A Recovering Perfectionist

perfectly aligned desserts

I describe myself as a recovering perfectionist. As I’m working on something, there are always aspects—always—that don’t seem quite right, don’t seem complete, don’t seem good enough. I just need to put a little more time into them: try some other approaches, do a little more research, refine some wording or design, or maybe completely rethink where I’m coming from on it, etc., etc. If I just do a little more, then the result will be so much better, will be “right”, will be something I can be proud of. But doing more rarely makes that nagging feeling of inadequacy go away. “I could have done better,” is a constant background refrain in my head.

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You’re a promoter. Don’t forget it.

man speaking through megaphone

Promotion is at the heart of what we do as designers. At each stage in the design process we make decisions, conscious or not, that affect what we’re promoting. When we remember this, we can craft sites and apps that effectively guide users through the experience. When we forget, we distract our users from what’s most important.

Every piece of content, every bit of functionality, and every visual element are competing for the user’s attention. You can try to manage that attention by choosing what to promote and how much to promote it. This starts when you define the scope of your project. It continues when you determine the structure, navigation, and interaction models of your site or app. And it carries through to the final layout and design of individual pages, states, and screens.
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How to Use Inconsistency for a Better User Experience

One sharpened pencil amongst many unsharpened ones
Consistency in user experience brings many benefits, from making things easier to learn for new users, to giving a more polished and intentional look to your site, to taking fewer resources to create and maintain. Like all good things, however, consistency can be taken too far. Consistency is at its best when balanced with the important need to be inconsistent at times.
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How Not to Be Found by Your Customers

Cat peeking out of bathtub
Much has been written on how to promote your brand online, including how to make your wonderful and engaging online presence also be findable, accessible, and usable. Less has been written about how to hide from your customers to keep them from hearing what you have to say. While the latter may have a fairly niche audience, in the spirit of the long tail, here’s some advice on how to not be heard by your customers, using Tazo Tea’s site, tazo.com, as a case study.
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White House White Board: Baby Steps in Visual Explanation

The White House recently introduced the White House White Board with a 2-minute video of Austan Goolsbee, the new Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, standing at a whiteboard explaining the differences between two competing tax proposals.

While he doesn’t actually draw anything during the video, (everything is hand drawn ahead of time,) it’s still relatively effective at showing how the two plans differ, thanks in part to some camera work zooming and panning across the board.

This is no UPS commercial, but it goes to show how effective visual thinking and visual explanation can be. And does anyone think they couldn’t draw that visual? Okay, the handwriting’s a little more legible than mine is on a whiteboard, but I could certainly draw those circles.

It will be interesting to see what else they come out with in this series. With the number of incredibly complex situations the United States and the world have been dealing with recently, I only wish they had started doing this sooner.

If you’re interested in learning more about visual thinking and the power of pictures, I highly recommend Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin. He also has a second book out, Unfolding the Napkin: The Hands-On Method for Solving Complex Problems with Simple Pictures. I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s high up on my list.

Explore New Technologies But Watch Out For Head Injuries

New technologies change the constraints we work under, enabling new activities and limiting previous ones, easing some and making others more difficult. It takes a while to realize just how much the game has changed, and this period is filled with experiments of varying degrees of success and failure. This is especially true with transformative technologies like the Apple iPhone, its cousin the iPad, and other devices that have followed in their wakes.

Karrie Fransman & Jonathan Plackett have introduced an experimental “tilt comic”, “The First Witch,” that uses the iPhone/iPad accelerometer to move around the comic panel. Here’s a video of the app in action:

I love how they’re using the technology here to push the limits of how we can experience and interact with a particular medium, in this case comics. There’s one point in the video where I cringed, however, as this experimental use of the accelerometer ran into an older navigation paradigm with potentially painful and costly consequences. If you haven’t watched the video yet, I recommend doing so before reading further. Read more

Uhhh…How Do I Turn This On?

We were down in Santa Cruz this weekend for a family reunion, (deStwolinski’s unite!) and we stayed at a lovely hotel nestled away in the forest hillside. Everything about the weekend was spectacular, except for one thing that kept bugging me. One thing that over three days and two nights became, at least in moments when I was feeling a little extra dramatic, my nemesis: the bathroom water faucet.

The mystery faucet

Now, I’m a reasonably intelligent grown man; I’m fairly good at manipulating physical objects and understanding how they work; I study and practice design and usability for a living; I’ve successfully used a wide variety of water faucets; and I’m even somewhat familiar with the inner workings of faucets as I’ve repaired and installed a few. So why can’t I figure out how to turn this stupid thing on?

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Happy Child and Fully-Charged Gadgets Before Your Flight…Priceless

There’s nothing quite like a pleasant surprise. On the way home from a family reunion in California, I found a few at the San Jose International Airport. It offers free WiFi in its terminals, and about 25% of its waiting area seats have built-in electrical outlets, including a USB slot if you swing that way. Now you can stay on Facebook or finish downloading an Elmo video right up until boarding and still have a full battery in your laptop or smartphone for the flight.

On a simpler note, there was a child play table with assorted puzzles and coloring books near our gate, which kept my little daughter both occupied and happy as we waited. Given that she was about to be riding in my lap for a two hour flight, well…thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I may very well never be in this airport again, but kudos SJC for a very pleasant customer experience. I hope other airports are paying attention.

The Rest of the World Is Not Like You

We know that other people are different than us. And I’m not just talking about how some guy in a small rural village in India is different than me, (although we probably both do like a nice tandoori naan.)

Any user experience-minded person (or Tron geek) has heard over and over: “you are not your user”. Still, that’s an easy thing to let slip now and then.

Here’s a nice reminder and example from Adam Kalsey that the rest of the world is not like you.

On Saturday evening, while sitting at the airport in Orlando, three different people saw my Kindle and asked if it was an iPad. They had no idea what an iPad was supposed to look like.

One person asked if my laptop was ‘one of those new Apple things’. They knew Apple had released something, but had no idea what it was.

Paul and Yoko, if you’re reading this, pay extra close attention. The person who “knew Apple had released something” didn’t know what it was, but they at least knew it was a device from the computer company, not a new remastered recording of “Can’t Buy Me Love”.

A Few Good (Experience) Games

Boys with Hoops

Want to spend a few minutes playing a free online game but tired of ones that blow? Try one or more from the carefully curated list at Good Experience Games.  Mark Hurst, partner in customer experience consultancy Creative Good and author of information overload life preserver Bit Literacy, has been assembling this list for almost five years—games that in his opinion, you guessed it, offer an especially “good experience”.

I recommend a couple of the latest additions.  Sushi Cat is cute and satisfying (and hopefully spayed, given how it reminds me of Bob Barker.  Ahhh, Plinko.)  This Is The Only Level is one bit of cleverness after the next, hidden beneath a minimalist facade.  (It really is the only level.)

He’s also recently added an iPhone game section, including my long-time favorite, Boggle uhhh…Quordy.

So head on over and check out these and some of his other selections, as well as a good UX blog and several other projects he has going on. Just don’t come back complaining if you descend too long into a vortex of well-designed giddiness.