User Experience Design Blog

Commentary on strategy and design of interactive products.

Privacy and Security Concerns of Online Applications

February 17th, 2009 by Sergio Paluch

As seemingly everyone is moving toward working online, security concerns are being thrown to the wayside with troubling consequences. A recent occurrence at a hot start-up made me seriously think twice about how safe our online data is from malicious eyes.

One of the main themes of Web 2.0 is the large-scale migration to the ‘cloud’. Many work-related tasks such as email, word processing, day planning, and idea sharing are being done online rather than on the desktop or across the desk. Hordes of users and technologists sing unmitigated praises of online applications and collaboration services. I too love the ability to quickly and easily collaborate on an online documents with my co-workers or clients.

We are so focused on the benefits of working online that we often forget the serious drawbacks which include access and data security. The chief drawback for me is the fact that my data is sometimes only one login screen or checkbox away from being seen by anyone, including those that would use the information in egregious ways. In some cases, my data is even more exposed than that. Read the rest of this article »

More Evidence that Speed Is Key to User Experience

February 11th, 2009 by Sergio Paluch

A while back, Marissa Mayer of Google shared some very compelling research results at a Web 2.0 conference. In essence, she stated that an additional delay of 0.5 seconds to page-load time caused a 20% drop in traffic. Naturally, the first question that came to mind is whether this was an isolated case, or if others were finding such large repercussions for similarly small interaction delays. Greg Linden, writes a very compelling account, on his blog Geeking with Greg, where he remarks that the findings that Marissa shared mirror his own research experience at Amazon:

[We] had a similar experience at Amazon.com. In A/B tests, we tried delaying the page in increments of 100 milliseconds and found that even very small delays would result in substantial and costly drops in revenue.

Reading that two mammoth websites like Google and Amazon experienced very large drops in traffic and revenue due to fraction-of-a-second load delays underscores the importance of promptness in the user experience. It is a facet that is very often overlooked and eclipsed by sexier interaction paradigms. However, cool and flashy interactions are often load-intensive and can really slow down functionality and interactivity. Even with internet connectivity becoming faster by the day, much attention should be paid to the effect of user experience designs on load speeds.

A Simple Product Line the Secret to Apple’s Success?

January 26th, 2009 by Sergio Paluch

In these tough economic times, one reads of disappointing earnings and layoffs almost every day. Certainly, consumer electronics companies are not unaffected, and major players like Microsoft and Sony are seeing sales plummet and are cutting staff. However, there is one among them that is doing exceptionally well given the market conditions–Apple.

Matt Burns over at CrunchGear wonders in a recent post whether the secret for Apple’s success isn’t its simple product line. Matt notes in his post that Apple’s product line consists of “[one] cellphone, four iPods, three notebooks, and three desktop computers.” It’s certainly a fair question, and similar claims have been made by various academics including Professor Barry Schwartz who authored a brilliant book, on the topic of too much choice, titled The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More. (You can watch Professor Schwartz’s talk based on his book on Google Video.)

Matt also draws some comparisons with other consumer electronics heavy-weights like Motorola, which “[has] 27 cell phones available….” At the same time Apple’s singular iPhone has sold 88% more units this year than last. He also points out that “Garmin makes 82 GPS units that can be mounted in a car or carried in your hand. 82!?! … If Apple made a GPS, there would be two models available - maybe only one.”

I can certainly relate to the overbearing amount of choices in GPS units. I’ve been in the market for a GPS unit, but I still haven’t bought one because I am unwilling to invest the time and effort to wade through the innumerable choices. The point is that, if a customer is somewhat motivated to buy something, but has to decipher an overbearing amount of choices, they will not do it because the perceived reward is not worth the effort. This translates to foregone sales. Matt notes that

Consumers hate choices. They say they love them, but have you ever stood in front of a wall of plasmas and LCDs with a random person? … They get overwhelmed by the amount of options, but Apple has made it easy by producing top-notch products that are easily available.

It is difficult to agree with the assertion that Apple’s success is based on a simple product line; Apple also makes great products in many people’s views. However, I can personally attest that one of the easiest shopping experiences I’ve had was buying my MacBook Pro. The choice was fast and easy, and although I did not get a fully personalized computer, I got one that was more than sufficient for my needs.

I think this observation begs a bigger question: Are we giving too much fanfare to personalization and choice? A recent Economist article, The Long Tail (January 5, 2009), points out that

[One] American telecoms company, offering a wide range of packages for different consumer groups, was reckoned to have 377m different possible combinations of its services, many of which, of course, were never requested.

Is the paradigm of more choice really the most effective product model?

Modern Mobile Phones Frustrate Most Users

January 19th, 2009 by Kimmy Paluch

The BBC reports on a study conducted by Mformation, which reveals that of 4,000 people interviewed in the UK and US, 61% claim that “setting up a new handset is as challenging as moving bank accounts.”

The report reveals other details of the complexity users face, such as using various applications, browsing the web, reading email, and sending picture messages. Results include:

“Of those questioned, 95% said they would be more likely to use new features if the initial set-up were easier.”

“Some 61% of those questioned said they stopped using an application if they could not get it working straight away.”

“Having icons for all a phone’s available services at hand was better than burying them in a sub-menu …”

via: Experientia

YouTube Spreads to More Consumer Electronics

January 16th, 2009 by Kimmy Paluch

YouTube announced yesterday yet another way to access its videos on a TV: through the Sony Playstaion 3 (PS3) and Nintendo Wii. The service is now in beta but there are many other devices that can access complete versions today. YouTube has made several deals with set-top box manufacturers and TV manufacturers, releasing its first TV application on AppleTV in June 2007. Other devices that now boast this service are:

YouTube seems to really be living up to their goal to “accelerate an industry evolution towards open television access to Web video.” The list above proves the openness of the team to collaborate with all types of consumer devices to extend its reach and accessibility.

Furthermore, the iterations I have seen of the various UI’s are very consistent with what people are familiar with from its traditional web implementation. Search is key, but the browse experience is still preserved around those familiar categories such as most popular and most viewed. Below are various snapshots of the YouTube interface across several of these devices:

YouTube on the iPhone

YouTube on the iPhone

Read the rest of this article »

A Film About Industrial Design

January 15th, 2009 by Sergio Paluch

Gary Hustwit brings us “a look at the creativity at work behind everything from toothbrushes to tech gadgets” with his new feature-length documentary film, Objectified. The film includes interviews with international visionaries and design leaders such as Jonathan Ive from Apple and Chris Bangle from BMW among others. “[The] film documents the creative processes of some of the world’s most influential designers, and looks at how the things they make impact our lives.”

Objectified will premier at the South by Southwest Film Festival from March 13th to the 21st.

Mark Your Calendars 2009

January 7th, 2009 by Kimmy Paluch

With the Consumer Electronics Show and MacWorld underway here on the West side, I thought it would be good to highlight some key user experience and product development events that have already been scheduled for the year ahead. From virtual sessions to week-long events, here are some events worth checking out across the globe. Please add a comment below if you would like to add other events here.

Read the rest of this article »

Best Innovation & Design Books of 2008

December 19th, 2008 by Kimmy Paluch

As the year winds down, we come to expect many “best of … ” lists. An interesting one that caught my eye today was Business Week’s top ten books within innovation and design.

The list includes books from authors such as Procter & Gamble’s CEO A.G. Lafley, analysts at Forrester Research, a senior writer at Business Week, and various professors.

One of the books, Stephen Baker’s The Numerati, of which I had previously heard, seems particularly intriguing in the realm of user experience (here’s an excerpt). It examines the use of copious data and trends in creating customized products and services. I hope to find the time to read this one in the near future. Take a look and see if any on the top ten list appeals to you.

See the slideshow or read the article.

Netvibes Introduces Flexible Layouts

December 12th, 2008 by Kimmy Paluch

It seems the Netvibes team has been busy. This week it announced support for greater customization for users and an expansion of its widget technology. For those of you that don’t know or don’t use Netvibes, it is a personalized homepage where you can follow your news, email accounts, blogs, social networks, etc. It is what Yahoo provides: a start destination, with even greater flexibility and personalization (ala iGoogle, Pageflakes, MyYahoo!, GlobalGrind, MyAOL, and MyMSN ). With these new offerings, Netvibes has further proved its focus on enabling personalization and facilitating consumption.

Earlier this year, I converted from Google’s iGoogle homepage to use Netvibes. I have been very happy with the switch. With Netvibes, I found myself reading more of the content I love. With its ability to present text, video and images through simple feeds, I can consume the content I like more easily and in a more enjoyable manner.

Now Netvibes is adding even more customization with its layouts. There is a great number to choose from and the process is extremely simple (once you find it). The silent video below demonstrates the easy way to customize each tab to one’s delight:


Netvibes : Flexible Layout from Netvibes on Vimeo.

The rollout of this feature has been fairly good as well, with messaging at the top of one’s homepage (see image below). The only issue I had was in discovering how to access the feature. Without viewing the video it was not immediately obvious to select the arrow to the right of the active tab. Clearer messaging around this on the “learn more” page or directly on the screen would have been perfect.

Read the rest of this article »

User Experience Design: An Executive Summary

December 4th, 2008 by Sergio Paluch

This article strives to explain, in non-technical terms, what is user experience design, why it is critical in the modern business landscape, and how businesses can take advantage of what the field has to offer.

What Is User Experience Design?

User experience design is a specialized field that combines product strategy and usability engineering. It aims to make products and services useful, enjoyable and easy to use, which drive competitive advantage and profitability.

Making Products Useful

Customers use and buy products because they are useful, enjoyable, or both. User experience designers use their expertise and methodologies to establish what specific features and traits can render a given product useful and enjoyable to the target customer.

Making Products Profitable

User experience designers constantly strive to improve products, and they have the expertise to evaluate the most promising product features as well as to analyze the competition to discern how to gain advantage over them with new features or by improving existing ones as well as ease-of-use. Not only that, but for certain products and services like web sites, they can formulate a strategy that will increase target user actions such as online purchases and page views.

Making Products Easy to Use and Enjoyable

In today’s business landscape, ease-of-use is increasingly becoming a competitive advantage and customers are demanding and expecting products to be intuitive and easy to use. User experience designers are trained to systematically improve the organization of information and the intuitiveness of interactions of products and services.

Read the rest of this article »




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