Tag Archives: design

Designing better user experience

Have you ever had a poor user experience and thought to yourself, that you can improve this?   I usually keep a log of bad user experiences and make notes on how to improve design.  Here is a very interesting blog post by design firm, Adaptive Path. This sort of design thinking can be done by anyone.

The posting discussed five user experiences from visiting nursing homes; buying a car; making parking garages more people friendly; receiving medical care and improving personal energy consumption.

If I were to think of an example, it would be to redesign human interactions between sales staff and service staff at an automotive dealership.  Much too often, there is a strong emphasis on customer service for new or pre-owned vehicle sales.  The sales person has a vested interest to ensure that the customer receives the best service as possible in order to make a sale and make some commission off the transaction.  What happens to the after sales experience?

Automotive dealerships make more profit margin off the servicing of a vehicle than the selling of one.  It would make sense that the after-sales experience for the customer be enhanced, right?

Does the service advisor and technician know you as the customer?  I feel there is a huge contrast between the customer service from the sales staff versus the service staff.  Ensuring that loyal customers are willing to stay with the brand is easier than trying to conquest new ones.  Personal relationships drive customer loyalty.

If a customer were to purchase a new or pre-owned vehicle, I would let the customer choose their Service Advisor and Service Technician.  Websites and communities such as Yelp.com, where users rate and provide user-generated feedback on various facets of Dealership service would be essential.  Those two people along with the Sales Consultant are accountable for all service related issues for the duration of the ownership of the vehicle.  Follow-ups and reminders would be done by the three, as well as contributing to any discussions in an owner support forum provided by the Dealership.  A relationship would be forged between the owner and the three people.

Do you have any experiences to share?  Please share them and discuss how to make them better.  Let’s get a discussion started.

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How can Twitter be a viable marketing tool?

Is Twitter a viable marketing tool? Some argue in favor of it, and some argue against it.  I think it boils down to whether an interesting conversation can occur as a result of this. Are there interesting anecdotes that can be utilized to explain the brand story? Are businesses simply using social media for the sake of it? Upon further examination, the pluses and minuses of this approach will be discussed.

Some of the advantages of Twitter would be the design of the platform.  It is simple, scalable, and easy to develop APIs for Twitter.  These APIs are modular and can exist cross-platform.  This is also a “cloud” application, where storage of the information is not placed in the users’ computer, but on Twitter’s servers.  Mostly, the advantage is that people are able to organize around topics, events, companies and causes offline and online with real-time conversations surrounding these.  It is human nature to be curious to know what others are doing and thinking.  Twitter is also a viral platform for everyone’s content, and it provides context to people’s conversations.

On the other hand, some challenges for Twitter can include finding content that would be of interest to potential customers.  For example, if one’s client sold table salt, what content can be tweeted?  The target demographic, busy moms, probably do not have the time or the interest to follow a table salt company’s tweets.  It takes much time and energy for twitter campaigns, and in the end is it really worth it?  What meaningful conversations can come from 140 or less characters messages? With so many people tweeting, isn’t burdensome to read all of those tweets?

I think despite some of the challenges, twitter can be useful if the brand has a compelling story to tell.  Reaping rewards of Twitter for more mundane products/services (e.g. table salt or housecleaning) becomes a greater challenge for marketers.  If there is an exciting narrative that surrounds the brand, Twitter becomes an easier tool to utilize.

Using Twitter searchTinker and other search tools are very important to ascertain what people are saying about one’s brand; one’s industry; competitor products/services; brand’s product/services and the topics of conversations of one’s target market.  These could be complaints, compliments, uses of the product or service.  Also joining in the conversation between one’s company and the customer is very important.  A success story from this was when a customer was complaining about their Comcast Internet service.  This customer tweeted their complaint, and instantly, a Comcast customer care representative responded.   This built up relational capital between Comcast, that particular customer, current customers and any potential customers.  This example of quick customer service became viral across the internet.

More examples of Transformation Design

In an earlier posting, I had written about Transformation Design from a business to consumer perspective.  Today, I will discuss business to business examples.  Again, these companies are engaging in designing a system of activity that drives the positive change that the consumer desires to see in his/herself and his/hers community.

Intuit a software company that is well-known for their accounting and tax software, has developed an online forum that is dedicated to help small business owners.  This forum has become a community of users with a common purpose to share, collaborate and discuss ideas.

I had written in earlier posts about the commonality of crowdsourcing and the development of user contribution systems in many businesses.  On Intuit’s website,  there are online guides that facilitate small businesses with the learning and the implementing these tools to their business needs.

A success story for the implementation of a user contribution system is Starbucks as it has been active with crowdsourcing from users for new ideas and innovation to improve their customer experience.  They have an online forum where users can voice their concerns and suggestions.  Some innovations today such as the Starbucks Card, which is a loyalty incentive that enables customers to have a free refill and free two hours of daily Wi-Fi use were ideas from this online forum.

American Express has opened up an online resource for small businesses complete with articles and videos from experts to help and improve small business practices.  For examples, there are articles about the benefits of blogging, methods to improve presentation skills and a number of other self-help and business improvement tips.

American Express and Intuit are engaged in Transformation Design in the context of business to business marketing.  Both approaches (design) are different, but the intent (system) is similar in bringing about positive change in small businesses and its personnel.  For reasons similar to Transformation Design from a business to consumer context, the business to business context also provides goodwill, positive branding, and the positive change to the user and their community as benefits for companies that use and embrace Transformation Design.

Designing Innovation

There is an alarming number of preventable deaths in US hospitals each year according to this article from McKinsey Quarterly, and thus, there was an initiative by a non-profit organization called the Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) that set a mandate to reduce the number of preventable deaths by 100,000 in one year.  It succeeded after one year, and it was able to enroll 75% of all US hospitals.   

As a non-profit, it neither wielded authority nor influence on hospital board of governors, it also faced the unyielding attitudes towards change, differing stakeholder goals, shortness of resources and time  and as such it already faced an uphill battle for this initiative to be implemented.  

How was IHI able to reach its target despite these enormous setbacks? It had to make its initiatives easy to understand and to remember for all stakeholders (nurses, doctors, etc.).   In peer-reviewed medical journals, there is a plethora of information that aids in the amelioration of hospital operations.  IHI took the time consuming part of disseminating this information and presenting and selecting six key criteria that can help with its mission.  

This program was flexible in that not all six criteria needed to be followed and adhered to.  Still, it was crucial some of it required stakeholders to be aware of and adhere to.  Goals were clearly defined with a set timeline and set metrics.  The long term goals (lofty) and short term goals (concrete) were in sync.  Accountability was taken into account by having weekly conference calls and mass emails.

Hospitals that were pioneers of this program, could support and help other hospitals that are starting to implement this initiative.  To encourage additional hospitals to participate, a national network of IHI participants was formed.   Actually, an additional benefit of this alliance, included the motivating the current network of hospitals towards excellence.

I think that both individuals and businesses can learn from this IHI case study.  By defining a clear problem, and defining a clear long-term and smaller and reachable short term goals, using a network of like-minded participants, and thinking in the shoes of the party that one wants to influence.  Anticipating the client’s needs and making their lives/jobs easier by completing the tasks that maybe resource and time intensive and be flexible and understand that not all implementation steps maybe followed.  By combining all of the above should yield solid and sustainable results.

Design is in the details

Yesterday, I had posted about a video from Charles Leadbetter about how users through crowdsourcing and open-innovation are contributing innovation of products/services through collaborative and interactive channels.  Today’s discussion is about design, and how the users are able to design products/services that do not necessarily need to solve big issues but may solve smaller ones, which are very important.

This talk was from Paul Bennett, creative director of IDEO.  He has given multiple examples throughout this talk about solving tiny solutions that delivered impact from hospitals to Ikea’s children storage unit to water pumps in Kenya. 

In the case of the hospital in Minnesota, solving tiny solutions was able to deliver a big impact.  The hospital was interested in the ameliorating the patients’ experience.  When IDEO investigated the users’ experiences, the changes that needed to be made were not big systemic ones, but smaller ones. Some ideas included attaching mirrors to the gurneys, to enable the patients’ to see the nurse or doctor when they were being transported around.  They involved hospital staff in their input to make the patient’s experience more enriching. A nurse suggested installing a whiteboard in the patient’s room so that notes, drawings, messages from the doctor/nurses/family/friends can be showcased and brighten an otherwise mundane room.  

Other examples of design innovations that incorporated thinking small and delivered a big impact came from the inventor of velcro.  He was walking through a field and was covered with burrs and that became his inspiration for velcro.

View objects peripherally to find opportunity. For example, notice on the street when there is a yellow line, people inadvertently follow it without any instructions.  Another example is if people put their empty cups (garbage) in one place, everyone else puts there cups there too.  Companies should pay attention to how people come up with their own design experiences and adapt their designs to improve this experience.

Start from scratch, the mind should be fresh. Throw out any pre-conceived notions.  When Ikea had to design a children’s bookcase, the designer understood that the idea of storage to children was quite different than grown-ups, children play on top and below big objects.  The designer was able to design a storage unit underneath tables, where children can place their toys. 

Pick battles big enough to matter, but small enough to win. For example, in Kenya, IDEO was sought to design a water pump that can be used by villagers.  It had to be compact enough to fit on a bicycle.  This pump had to be cost effective.  It incorporated both effective form and function mechanisms to enhance the lives of the villagers.

I believe that being able to think and feel from the user’s perspective is paramount to designing user-friendly products/services.  This certainly extends to so many different facets in life including communicating with people.  Much too often, the message and body language can be disparaging and derisive to the intended audience, and by empathizing with the intended audience, communication becomes much easier.

What creates great mobile phone user experiences?

As I had mentioned in earlier posts about mobile phone technologies here and here, this is a discussion about designing user experience to become consumer friendly.

Highlights include:

Products/Services were created from human needs.  For example, with Twitter, there is the need for continuous status updates.

Mobile phone manufacturers need to be able to control all processes in the value chain in order to create effective user experiences.  For example, with the iPhone, the user interface, core applications, industrial design are all completely seamless.  This creates consistency in all facets of the user experience.

Creating user loyalty seems to be more difficult for the carriers versus the mobile phone manufacturers.  This is maybe resultant from the pervasive short-term outlook, as carriers are capital intensive, and cash flows can vary monthly.  Whereas, in order to create effective user experience, it typically takes a longer time and requires a long-term outlook.

Carriers are somewhat at fault for not emphasizing user experience when purchasing handsets from the manufacturers.  They have a tremendous influence because of their purchasing power as well as their proximity to the consumer’s purchasing cycle.  Mobile phone manufacturers (e.g. Apple, RIM) that have strong competencies in software design and development have an edge versus ones that do not because of the challenges fraught from the design and development of user friendly software.  Mobile phones have changed its function from consumption-based to now creation-based (e.g. Flickr, Twitter, camera phones, etc.).

Other ideas to create a good user experience would be to capitalize on current technology that the user already understands.  For example, Twitter already uses technology that is SMS-based.  Many start-ups fall into the mistake of creating a handset or an application that have a gorgeous user interface however, because of the novelty of this interface, users do not know how to use this.

Examples of good user experience include:  single-devices that perform one task well, in other words, with simplicity; having some software that is multi-platform compatible (able to use on mobile phones, PC, etc.); being able to pay and receive alerts through SMS, finding existing technologies that function well in other parts of the world and importing this to other areas of the world that this technology is a novelty (e.g. public transportation payment systems through SMS).

I think to create a good user experience for the mobile phone requires ameliorating the daily lives of people.  Being able to pay for parking, public transportation, at convenience stores, fast food places with a mobile phone would be ideal.  When more people use an application or platform, the margin of utility increases.  As someone in the video mentioned, taking an application or platform that is widely used, and spawning new technology that makes people’s daily life better would be ideal. Mobile phone manufacturers not only need to have influence and control over the value chain, but it would be best if it can work in sync with the mobile phone carrier to oversee and control the user experience.  This partnership may change the short term view from the carrier, and the same time bring awareness and consumer insights delivered from the short term view to the manufacturer and making the user interface better.

Mobile phone advertising, design and consumer insights

On Friday, I had posted about how mobile phones will become the next breakthrough as a new media. Due to the convergence of media technologies combined with the popularity of the mobile phone, it will and can displace the internet as the new media.  Today, I will examine the emergence of mobile phone advertising, design and consumer insights.  

How has mobile phone advertising rose to prominence?  This was from a workshop conducted by Space 150 to discuss the future of mobile phone advertising.   As discussed on Friday, the iPhone or any Android-powered devices due to their user-friendly design enable the phone to become a tool of multitude of devices (e.g. internet, mp3 and video player, email, calculators, alarm clock, etc.) at ones disposal.  As a result, there is a higher percentage of iPhone users that have engaged with internet tools (streaming music/video, social networking sites, etc.) versus other mobile phone users on the currently slow mobile network.  

What are the current forms of advertising that exists?  SMS text messages, videos, pictures and now games.  Why isn’t mobile advertising widely embraced?  It is because it is subjected to potential privacy and political issues. If this form of advertising faces these barriers, why should an advertiser/marketer invest in this form?  First mover advantage benefits can be reaped.  Mistakes that are made today may not be as detrimental versus if they are made tomorrow due to today’s lesser amount of competition.  In addition, an ROI model can be developed to measure future successes.  

How can mobile phones be designed to become more user friendly?  With the increasing number of choices for mobile phones available for sale at the carriers, is there much differentiation among the varying phones? In this case, less is more.  Keep the phone simple: larger screens; larger buttons; streamlined features, easy scroll-ability and navigation.

Due to the popularity of the portability of the mobile phone, as well as the inherent personal nature of this device, consumer insights have never been much easier to obtain.  The user groups for mobile phones are broken down into the following groups:  busy moms (heavy callers), baby boomers (heavy callers), connected teens (heavy callers, text messaging and mobile phone applications), business users (heavy email and mobile web users) and early adopters (heavy text messaging, apps, email and mobile web users).  The Space 150 presentation delves into a further breakdown of the various groups with respect to their lifestyle, needs, drivers, primary use of the phone, the technology of the phone, and other communication tools that they engage in.

The methods that these varying groups engage their phones with the outside world can be as diverse as from coupons to contests, from interacting with social networks to engaging in interactive media from the content providers. 

Main mobile connection principles include: 1) Function first; 2) Keep it simple; 3) Integrate; 4) Leverage the platform; and 5) Be a leader.

I agree with the importance in designing mobile phones that center around the consumer’s needs, wants, and habits.  It is imperative that both marketers and advertisers understand the market psychographics and demographics.  It is clear that undoubtedly different groups use the mobile phone differently.  

I do not agree with engaging in a one-size fit all type of solution towards mobile phone advertising. Different products/services have different needs and marketing strategies need to be adapted accordingly.  For example, to increase brand awareness, being able to give a product/service free in exchange for advertising might be effective.  The permissive nature of this advertising bodes well for the advertiser, the telecommunications carrier and the user.  A major problem that the presentation addressed was the inherent nature of high number of ad impressions that result in low action rates, which translates to purchases.  Also, if a product/service was free in exchange for ad views, how does this improve brand equity?  

I feel that luxury goods/services cannot follow the mold of offering free products/service in exchange for ad views.  As I had alluded to on Friday, consumers need to be engaged and become advocates of the brand for this type of ad campaign to succeed.  For common goods/services or discount items, then any type of ad campaign that maximizes brand awareness is key.