The UX of Product Management

What is the difference between User Experience Design and Product Management?  Additionally, should product management come out of the marketing department or the engineering department?  This issues are coming to the fore recently at work as we start to mature our process and organization.

I have seen it both ways. Both ways are bad.  Reporting to marketing leads to a disconnect with the engineering realities.  Reporting to engineering results in a disconnect to real people and real users.  Both ways lead to conflict between engineering and marketing.  And where is the design department?  We are stuck reporting up to one group or the other, neither of which understands why we exist.  Both seem to think we are supposed to make it look pretty.  “Design is the way things work, not how they look.” – Jobs

My personal feeling is that product management should report to neither department.  It should be its own thing.  It should empower the engineering department and the marketing department at the same time.  The marketing department represents the ideal world.  They should ask for the sun, the stars and the moon.  The engineering department represents the reality of production.  What can be handled in what amount of time?  They need details and specifics.  Marketing should not be forced to provide those details.  They should be blue sky.  Engineers should not be told they can not have details, that is just unfair.

By having the product management department as an independent group, then it is the function of that group to interpret the dreams of the marketin/business people and turn it into the details and reality of the engineers.  I described this exact thing to the Intuit CEO, Steve Bennett as a UX conference.  He didn’t get it, but I tried.  It is the role of the designer to understand both worlds and produce the bridge between them.

It is an exciting time for me, as I try to help bring about this and see if it works as well as I imagine.

The UX of voting machines

Katie and I voted this week. They used a new kind of electronic voting machine with some serious UX issues. To give them the good news first, they solved one of the most important issues. Before voting, the machine gave a PAPER version of your votes for your approval. It was under glass, but you could read it and make sure that you didn’t vote for Pat Buchanan. This was a good thing and made Katie happy.

However, there was alot of bad news. The picture to the right is an exact replica of the voting interface. Notice the large screen. Both Katie and I thought, for sure, that the screen was clickable with your finger like an ATM machine. It took me three hard raps with my finger to get the idea. It’s not clickable at all. The way to move the cursor is with the round dial at the bottom right. This was really odd to me. A dial is not the natural UI to move a mouse around the screen. It had a nice depression for my finger, but overall, I hated it. It was too sensitive and created a bizarre mental model for me that I just couldn’t figure out without forcibly ignoring the UX annoyances.

Another problem was the selection model. The button to press to “select” is to the left of the dial. My version of the machine had a green sticker on it, which helped a little. The button was fairly discoverable, but the problem was on the screen. The indication that a choice was selected, it filled a small box with a red background. Red denotes a problem, so it took me a little time to make sure it was ok. Then, the real annoyance set in. On a Yes/No vote, like a proposition, it was really hard to see which was selected and which wasn’t. I had to change my vote several times just to make sure that the red meant selected, as opposed to the exact opposite. My suggestion to them is to use a basic green checkmark. It’s so simple. Check means selected. Unchecked means not selected. Red is a bad choice. If it was green, it would have helped a bit, but the check is the right model.

A more serious error is the Vote Now button on the left. Forget that it is red. The process is:

  1. Click the red button when you are finished.
  2. Read the screen and review your choices. Click the red button a second time.
  3. Watch the paper ballot come out and read that and review it. Then click the red button a THIRD time to commit your vote.

Three times??? Seriously? Is that the best they could do? When I arrived to vote, the woman next to me said, “Excuse me (to the polling volunteer), I think the last person didn’t vote. It was stuck on the third vote, they only pressed twice. The volunteer informed me that this was happening alot. It was only 7:30AM, so I assume it continued through the day. This is a bad interaction design. If 1% people don’t understand how to vote, then the system is failing. My suggestion is to create 3 buttons. One called “1. Review Choices” another called “2. Prepare Vote” and the last one called “3. Finalize Vote”. And it would only let you click them in order.

My suggestion is really a band-aid. The system really needs a better model overall. My real suggestion would be to design the system better. Some possibilities:

  • Widen the screen and maintain the results of your vote in a column that is there the whole time. That way you never have to review the choices. They are there all the time.
  • Make review of the paper ballot optional. There are lots of people who want to review the paper ballot, and alot who do not. By making it optional, then you are making the people who want it “extra” happy. And it doesnt get in the way of the people who don’t care. Maybe the vote now button could say, “This is your last chance to see the paper version. Click “review paper version” or “Vote now” to finalize your vote. Big letters. (That was another problem. Small text.)

Lastly, the booths are fairly open. I wonder if this is to prevent tampering. However, it had the effect of making the vote seem less important and less private. Someone could look right over my shoulder and I wouldn’t know. I miss the big curtain that made a great sond when you opened and closed it. The device was not locked in it’s cabinet. Maybe if they made a more secure cabinet, they could bring back the curtain. I miss my curtain.

Anyway, we voted. I hope next year the interaction is a little bit more better.