Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Where is My Ultra High Definition Digital Sound?

I keep reading about new technologies coming out and hearing about the wearbales innovation. Seems like Silicon Valley is trying very hard to break into some new markets, and they're pushing into some unfamiliar territory to get there. Yesterday I was reading about apps that will tell if the person you're speaking to on your smartphone, is lying. Yup. I suppose there's some benefits to technology like that but here's why it's being developed.... to sell you more stuff. It's more Big Brother  advertising crap.

What about just improving the good old stuff we know everybody loves and will buy? Where is my ultra high definition sound? Better than a CD, over the internet?

This seems like a multi-billion dollar challenge, that is technically and commercially obtainable. The data storage is there, the marketplaces are there, god knows the cloud is there, and the consumers are there - what's missing is the high definition sound! All that takes is some more technology, which, is already there!!

Better yet, this could revive artists and artistry. A group who have been dealt a bad hand in the internet revolution and don't make a dime from services like Spotify.

So let this be a call to somebody! Apple, Sony, Google, hell... Amazon. Some crazy software sound engineer in college! Sound me up.

I realize SACD exists, but I can't stream it on my laptop.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Usability Part 2 - How To Do It

In my last post, Don't Fear The User Part 1 - Empowering Software Development With Usability Techniques, we talked about what usability is. The practice of making software easy to use. And that you accomplish this by listening to your target end user. Incidentally there is a great post on Good Experience today where Mark Hurst mentions his tweet:

Before you get customers involved, first you should probably check if the boss can handle bad news.

This is important because before you try to do usability work your boss needs to be on board. If you're boss is fearful and can't handle bad news then it might be a futile effort. Instead usability should be empowering. It will resolve problems and can help an organization meet its goals.  Now I'm going to elaborate on how to do it.

Step 1: Who is The End User?

User Experience Designers when we go to work, we do this thing called "User Centered Design". And all this means is we try to focus on The End User when we're designing. Let's use Blogger - this blog - as an example. If I were to sit down and start creating this Google product we know as Blogger, the first question I would ask myself is, "Who is the end user for Blogger?" THAT is the person you design for, not your client or your boss.  You want to target a persona that accurately represents your end users. If you do design for your client, boss, or self the problems are: a) you miss a lot of good ideas b) you miss all kinds of important details c) you might overcomplicate things for the person who needs to use that software d) your boss's wants are in conflict with the end user's etc.

Common question: But what if we want everybody to use our product? There are techniques for that too. For large-scale high traffic websites & apps, there are best practices. And if this is your product, you really need to work with a professional UCD person and I'd love to speak with you more :^)

Step 2: Listen to The End User

Wow I know right? This is so common sense you're probably rolling your eyes. OK but LISTEN - there are ways to listen to your customers. You don't just want to fire off a bunch of surveys, that's sooooo marketing. Nor do you want to ask for a list of all the features the user wants (they'll ask for everything). The best thing to do is listen to users as they interact with something. You take notes and record your research. It's fun and easy. This is also known as User Research, and sometimes referred to as Listening Labs.

Common question: But we aren't even settled on a product idea? Listening to your potential customers will help you figure this out. Watching them use a competitor's product will reveal all the ways you can succeed. If you work with an experienced product designer (ahem) they can help you glean this information from user research.

Step 3: Focus on The End User When Developing Your Product

There's always this temptation while developing something to look at your colleagues and say, "Wouldn't it be cool if it did this?!" It's fun to come up with cool ideas but it's better to postpone frosting the cake until after you bake it. Never forget who you're designing for. Don't let your bosses forget. Remind the developers so they don't forget and code a bunch of shortcuts and hacks.

Step 4: Usability Test

This is not QA testing. You are not looking for bugs. What you are testing is weather or not the end user can perform a task using the product. How long does it take that person to perform the task? How many clicks do they have to make to do what they need to do? Can they find the button? Do they know what feature lives in that dropdown menu?  That is usability testing.  See how agnostic this is? 

Step 5: Apply the Research and Testing To Your Product

Don't just report your research and testing, apply it. Make concrete recommendations for how to fix flaws in the UI that impede people from performing a task. Ideally this is all done as part of a larger development process and you have time allocated for usability testing and time to make changes to your interface.

Here is how to make this sound like bad news to the boss:
"When we did research, people complained that it was hard to sign-up. When we tested the sign-up process, only half the users were able to sign-up."

Instead it's better to discuss improvements you can make to remedy the problem: "When we did research, people complained that it was hard to sign-up. When we tested the sign-up process we found that if we reword the title and make this button larger we can make sign-up easier."


That is how you do it. Let me know if you have questions.




Thursday, May 8, 2014

Don't Fear The User Part 1 - Empowering Software Development With Usability Techniques

Usability is the practice of making things easy to use

Usability is the practice of making products, especially software, easy to use.  If you can think of some frustrating website that just didn't work, or even a bad customer service experience, you understand how important usability is.

The whole world needs usability. Here we are just talking about the intersection where humans and computers meet - software. Since software is exploding, the industry needs user centered design more than ever. As consumers we need our smart phones and apps to be easy to use. But professionals probably need more usability than consumers... just so they can do their jobs. And sadly, way too many B to B applications and enterprise software are unwieldy and difficult to use.

There is a way to fix software so it's easy to use. Incorporating usability techniques into your development process accomplishes two things. #1 it allows you to focus on the goal of making your product work as best it can. #2 it keeps software projects honest, prevents money being wasted on endless, directionless development.

What Usability is NOT

Usability is not about design in that it has nothing to do with attractiveness. Usability is not about content, but it involves how people find and interact with content and information.  Usability is not about marketing, it's not creative, but good usability leads people to like a particular app as opposed to hating it, and this grows user adoption.

Usability IS Business

It's funny that usability is entrusted to a design team on a project because it has more to do with business goals than design goals. Business people and executives should regard user research and testing as a means to gain more control over their business. At tech companies they will have researchers perform usability testing. But since designers dictate what the User Interface (UI) will be, designers are helpful in translating usability findings into the UI. Still usability needs business's buy-in in order for it to be effective.

Here are some scenarios where a little usability work could have a big impact on business:

  • An application used by your company is confusing, and people need to ask others for help in order to use it.
  • You have a massive amount of data, it's so huge you can't make heads or tails of all that information. You need to figure out how to display this data in a way that works for your clients.
  • You are customizing off-the-shelf software that comes with all these great "capabilities" and you need help deciding which functions would be best for your business.
  • Your company spends way too much money on customer service calls and your business could save a lot by just making your product easier to use.
  • It takes too long for people to do their job with the software you are currently using. You can increase revenues if people can do their jobs faster.

At it's core usability is about listening - to customers, to clients, to the "end-user" and translating that research into a functional UI. It sounds simple, and it is, IF you know how to do it. In part 2 I'll discuss techniques for DIY usability testing and user research. But if you have a large-scale application that needs help then contact me for more in depth consultation. After more than 10 years of analyzing usability in software, a short consultation may be all you need to fix your usability problems.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Being an Adult, Saying Goodbye to Contracting

You may think that being a professional Web Product Designer right now is a great job, and it is. You may think that being a pro UX Unicorn AND working for yourself as an independent contractor is an ideal situation, and it can be. You might assume that it's wonderful to work from home, though the best part is simply not having to commute. Some people might covet my connectedness, truthfully, it's an expensive curse. The "Ideal" really falls apart when confronted with the reality...

Since 2011 all I wanted was to get off the merry-go-round of freelance work. You might think that having over nineteen years of web experience it would be easy to land a good gig, but I think this hurt me. In Baltimore where I live, depending on who I spoke to it was assumed I was either overqualified (aka expensive), or just too old. I had job leads that didn't manifest. It seemed like every recruiter was playing me (or just bad). I tried to work with a few start-up companies who really needed my level of expertise. For what ever reasons good permanent full time work kept alluding me so I kept contracting, wondering if I really am too old to work in tech.

The Effect of Healthcare.gov?

By October last year things started getting better. I started getting many more good leads for jobs. At the same time I had a pretty good contract position for a small DC based agency. I was earning money while working from home and I had the luxury to explore the growing job market for Senior Experience Designers. Could it be that the Healthcare.gov debacle suddenly made people realize that they needed people with experience working on their website? So many jobs were available I was able to weigh one against the other. Which company paid better? Which ones had a good corporate culture? The shortest commute? There were NO good leads in Baltimore except my contract gig, which was 100% work from home. Would they bring me on full time? Or would I have to commute to DC or further?

I'll Take the Commute, Thanks

By November I felt that I was being undermined on my contract. This ideal situation lost it's luster with the addition of a new "lead" designer who ignored me so thoroughly, I wondered why they wanted to use me in the first place. By Thanksgiving I realized that it probably wasn't the best thing for my career to be an easily dismissed sub-contractor, grateful for whatever crumbs of work that get thrown my way. I could do better. 

It's a good thing I kept exploring jobs all last year, even though it was a massive time suck. When the right opportunity landed in my lap I was ready. Now I am happy to report the work is good and best of all it's great to feel like a grown-up.

- - - 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Wishing the Web Some Prosperity Too!

IF these wishes come true, I guarantee everybody's lives will get easier and 2014 will be a good year. :)
Wishing people learned their lesson in 2013 and we don't have any more websites like Healthcare.gov. Wishing that more websites get designed FOR THE END USERS, and not for some executive. Wishing people see the value in EXPERIENCE. Wishing people hire truly senior talent to work on their website.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Part 3 of Social Media Marketing - Do's & Don'ts

The funny thing about internet marketing is the people who would benefit from it the most probably are the same people with limited budgets - Artists, writers, and musicians.  Independent creative people and students usually don't have an annual marketing budget.  If you fall into the Artist category pay attention, this post is for you. I reveal how to simply use social media. If you DO have a marketing budget then contact me and let me show you how to ROCK your internet marketing.

Writers have already blazed a trail on the internet and there are many websites dedicated to helping writers. Since I have a Fine Art background and I think like a designer, I'll focus on artists & other kinds of small businesses like restaurants.

DO: Get yourself set-up with a website or blog

First you need a "hub". A command center where you can connect to all sorts of social media and networking sites. In case you didn't know a blog is actually just another kind of website, just with more 'self publishing' tools. Having your own site is important because this gives you the greatest control over the flow of information and most importantly you can measure - yes you can actually see - the results of your marketing efforts. And then your can fine tune everything, do more business and make more money. Great NY Times article covers this nicely.

DON'T: Put off launching your website or blog. Otherwise Google and people on Yelp will talk about you behind your back.


 Your goal is to get other people to help you promote your business on social media through their normal sharing activity.

DO: Think like a Marketing Pro and set goals that you want to achieve

What is your goal? What do you want to achieve with the internet? You need to be able to answer this question. A good goal for a local bar would be, "To increase average nightly clientele by 25%"
Some good goals for small biz people are:
- Grow your fan base
- Get people to discover you
- Get new clients or customers
- Sell more products
- Rent your space
- Find projects to work on

DON'T:
  Assume that just having a blog and making a couple of random posts (like everyone else) suddenly makes you a marketing guru. :^|


DO: Think like a Marketing Pro and make a plan

It's critically important that you PLAN AHEAD for all your marketing efforts. You need time to work for you. If you are throwing an event you need to start planning your marketing at least a month ahead of time. If you are a caterer who wants to get work catering weddings then you should be  marketing yourself no later than February to get work on a June wedding.

DON'T: Wait until the last minute to think about you marketing plan!  Otherwise you completely miss opportunities to get your event announced in print media and email newsletters. 


DO: Pay attention to the timing and frequency of your posts to social media.

People mostly cruise Facebook or twitter during their morning commute or during lunch at work. So time your big announcement to coincide with the mob of internet users that are likely to see your post. And reiterate your post a few extra times so it reaches as many people as possible. For more information on timing of posts just do a search.

DON'T: Wait to the 3pm on a Friday to do only one tweet about your bar's happy hour special. You should be tweeting that tantalizing announcement several times earlier in the week.


DO: Make good quality posts on multiple social media sites

It's all about the quality, and quantity of your posts - where ever you post them. You want to reach as many people as possible, that's the point, so use the services that suit your business.  Remember the web is an interactive communication tool and you will interact with people and communicate your story well to be successful.

DON'T:  Don't go overboard and sign up for every site. It's too much work and you won't maintain them. If you're never going to make a video then don't bother with YouTube.  If you find Google+ to be a waste of time, it's OK to not use it. Just be strategic. 


DO: Use photos and images as much as possible

People click on images. I've seen the research! It's true! People pause to look at and read images like they never do with text. So always try to include an image with whatever post your trying to make. If you're a bar for example, you should tweet a photo of that happy hour drink. Or better still... get your customers to post photos of your drinks for you!!!  This really makes web people like me happy... should you decide to hire somebody like me to help you with social media marketing then this gives us valuable content to work with.

DON'T: Write too much. According to research people don't actually read that much online.  At least not in social media (not when marketing is concerned). It's better to keep your text short and sweet and use a photo to tell the story.


DO: Create business specific profiles

If you have a Facebook page as opposed to you normal Facebook profile then you can use all these bonus tools, like analytics. This will show you how many people reacted to your posts and even how they interacted with it! This is extremely powerful because this helps you accomplish many thing like helping you write and make better posts that more people are likely to follow through on. Also, this keeps your personal life separate from your business. Facebook offers it's own analytics for pages and you can even run your own targeted advertising on Facebook too.

DON'T:  Trust me I speak from experience. It's not going to help your business to let everybody read your political rants on Facebook. Keep it professional on your "page".


DO: Have a Clear "Call to Action"

This is an insider trick. A 'Call to Action' is a design on a web page or advertisement, like a "Buy Now" button or the "Like" button in Facebook. You want to have one of these 'calls to action' in some of your posts. For example, you'll want people to click from Facebook to go look at your new artwork - on your website. And you want this to be clear and obvious. If you can get people to click over to your website you can give them a lot more detail to entice them to buy your stuff. You're more in control.


DON'T: If you don't have a call to action, then all you are achieving is that somebody might read what you wrote and maaaaybe they might remember it.  If you're not clear, they may not notice that you have anything for sale.


Like I said in my previous post, internet and social media marketing is actual work. But with a good set-up all you need to do is an hour or so a week of good quality posts, to whatever venue on the internet that connects you to the most amount of people for your time and effort. The hardest part really is getting started... And you can always hire me to help you get set-up.