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Design starts with Proposition (ergo Usability)

Layers of Customer Experience

Here’s a typical story.

A project is in its final phases when it gets to the part of the Gant chart that says ‘usability testing’, and so they do.

People come in and are asked to perform tasks, and so they do, with greater or lesser degrees of difficulty. And yet, something else is wrong.

It’s not so much that they *can’t* use your website, it’s just that they don’t want to.

People ask me all kinds of questions about usability. What are the most common usability problems? What’s the best way to make sure our site/application/system is usable? That kind of thing.

It’s pretty clear when they ask these questions that they’re thinking on the presentation layer. Is that button in the right place? Is it big enough? Has it got the right label.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the presentation layer is important, but it’s not the biggest usability problem I see in my work. The biggest problem is that you’re designing something that people don’t care about. You’ve got your proposition wrong.

What’s your proposition? Well, basically it’s the value you’re offering to your customer. Are you offering something they want? Are you solving *real* problems for them? You’d be amazed how often this is not the case, and how often people don’t know about this until they’re about to launch their product or, worse still, once it has launched and is failing.

The diagram above is one that I pull out fairly often these days (it’s another one I’ve borrowed from Flow). It talks about how you need to design from the proposition down. You need to get the value offering right, then look at the model for delivering that value to clients at a conceptual level, then start looking more at what elements go on a page, what functionality is included, how it is structured and ordered. Unless you have all of these in order, it doesn’t really matter where your buttons go or what they’re labeled. Appearance level usability is the most superficial, easily remedied and perhaps even least important of all of the levels of design.

If you’ve got a flaw in your thinking at the top of the chain, then no amount of surface usability is going to save your product.

So, how do you approach this kind of Proposition design and usability? It’s pretty simple really, you test your proposition. This kind of testing (or really, research) is more about talking than tasks, and it’s about understanding your customers better and checking whether you are conceptually on the same page as they are.

I’ve been involved in several projects just in the past twelve months where doing this kind of research has saved companies tens of thousands of pounds (double that if you’re talking dollars) in *not* designing and developing functionality that either was unwanted by their customers or was designed to solve the wrong problems.

Working this out when you have a few pencil sketches or a couple of visio wireframes with a few days invested is an awful lot better than working it out when you get to the ‘usability testing’ line in your Gant chart.

So, if you really want my advice about usability, it’s that it starts right at the very beginning. Before a line (or a box) has been drawn. If you’re not designing the *right thing* then no amount of design expertise is going to get you a really usable product.

Talk to the people you’re designing for.

You’ll save lots of time and money and look really smart.  

Amen.

Web rules to live/design by…

I just came across these 15 Web Principles that the BBC have developed (via Tomski).

1. Build web products that meet audience needs: anticipate needs not yet fully articulated by audiences, then meet them with products that set new standards. (nicked from Google)

2. The very best websites do one thing really, really well: do less, but execute perfectly. (again, nicked from Google, with a tip of the hat to Jason Fried)

3. Do not attempt to do everything yourselves: link to other high-quality sites instead. Your users will thank you. Use other people’s content and tools to enhance your site, and vice versa.

4. Fall forward, fast: make many small bets, iterate wildly, back successes, kill failures, fast.

5. Treat the entire web as a creative canvas: don’t restrict your creativity to your own site.

6. The web is a conversation. Join in: Adopt a relaxed, conversational tone. Admit your mistakes.

7. Any website is only as good as its worst page: Ensure best practice editorial processes are adopted and adhered to.

8. Make sure all your content can be linked to, forever.

9. Remember your granny won’t ever use “Second Life”: She may come online soon, with very different needs from early-adopters.

10. Maximise routes to content: Develop as many aggregations of content about people, places, topics, channels, networks & time as possible. Optimise your site to rank high in Google.

11. Consistent design and navigation needn’t mean one-size-fits-all: Users should always know they’re on one of your websites, even if they all look very different. Most importantly of all, they know they won’t ever get lost.

12. Accessibility is not an optional extra: Sites designed that way from the ground up work better for all users

13. Let people paste your content on the walls of their virtual homes: Encourage users to take nuggets of content away with them, with links back to your site

14. Link to discussions on the web, don’t host them: Only host web-based discussions where there is a clear rationale

15. Personalisation should be unobtrusive, elegant and transparent: After all, it’s your users’ data. Best respect it.

I think I could quite happily live/design web stuff by these principles. What do you reckon?

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

Smart email: If I stop buying, ask me why!

Ocardo Box

Two clever companies noticed I was doing something that was not making them money recently and emailed me to let me know they’d noticed. And then they tried selling me more stuff. As though I must have just got bored or forgot what I was doing when I was supposed to be spending money. As though it couldn’t have been a problem with their product or their processes.

Neither of them ever asked me why I stopped buying. Although I was eager to tell them both.

The first example was Three which I discussed in an earlier post and just this morning Ocardo emailed me saying they’d noticed I’ve not been buying their organic boxes lately. You can tell from their email (above) that they assume that I’ve just forgotten about this great service they’re offering and that a reminder and maybe a special offer will trigger my buying behaviour again.

They’re totally wrong of course. I stopped buying their product deliberately because I think it’s a rip off. They send me boring fruit and vegetables, ones that I don’t really use, and they charge a whole lot of money for it. I don’t buy their product because I can get better organic boxes elsewhere.

If I was running Ocardo (or, at least, in charge of sending out this email), I’d definitely be finding a way not just to remind people about my product, but also to initiate a conversation, a dialogue. Don’t assume I’m just a dumb user who forgot or got distracted… ask me.

If you’re smart enough to look for customer intelligence (who’s stopped buying what), then be smart enough to respect a customer’s intelligence. You’ll end up with a much more more clever company… and maybe even an organic box that I’d want to buy from you again.

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