Steve delivered an impassioned talk and engaged an audience that richly represented the cultures present at this conference. The group discussion was as rich as the presentation and I really appreciated that Steve’s focus was to give us something to think about and not try to ground everything in application.
  • Complete Beginner’s Guide to Design Research [UX Booth] – Valiant attempt to take a complex volume of expertise and boil it down to some essentials. Not sure what it means to be a "luminary" in this field but certainly the company we're listed with is pretty awesome. Curious to hear what others have to say about this piece.

Culture: You’re Soaking In It (from UPA2010)

At UPA2010 in Munich last month, I presented Culture: You’re Soaking In It

Culture is everywhere we look, and (perhaps more importantly) everywhere we don’t look. It informs our work, our purchases, our usage, our expectations, our comfort, and our communications (indeed, if you aren’t familiar with a specific geographic and historical set of experiences, the presumably clever title for this talk will instead be perhaps bland). In this presentation, Steve will explore the ways we can experience, observe, and understand diverse cultures to foster successful collaborations, usable products, and desirable experiences.

Here are the slides and audio:

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Listen to audio:

To download the audio Right-Click and Save As… (Windows) or Ctrl-Click (Mac)

Also see: Rachel Hinman’s wonderful opening keynote Technology as a Cultural Practice

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Satisficing [Wikipedia] – Satisficing (a portmanteau of satisfy and suffice) is a decision-making strategy that attempts to meet criteria for adequacy, rather than to identify an optimal solution. The word satisfice was coined by Herbert Simon.[1] He pointed out that human beings lack the cognitive resources to maximize: we usually do not know the relevant probabilities of outcomes, we can rarely evaluate all outcomes with sufficient precision, and our memories are weak and unreliable.
  • There, I Fixed It – Epic Kludge Photos – We often talk about the "satisficing" you see in contextual research – people coming up with their own "good enough" solutions that can drive designers and engineers crazy. We remind our clients that these aren't always things to be redesigned (and in fact there are often better solutions that we see in the field already available) – because it's about motivation, activation energy, and tolerance for less-than-perfect solutions. While this site is a bit snarky in tone, it's a good reminder of the prevalence of messy semi-solutions in the real world.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Polyvore, a fashion Web site for the masses [The New Yorker] – Lee and her colleagues like to keep tabs on exactly how people are using Polyvore. They know that the average user spends ten or eleven minutes per session and clicks on twelve Polyvore pages per visit; they know that users “import” 1.2 million products per month. But they are boundlessly curious about the Polyvore setmaker’s process. And so Lee invited Gail Helmer, the user from Calgary who goes by the handle MyChanel, to come to Mountain View and let the engineers observe her at work on a set. Lee called it “usability testing,” as if Helmer­chosen because of the quality, consistency, and popularity of her sets­were a lab rat. “She’s very fashion-savvy,” Lee told me. “She’s one of the top members.” Helmer arrived at the offices straight from the airport, wearing jeans from Zara tucked into black boots, a gray sweater she’d bought for ten dollars, and a white ruffled shirt. “Banana,” she said, pinching a ruffle. “The Republic of.”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • From a New Yorker profile of wine-in-China enterpreneurs, the St. Pierre family – [The "these are not our customers" reaction is something we see a lot when we take our clients, with their naturally aspirational views of who should be using their products, out into the 'real world']
    The Bordelais have never quite acclimated to the embrace of distant customers. “In the very beginning of the eighties, there was a huge demand from Texas, and in France we were saying, ‘These Texan people–they don’t know how to drink our wines. They are like barbarians,’ ” Engerer told me. “Then there were the Japanese at the end of the eighties, beginning of the nineties, and they were not even drinking it; they were giving it as gifts. That made us laugh also. Now there are the Chinese.” But today, Engerer said, France cannot afford to be arrogant. “We should be a little more calm about this and say, ‘Thank you for buying something that might not be in your culture,’ ” he said.
  • Google Maps India describes user research and design process for culturally useful navigation – We knew from previous studies in several countries that most people rely on landmarks — visual cues along the way — for successful navigation. But we needed to understand how people use those visual cues, and what makes a good landmark, in order to make our instructions more human and improve route descriptions. To get answers to these questions, we ran a user research study that focused specifically on how people give and get directions. We called businesses and asked how to get to their store; we recruited people to keep track of directions they gave or received and later interviewed them about their experiences; we asked people to draw us diagrams of routes to places unfamiliar to us; we even followed people around as they tried to find their way.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Google Maps India describes user research and design process for culturally useful navigation – We knew from previous studies in several countries that most people rely on landmarks — visual cues along the way — for successful navigation. But we needed to understand how people use those visual cues, and what makes a good landmark, in order to make our instructions more human and improve route descriptions. To get answers to these questions, we ran a user research study that focused specifically on how people give and get directions. We called businesses and asked how to get to their store; we recruited people to keep track of directions they gave or received and later interviewed them about their experiences; we asked people to draw us diagrams of routes to places unfamiliar to us; we even followed people around as they tried to find their way.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Putting together your own free-from-cable living room viewing experience: not ready for prime time – I understand this kind of living room experience isn’t for everyone. It’s a lot less work to just click a button up or down on a standard remote control. And it can be difficult to explain how to use this unfamiliar toolbox of buttons, programs and devices.

    Over Thanksgiving a friend graciously house-sat at our apartment. It took my wife more than an hour to write a detailed description explaining how to use our new TV setup. After explaining how to use the mouse and keyboard, we had to describe how to switch among applications.

  • Even avid readers find it hard to read nowadays – "I used to read books all the time. If I was awake, I’d be reading or at the very least carrying a book around. But now? The last book I read was John Galsworthy’s “Forsyte Saga,” which I finished more than a month ago, and then only after many weeks of halfhearted fits and starts, a situation that was pretty alarming, given that Mr. Galsworthy’s story was full of the sorts of characters who come to life and accompany you in your mind, sitting in the passenger seat, as real as anybody, while you drive around town doing errands.

    I still read, of course. I read all sorts of things: Web sites and blog posts and e-mail messages and Tweets and even, occasionally, a newspaper or magazine article…

    Deep reading — the kind that you engage in when you get lost in the syntax and imagery and the long, convoluted sentences of a really meaty book — is a special sort of exercise that creates a new part of the brain that did not exist at birth."

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Will gadget revolutionize our reading habits? – For the concept of a device that allows books to be read electronically, "this is the year we get it," said Steve Portigal, the head of Pacifica consumer research firm Portigal Consulting. "But there's this huge psychological chasm we have to cross before people buy them."
  • 15 Google Users Tried Bing for a Week and 10 of them Switched – Students often ask me about ethics, i.e., our findings being influenced by corporate agendas. Here's a study that Microsoft commissioned to see if Google users would switch to Bing if forced to use it. Results say "yes." The research question may not have been "Will Google users switch to Bing?"…it may have been "Help us understand how Google users react to Bing [once they don't have to think about the choice between Google and Bing at search-time]" It may be that the findings led themselves to this promotion.
  • Sports Illustrated future vision for their Tablet – So the future of reading is, apparently, television. They've managed to throw everything into this demo, including nekkid (almost) ladeez, game playing, and really bad sound effects (note: boop and page-flip don't make a coherent soundscape IMHO).

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