Archive - interaction design RSS Feed

The Halo Effect – Why Apple gets away with rubbish interaction design

As have many others in the past year or so, I recently swapped from PC to a new MacBook.

It certainly has been an experience, and it’s nice to actually have something to take out of my bag at conferences that looks so cute, that doesn’t make that embarrassing Window’s startup sound, that has a half decent battery life and that doesn’t take half a century to boot up. (My old laptop was generally out of battery by the time it finally booted, making it all but useless in conference environments anyway).

It has to be said though, that when it comes to interaction design, there are quite a few examples where the Mac falls short of my old PC.

This is not a post about the things that Apple does badly though (although, seriously – can we get past the one button mouse already? and I do think that dialog box is pretty shocking, and those little triangles that so often hide much of the information I’m looking for in Mac applications…. please!). This is a post about what Apple does well, and how this helps them get away with doing some things not so well.

As a general rule, Apple does a brilliant job with design. Highlights include the iPod, their in-store experience, the ‘out of the box’ experience, and the product design for most of their computers.

Enter, the Halo Effect. The Halo Effect is a Cognitive Bias (something our brains do that kind of tricks us or is a bit lazy, but also makes us more efficient than, say, computers). This particular cognitive bias means that the impressions we already have of someone or something colour how we perceive their current and future actions. Or, in Wikipedia speak ‘the perception of a particular trait is influenced by the perception of the former traits in a sequence of interpretations.’

So, all of Apple’s good design work of the past influence our perception of other design work we encounter. It also influences our reaction to things like, say, their customer service once you’ve bought their product. In some instances, some of these traits are not so desirable, but because of the great positive association we have between Apple and design, we are almost blinded to the fact that they’re not really delivering to the standard we’ve come to expect.

This accounts for the effect that new Mac users would be familiar with whenever they dare complain about something that Apple has designed – the almost-killer-attack of long term Mac users who seem to be almost blind to the idea that there may be something imperfect about a Mac!

OK, so that’s an exaggeration. But I bet you know what I mean :)

The Halo Effect and attractiveness are also closely linked, meaning that we are more likely to imbue attractive things with positive traits than we are less attractive things. Thereby, simply by virtue of the fact that my MacBook looks a whole lot more attractive than my now retired ThinkPad, I’m more likely to attribute it with traits like good interaction design… even when there may be much evidence to the contrary.

We can learn a lot from Apple and the Halo Effect though. If our company or our product becomes associated with good design over time, and if we design attractive products, then our customers will not be waiting to savage us when, in the future, we slip up a little accidentally. Quite the opposite – investing in good design now is almost like investing in a margin for error in the future. And couldn’t we all do with one of those now and then.

Meanwhile, next time you are attacked by rampant long-term Mac users, play nicely.

They may get a little over enthusiastic at times, but that’s just their cognitive bias talking ;)

Dialog Boxes: Making simple things simple…

Adium

How much thought do you give to writing the text on dialog boxes when you’re designing?

It’s fairly common for these to be written by the developers as they’re being coded, from what I’ve seen. They certainly deserve a whole lot more attention than they generally receive.

Here’s a prime example.

Notice the text that has been bolded. It’s asking me a question ‘do you want to allow the new version to access the same keychain items (such as passwords) as the previous version?’.

Is it just me, or are the obvious answers to this question either Yes, or No. Yet this dialog box presents me with the options ‘Don’t Change’ or ‘Change All’. To which my immediate response is… Change What?! I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Let’s ignore the fact that, hypothetically, I have pretty much no idea of what a keychain item might be, the next line of text reassuringly tells me that whatever option I end up guessing at is permanent and affects all keychain items used by Adium.

OK. So here’s what I know… whatever choice I make here is pretty important and not able to be undone… and yet I know little about what the question is and pretty much nothing about what the options represent.

Not a pretty situation considering I was just installing an update to my IM application.

Potentially enough for me to bail and go install another application instead? Maybe.

It’s in the details people.

[Note: Yes, I've heard that Adium is the best IM client for Mac. I'm sticking with it for the time being.]

[Another quick note: how much do I *hate* the way that Mac software uses that little triangle on it's side to represent 'if you click here, a whole stack of functionality that you *really* need but have no idea where it is, will be revealed. Who thought *that* was a good idea? It has caused me grief over the past couple of weeks... even *after* I learned its meaning. End of moaning.]

Design Consequences: A fun workshop technique for brainstorming & consensus building

Design Consequences

For my recent BarCamp session I shared a design technique that a colleague and I developed quite recently that we’ve found to be quite successful in both generating great design ideas and developing consensus about the design approach for projects within a multi-disciplinary team.

We call this technique Design Consequences, due to the similarity it has with the similarly named childrens games. We tend to use it in the earlier stages of the design process, although it can be used for more detailed interface design problems.

So, how does it work? It’s pretty simple really.

What you need:

  1. a clearly articulated design problem and design goal(s) - for the BarCamp exercise our design problem was to design an electronic version of the BarCamp session wall where people could add their own session and choose which sessions they were going to attend. 
  2. some design ideas or components – when I do this in a client context, we do this by spending time beforehand looking at our specific challenges and seeing how other people have approached them, and trying to understand design techniques or principles that work (as well as those that don’t). This gives people access to a much greater repoirtore of ideas to draw in the Design Consequences exercise.
  3. a multi-disciplinary team - try to get the entire team if you can. The exercise works best with no more than 8 people involved, but it can be done with more if required. Get management to the table, bring all kinds of designers, bring the product managers and marketers, bring your developers. Bring everyone you can, as long as they’re familiar with the project and the design problem.
  4. lots of paper and markers and post its – make them as colourful and fun as possible. Make it look like a crafting session. A sense of play and enjoyment is key to this exercise.
  5. some examples of the type of output you’re expecting – anything that starts with the word ‘design’ can be very intimidating and scary. Lots of people ahve been told throughout their lives that they can’t draw, or that they aren’t creative. I have some *very* scratchy samples that have been created by people who design for a living. I show these before we get started so that people realise quickly that pretty drawings are not part of the equation.
  6. A bundle of energy – you need to be just a little bit hyper to run this exercise :)

What you do:

  1. Round One – everyone has seven minutes to design, individually, the the first page that users would see when confronting the ‘design problem’. So, a typical example would be a website homepage, but it could be any part of an application or website or even, say, an email. The faciliator(s) should participate, but keep an eye on the clock and give some warnings with a few minutes to go, and again at about 30 seconds.
  2. Round Two – here’s the consequences twist. Everyone picks up the page they’ve designed, then passes it on to the person on their right (or left, it doesn’t really matter). Everyone then has to review the page they’ve received (ask for clarification from the original designer if it’s a little sketchy in places), then decide – if you were the user, what would *you* interact with, and what would happen next. You have seven minutes to draw ‘what happens next’. (Don’t tell people about Round Two before Round One, it’s much more fun when it’s a bit of a surprise).
  3. Show and Tell – we then go around in a circle and each person describes the page they received, what aspect they chose to interact with and why, and then describes what they designed next. Discussion is encouraged.

What do you get? Lots of great data, and lots of great conversation fodder.

It’s a good idea to capture as much of this as possible as you go around the group. Of course, the best way to do this is to write up ideas onto post it notes as you go and stick them on the wall. There should be an ‘in’ section of the wall and an ‘out’ section of the wall. (‘In’ means that the idea has legs for this particular design problem). Affinity sorting on the run also helps to draw out the key themes or ideas that have emerged from the exercise. You should be leading the group discussion, helping the group to gain consesus and make decisions as to the design approach to be taken in solving the design problem, and trying to document these decisions as you go.

This process can be quite time consuming and intense, but more often than not there will be a few key ideas that the group is particularly enthusiastic about and that really propels the decision making.

By the end of the session you should be in a position where everyone is in agreement about *what* will be included in the wireframes that comprise the next phase of the design process.

Why would you use this approach?

  • It makes a great change from the talk-fest of meetings
  • It generates lots of ideas – and often some really great ones 
  • It stops people getting to attached to their design ideas and makes evaluation and critiquing more effective
  • It helps get all the team feedback and ideas into the pot (in particular, it’s great to get management and technical input at this stage)
  • It drives buy-in, involvement and consensus
  • It pulls in cross-discipline scills (for example, developers are often really great at quickly identifying great ID approaches for Rich Internet Applications)
  • You’d be amazed what you learn earlier rather than later by involving the entire team at this early stage
  • Getting lots of brains involved in the design process can uncover some really creative gems
  • It makes the design process faster
  • It’s fun!

So, there you have it. Some quick notes on a technique that’s been quite useful for me lately. I’d be interested to hear what you think of it and if you try it, to see if you too find it useful.

Chatting with Bill Moggridge – Part Three – What makes a good design team?

Bill Moggridge

This is the third and final part of my chat with Bill Moggridge in which we talk about the ingredients of successful design teams – who is in them, how do they work together, where do they work, those kinds of questions.

This was a chat I recorded when I was talking with Bill about his new book, Designing Interactions.

You can catchup on the first two parts of the chat here: Part One / Part Two

Enjoy!

(Duration: 10:28)

Page 2 of 8«12345»...Last »