Thoughtless design is going to cost me money… (or, why you shouldn’t ignore conventions)

BT Aqua Phone

Here is a new phone we got the other day. It’s our landline phone. Pretty cute huh? It’s called the Aqua by BT. Don’t buy it. I paid about £100 for a set of these phones. They are going to cost me a lot more than that in no time.

Here’s the thing. How do you end a call on a slide phone (which is what these are)? Simple – you close the slide, right? Well – yes, on every other slide phone that I’ve ever encountered, but not on this phone. Closing the slide does nothing… except closing the slide. So, when I went to make a call last night I discovered that, in fact, a call was still in progress. A call to a mobile phone, that had been connected for 8 hours. Ouch. I am *dreading* seeing this months phone bill because this isn’t the first time we’ve made this mistake. Although, this is probably the worst example.

We keep making this mistake because the slide-to-end-call convention is such a strong part of our model of how a slide phone works. We will keep making this mistake – despite the fact that we will be punished, seriously, by our telco.

As cute as these phones are, they’re going to be returned very soon because the experience of using them is so broken.

Moral to the story – if you’re designing something that has existing conventions associated with it – ignore them at your peril. Otherwise you’ll end up designing something that sucks as badly as this phone. And we don’t want that, do we.

End of rant.

Tone of voice matters (show some respect)

I had to share with you this particularly appalling piece of email marketing that hit my inbox the other day. The back story is that somehow I had come across a £25 voucher to use at VirginWines – I went and had a look at the site to see if it was something I was interested in – after all, £25 worth of wine for free is usually something I was interested in. Before I realised that I would have to spend well in excess of my £25 voucher to be able to buy any wine on this site, I registered to ‘redeem my voucher’ and gave them my email address.

Several weeks later, this arrives:

Dear Leisa

I am not a sensitive person by nature, but I have to say that I am feeling a little hurt. We’ve invited you into our Club, but you’ve clearly decided not to.

So, as a one-off attempt at sheer bribery, I‘m offering you your first, trial Club case HALF PRICE at just £47.88 (that‘s a ridiculously low £3.99 a bottle!). Plus, two FREE gifts, worth £30. That‘s an overall saving of nearly £80.

Sound good? Then click here to claim your HALF PRICE case and FREE GIFTS.

But you‘re probably not ready to join yet. You‘re probably thinking…

I can buy the wines anywhere.

Well you can‘t actually. The boutique wines we reserve for our Club Members never appear in the supermarket. And they are always offered to members at a lower price than non-members get them for.

It‘s just like one of those ghastly book clubs.

Er…sorry, not correct on this one either. Quite simply, you have no obligation to take any wine you don‘t want. You don‘t even have to pay us for any wines that don‘t blow your socks right off.

I‘m not the joining type.

If we explained that the reason we have a Club in the first place is because 40,000 people can buy better than 1, perhaps you‘d change your mind? If you join us, 40,001 people will buy better than 40,000.

Or maybe you‘ve just not got around to it. Which is fine. People who buy wine by the case tend to be busy.

So what would be a good reason?

Here‘s one good reason to test us out right now. We‘re keen to recruit new Members. So, for one last time I‘m offering you your first, trial Club case HALF PRICE at just £47.88

Take our HALF PRICE case NOW, and you‘ll receive a complimentary pair of beautiful Dartington Wine Glasses, completely FREE. Plus, a FREE professional lever corkscrew, worth £20.

Still not sure?

What is the worst thing that can happen? If you don‘t like the wines, I promise to refund you instantly, without any fuss whatsoever. If you agree that these wines are a big step better than you can get in the supermarket, you can look forward to a lifetime of feeling superior to non-members.

So why don‘t you join us now and find out what it‘s all about for yourself? Not next week, but right now.


Rowan Gormley
Founder, Virgin Wines

0870 050 0305

The insight that the tone taken in this email gives me to this brand is profound, and frankly, I don’t want anything to do with a company who has this kind of attitude in their customer communications.

We’ve spoken before about positive ways to handle ‘abandonment’ – well, here is the flipside, a combination of guilt-tripping (‘I am not a sensitive person by nature, but I have to say that I am feeling a little hurt. We’ve invited you into our Club, but you’ve clearly decided not to’), cynicism (‘So, as a one-off attempt at sheer bribery…’) and smart talk (‘Er…sorry, not correct on this one either…’). Yes, consumers today are media literate and this level of ‘openness’ could potentially work well, but be nice about it. I’m supposed to enjoy buying wine, with this email VirginWine have put me right off my drink!

Take care with your tone – and of course, this applies to any kind of copy that you’re writing. And know that only *very* few brands can be anything but nice to their customer.

Yahoo! Go 2.0 shows how far mobile UI design has to go

Yahoo Go 2.0

Have you seen the Yahoo! Go 2.0 interface yet? I have, although only on my laptop as their mobile beta is currently full… I’m on the waiting list.

Yahoo! are very excited about this interface. Here’s how they describe it:

A revolutionary design. Yahoo Go! is the first application optimized for the “small screen” of a mobile phone that truly makes it easy and fun to access the Internet. Everything about the Yahoo! Go interface is designed to be both visually stunning and give you what you want with the fewest clicks possible.

At the core of the UI is the ‘carousel’ at the bottom of the screen that allows you to switch between the various widgets or applications (such as email, and the typical content streams – news, finance, sport etc.).

The carousel could hardly be described as revolutionary, as it is obviously inspired by the Mac OS UI.

More interesting, I think, is the design of the mobile search and the customisation of content sources.

The mobile search actually sounds pretty clever. Not only have the designed the search results in a way that is more useful for the mobile user:

oneSearch includes more actual content in your initial results than any other search—all grouped by subject matter and relevance, so there’s no sea of links to wade through like with a PC search.

The search engine also has location awareness – both awareness of where you are in the application AND physical location awareness. Now this is getting sexy.

oneSearch improves results based on both where you are in the application and where you are in the real world. For instance, launching a search for “eagles” in Sports will return results for the professional football team first. Similarly, searching for a movie will yield showtimes in your local area.

Ah, can it be – finally – location based services coming to a handset near you! I’ve waited a long time for this!

Content customisation looks as though it allows you to subscribe to RSS feeds to your phone using their interface. Very nice (although probably not so new). So you can choose who provides your news rather than live with whoever Yahoo! has their content deal with.

Another nice looking feature aims to remove the need to type URLs (hooray! this is no fun at all on a mobile).

Yahoo! Go also makes it easy to get to other websites. Simply type in the name of a website you want to visit (like eBay), and oneSearch returns the link to the website. Click the link and you’re there.

Having recently upgraded to a reasonably current handset (review coming soon!), I can confirm that the mobile user experience remains, as it has been for some time now, utterly rubbish. It’s as though all stakeholders are conspiring to make things as difficult as possible – from the product design of the hardware to the installed software to the internet content and design. There are frustrations and errors to be made at every turn.

So far, most compliments have to be paid to one or two browsers that are invaluable in making the internet a vaguely hospitable place for the mobile browser. Yahoo! Go 2.0 will hopefully also make the overall experience a little more palatable.

At the end of the day though, it should be a massive wake up call to us all that Yahoo! borrowing an element from the OS user interface and transplanting it into the mobile environment could be considered revolutionary.

It seems ridiculous to me that it has taken this long for any kind of innovation to areas like search interface for mobile and eliminating URL entry to occur. Sure, I know it’s a technical nightmare to develop for mobile… but it’s outrageous that little seems to be happening to increase consistency across handsets and browsers and operating systems.

*deep breaths*
With any luck I’ll get a Beta invite sometime soon… stay tuned for reports on what it’s like to actually use this interface.

Have you used the Go 2.0 interface yet? How’d you find it?

Wii have a problem (but it’s your fault)

Nintendo Safety Manual for Wii

Who knew a games controller could wreak such havok. Head over to WiiHaveAProblem and be astounded by the number of TV sets that people have taken out when they’ve been playing with their new Wii and the controller has been thrown out of their hands with such force as to break the strap. Carnage ensues.
What does Nintendo have to say about this situation?

Vispi Bhopti, of Nintendo Australia, said the problem was less to do with quality issues and more related to the way the console was being used.

“Nintendo has done various tests before we launched, but it turns out people are playing with a lot more gusto than we would’ve anticipated,” he said

“At this point, I do want to clarify that Nintendo is introducing a brand new form of entertainment and a brand new form of interacting … it’s not like conventional video games, and … we need to let people be aware of how they should approach it. This will take a little time for some people.”

Bhopti added that over-the-top movements and letting go of the controller places unnecessary strain on the wrist strap, causing it to snap.

via Sydney Morning Herald

Oh. So it’s not Nintendo’s fault, it’s your fault. You’re not playing the right way. You’re playing too hard.

Am I the only one who thinks this is a tremendous cop out and would much rather lay the blame at the feet of whoever designed the testing for this ‘brand new’ product? Isn’t one of the most exciting things about a product like this the fact that people will use it in new and unexpected ways?

I would love to know more about these ‘various tests’ that Nintendo carried out and the context in which they took place.

You see, if they did all their testing in a lab, then there is no way that they would have seen this coming, because users, generally, behave themselves pretty well in a lab. Particularly if you’re videoing them.

Users in their own environments are different animals, so imagine if Nintendo did some contextual research… well, it just seems so obvious in retrospect, doesn’t it.

A Wii, a couple of boisterous guys on a Friday night, and a weak wrist strap.

Wii have a problem

It was never going to end well, was it?

Contextual research. It’s fun to do, and sometimes there’s a really good reason to get out of the lab.

Image credit: WiiHaveAProblem