Digital product delivery and its impact on businesses, teams and people.

Category: Thoughts (Page 2 of 3)

Think out loud

Thoughts: the design paradox

What makes good design?

‘Good design’ is disseminated through popular culture because it looks great, informing the wider population about how things should work.

Good usability practice is informed by convention and by using consistent input/manipulation and control mechanisms which leads to the entrenchment of ‘good design’.

Random thoughts about UX and Business

I think i might have been in a bad mood when i wrote this.

  • Digital’ is not an abstract goal. It’s a essential business function. Your customer want to use your products or services at a time, location and through a channel that suites them. Which are the appropriate platforms to achieve this? 
  • Usability is not optional. It’s an essential part of a professional development process. As tools, interaction design practice and technology use matures the innate level of usability will increase. Only focusing on tactical usability issues to meet customer needs will eventually hit the law of diminishing returns, It will cost more to identify usability issues versus the expected return. 
  • People adapt. If a person believes a product will help them achieve their goal they will endure hell on earth to get it. (Remember the queues outside your local apple store on launch day, or when the last Harry Potter book was release, or trying to program your video player to record a show while you’re out?) So why don’t your customer want your product? 
  • Customer expectations change faster than your ability to keep up. Designing to meet needs enables your product or service to stay relevant for longer. 
  • Your current products might not meet the customer’s need – people may use your product, but you won’t build lasting relationships if it doesn’t help a customer to achieve their goal. As soon as something comes along that does meet their goal then your customer will be off.

How are tablets used?

Luke Wroblewski reported on his website that most tablets are used in the home, rather than in a truly mobile context. In the same article he links to a Google blog post that says the majority of the time, 91%, “people spend on their tablet devices is for personal rather than work-related activities”

This chimes with my experience of tablet devices, on the 20th June I commented on this via twitter:

20 Jun Matt Goddard ‏@godd4rd
Every morning, on the train I take a mental snapshot of all the devices people use in my carriage.

20 Jun Matt Goddard ‏@godd4rd
Obviously the ubiquitous iPhone, iPad (although I hardly ever see anyone “working” on an iPad).

20 Jun Matt Goddard ‏@godd4rd
Lots of Android phones and a few tablets but again hardly anyone “working” on them.
However, I do see loads of people working on their laptops (mainly PC)…

Leading me to say,

“That’s why I’m so excited about the Surface tablet.”

Considering Wroblewski’s article and my own observations, I have the following thoughts:

  1. Currently, tablets (most predominantly iPad, but Android too) are marketed as leisure companions, so it’s not surprising that most people use them in leisure activities.
  2. The tablets currently available don’t integrate very well with most standard work tasks. They are brilliant at reviewing tasks, but when it comes to creating documents, diagrams, and interfacing with an internal bespoke system they are severely lacking. Some reasons for this are:
    1. Platform issues, iOS (OS X) and Android are not the predominant platform for the enterprise, making it expensive to integrate tablet apps into a complete workflow.
    2. Application issues: MS Office, is the predominant business tool. For any tablet to integrate itself into someone’s workflow, It should, at the very least, read and write properly to office format without any font, or display corruption. Something which neither Pages or Google Docs did the last time I used them.
    3. Tablets are designed in the most part to accept touch input, which makes some task more difficult to achieve, especially when fine manipulation skills are needed (such as creating diagrams in omnigraffle, or visio).

On the whole, I expect the migration from laptop to tablets as the primary “mobile” computing device. Employees want good, well-designed tools (a triumph for the Apple way), but they also need to get their work done.

Tablet manufacturers and application designers must now shift their gaze to the enterprise. They must understand their employee task flows, and how they currently use (or are likely to use) multi-devices to get things done.

The tablet market place is maturing, but it will only make it successfully out of adolescence once it realises that you only finally grow up, when you go out to work and earn your living.

Thoughts: Envisaging “Personal Media”

Like most people, my phone is the centre of my technical world but currently, it’s a passive tool; for it to support me, I have to initiate the interaction. i.e. check my calendar etc.

For my phone to work better as part of a distributed cognitive system, it needs to integrate into to my life. It must pro-actively support remembering people and places and use that information to create an intervention designed to support me being a better version of myself.

(Note: I say support, rather than automate)

How could you envisage a solution that can know from my location and time, that the train I wanted to get is delayed, or that I’m going to miss it? What are my options to arrive at my destination at the right time? If I can’t, how can it support me to let my friends/work colleagues know that I’ll be late for an appointment, or that I’ll miss dinner?

How smart should it be? Could it know that I have awful reception for most of my 1-hour train journey and let people know I’m “unavailable” for the hour?

A system such as this is not a broadcast tool. It’s a support tool, designed to allow me to manage my hectic world. I want it to understand and act like me but not to be me. I want it to support me being the best version of myself: aware, thoughtful and conscious of the space, time and contexts I operate in.

Disruptive thinking is an essential UX Skill.

We are at a cross-road in the way we do business; the landscape has changed beyond all recognition in the last 15 years due to a perfect storm of influences.

The mass adoption of the internet has provided immediate access to information and a wider choice of products and services, pushing our customers to expect more from us. They now expect products and services which are tailored to them, accessible at a time, location and through a device or channel that suits them. Anything short of that is inconvenient and your competitors are only a few clicks away.

At the same time, the unreliable, not-good-enough technologies and infrastructure of the past have matured and are now: stable, cheap and easy to implement. Allowing competitors to finance and launch new products and services in months rather than years.

The only way to survive is to adapt to this new world, to think differently from your competitors. To understand: why your customers really buy your products and services, why they reject them and then to select the right product, technology and business processes to give it to them.

Disruptive innovation (which I refer to as disruptive thinking) gives focus to this customer need, and coupled with some UX activities provides the agility to design innovative, customer-focused product propositions. Allowing you to pick off your competitors one by one; regardless of whether you’re an internet start-up or multinational corporation.

Disruption is coming to every industry and if you’re not in the game, you might as well pack up and go home, just ask Kodak.

The problem is that the UX industry is still maturing; it is still to become a proactive partner in this process. Currently, companies hire UX companies or consultants to address tactical goals to design or optimise their website to increase sales, reduce costs and improve customer satisfaction. These companies have already identified an immediate need and are focused on delivering against those goals. UX is seen as a function of the product delivery process. Don’t believe me? Then take a look at the variety of different job specs and associated job titles, most of these are delivery focused.

The solution is for UX to reach out from the delivery process, to become part of the business development process. Disruptive thinking gives us permission to do this, it allows us to flip things on their head to not only ask how do people use our products and service but why?

By asking why we can help our clients to uncover new growth opportunities, to create new products and services or enhance existing ones. Helping them to move their business in new directions to meet untapped customer needs.

For example,

A client sells home entertainment system through an online product catalogue and they’ve noticed that 30% of customer will add different product combinations to their shopping basket and leave without purchasing. They’ve asked you to analyse the shopping basket and purchasing funnel to improve the sales conversion rate.

Tactical thinking:

  • Observe customer using the site and look for obstacles to completion.
  • Redesign the shopping basket and optimise the funnel to improve conversion.

Disruptive thinking

  • Why aren’t people completing the purchase?
  • If they aren’t using the shopping cart to buy things then what are they using it for?
  • Is it to:
    • Gauge the cost of a future purchases?
    • To create a wish list?
    • To understand the aggregated costs of a complex purchase
  • Can we use this insight to create new opportunities to increase sales, reduce cost and improve customer satisfaction?
  • Could we create a home entertainment configuration tool that groups individual elements together in one package for different configurations, room sizes and budgets? Would this increase customer satisfaction by reducing the mental effort for choosing individual elements, while realising a higher profits for the company through predefined bundles?

Disruptive thinking in practice

Here are some retrospective examples from my work on how disruptive thinking could be used to create new opportunities:

Our online purchase funnel for insurance isn’t converting enough people, how do we improve it?

  • Tactical – What are users doing through the purchasing funnel, how do we identifying the functional barriers to completing and optimise the customer journeys to reduce the abandonment rate.
  • Disruptive thinking – What do people buy this insurance for? Does our product meet those needs? What would a product look like that does meet those needs?

Our telephone health information line is costing too much to run, how can we move this to a lower-cost digital channel?

  • Tactical – how can we design and build a website which provides access to high-quality health information.
  • Disruptive thinking – Why do people choose a ‘less convenient’ route to get this information (rather than through the current website or Google)? What support do they get on the phone that they don’t get via the web? What tools could we provide to the call handler to make this process more efficient? What tools do we need to develop to support customer in finding the information they need through existing information resources such as Google?

By asking “why?” we can then use usability testing, contextual enquiries, focus groups and other UX activities to uncover the unmet needs by observing the workarounds, and compensating behaviour that highlights the gaps and creates opportunities for growth, and product innovation.

The UX profession also has the skill to visualise the solution by creating interactive prototypes or product mock-ups to iteratively test and validate the new proposition at a relatively low cost. Ensuring that the customer’s needs are being met.


Disruptive thinking allows companies to find new growth opportunities, by understanding what customers use their products and services for. User Experience allows us to uncover those opportunities, and to provide a rapid mechanism designing and testing them.

Further Reading

  • The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth
  • Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business

Revolutionise the classroom?

The oft cited Steve Jobs autobiography described his desire to revolutionise learning and on the 19 Jan 2012 apple made their first move.

There Apple released the iTunesU and iBooks 2.0 apps, which  have been re-imagined for assisting classroom learning. That, alongside some worldwide strategic partnerships with several education publishing giants.

The event was the start of a strategy but what is it?

My view, based upon what was shown, is that the strategy is to give people a more convenient excuse to buy an iPad.

You can imagine the conversation:

  • Kid: Hey dad I *really* need an iPad.
  • Dad: What on earth for?
  • Kid: Apple have launched a new digital text book service which means I can study better and get a real boost in class.

The conversation will go on and on. In the end parental guilt will be invoked, and before you know it, dad will go to the Apple Store and buy the kid a new iPad; an iPad that will be used for everything else besides learning.

I’m reminded of the effort my friends and I expended to try to convince our parents that we needed a PC, or laptop for the exact same reason.

Sure, they were used for learning at first but inevitably they were used for other things. So is the destiny of the iPads bought to aid learning, eventually they will be used primarily to check email/Facebook/twitter, play games, watch films and listen to music.

I’m a passionate believer that technology can and does enhance our lives, and I honestly believe that there is a technology mix that will revolutionise the classroom but I can also say with certainty that what apple have announced so far will fall far short of that.

There problems to overcome are structural and behavioural.

Firstly, financially schools can not afford to provide an iPad for every student or even “one book for one student”  if they are to continue to provide the same level of student resources they do now. Currently, they buy books in bulk and recycle them between classes and school years. This keep costs down, allowing the school to provide equitable study resources to their students. The current commercial business model used by both Apple and Amazon are not inline with the financial realities of schools. Both need to look at a lending/leasing model, and to ownership transfer between devices. As this will give school the greatest flexibility on purchasing.

If schools are not going to provide the same level of resources they do now, then we have to accept that the classroom will become inequitable by design. Those with money will have access to higher quality resources than those without. Those without will continue to fall behind as the responsibility for provisioning learning materials moves from the school to the home.

Secondly there is currently an adequate solution. Classroom/textbook based learning is supplement by the internet. In the most part these resources are free, and just as immersive as anything that can be currently provided by an eBook. Essentially there is no incentive (in terms of lack of alternatives or not good enough solutions) to motivate the adoption of the technology as is.

Thirdly, provision of learning materials to be used out of class is problematic. In class students are forced to focus on the activity at hand. Out of the classroom, there are many more demands on their time, so students tend to cram and crib. It’s hard to imagine that any student (except for the highly motivated) will revisit a full or partial class lecture in their own time. However, iBooks does have an good enough solution, it allows a student to aggregate their notes as a single document (anchored to the page/text the note was attached to) which can be used speed up homework tasks. The problem is that apple is competing with a pervasive low cost existing technology, a notepad and pen!.

Over the past year I have delivered several business, web development, and programming focused lectures at several different schools. Each time I offer follow up, out of class, help and additional reading materials and as yet I’ve not had one student contact me outside of class. Perhaps I’m a poor teacher, or I explained everything so well that there was no need to follow up but having discussed this with friends and more broadly with teachers I see the same pattern emerge. Out of class a students priorities is elsewhere.

Lastly, i have no reason to suppose that the content producers will make the best of use of the technology provided. You only have to look at the eBook/enhanced eBooks currently available through iBooks and Kindle to see on the whole a striking lack of quality.

I read a lot of non-fiction eBooks via iPhone, iPad and Kindle (over 100 books in the past year) and i’m constantly frustrated with the poor quality. Tables aren’t displayed correctly,  images are two small and don’t scale when zoomed in, words are broken in the wrong places.

In my experience (and only in my experience) the production process isn’t mature enough to provide the fully immersive experience envisaged.

If this technology is to be used in the classroom to stream learning, so that the teacher can focus on the people with the greatest need (be it the worst or highest performing students) then what will the middle tier students loose through the poor production quality? More broadly, How will the transfer in responsibility for teaching (from teacher to interactive text book) effect the teachers, who’s role will become more akin to support then leading the learning experience?

There are massive opportunities to revolutionise the classroom: You can: restructure the learning environment to take into account the latest understanding about how students learn, use assistive technology to help students focus on work and remember things. Also there is definitely a place for more immersive technologies that can be bring alive learning materials, videos, audio, slideshows etc. but the adoption of these approaches shouldn’t be based upon the use of exclusive, expensive proprietary platforms.

The value of NHS Direct’s Health Information Service

“Hi Matt, I’m dying”.
It was 2.30 am and I had just been woken up by a call from my friend Amber. Earlier on that day she had discovered a lump in her breast and, along with identifying some other symptoms, she had no doubt that she was dying.
Her day had started normally, she felt fine. Got up, went for a run. It was when she was showering that she noticed the lump, about the size of a two pence piece. She felt a twinge of concern but had to get to work.
At lunchtime, when the twinge had started to turn into a knot of worry, she decided to hit the internet. “There’s no point in talking to the doctor yet, it could be nothing,” she told me. Instead, she loaded Google and started her own investigation.
It didn’t take long for the words breast cancer to fill her screen. “Has your breast changed?”, “Is the lump smooth or does it have uneven edges?”.
As she read she started to identify more symptoms: “Discharge?” Maybe. “Rash?” Yes. “Dimpling?” Yes…
By 3 pm her worry had blown up into a fully formed panic. She couldn’t concentrate on her work and had started to feel really unwell. She called her doctor for an appointment but couldn’t be seen until the morning. It was going to be a long night.
When she got home, she did some more investigation. Everything she read confirmed her diagnosis; she had cancer and was going to die!
At 10 am the next morning we were both sat in her doctor’s surgery and she was expecting the worse. Ten minutes later, armed with everything she had discovered about her condition, she went in to see the doctor.

Levels of appropriateness

When Amber first searched the vastness of the Internet she only knew one thing for sure; she had a lump in her breast.
A lump isn’t just a lump though.
Women in the UK are told from an early age that a breast lump could be cancer. The stage was set long before Amber saw the first screen of search results.
When she searched Google she was given over 6 million pieces of information to choose from, far too many to go through systematically. So she used the information she already had (a lump in my breast could be cancer) to narrow her search.
The more she read, the more she identified with the other symptoms of breast cancer. Her pre-existing knowledge, along with the search quickly focused her attention on answering one question: Do I have cancer?
The truth is that 9 out of 10 breast lumps are non-cancerous, but Google doesn’t discriminate in the way it gives people information. It wasn’t aware that Amber had only just noticed a lump, that she had no other obvious symptoms (before searching on the internet). It was simply responding to the keywords she entered into the search box.
At no point was she asked “Have your symptoms been assessed by a doctor?” and then pro-actively given information relevant to the reality of her situation: “You have noticed a lump which in a majority of cases is not cancer, make an appointment to see the doctor, but to put your mind at rest it’s more likely to be…”.
In fact, the more different pieces of information she read the more certain she became of her diagnosis. She was going to die.

Information revolution

The Internet has enabled an explosion of accessible health-related information to the public.
A study conducted by the London School of Economics states that 75% of the UK Internet population use the Internet to “search for advice about health, medicines or medical conditions[i]”.
Most start their search from one of the big search engines, giving them instant access to every piece of information published about any subject they could ever need to know about.
National health information websites fight for attention with individual experience blogs, support groups, Internet forums, commercial enterprises, drug companies and 1001 other different health information resources.
People are deluged with information but 75% of them cannot identify if the link they happen to select is trustworthy or not. Almost as importantly, most cannot assess whether the information they are reading is appropriate to their needs.

NHS Direct

NHS Direct provides a telephone service staffed by expert nurses and health information professionals, who are specially trained to sort through the myriad different health information resources available. They have a massive library of trustworthy websites, books and leaflets that match every stage of the health information journey. Most importantly, they know how to assess what stage the caller is at on their health information journey.
Had Amber called NHS Direct (rather than me) she would have been asked about her symptoms and then Sue (or one of the other expert members of staff) would have calmed her down, explained to her that in most cases it’s nothing to worry about, and advised her to make an appointment with the doctor to be on the safe side.
Sue would have then given her the information she needed to understand all the other bits of information she’s been reading: “Puckering is…”, “A rash means…”, as well as giving her some additional information explaining what else the lump could be.
Half an hour later Amber walked out of her doctor’s appointment, the lump turned out to be nothing to worry about. I asked her what had happened.
The doctor, she told me, had spent the first 15 minutes trying to calm her down so she could understand what she was saying. She then spent the next 15 minutes conducting a breast exam and reassuring her that everything was going to be okay.

Information overload

Opening up health information and making knowledge available to all is an important step in rebalancing health and social care in favour of patients. As such, it is part of the UK Government’s information revolution and choice agenda.
The convention goes that the more information we make available, the better off people will be, but recent studies have shown people find it hard to make choices when they are given too much information. Simply, the availability of the information itself prevents a person from analysing the different outcomes rationally, leading them to rely on rules-of-thumb to make their decisions about the information they consume and what they should do next:
A lump in my breast is cancer > I’ll find out about cancer.
Without providing the tools to assess the credibility of information and if it is appropriate to our patients’ needs, we risk putting an unreasonable burden on people like Amber to make sense of the many disparate pieces of information available and then to join them up in the correct way.

UX Delivery Framework

Every project has different outputs and needs. This framework approach allows me to focus less on a rigid process and more on addressing the business and customer goals. Depending on the nature of the project I will implement one of more of the following steps. For example, if the client requires a new solution definition, conceptualisation and evaluation may be necessary. If the project is already in progress only the evaluation may be required.

Definition – What is the problem space?

Definition is intended to establish what the intention of the project is, to understand what’s happening now and how it differs from what needs to be achieved. The focus is on understanding the business, technical and user goals and to tum them into measurable outcomes.

Key output: High-level functional specification

Can include: project scoping document, business case, stakeholder workgroups, user research plan, user research activities, mental models, personas, business process models.

Conceptualisation – What will the solution look like?

Conceptualisation turns the high-level functional specification into a full functional specification including: wireframes, prototypes and user journeys, which are delivered to the design and development production teams. Throughout these steps the solution is validated against business, user and technical goals and revised where necessary through a project control process.

Key output: Full functional specification

Can include: wireframes, user journeys, prototypes, information architecture, stakeholder management, supplier management, technical liaison

Evaluation – Does the solution meet the intended outcome?

Evaluation allows for the specific measurement of the project against the stated business goals. Evaluation can be implemented prior to the definition phase to provide a benchmark for the next phase of development.

Key output: Evaluation report and next steps

Can include: usability testing, expert review, keystroke level mapping, conversion optimisation, competitor analysis.

There’s snow need to worry!

Call me a cynic but I’m a little sceptical of most companies social media policies; usually, they’re just another route for further direct marketing.

However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the use to which Blue Star busses and First Buses Hampshire have put their Facebook pages.

Throughout the recent cold snap, both have used their accounts to give frequent updates about the road conditions and changes to bus routes affected by snow.

The staff have been manning the pages throughout the day and night, giving early warning of all changes and delays.

As a regular public transport user, I’ve been very grateful, ensuring that I can get to where I need to go without much fuss.

Using social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to support your customers, respond to queries and provide transparency is real-world usability, straight out of the book.

Anyone familiar with Jakob Neilsen’s usability heuristics will recognise the following:

1. Visibility of system status

The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within a reasonable time.

2. Match between system and the real world

The system should speak the users’ language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.

3. Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors

Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.

4. Help and documentation

Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user’s task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.

The interesting thing is that the system, in this case, is complex, made up of the delivery platform, in-office business representatives, bus drivers and customers.

The platform is being used as an agent to ensure that the real word system notifies and supports its users in completing their tasks.

For a usability geek, the snow has been a lot of fun 🙂

Nudge me will ya!

The health minister is empowering councils to “nudge” us into a healthier lifestyle

This phrase confirms that David Cameron and the “compassionate conservatives” are acting on their consultations with Prof. Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler about social policy reform.

For those of you who don’t recognise the names, Prof. Sunstein is currently the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Thaler is a behavioural economist most noted for his work with Daniel Kahneman and
Amos Tversky on the Nobel prize winning prospect theory.

Together they co-authored Nudge, a book about choice architecture, which is way of thinking about people and the choices they have, to improve the quality of decision making about “Health, Wealth, and Happiness”.

In essence nudge is about understanding that human beings are not “rational agents” (I.e. given all the information a person will always make the best possible decision) and that through a series of rules of thumb (heuristics), constraints and errors of thinking (cognitive errors) humans tend to behave less rationally. The book describes some of the common errors we make and shows how to encourage people to make better decisions. On the whole it is a fascinating book and well worth the read.

However, the idea that our behaviour is being subtly influenced, by the way choices are offered to us, by any governing party leaves me feeling a little cold.

I’m not intending to sound like a bleeding heart liberal. I can see a lot of benefit in designing a way to offer choice, while reducing the burden on the population to process and understand complex information, across multiple verticals.

I’m also aware that this happens anyway and I’d personally prefer someone, who’s informed, to be responsible for designing my choices then for it to happen adhoc with unknown consequences.

The reason my blood runs cold is simply that it’s the conservative party that’s doing it! This is not a statement on my political affiliation but is simply an extension of thought about choice architecture. If someone can design a way for me to make better choices by understanding my errors in thinking then surely my understanding of that persons motivations is as clouded by the same errors.

Think about it this way, I grew up under a conservative government. I remember the party being mired by the poll tax scandal, sleaze, individual self interest and rampant capitalism. They left power in 1997 with an extremely low poll rating and took 13 years to become a credible force in politics again.

It is quite possible that in the last 13 years the conservative party have changed. That they are the party of a fairer, equal society but for some reason I just can’t buy it. (Baring in mind, they are openly using an approach to encourage people to make better decisions (on who’s agenda?) which some could view as coercive and you can start to see my problem). Perhaps John Major was right and England is a “country of long shadows” and my cynicism is simply an instance of the Semmelweis effect, a “reflex-like rejection of new knowledge because it contradicts entrenched norms”, perhaps?

Ultimately though I applaud the government for being open about what they are doing, and why. If I were them though I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a backlash, as people misjudge their motivations.

Let’s hope Thaler at least taught them about some other errors in thinking, which might cast doubt on their (no-doubt) good intentions.

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