The UX of my Traffic Spike

Recently, I have seen a spike in the traffic to this blog.  Google Analytics is a great free tool to monitor traffic.  Just seeing the increasein traffic made me feel warm inside.  Like the way a stage actor feels when they get a round of applause.  It was a near doubling in overall traffic.  I figured, “Hey, people love me, they really really love me”

Traffic Spike

But if I learned anything from my friend Avinash Kaushik, King of Analytics, is that you must understand your data.  This spike was an illusion.  I couldn’t just sit and be happy with the nice curve.  I had to dig in a little further.  I changed the filter to show only posts that contain the words “UX” in them.  Since, I title my blog posts that way alot, it made sense.  Take a look.

containsUX

It was not the curve I saw before.  Plus the numbers were alot lower.  What was going on?  This is not the data I was just looking at.  I checked the Top Content report in Google and found an interesting trend.  I changed my filter to be for posts containing the word “Windows-7”.  This showed me a very interesting report.

containsWIndows

OK, now I understand.  Windows 7 was released.  People bought it, installed in and started Googling about it.  My site came up a bunch of times and boom, massive traffic spike.  My most popular post by alot is about Windows 7 video drivers.  I don’t even follow the comments anymore.  I have lost interest.  Look at the traffic for that one page.

windows7Video

It’s pretty obvious that the launch of Windows 7 has deluded me to thinking that User Experience was becoming more relevant.  I feel good about knowing the reality of the data, but I was happier with myself before I knew.  Ignorance is Bliss.

Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody

In a Muppet Mood, I guess.  Still this is brilliant.  I love Animal (about a minute in).

Go Muppets!

Sticky Personas

Ernie_bert_jim_frankYears ago, Alan Cooper pioneered the concept of personas, which are basically fictitious people who represent the customer.  They are stand-ins that are used to create empathy for the real people.  They are created by amalgamating different characteristics of potential customers into one pretend person.  Personas are very useful for decision making, especially for the question, “Who do we optimize this interface for?”  More details on personas here.

Most personas that I have seen are “generic”.  I mean that the name of the persona is Bob or Nancy or Jill.  Their pictures come from stock photos.

The problem with this approach is that the names are clearly fake and the people have no built in frame of reference.  Generic makes them inherently non-sticky.  A little over a year ago, I had worked on a new approach to personas that was meant to be more sticky.  I used Muppet characters.  I made two fictitious companies, one called Electric Mayhem, which had 50 employees and another called Sesame, Inc, which had 5,000 employees.  Each company had Muppet character employees, for which I described their job responsibilities, goals and points of view.  The language of the Muppets provided cultural references that people could understand even before I started describing them.

Gonzo, marketing director, was out there and would try anything.  Miss Piggy, field sales, was sweet until you messed up her sale, then KARATE CHOP!  Sam the Eagle is conservative and doesn’t want to try new things.  Each character brought a cultural reference and a memorable image.  I had an image of Kermit in a suit, so he became the CMO in a  large organization.

This didn’t imply a ton of behavior out of the box.  Besides being conservative, Sam the Eagle could have any job and have any goals that didn’t conflict with his Muppet character.  However, the imagery was fun and the names were sticky.  It was much easier to remember Bert and Ernie, the sales guys, versus the randomly named Alice and Chuck. The point of Personas is that they should become real parts of your development effort.  They are the customer.  Not some nameless faceless “user”, but Bert.  Bert is our customer and we love Bert.

Of course, you don’t have to use Muppets.  You can use any caricatures.  You can use super heroes, television stars, historical figures, ancient gods, cartoon characters, movie characters, etc.  Anything that has a culture reference and clear imagery.  It is critical that the persona has a clear memorable image so you can tap into the brains ability to remember images better than words.

By using Sticky Personas, I believe you will find it easier and more fun to incorporate them into your development process.  Give it a try.

NoteI love the Muppets, however a co-worker didn’t grow up with them, so the references didn’t make sense.  Also, I chose this picture because I wanted to demonstrate how personas are only as good as what you put into them.  It’s you, not the personas that make the magic.

The UX of my first Google Wave

You have to hand it to Google.  They innovate.  They come out with stuff that is new and different.  I like that about them.  It makes me want to use and buy their products.  Google Wave is a great example.

What is Google Wave?
I imagined the conversation when they pitched the idea.  In my mind it went something like this:

“You know how Good Docs works for a word doc?  How you can type while the other person is typing and you share the doc as a whole?  That’s super cool!  We should do that but in a more structured way.  Rather than a single page, it could have a whole thread of a conversation.  The ease of a Wiki, with the conversation of instant messenger, but the UI of email.”

See, that is out of the box thinking.  So the next question is important:

What do you do with it?
There is a Google Wave that gives some suggestions, but I can’t seem to link to it as a normal webpage.  I’ll just say what I did with it yesterday.  At Adchemy, we were talking about bringing an external speaker to inspire us. Some people mentioned how awesome it would be to get someone like Avinash Kaushik.  (Awesome indeed!  Buy the book!)  People started emailing comments to the whole company about which topics we would like or when we should set it up or even where they saw Avinash in other circumstances.  I thought, “Hey, maybe this should be a Google Wave”.

I set up the wave and thought, “this is a perfect forum for this conversation which includes links, votes and other details.”

What is wrong with Google Wave?
Good question, bad answer.  Alot is wrong.  First, very few people have Google Wave accounts, so getting people hooked into the system was difficult.  Next, once someone had a Google Wave account, it was incredibly difficult to add them to the wave.  There is no grouping.  I had to add people one at a time.  How can I do this for a hundred people??  The UI desperately needs groups.  We should be able to set up an Adchemy group either public or private so that we could add people in the company with one click.  I think any group larger than 4 people would be annoyed as heck with adding people to a Wave.

Second problem I saw was general bugs.  OK, I can cut Google some slack.  This is really early code.  However, I was incredibly frustrated that I couldn’t delete a test message in the wave.  Additionally, I couldn’t remove someone from the Wave that I accidentally added.  Lots of little buggy things.

Last problem is the scroll bar on a wave.  What is that thing?  It’s ready hard to use.  I just gave up on it and used the wheel mouse.  I hate the scroll thinger though.  I don’t know why it annoys me so much, but I hate it.

What is right with Google Wave?
The general model (if they fixed the issues) is great.  It’s highly interactive, easy to get going and easy to organize.  Great for collaborative note taking and event planning.  Once they get their API groove on, I imagine ALOT of uses, especially from mobile devices.  If I was at a conference, this would be a MUCH better record of the events versus a Hash Twitter label.  Twitter is not fun to browse.  Waves are much easier.  This thing has alot of potential.

Bottom Line
Same as the top line.  Google is innovating and I dig that about them. Wave has great potential, but is really rough around the edges right now.

The Gateway LT2016u Netbook from Verizon

This is just unbelieveable. Look at this Gateway Netbook from Verizon.

First of all, $99!  Are you kidding me?  That is ridiculously cheap.  It’s got the same power  as my EeePC that I bought for $350 and I carry with me all the time.  Plus it’s lighter!

Second, it comes with Verizon wireless built in.  That means it is basically a “connected” laptop 100% of the time.  So for $40 a month, you get ubiquitous connectivity in an easy-to-carry full-blow operating system.

This is incredible.  Of course, a full blow laptop is a little too big to put in your pocket and you wouldn’t want to hold it to your ear for a phone call.  However, it’s still an incredible value. It even has a built in camera for video conferencing.  Of course, I haven’t used my own camera for that yet.  I thought video conferencing would catch on a bit more.  But I digress.  Great value/device.

The UX of Droid

Katie lost her flip phone.  We just upgraded it last month and we didn’t purchase the insurance.  d’Oh!  Some kid picked it up and started calling all his friends saying, “Dude!  I just got a new phone, this is my new number!”  Katie was disappointed in the lack of goodness in her fellow citizens.

Ok, so we headed over to the Verizon Wireless store to get a replacement.  I have been medium-happy with my HTC Touch Pro 2, although the UI has many annoying aspects to it.  Plus the Microsoft App Market is pathetically small and expensive.  We talked to the Verizon reps and they said if we upgrade to the data plan, then we could get the discounted rate on a new PDA phone.

Choices: Windows Mobile, Blackberry and the brand new Droid.  I played with the Droid for about 3 minutes and became convinced that it was a superior choice.  (Blackberry can kiss my butt)  The only additional choice was to get the keyboard model or just the phone.  Since I have been using the keyboard, I suggested getting the fancier (uglier) model.

Fast forward 12 hours.  Here is what I can say:

User Interface: The Droid UI is much better than the Windows Mobile counterpart.   Everything is more iPhone-like on the droid.  An old co-worker from Intuit apparently works on the interaction design.  He was great, so I am not surprised that Android interaction is fun.  Simple things like the unlock mechanism make a huge difference.  The droid is fun and cute to unlock.  The Windows Mobile version is annoying.  Microsoft had years head start, how could they have totally blown it?  Ugh, anyway…

App Market. The Windows Mobile app marketplace is pathetic.  It has hundreds of apps and half of them cost about $10.  iPhone has hundreds of thousands of apps, many of them are free and the paid ones are usually about $1.  How the hell did the Droid market get so big so fast?  There seems to be an endless stream of apps from Google.  Who made them?  I can’t believe it.  They are easy to install and are priced right.  Most of the paid ones are still cheap.  I am really blown away by how quickly they got an app market together.  Anyone know what happened?  Did they make a free iPhone -> Droid converter or something?  One bad thing:  The app store was not very organized.  It did not seem possible to search for something and then filter it or do a sub-search.  Find the “right” app was very hard.

Aesthetics.  The keyboard version is ugly.  Very ugly.  That jog-mouse thing looks like an exposed chip or thumbprint scanner.

droid

Katie got a pink rubber sleeve which helps, but is not enough to make it look slick.  My HTC Touch Pro 2 is much better looking.  The Droid Eris has a cool little glowing ball on it for a mouse.  This thing is just clunky.

Keyaboard.  The keyboard could have been much easier.  It’s very hard to click the top row of keys.  The TouchPro 2 has a much better keyboard.  I would have chucked the weird gold thing on the right and just made the keyboard bigger.

Battery life, sound quality. Not so sure yet.  The one call we made sounded good.

Other details.  It’s got bluetooth and WiFi built in.  So far, no issues.  Very nice integration with Google products like Gmail, Calendar, etc, plus Facebook and Twitter.

Summary.  So far, so good.  Let’s see if Katie likes it.  We got the insurance on it this time.  The world of PDAs has definitely take a major step forward.  I think these devices will just get faster and better in the coming years.  I am excited to see the progress.

The UX of Dude

Last night, I helped out a company called CVSDude with some UX stuff.  An interesting question came up:  What does “Dude” mean in the United States?  Words have enormous power to frame what something is or isn’t.  To evoke imagery or emotions, words are often the most overlooked part of the user experience.

Here is a brief summary of my view on the word Dude:

  • A hundred years ago it meant a man who was dressed in a fancy sort of way.
  • In the early 80’s (when I grew up), it was a surfer term meaning Fellow Traveller or Friend.  Usually masculine.
  • In 1989, Keanu Reeves changed the texture of the term in the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  Dude became synonymous with someone stoned or dumb.  It meant anything you wanted it to mean with the right inflection.  Dude?  Dude!  Dude.  Still masculine.  (All we are is Dust in the Wind, Dude)
  • In the 90’s it went more mainstream.  It was used by normal people trying to be more counter-culture.  In other words, it was synonymous with “Hey”.  Less masculine.
  • In the last 10 years, it seems to have lost alot of its cultural underpinnings.  If someone uses the term, I think of it as a throwback.  Like someone saying, “Radical” or “Trippy”.    It’s not that uncommon, but it has a stale feel to it.

Words.  It’s what truly separate us from animals.  Without words, we are still living in a tree.

References:

  1. A history of the word Dude.
  2. Wikipedia: Dude

1944 was fun

Watch this video.  1944 knew how to entertain.

You gotta see it to the end. Ethan asked if it was special effects.

Google Storage WOW Experience

I got this email the other day from Google.

Hi,

We wanted to let you know about some exciting changes to your Google paid storage plan. While storage costs have dropped naturally in the past few years, we’ve also been working hard to improve our infrastructure to reduce your costs even further. On Tuesday, November 10th, we increased the size of each of our tiers to make storage even more affordable and accessible. We’ve replaced your $75 plan with one that only costs $50, and instead of 40 GB you’ll get 200 GB, 5 times as much storage. Your current plan will be automatically upgraded and your new quota will automatically show up in your account in the next 24 hours.

I’ve highlighted the incredible WOW portion.  They reduced the price that I already agreed to pay and gave me a ton more storage.  This is a great user experience and deserves some of my loyalty.  Thanks Google.

The UX of Office 2010b2

It took me a looooong time to get Office 2010 beta 2 installed.  Uninstalling 2010b1 was a disaster.  I had to manually remove hundreds of registry keys to kill the thing.  Finally, I got the new version installed.  This is a very interesting release.  Microsoft has spent quite a bit of time working on the subtlties of the interaction design.   Here is my overall review based on the first week of using it:

Icons.  Look at these.  What do they remind you of?  Adobe Icons?  To me, they look like Scrabble tiles.

officeIcons

Someone else here looked at them and thought they look like a bunch of Laffy Taffy.  I think they are not inspired.  They look amateurish.  Sorry guys.

The Ribbon.  The notorious ribbon has been debated countless times.  At first (2006), I was not happy.  However, I have gotten used to it and I don’t hate it so much.  The latest beta fixed a long standing issue I had with it.  You can now minimize it easily.  Additionally, they finally added in the ability to customize the ribbon to your needs.  It could be easier, but at least it’s possible.  You can even make your own tabs, finally.  Overall, nice improvements to the ribbon.  Outlook now has the ribbon, one of the last holdouts from Office 2007.

Outlook.  I have been using Outlook 201 exclusively for quite some time.  However, when I started at Adchemy, I had to go back to Outlook 2007.  I had forgotten all of the improvements they put into the new Outlook.  The threaded discussion model is much more intuitive and generally works alot better than it’s predecessor.

SkyDrive.  This is something I had not seen previously.  It’s pretty incredible.  You save your file (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc) to the web.  Basically to your Hotmail account.  Then you can edit it locally or edit it with a modern browser.  The functionality is strong, with a pleasant UI.  I think they all looked better than Google Docs, but the functionality was about the same.  The spreadsheet app lacked Array Formulas, which actually are a critical feature for any serious Excel jockey, which Google Docs does have.  Additionally, the performance seemed a bit slow, although I was looking at it on my underpowered Netbook.  I hope they take performance seriously on these, as it could kill the usability and experience.  Lastly, I noticed especially that these were regular HTML/JS apps, not Silverlight applications.

skyExcel

Question:  If you were Microsoft, and you had to build a web version of an Office application; would you choose Silverlight or HTML/JS?  I don’t know if I would’ve made the same choice.

By the way, SkyDrive gives you 25G for free.  That is alot of space per person.  Pretty awesome.  Overall, SkyDrive is a cool name with fantastic functionality.  I am not sure yet, how the sharing model works within an organization.  But this is clearly a major step forward for Microsoft considering how anti-office-on-the-web they have been.

PowerPoint Transitions. They added alot of functionality to PowerPoint transitions and animations.  The usability of 2007 was a huge improvement, but 2010 seems more incremental.

Summary:  Since Office 95 (my god, it’s been a long time), I have enjoyed each release of Office significantly more than the previous.  This is no exception.  They have clearly worked on the finer points of usability and improved the suite accross the board.  Office 2010 is definitely better than 2007 and I would recommend the upgrade.

The future.  The world is moving online.  More and more applications are in the cloud.  How long will it take to make Excel on the Web just as powerful as the desktop?  When can I chuck my desktop?  It seems like it still will be a long time measured in decades, although this progress is very encouraging.