Insights from Nebo

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April 27, 2009

The best user experiences are invisible

The most seamless user experiences are often the least noticeable. They just work. You google something and it returns the right results. It's a variation of Clarke's 3rd law, instead of "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic", it is: "Any sufficiently advanced user experience is invisible to the user."

This is the reason that projects include user personas and audience goals. The core objective of a website should be to allow users to accomplish the tasks they set out to accomplish in the most efficient way possible. Whether people are visiting to purchase, to request more information or to be entertained. A good user experience shouldn't get in the way of the user's tasks.

Now, there are times that you want the experience to be notable. That you want to communicate a little bit extra in your user interactions. In these cases an interface is designed to draw attention to itself. But, at these times the core experience still needs to be as seamless as possible. If you were to strip away the extras (the humorous responses etc) the core experience should be as close to invisible as possible.

So next time your deciding on whether to run unaffiliated network ads on your website, or whether to require a form before downloading a white paper—think to yourself, does this help or hinder my user's experience. Am I interrupting them on their tasks? Is there anyway to make this a more elegant process?

April 23, 2009

Surviving Short Term Success with Endurance

    I was checking out some pictures on Todd Huffman's Flickr account and saw he wrote something very quotable beneath one of his pictures. (Todd works with the FabLab for technology in Afghanistan)        
    Afghans are not impressed with might, but they do respect endurance.

    In light of the current economic crisis it has become increasingly clear that size is not equivalent with success. What you do today effects the brand tomorrow. While size does not imply a successful strategy, cutting spending now may not be a good idea

April 22, 2009

Quick thoughts on Google Profiles.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock today, you've probably heard about Google Profiles. In case you haven't, these are essentially simple profile pages that will show up in search results when some googles you.

As you'd expect from google, the setup process is super simple. Fill out a couple highlights, import your photos from flickr/picasa, add a couple links and you're done.

What I'm not so wild about is the implementation into the search results. The design approach seems lazy. They're just putting the profiles at the bottom of the first page and making the type slightly smaller. If you want it to just blend in with the results, then why even bother making the type smaller. And honestly, no one really wants to be on the bottom of the first page for their own name. Google being Google however, I'm sure that they're currently testing numerous iterations and will end up going with whatever version the data tells them is most effective.

That being said, it was only a matter of time before they took this step. So go grab your profile before someone else with your name steals it.

[caption id="attachment_243" align="alignnone" width="371" caption="Google Profiles Screen Grab"]Google Profiles Screen Grab[/caption]

April 21, 2009

The goal of process is to facilitate a positive outcome. Not create a deliverable.

I'm obsessed a bit with process. Not because process creates more efficiencies (often times it does the opposite), but because it helps get to the end result I'm looking for time after time.

That being said, I view process a little bit differently than others. I don't view process as a set of rigid steps that must be followed every single time. Instead I view it as a framework that should be interpreted to fit the strengths and style of the person who is using it to help them do their job.

A great example is the creative process we take before we start design on a project. The steps are very defined for the neboweb team. The first step is holding a long discovery meeting to really gain an understanding of the client's business, to grasp the challenges they're facing from a messaging perspective and get insight on the audiences whose opinions they are trying to change. Whether this is a multi-person meeting held in a sky-rise conference room or an informal meeting with the client over coffee, either way is fine as long as the outcome is the an in depth understanding of what we're trying to accomplish.

The second step is a writing a creative brief that summarizes the discoveries we've made and provides insight for the creative team to start concepting. A good creative brief states the context of the project, the communication challenge, the target audience mindset and the key messages we need to get across. In our case we use a template to make sure nothing is left off. There's not much flexibility in the style of document, but the open ended nature of the questions provides all the flexibility you need.

And because we're an interactive shop, the next step is wireframes. This step in particular provides some room for flexibility. If I'm working up wireframes myself, they're going to be essentially a grey version of the layouts with spacing, visual hierarchy and typography carefully considered.

However, I wouldn't expect a marketing manager working on an internal project for his/her company to approach wireframes in the same way. The most important element of wireframe isn't the layout. It's the content, the priority of that content and the key calls-to-action that you are trying to get a user to take. It's more valuable to spend an hour working on the content to be presented in the wireframe and the priority of that content, rather than spending an hour aligning items in Microsoft Visio. A generic wireframe with "lorem ipsum" is nothing more than an empty template that will be discarded as soon as it hits the designers desk.

A word document full of great content that is prioritized based on user goals with highlighted calls to action for the users to take is an infinitely more valuable deliverable than a templated wireframe, or marketing requirements document.

So next time you're thinking about process (or working through the steps of a process), remember that the goal of a process is to facilitate the final outcome you're looking for. It's not to create a series of rigid steps that can be checked off your list each morning. Each step taken is only as valuable as the quality of the product that results from it.

April 19, 2009

The value of defying the archetype.

Humans are hard-wired to create mental shortcuts based on their previous experiences and observations. Stereotypes, cultural archetypes and expectations all result from the assumption that past observations are prologue to future experience. Too many times these stereotypes are negative and predispose a person to having a bad experience. But, occasionally these negative expectations are defied in such a way the outcome is exactly the opposite of what you expect—the result is a sense of surprise, joy and happiness.

This is the reason Susan Boyle, and Paul Potts before her, became instant internet celebrities. They defied the stereotypes we associated with their professions and surprised the world with their immense talents. Had Paul Potts grown up in Rome, looked comfortable on stage and sported a tuxedo, the world wouldn't have been so thunderstruck. If Susan Boyle looked more like a diva and less like a small town church singer, then tears wouldn't have welled up in the eyes of the millions who watched her performance.

It was the element of surprise that led to such intense emotions in the viewing audience. By defying the archetype we associated with their skills, they created an exceptional experience. The unexpected was where the power of their performance derived.

This has a use in marketing as well. Think about how you can defy expectations and create a positive surprise in the user experience. Maybe it's as simple as a better error page that makes people laugh, or instead of 5 day shipping, automatically ship everything overnight (it works for zappo's).

In the end, the expected positive experience will never be as powerful as the unexpected one.