WWAD? (What would Apple do?)

Apple Store 

People say that it is some kind of Steve Jobs special sauce that makes Apple the company that it is, but as this Fortune article reveals, they reap rewards from using design techniques that we all have access to, and should *all* be doing. All the time.

These techniques include prototyping:

“One of the best pieces of advice Mickey ever gave us was to go rent a warehouse and build a prototype of a store, and not, you know, just design it, go build 20 of them, then discover it didn’t work,” says Jobs. In other words, design it as you would a product. Apple Store Version 0.0 took shape in a warehouse near the Apple campus. “Ron and I had a store all designed,” says Jobs, when they were stopped by an insight: The computer was evolving from a simple productivity tool to a “hub” for video, photography, music, information, and so forth. The sale, then, was less about the machine than what you could do with it.

But looking at their store, they winced. The hardware was laid out by product category – in other words, by how the company was organized internally, not by how a customer might actually want to buy things. “We were like, ‘Oh, God, we’re screwed!'” says Jobs.

But they weren’t screwed; they were in a mockup. “So we redesigned it,” he says. “And it cost us, I don’t know, six, nine months. But it was the right decision by a million miles.”

and User Research:

“When we launched retail, I got this group together, people from a variety of walks of life,” says Johnson. “As an icebreaker, we said, ‘Tell us about the best service experience you’ve ever had.'” Of the 18 people, 16 said it was in a hotel. This was unexpected. But of course: The concierge desk at a hotel isn’t selling anything; it’s there to help. “We said, ‘Well, how do we create a store that has the friendliness of a Four Seasons Hotel?'” The answer: “Let’s put a bar in our stores. But instead of dispensing alcohol, we dispense advice.”

OK. So maybe you don’t have budget to build a store twenty times over, but everyone has time and budget to do a paper prototype and show some people. Even if that’s all you can do, do it. 

Both of these techniques have been key in helping Apple make more dollars per square foot than stores like Saks or Tiffany – a pretty successful outcome by any measure, not to mention the way that the experience of the Apple store contributes to the over all Apple brand equity.

WWAD? Prototyping and user research. Go crazy.

If it wasn’t for Twitter I wouldn’t be here…

People ask me what I think of Twitter and whether it’s really important or useful. I’ve already said a bit about it, but here’s a funny story.

A few days back I was flying out of London to come to SXSW. I left home a little early because I quite like hanging out in the duty free stores and wanted to give myself a little time.

After lugging my heavy bag through the tube I settled myself down into a comfy seat on the Heathrow Express to wait a few minutes before we set off when my mobile did the buzzy thing… a twitter message had arrived.

It was a message from Jeremy Keith saying that he was waiting on a taxi to take him to Gatwick. Interesting, I thought. What were the chances of two planes setting off from London from two different airports to Dallas at roughly the same time.

I thought it might be worth just double checking that I was heading for the correct airport.

Of course, I was not.

Much frantic rushing through London peak hour ensued with rapidly beating heart as I tried to get to Gatwick in time to board my flight to SXSW. As it turns out, they’re not so strict with the 2 hour check in thing afterall… thank goodness.

But, here’s the thing. If it wasn’t for Twitter, I’d have stayed on the Heathrow Express and by the time I worked out I was in the wrong place it would have been far, far too late. 

Thanks to Twitter, and Jeremy (I still owe you beers!) I made it.

Flash forward to this afternoon and a Twitter from PeterMe lets me know there’s a UX meetup this evening. Again, something I would have totally missed without Twitter.

So yes. I think it matters. And then some.

Checking in from SXSW

It’s day three at SXSW and before heading out for a breakfast taco (yeah, I know)and the first panel of the day, a quick update!

After two days of panels I can say again the same thing I always say: If you want a panel that rocks you need to be concrete: give real examples, tell stories, show us stuff. Interestingly I read a book on the plane on the way over that explains this really well, it’s called Made To Stick, and if you need to be communicating your ideas to others it’s definitely worth a read.

There have been some panels that rocked and others no so much. Here’s my top five favourite so far (in chronological order):

  • After the brief – a field guide to design inspiration Jason Santa Maria and Rob Weychart led an energetic and inspirational session sharing with us what they do in their lives to foster creativity and inspiration, including design vigilantism, crossword puzzles, and regular exercises with extreme design constraints. They talked a LOT about getting away from the computer and actually making stuff. I’m inspired :)
  • Tag, You’re It – it’s from this panel that my favourite quote to use out of context comes. “There’s no such thing as Information Architecture anymore,” says George Oates. By happy accident I ended up at this panel when I had something else pencilled into my program and it was great. I’m happy that we’re not spending time arguing taxonomy v folksonomy so much these days, but looking at how people are using tagging and what we can learn from this mass of data and human behaviour. This panel also introduced me to my new buzzword for IA ‘pivot’, which Thomas Vander Wal used a lot to describe what you’re doing when you click on a tag and which has a close relationship with facets. I’ve heard it used a few times since but it was new on me. I can’t decide if I like it or not.
  • Stop Designing Products – Peter Merholz argues that the experience is the product and there is much more to good experience than cool technology or a bunch of features. Good experiences are born from a clearly articulated strategy that is applied across all channels, and a big part of that strategy is retaining the magic in the user experience, where magic to the users is data and logic to the rest of us! 
  • Every Breath You Take – an incredibly intelligent, engaging and interesting panel on identity, attention and reputation which are topics that I’m finding incredibly interesting at the moment. There are all kinds of problems and opportunities around identity at the moment and this panel, including Christian CrumlishTed Nadean, Mary Hodder, Kaliya Hamlin and George Kelly took a run at some of them. I’m still thing about the idea of Identity Friction and how we need to increase identity friction in virtual spaces to better replicate how it works in the ‘real world’.
  • Making Your Short Attention Span Pay Big Dividends – a lighthearted, story filled and inspirational presentation from Jim Coudal (Coudal Partners) and Brendan Dawes (magneticNorth) the crux of which is – have lots of ideas and give them a go, see what happens. Less with the talking, more with the doing. That way fun lies.

The biggest highlight of SXSW is the people. It’s been amazing to meet all the amazing people I’ve met so far, to catch up with a few people I know who are here, to put faces and real life personalities to the voices behind the blogs and books I read, to be amongst hundreds of people who are also completely into it.

I got to have a quick play with one of the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) machines the other night and whine to an engineer who actually works on Google Reader that it’s way to slow (he knows, they’re working on it). This is all ridiculously good.

So, for now, I’m going to step away from the laptop and get back amongst it. More soon!