Streaming Video Services Compared 2015

Recently, I have turned out Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and DirecTV. They all have certain benefits and different UX. This isn’t a comprehensive review, but hopefully is helpful to you.

There are so many ways to use these services. The xBox, native TV apps, DirecTV, Roku, Amazon Fire stick, WDTV, iPad, Android Phone, desktop PC, etc etc. It’s staggering how many different modes of delivery there are. This must be a business development professionals dream come true. For example, Amazon allowed Hulu Plus on their Fire TV. It’s hard to tell which is better on which platform.

Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime on the iPad is great. It never freezes, the user interface is excellent. I especially like the plus/minus 10 seconds buttons. It works exactly as I would hope and is quick to boot. I love how it remembers where I was in each episode. The FireTV Stick has a nice remote and works well. Lastly, their original content has been pretty good. The collection of stream-able shows is not that broad. I wished it had more content. Amazon is also not on as many devices as I would like, specifically WDTV and DirecTV lack the functionality.

Netflix
Netflix freezes all the time. I don’t know why, but it’s annoying the shit out of me. The iPad app looks like crap. he buttons are small and placed in unfortunate spots where my fingers accidentally hit them. Netflix is integrated directly into my remove control with a big “Netflix button” on it. Generally, it’s slow and buggy. I am really surprised about this. They have enormous resources and should be better. Netflix has excellent content including a broad set of shows/movies. The original stuff is pretty great including Arrested Development and House of Cards.

netflixRemote

 

Hulu Plus
Hulu Plus has a ton of content, but also has commercials that you can not skip. For some shows, they put the commercials in the beginning which isn’t so bad. However, some shows have the commercials every 2 seconds (slight exaggeration). Because of the commercials, fast forwarding to the spot you last watched is a real pain in the ass. I love the content, but I’d rather pay a little more to get rid of the commercials. The speed is hit/miss. I have had some freezing issues.

DirecTV
DirecTV has many onDemand shows that can be downloaded. I really like the system in general, but the selection is very limited. Additionally, movies are like $8 to watch one time. This is way too much money for a movie you can stream from one of the other services for a monthly cost. DirecTV needs to fix this model and sell a monthly subscription fee for the right to watch movies for free.

There are other ways to stream video including from your own server with a USB drive holding the movies on it. It’s not simple currently and streaming is getting better and better. With 4k movies coming in the next few years, our collective bandwidth consumption is going to be staggering. I need to upgrade to from cable to fiber. If only it were available in my neighborhood! (fingers crossed)

 

The UX of Windows 10 (Part 1)

I’ve been using Windows 10 for a couple of months now. I have been a beta tester of every windows operating system since Windows 95. I am not an Apple Fanboy by any stretch. I have been a fan of Microsoft products include Office for decades. I think I can be fairly objective here.

In a nutshell, Windows 10 is an unfinished piece of shit operating system that is completely off base for the majority of its users.

I say this with all due respect. It’s a massive piece of software and the platform of choice for most businesses. It’s not easy to make it good. However, as a UX designer, my critique is pretty harsh. Here are some of my complaints:

Using Windows 10 on a Desktop
Like most people, I don’t use my computer at Starbucks. I use it at my desk at home and at my desk at work. I have a large monitor, a keyboard and mouse. Microsoft is making all kinds of decisions that look like they are optimizing for a tablet (finger) experience. Take this example of the uninstall a program interface.

uninstallAProgram7
Windows 7

uninstallAProgram10
Windows 10

Notice in Windows 10, I can’t skim the choices. The font is bigger and the information is stacked in a way that makes it annoying to look at. The scrollbar goes all the way to the top, so I can’t change sorting without scrolling to the top. No longer a one-click change, it is 2 to change the sort (after scrolling). Overall, this is a horrible screen designed for a tablet and NOT a desktop with a mouse.

Microsoft has to do a much better job of realizing that I am not on a tablet.

Graphic Design
Google is the reigning king of graphics right now with Material Design. Microsoft had a chance to take it to the next level with the operating system. Instead, what I have looks unfinished and lame.

iconsWIndows10

Notice the complete inconsistent treatment of icons. It’s not too much to ask to have the windows explorer and the start menu match. Pick an icon collection and stick with it.

Disclaimer: My own house is not in order regarding icons, so I am being hypocritical, but it’s a mess nonetheless.

The dark charcoal color is also a bad idea. Why go dark? I think it’s just a mistake. Microsoft had a chance to at least MATCH material design if not improve upon it. This just looks worse to me. I know this topic is somewhat subjective, but I believe they didn’t get any WOW factor on the graphic design. Plus, the inconsistency is just objectively bad.

I hate when people say “Clean” and “Modern” to try and describe what they made. They are meaningless adjectives. What I see is a removal of functionality and a boring presentation. Take this sample screen regarding the background image.

backgroundWindows10

 

From a design standpoint, I see many flaws. Notice how the background ON state (blue) goes to the edges, but the search boxes and the drop down boxes float with a border. I think mixing borders and flat design clashes.

But overall, the interface on the right does a terrible job of information architecture and space management. They have the picture and the fit taking up the whole space as equal choices with a massive preview. I hate the whole thing.

Confusing Functionality Architecture
You know they have two different control panels? You can actually uninstall a program from two different places. See picture below. They don’t look anything alike.

 

controlPanelWindows10

Microsoft, you have to decide on a graphic design and play it out 100%. Stop half-assing this. Pick ONE control panel and stick with it. Convert all of the functionality. Stop making me hunt around for what I need. I used to know where things were. Now it’s a mess.

I could keep going with critique:

  • Several programs stopped working
  • The cortana thing is confusing the shit out of me. I asked it to “Launch Microsoft Word”. It failed. It doesn’t really know how to do anything on a desktop. It’s designed for a phone.
  • I can never find what I am looking for in the search. Stop searching the web. I know how to Google things. Fuck off and default to searching local. If I want to search the web I will open a browser and go to Google.
  • The empty states are often completely empty
  • There is no personality anywhere that I can find
  • I don’t want any metro apps. Never, ever ever on my desktop. It’s not a tablet, stop acting like I want to touch my monitor.
  • Search is slow. I typed in “Word” (for Microsoft Word) and it never showed me the answer. I stopped counting after 60 seconds.
  • Multiple desktops is buried and I’m not sure why I would use it.

OK, I can’t go on. I am so angry with this operating system.

The core problem is that Microsoft thinks Mobile is more important than desktop and they are wrong. The vast majority of people in world using Windows 10 are sitting in a chair at a desk. I think they really screwed the pooch over this.

If I can take it, I’ll do a part 2. Grade so far: F

Summer Sabbatical 2015

In many silicon valley companies, you can earn a sabbatical after 7 years in the same company. While many people jump from company to company each year, I have been lucky enough to find a home for a longer period of time. So this summer, I decided to take my vacation (2 weeks) and sabbatical (6 weeks) all in one.

My plan is to play alot of tennis, do household projects (like a new front door) and try to compile this blog into a book.  So far, the tennis is going well and some projects have progressed forward.  The book is going a little slower than I would have liked. I have a table of contents all worked out, but I feel like the blog posts only give me the idea, not the written text. I basically need to rewrite it all.  It’s like writing 50 blog posts in 6 weeks.

Well, no one told me writing a book was easy.

I started using Adobe InDesign, but switched to Microsoft Word 2016 beta instead. Indesign was giving me too much grief in the writing process.  When all of the text is done, I will consider laying it out again in Adobe, but for now, I just need a good editor.

Two friends (Team JenAnna) have agreed to help me with Illustrations. Hopefully, I can make it worth their while. I’ve written 13 pages so far.  Not nearly enough.

Other than the book, I am sleeping well and relatively stress free. For anyone who has earned the benefit, I definitely recommend it.

 

The UX of Maui

I just got back from a vacation to Maui, Hawaii. It was the first trip that I had taken without my extended family (siblings, parents, cousins, etc) in decades. I haven’t traveled much, so this was a new adventure. I went just with my atomic family (wife/kids). Here is a quick run down of some of the things we did:

  • Stayed at a fancy resort
  • Swam in the pool
  • Swam in the ocean
  • Traditional Luau
  • Catamaran Sailing
  • Snorkel at Molokini Crater
  • Canoe Sailing with more Snorkeling
  • Tried out Scuba
  • Tour of Lahaina (Including the Banyan Tree)
  • Tour of Maui – The Road to Hana
  • Kids had a surfing lesson
  • Fancy and local meals including but not limited to:

It was alot of stuff and I think we balanced out the trip so it wasn’t too much of a whirlwind.

The thing I will remember most is the interactions we had with the tour guides on the road to Hana. I won’t recommend them because they were terrible, borderline criminal. However, it gave me a very strong impression of what life is like on Maui.

Metaphor: There is a plant that was brought over to Maui hundreds of years ago called Chinese Bamboo. It’s not a useful plant, you can’t eat it, can’t smoke it and it’s ugly. However, it LOVES Maui. It grows and grows and grows and you can’t get rid of it. It’s called an invasive species and it ruins the local plant life.

Maui has been invaded by a different species that is ruining it’s native culture and also can not be stopped. It’s called industrialization, tourism and modernity. For hundreds of years, Sugar plantations have taken over the Maui landscape. They subsume a massive amount of fresh water. Sugar dominates the economy and local government. Then tourism arrived. The resorts take in an enormous amount of water. All of the restaurants catered to the rich influx of foreign visitors. Housing was bought up by rich celebrities. Oprah Winfrey is a huge presence on the island. Finally, modernity made it’s mark.

The local culture is slowly fading away. There is no stopping it. Just like the chinese bamboo, sugar, tourism and modernity are growing like wild on the island. The locals said they don’t want to end up like Oahu, which has been described as like Miami beach, all resorts. However, I don’t think they have much of a choice. The history of Maui is mostly a history of how big companies like Dole have manipulated governments and local residents into a money making machine. Another island, Lanai is owned 90% by Larry Ellison and only has 3600 residents left.

The whole thing makes me think of a native american reservation, except with nice beaches. The place is beautiful, but there is a certain sadness about it. We had a great time, but I am left with this feeling. It’s a facade, an illusion. It’s the matrix. I don’t mean to bum anyone out.

Blogging sometimes goes in unexpected directions.

Aloha.

 

The UX of Docs

For the last few years, I have been working on the hardest/longest project of my career.

http://docs.marketo.com – The Marketo User Manual

A few years back, I did a series of interviews of our customers. Specifically, I spoke to customers who thought the product was “too hard”. Turns out that part of the problem was the the documentation was suffering from the worst UX sins possible. These included:

  1. Factually incorrect/outdated content
  2. Poor tone (boring, cold, unfriendly)
  3. Verbose (like 10X longer than it needed to be)
  4. Complicated vocabulary
  5. Confusing, conflating multiple ideas
  6. Outdated and confusing pictures
  7. Poor organization

As a result of those interviews and our findings, the UX team (led by me) took ownership of the documentation process. It has been several years, but it finally is launched in public form. I tried to fix all of the sins mentioned and am quite proud of the results.

One thing I believe is that the UX team is actually a great group to give ownership of documentation. There are two primary reasons:

  1. No one knows the details as well as the designer of the feature
  2. Designers will make it fun and easy to read

However, there is a problem.  Designers are mostly (not all) prima donnas who think that writing docs is beneath them. I had a terrible time getting designers to pitch in.  Additionally, their skills at summarizing a design into a teachable article was shockingly poor. A great designer should be able to teach people how to use the product they design, wouldn’t you think?

Alas, it was not to be.  I found a couple of people who were willing to do the real work with me. (Shout out to Reza Farpour and Anna Zeman! – both were instrumental in getting this thing done.) They did a tremendous job, although after a while, it did wear even on them.

I consider the docs work to be true User Experience Design. When a customer is confused and doesn’t know how to achieve a goal, they either go to the community forums or look up the documentation. That is the moment you can come to the rescue with a simple walk-through and make them happy.

Good documentation contributes to good UX. It’s a chance to have personality and create an emotional connection. It usually hits people when they are at their most vulnerable. A great UX at that moment will create a super fan.

Technical detail: We used the Atlassian Confluence wiki as the CMS. It has this wonderful feature where you can paste (from the clipboard) any image. It automatically uploads it to the server. Not even my beloved WordPress can do that. This brilliant feature alone more than quadrupled our productivity.

I have recently handed the reigns of the site to another person. We think he will be a good custodian of the awesome nature of the site. I hope he will take good care of my baby. It has been the longest and most rewarding effort of my career.

When you get a chance, click HELP inside any application. Think about the UX.

Identity and Words

A person just declared to the world that they identify with a certain group. Their DNA contradicts that assertion.  Who am I talking about?

caitlyn-jenner
Bruce/Caitlin Jenner
racheldolezal
Rachel Dolezal

Bruce Jenner says, “I’m not a man. I am a woman.” The world says, “You go girl!” Rachel Dolezal says, “I am black” and the world responds, “No you aint!”

Why the double standard? What does it even mean to identify as black or female or any other label? Why do we feel the need as humans to classify things?

It turns out that classification is a critical part of human intelligence.  Our brains only have so much memory and CPU. We can’t unpack every single nuance about every single person. We need to group things together or we will lose our minds from the amount of data to be processed.

It’s impossible to treat all of humanity individually. We need to put labels on things so that we can make assumptions about them.  Assumptions that may be wrong some of the time.  Why do we make these assumptions? Simply to alleviate the mental workload of remembering all the details about each person. I can barely remember people’s names!

This line of thought led me to other labels.  Someone told me they are a “Designer”. I looked at their work and thought, “Not really.”  What does being a designer mean? If you WANT to be a designer, does it make you one?

What about being “Smart”? IQ clearly doesn’t measure things like empathy or awareness of others, which sometimes get thought of as “smart”.

Take an easy one. I’m “tall”. 6 foot 2 inches.  In the NBA I would be considered short, but compared to the average population I am tall. If I lossed my legs in a freak tractor accident, would I still be tall? Could I identify myself with tall people?

If I scan my consciousness into a nanobot swarm would I still be human?  What if I just has everything except my brain replaced with cyborgish material?  Is there a line?

Words are our most powerful tool to understand the world around us. Yet, they fall apart in almost every single instance of scrutiny.  Words are like humans.  They last a long time, but one good hit to the head and they die.

We either need better words or better brains.

 

Disruptions

In any disruption there are winners and losers. The internet has been the enabler to disrupt many businesses in the last 20 years. Some examples:

Music. Downloadable compressed audio enables ripping/pirating. Losers have been the record labels. Winners have been iTunes and small artists who want to get their name out there especially using YouTube and other sites.

Books. It’s nice to be in a bookstore, but it’s nicer to see reviews, recommendations all while in your pajamas. Winners have been Amazon and the small artists who want to self-publish. Losers have been book stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders.

Taxis. It’s been regulated for decades and become stable. However, location based phone apps have disrupted the entire sector. Winners like Uber and Lyft are displacing regular taxis.

Hotels. Winners like AirBnB come directly at the expense of hotels. Similar to taxis, the regulators are caught on their heels and don’t know what to do.

Travel. This got disrupted a long time ago, but the modern travel agent is an anachronism. This is still being disrupted as airlines and destination sites are all trying to become the hub for travel arrangements.

It’s happening all over the place. Job Seeking/Recruiting, Graphic Design, Engineering, Financial Advice and more. Disruption is a part of our lives now.

The question is: Will you be a loser or a winner when your sector is disrupted?