Unconsciously Killing User Experience in the Enterprise

After ~18 moths in a large organization, I’d be hard pressed to find a statement that fills me with dread more than: “Oh, we’ve got this great new system that you can enter your request in now” – No sooner have those words left someone’s mouth and I know that I’ve just lost hours of my life and in short order, will likely start sympathizing with those people who snap in the workplace.

It happens easily enough – A team within a department are tasked with cleaning up their processes and building or configuring a system to automate all that tedious data collection and information submission. It’s a task that is approached with the best intentions but often goes horribly astray at some point along the way. The reason? The Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) begin thinking of themselves as the ‘users’ and when that happens, all hope is lost.

Heck, if it’s a system that only the SMEs need to use then go for it, knock yourself out. Unfortunately though, more often than not, the intentions of these systems is to get users from outside a department or work group to submit information to the SMEs in a consistent, organized fashion. The problem? They’re not SME’s – they don’t know what you know. Actually, the problem in these cases is that YOU don’t know what you know. Continue reading Unconsciously Killing User Experience in the Enterprise

Maintaining User Experience Across your Brand

Gradually I think a lot of companies are coming around to the notion of user experience as being a vital part of creating a valuable, usable and desirable product. Looking at this data posted over at Adaptive Path yesterday and you can see that it certainly has become top of mind.

The one place though I often see User Experience fall down though is when it comes to maintaining consistency across an organizations various products. Microsoft is a bad for this at times – looking at their new office suite most of the products got the new “Ribbon” menu system but Visio got left out and Outlook seems to only insert it into certain environments. The challenge is a user is forced to continually adjust their frame of reference and methods of interaction with their computer as they move through their day to day work.

One of the worst culprits for this though is automotive companies. They spend millions, if not billions of dollars establishing and common look, feel or design sensibility across their product line. Take Jeep for example:

Looking at the front of any Jeep product, you know it’s a jeep. Mazda’s are the same way – I’ve got two of them, a Mazda3 and a Mazda6. Even the interiors are very similar to each other, you know you’re sitting in a Mazda.

Similar is the Problem
But there’s the crux of the issue – “similar” is the problem. Esthetically similar is just fine – like the Jeeps above – they’re like a family, no one is identical but when viewed they all bear similar features etc.. A Jeep looks like a Jeep, A Mazda looks like a Mazda and so on. But at an interaction level “similar” starts to go down some very bad paths.

We got the Mazda6 first and later bought the Mazda3 so the 6 is what we’ve “imprinted” on, our interactions with both cars are based on how we interacted with the six for the 12 months we had it before the 3.

The photo above is pretty much what my 6’s dash looks like. The 3’s is actually pretty similar, display, vents, radio, 3 dial climate control. Perfect right?

Not so, inexplicable things such as the 3 Climate Control dials – on the 6 the dials go Heat/Cool | Fan Speed | Direction. IN the 3? Direction | Fan Speed | Heat/Cool. So every time we switch form car to car (it’s quite often I’ll drive home in my commuter 3 and hop right into the 6 to take the family out) we’re constantly changing the wrong dials – at best a pain in the butt, at worst another unnecessary look away form the road/distraction.

The radio is another peeve, the two dials are reversed and the 3 introduces a third dial which controls the volume – so I’m always tuning to another station when I’m really trying to reach for the volume.

Lastly the cars also have some very strange differences in behavior.

What brought this all together was my experience this morning with my Mazda3. Our Mazda6 has the great “feature” that it automatically turns off the car’s headlights about 30 seconds to a minute after you lock the car doors, even if the “lights” dial is in the on position. I’ve always believed that all lights on, all the time is the safest way to drive so we just leave the lights on and they turn off on their own.

My 3 on the other hand has an automatic headlights option, which is nice – but for some reason
they decided that because there was the automatic lights feature they probably didn’t need ANY sort of timer on the headlights if they were left in the on (but not auto) position (unlike just about every car on the market these days).

Yesterday afternoon I was checking that a light was still working – it was bright out so the automatic option wasn’t turning them on – I flicked the switch to lights “on” and checked, then drove home and put the car in the garage for the night.

Come out this morning, remote locks don’t work – open the door and get in, no interior lights, nothing. Not even a whimper as I turn the key.

My experience with the 6 turning off the lights quickly had basically trained my head to ignore the “Your light’s are on” tone that both cars emit. So when I hopped out of the 3 I didn’t even acknowledge it. My car sat there all night slowly draining the battery.

At the end of the day I’m all about personal responsibility – but corporations also need to consider how consistent the user experience is across their brand. Had both my Mazda’s had reasonably consistent ways of functioning, beyond simply “looking” similar I wouldn’t have been cursing up a blue streak in their honour while waiting for roadside assistance to arrive (turns out the transmission lock is electric – so I couldn’t even get it in neutral to roll it out of the garage and boost it with my other car).

We’ve worked pretty hard internally to get all of our products working on one common interface, I won’t suggest that it’s perfect but we’re constantly working on improving it (including a new interface revision in the works right now).

Advice for any company: Keep it simple, Keep it useful, Keep it consistent.

(As an aside: I will give Mazda’s Roadside Assistance credit where it’s due. They had someone at my house within 15 minutes at rush hour. The nice operator even showed my how to manually unlock my transmission in the future should the need arise.)

Photos: Jeeps – ~anuradha | Mazda Dash – prettywar-stl

2006 Online Christmas Shopping Experience Roundup

This is the first year I’ve tried to proactively do as much of my Christmas shopping online as possible. In the end I managed to order roughly 90% of the gifts I needed to get online.

I ended up ordering from six vendors and with the exception of Apple ITunes everything was ordered on the same day (December 10th).

Here’s a summary of the results:

  • Toys R Us
    This was the second time we’ve ordered stuff from Toys R Us – It was the first package to arrive out of any of the orders. Ordered Saturday and arrived on Wednesday. Toys R Us doesn’t have any sort of free shipping offer but some items are marked as having free shipping (Seemingly arbitrary). The most puzzling thing was how the items were packaged when they arrived. We ordered two items and they came shipped in separate boxes even though both would have easily fit in the bigger of the two boxes. Seemed like a whole lot of waste to me.

    Hits: Quick Shipping, Reasonable Shipping Costs
    Misses: Wasteful Packaging, Arbitrary Shipping Pricing (Why no blanket policy?)

    Overall: HIT

  • Amazon.ca
    I’ve ordered a lot from Amazon over the years so their performance wasn’t surprising at all. Regardless of timing their items consistently arrive on time, and their shipping discount policy is straight forward. The most frustrating issue this time was actually dealing with the site. For example: we were trying to order a cookbook for one person, it turns out though that most cookbooks aren’t readily available. Not a big deal but there was no obvious way to filter those items out. In general Amazon needs a filter for “Show me only what you can ship right now”, especially though as you get closer to Xmas.

    The other Amazon head scratcher is their Free Shipping policy of arbitrarily delaying the Super Saving shipping orders 1-3 days. At the end of the day I don’t see the point of holding the orders. At least in the Toronto area we’re right on top of a distribution point. I got the “Your order has been shipped” email Wednesday night and the package beat me in to work on Thursday morning. 6 books packed in one dense tiny little box exactly as ordered.

    Hits: Free shipping, Quick Shipping despite arbitrary delay, Efficiently packed
    Misses: Arbitrary Shipping Delay, Lack of search filtering slowed order process

    Overall: HIT

  • Obadiah Parker
    I encountered this band after seeing their lead signers amazing cover of “Hey Ya” on Youtube. After poking around I found their MySpace page, and finally their main homepage. Their site only had pricing for shipping to the US but they provided an email address to inquire about International shipping. I fired off an inquiry and within a couple of hours I had a response, pricing, and the order placed via PayPal.

    Unfortunately this package missed getting here in time for Christmas by a day – but it was there waiting in the mailbox the first day we had mail delivery after the holiday. When I ordered the discs I was somewhat skeptical that they would arrive on time so it wasn’t a huge disappointment. Given the time of year and the fact they’re a one person “shop” I can cut them some slack. The album is great, Highly recommend everyone check them out.

    Hits: Fast response (even on a weekend), Good Value
    Misses: Missed Christmas by a Day

    Overall: Neutral

  • FutureShop.ca
    I first tried Futueshop.ca to order an iPod accessory for my cousin. Faced with the option of paying for shipping or free, in-store pickup I figured I’d give the pickup option a try. A few hours later I got an email back from Future Shop telling me that they couldn’t fill my order in store.

    As I mentioned in an earlier post I thought it smelled a bit fishy, the email came through right before the store opened for that day even though the site said the store had them in stock. It reeked of “It’s two weeks before Christmas, we’re busy and can’t be bothered”. Understandable to a point but here’s the kicker – they hadn’t just delayed my order, they cancelled it. At that point I would have continued and just either a)picked a different store or b) paid the $2 to have it shipped to me, but I couldn’t do that – they had automatically CANCELED the order. To change my shipping option I had to recreate the whole order. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

    Hits: None
    Misses: Can’t change delivery method, Automatic canceling of Order

    Overall: MISS

  • Bestbuy.ca
    Knowing their both owned by the same people I hesitated using the Best Buy site as an alternative to Futureshop.ca but I figured at least my original order would still show as a lost sale on the Future Shop site. Rebuilt my order, selected shipping and I thought I was done.

    The next day I get an email telling me they were unable to process my order until I called them from the phone number on my credit card company’s records. I was at work at the time and couldn’t call from there. What drives me nuts about this is that they don’t give you any warning that this step would be required – like the Future Shop process of automatically canceling an order – this is just a stupid design flaw that they could resolve if someone spent five minutes thinking about customer experience. I’m not even sure why they have this step (especially on low cost items) – every other site manages to use address verification etc. – I just canceled the order and moved on to my next idea.

    Another lowspot is the new AJAX’y catalog they’ve put into both sites (Futureshop.ca & Bestbuy.ca are powered by the same CMS). You can now browse through the catalog you can dynamically filter your search etc. but there’s no state! If you click through a product to view it’s detail screen it loses all your filtering etc, so when you click on the back button to find something else you need to start over from nothing again. This one drove me right up the wall.

    Hits: –
    Misses: Frustrating UI, Suprise Extra Order Step

    Overall: MISS

  • Apple iTunes Store
    With the Future Shop/Best Buy frustration I had blown a few days and it was getting closer to Xmas so I wasn’t so sure anything could be shipped on time.

    I figured I’d be able to buy my cousin some credit at iTunes for my cousin and after all, it was an purely virtual store I shouldn’t have to have something shipped to me right?


    Of course not. The purely virtual iTunes store only allows you to order Gift Cards in physical form and only in either $20 or $50 form. Throughout the process the site is also promoting that you have to order a certain amount before you get free shipping. Then I finally get to the order confirmation screen and it tells me shipp
    ing is free on Gift cards. The site was also telling me over and over that I was a couple days too late for guaranteed shipping before Xmas – but then, on the same confirmation screen it told me to expect the cards between December 19-22.

    Both were odd mixed message that had it not been getting to crunch time would probably have sent me elsewhere for another gift idea.

    As of today the cards still have not arrived.

    Hits: –
    Miss: Confusing messages re: shipping costs & timing, Missed Christmas by a long shot – missing New year’s too

    Overall: HUGE MISS

In Summary:
Overall the three misses were all in the name of getting the same present. Amazon.ca and Toys R Us I wouldn’t hesitate the order from again, they met or exceeded my expectations and have every other time I’ve ordered from them. 8 of 10 gifts arrived quickly, as ordered. 1 was understandably late and 1 was a total disaster.

At the end of the day I spent no time in crowded malls, gave up one afternoon “shopping”
and got almost everything I needed. I’d rate this year as a success.

Overall: HIT