Life isn’t fair

I’ve heard this many a time from an emotional child (or adult), “It’s not fair!”

This got me thinking.  What is fair?  Where does this idea come from?  Clearly even animals can sense when something isn’t fair.  Check out this video showing what I mean. (1 min)

Where does this feeling come from?  Why do we constantly compare our lives to our surroundings.  Can’t we just be happy with what we have?  Clearly not.  Saying to the monkey, “Hey, it’s better than starving to death.”

I’ve often tried to teach perspective (unsuccessfully) to my kids. They seem incapable of seeing how much good they have.  Our brains are wacky things.

A colleague (Atanasio) said something very interesting about the subject.

He said, “There is this knowledge buried deep in all living things that there is something perfect…fair.  However, we also know and feel (on a regular basis) that THIS (our reality) isn’t it.  Where we live and breathe isn’t perfect and isn’t fair. This perfect place is somewhere else.  The real question is whether that other perfect place exists.”

Here are a few pithy quotes I roll out to people on this subject:

  • In life, you don’t get what you deserve.  You get what you negotiate.
  • It’s not about compromise.  You win some and you lose some.
  • Bad luck is just good karma for the future.
  • The only thing you can control is you.  Look on the bright side.

Anyway, this is what I was thinking about this week.

Is an App company or a Platform? has been a big part of my thinking over the past 7 years.  They were one of the first SaaS B2B companies to get super big. (12,000+ employees)  Additionally, they were one of the first B2B systems to have an app store and platform.  I am a serious admirer of what they have accomplished.

The history is interesting.  Way back in the day, Intuit Quickbase was the first system I saw that put a user interface on top of a database.  It allowed mere mortals to create interesting systems on their own without a DBA.  The problem with Quickbase is that it had no context.  It just allowed you to build what you want.  This made sales difficult. What was it?

Salesforce improved the model by building an out-of-the-box sales solution.  Originally it was called SFA (SalesForce Automation).  Then it changed names to CRM (Customer Relationship Management). It’s the same thing, but CRM costs more and is more open to extensions. (Words matter!)

With SFA, they could sell a “solution” for sales and not just a generic “system”.  (Solutions trump systems).  This started a revolution in sales tools which moved from on-premise software (Seibel, Oracle) to the cloud.  SaaS software models allow for easier upgrading and maintenance.  Salesforce took off like a rocket.

Then, and this is the interesting part, Salesforce built a massive amount of APIs (application programming interfaces) along with a special language that you could build extensions to Salesforce that ran on their servers.  It was called Apex (it’s changed names a few times over the years).

This allowed Salesforce to legitimately claim to be a platform.  Companies could build software using Apex and integrate through their cloud APIs.  This was a big deal in the software world.  The company I work for (Marketo), took advantage of this cutting edge platform and built a super deluxe integration (bi-directional sync) and software extension inside Salesforce (Sales Insight).

Our own success had alot to do with how well they created their APIs.  Having sales and marketing alignment is difficult if the two systems don’t talk to one another.  After all, Great APIs make great partners.

Ok, so here comes the rub.  Salesforce was selling their sales solution and we were selling our marketing solution.  All is well.  Then Salesforce decided to buy some marketing companies.  First Radian6 (a social listening app); then Buddy Media (a social app generator) and finally ExactTarget (Bulk Emailer).  ExactTarget had previously purchased Pardot, a marketing automation solution, so they came along for the ride too. All of the sudden, the partnership veered towards competitiveness.

Here, Salesforce was left with an interesting decision.  Should they be a platform and allow all competitors fair treatment to compete?  Or should they be an application company and shut out their partners competitors?

It’s interesting to think about how Microsoft does things since they are the world’s most powerful platform.  Do they bar Oracle or IBM or Apple from presenting at Microsoft sponsored events because they compete with them?  I actually don’t know the answer. Anyone know?

I know that Apple doesn’t de-list Microsoft PowerPoint from the iTunes app store just because they have competitive products like Keynote.  There are words like coopetition or frenemies that describes these complex relationships.

Salesforce is having their big annual summit in San Francisco this week.  It’s the first time in 7 years that I am not attending.  I love the SaaS innovative with great APIs and strong programming platform.  However, I don’t love the that feels threatened by supportive partners.

I wish Salesforce would lean more towards identifying as a cloud platform.  The world needs that. It spurs innovation in countless business sectors.  There is actually a ton they could improve to become the “Windows of the Web”.  However, if they keep leaning towards being an application company, it becomes a barrier for young startups to build on Apex.  A company needs their platform to remain stable.  If Salesforce took the high road, I believe (with very little data to base this opinion on) that they would benefit more in the long run.

With all that said, I am still left with the question.  Who do they want to be?  A competitive app company? or a SaaS platform?  It’s hard to be both.  I could go on, but I think sometimes a good question is good enough for a blog post.

The UX Questions of Self-Driving Cars

We are tantalizingly close to having a car experience that is more akin to a train, bus or plane.  We get in, we sit and read and when we arrive we get out.  All we need is self-driving cars.  I really want this world to exist, but there are many hurdles to work through.  For instance:

What if a deer/child pops out of nowhere?  Is it possible to avoid ALL accidents?  I think this is unlikely.  So what happens when something bad happens?  I imagine the car would pull over and you would have to do something to get it to go again.  Would hit/run be impossible?  Would the police (and insurance companies) be automatically notified?  What if someone hit you with a non-self-driving car?  Would they be able to speed off?  Would the car have video to automatically capture the other car’s info?

If you want to go 1000 miles away, how does it decide where to get gas?  Would you be able to force it to keep going?  Would it complain?  What happens if you run out of gas/electricity on the road?  Does it automatically call a tow truck?  or a charger truck?

Broken parts
Flat tires, blown radiators, etc etc.  Does it pull over and call for help?  What if the oil is low?  Would it do the same thing as gas?  Complain?  How responsive would it be to your input?

Would you be forced to go the speed limit?  I’m actually OK with this because it gives me more time to read or sleep.  Would sleeping be allowed?  Geez, I hope so.  What if you are in a rush?  Baby, Hospital, etc.  Would you be able to say, “Hurry!!”

Ownership and carpooling
Would it make sense to share a car if your schedules are divergent? Like, 2-5 people could “carpool” and use one car.  What do you do if there is a conflict.  Speaking of which, carpooling would still be a good thing.  Maybe a service where the car picks you up.  Sort of a bus model but with thousands of buses and 2-5 passengers.  So many possible services.

Form factor
Will cars take the shape of a circular couch?  A bed?  Will there be a resurgence of car sex..except while driving?  Will they come with TVs and surround sound?  Will there be a new resurgence of after-market electronics?  After-market electronic theft?

I assume that stealing cars will be different.  However, even grabbing a car via a tow truck will yield problems because of the built-in GPS.

I’m really excited for the future, but all of these things are going to through several iterations.  I am confident that we, as a society, will figure them all out.

Corporate Acupuncture

In the corporate body, there are pressure points.  These pressure points can yield disproportionate gain (or pain) throughout the enterprise.  Corporate Acupuncture is the art of finding those pressure points and applying some UX love to generate big results.

Sometimes, the pressure points are due to individuals.  A great individual contributor can be leveraged on the right project to move the ball forward.  Other times, the topic itself is the pressure point.  For example, improving education UX can greatly reduce customer churn.

It even works on a micro-level.  On one team, sometimes an individual has a high level of charisma.  They can affect the overall team attitude.  Focus on them and you will raise the level of the entire team.

All of this is about being strategic with your time and energy.  Where can you make a difference?  Who can multiply your efforts into a more effective outcome?  What topics are really more important to helping the company overall. (What you decide NOT to do is just as important as what you decide to do.)

Be the little pin hitting just the right nerve and you can make alot more change than you think.

UX Design Principles

I was at an enterprise designer meetup last night.  An interesting topic came up which was, “What are your enterprise design principles?”  I thought I had collected quite a few over the years that have helped me design.  Here they are with very short explanations.

1. Don’t move the cheese
If a user knows how to do something, don’t move it.  It’s annoying to relearn muscle memory.  If you HAVE to move something, prepare for alot of angry customers. More details on moving the cheese.

2. Simple things should be simple.  Complex things should be possible.
Part of this means, “use intelligent defaults”.  When you add something, have it in working order right away.  Allow the user to do the happy path right away.  Power Users don’t mind jumping through hoops to make their edge cases work.  In other words, don’t burden the beginner/intermediate users with advanced features.  Hide them inside “edit details” actions.

3. Customers can’t afford to pay attention.
They already pay for your product.  Now you want them to pay attention too??  You are greedy.  Realistically, users don’t read instructions and don’t pay attention to details.  Make things obvious, or better yet, just do the right thing for them and don’t allow bad behavior.  More details on user distraction.

Great example:  In JIRA, I did a search and it said, “No results.”  In a line way underneath it said, “Maybe you should login.”  My principle would be to protect the user and forward them automatically to the login screen.

4. Remember the three travelers
It’s a story about three experiences.  Perfect, Terrible and Bad at first with a positive recovery.  See details about the three travelers.  The punchline is that bad at first with a positive recovery is actually better than perfect.  (Spoiler: Perfect doesn’t actually exist)

5. Consistent is better than perfect.
It’s always tempting to design the perfect UI for every specific situation.  It’s better to be consistent with the rest of the application than to introduce new patterns all the time.  New designers to an organization are often tempted to invent all new patterns.  Users don’t appreciate it.  They want consistency. More details on consistency.

6. Minimum Lovable Product – not Viable.
I hate minimum viable products (MVPs).  They usually suck and are lame.  People don’t want task completion.  They want a delightful experience.  Make sure it’s lovable.  It’s not about features, it’s about the quality of the feature you release.  People don’t remember the date you released.  They remember how it made them feel when they first used it. More details on MLP.

7. Five pennies is better than one dime.
Ask any child and they know it’s true.  Five small features trump one big one.  Instead of delivering big features all the time, release a bunch of small features that are easy to love.  More details on Five Pennies.  Also more details on how the little things matter.

8. Fun to use is better than easy to learn.
Lots of things are hard to learn.  Surfing, skiing, tennis, chess, UX, programming, guitar, etc etc.  Yet people obsess about them and do them all the time.  Why?  Because they are fun.  Make your application fun and it will pay off in the long run.  Not stupid fun (like with useless irrelevant gamification), but fun in that it makes people happy to use.  A great designer should aspire to a design that thrills people to use. More details on product fun.

9. Don’t fall in love with your own work.
A wise man once told me, you have to learn to eat your young as a designer.  We called it “Eating your baby”.  When a better idea comes along, you throw away the old and focus on the new.  A great designer knows when a better idea is presented and immediately adopts it.  More details on Eating your baby.

10. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you have to be proud of it.
I have two bars: Perfect and Proud.  As long as it’s over the Proud line, then I feel good about releasing it.  Enterprise software is impossible make perfect and include all the features needed.  But don’t accept it if you aren’t even proud of it.  We use a concept at work called “Chips”.  When you care alot about it and it’s not making you proud, you can say, “I am willing to use my chips on this.”  We don’t keep track of chips, but people know you are serious when you go “all in”.

Ten principles seems like a nice round number. I love these principles and they guide me every day.  I hope they help you in your UX journey too.

Practical Wisdom

I just finished reading Practical Wisdom by Barry Schwartz. (Author of the great book The Paradox of Choice. – not to be confused with The Wisdom of Crowds, also a great book.) Practical Wisdom is a decent book, but more importantly, it points the way to design our ideal civilization.

The book points out how incentives are often ill-designed and elicit the wrong behavior.  Example: Teachers aim for test scores instead of engaged, interested curious students.  Also, that writing down rules for every situation is virtually impossible because of the nuance and complexity of the real world.  Example: Mandatory sentencing has filled our jails with people who are no threat to society.

I find that, as a design manager, you can’t just write down all the rules or make blunt incentives for designers and expect the right outcomes.  It takes judgement, talent and experience to make the right decisions.  There are design principles, but they must be applied with practical wisdom.

The book make me think of the “right size” of something.  Take the following example:


Stress is a good thing up to a point.  Too much or too little is less than ideal.  Some stress gives you energy and purpose.  The same can be said for all sorts of things like alcohol, games, studying, water, exercise, sex, food, honesty, war, aggression, etc etc.

War might strike you as “any is too much”, but when a nation is running rampant over other countries, war is better than appeasement.  Too much, of course is awful.

We live in a complex and wonderful world that is easy (and hard) to change.  Some change is good, too much is bad.

One should be aware of their enviorment and ask the question, “Is this the right amount?  Am I using practical wisdom here? or am I just trying to follow the rules?”

GPS Broken in my Samsung Note 3

I need my phone to do about 2 things:  Call Katie and Google Maps.  I have a terrible sense of direction.  When I was younger I would drive with paper maps.  I would need to pull over every mile or so to make sure I was where I was supposed to be.

The navigation feature of a phone is absolutely brilliant and has changed my driving life.  I love how Google Maps looks and works.

By the way, most car manufacturers have GPS maps build in to the car.  They look like shit.  Why is this?  They know what Google looks like.  I am sure they could license the technology.  It’s pathetic how poor of an experience most car GPS systems are.  (I’ve heard that BMW may have improved theirs recently).

Anyway, Google Maps is great, but about 4 months ago, my GPS started acting all weird.  It would spin in a circle.  It would turn me sideways traveling 65 miles an hour on the highway.  It would put me in the woods to the left of the highway on a regular basis.  Google Maps became useless.

I tried everything.  I tried other map software (waze). I tried to fix the GPS with several apps.  I got a replacement SIM card.  Factory default reset. Exorcism with an ancient Egyptian talisman. Nothing worked.  Finally, I took it to the Verizon store and they said they fixed it in about 2 seconds.  Wrong, nice try.  It was still broken.  So they FINALLY ordered me a replacement.

Now it’s fixed.  There was something wrong with the hardware, but I can not say for sure what it was.

Now it’s fixed and it’s all good.  Back to the miracle of modern science.  It’s amazing how something can be so powerful and then so useless, all because of a broken doodad.

UX = User Experience