Designing Successful Experiences for Bald Apes
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Designing Successful Experiences for Bald Apes

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As we squint into a bright future, let’s first glance back at the user experience industry’s well-meaning, but mostly murky past. UX’s foundation is a sordid mix of lies, shams and idiocy: We ...

As we squint into a bright future, let’s first glance back at the user experience industry’s well-meaning, but mostly murky past. UX’s foundation is a sordid mix of lies, shams and idiocy: We never designed experiences and things like mobile have always been adjectives, no matter how many times we sold them as nouns. Now we’re hyperventilating about designing responsively across channels.

That might seem overwhelming, but it’s really just a more complex version of what we've always done: Help a bunch of bald apes do things.

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  • My name is Dan Willis. I’m the Director of Mobile Experience Design for Marriott. There are only 5 Marriott hotels in Australia, but in another 73 countries we've got around 3,700 properties. This means I work on really small screens for a really big company.   I want us to talk today about the future of user experience design. I hope you think it’s a bright future; I do. Of course, it’s more than a little intimidating, even kind of scary.   We’ll get to that this morning, but first, it’s useful to figure out where user experience work is in its maturity. So what do you think, is it a baby? A teenager? Middle-aged already?   However you answer that question, what kinds of things have gotten us to where we are right now, today? What has defined the industry so far?
  • I’m going to argue that our success has been built on three pillars: Lies, Shams and Idiocy.   You know, things like self-delusion never get their due credit and that’s a shame considering that it and other forms of dishonesty have played such an important part of our success.
  • At the dawn of this century, for example, the role of designer seemed to confuse so many. Print design might have made some sense, but then they’d ask wasn’t designing things for the Internet just like designing the applications we’d all been using since the 1980s? And besides, didn’t developers decide where things went on screens?   So we told them “I design Web sites” and it seemed to give them some comfort, and then that made us feel better, too. Years passed and screen sizes got both bigger … and smaller. The screens we designed got scraped or showed up as part of RSS feeds or appeared as part of other screens and sometimes had additional navigation slapped all around the original stuff. Our work started showing up on phones, and not in a good way.   “ I design Web sites,” we said, but a more honest explanation would have been “I get paid to design Web sites and I try to pretend none of that other stuff is important.”
  • Then, instead of coming clean, we changed our lie. “I design experiences,” we said. Yeh, that’s the ticket. Except the “experiences” we designed tended to be incomplete. We had a habit of missing important parts.   You want to take the whole family out for dinner and a movie? Get the kids cleaned up, fed, packed into the car. Keep them moving across the parking lot, stick together in the lobby, get your ticket, get 15 different kinds of food and drinks, cycle the younger ones through the toilets, get seats all together, anybody sitting there? Quiet them down, keep them focused on the flick, a couple more trips to the toilets, uh oh is that frontal nudity? What is this movie rated? Okay, back in the car, did we forget anybody? Traffic, traffic, traffic. Pull into the driveway, ahhhhh, home at last.   What did we do for that family? Hey, have you seen this shopping cart for tickets? Pretty nifty, right? Don’t forget to print your tickets at 100% or, um, you know, they won’t scan correctly. Heh.   It’s more hubris than reality to say we’d designed much of anything important. And we had other lies.
  • “ Digital changes everything”: At some point, every user experience professional finds themselves muttering that one.   This is where bald apes come into the conversation.
  • That’s all we are – just a bunch of genetic experiments. Hey, opposable thumbs are working with those opossums, let’s try it with a cerebral cortex, that’ll be fun to watch! We hyperventilate when a new screen size sells well for a couple of quarters, but bald apes haven’t changed in a couple hundred thousand years.
  • While it’s true that a screen is not a print magazine or a broadsheet newspaper, visual contrast is still the key to moving someone through information. The concepts of proximity and chunking lose none of their relevance in digital solutions.   Contrast makes a screen like this work …
  • … and lack of contrast is what kills this screen.
  • The grid for this page contrasts one area that’s twice the size of another and then inside those areas we see 4:1 and 3:1 ratios in play.
  • There’s a clearly dominant main image, which creates a hierarchy for the rest of the images.
  • Proximity on the screen on the left helps us make assumptions about the scores even for those who nothing about American football or baseball. The lack of proximity on the screen on the right triggers those bald ape brains to interpret each chunk independently.
  • Done well, proximity is a big “no-duh.” The chunking on this screen works even without labeling.
  • The chunking on this screen, by contrast, seems arbitrary and without labels, the user would be lost.
  • Similarity is another principle of design unaffected by the evolution of our digital products. Successful smaller screens rely heavily on the same principles that designers have used for generations. Here, four actions are clustered by the use of similar shapes.
  • And then the similarity of video messaging and voice calling binds them together and sets up the independence of IM and Send Photo actions.
  • Digital hasn’t changed bald apes. Vision, for example, still trumps all other senses for the sighted.
  • We collect visual information faster, it is more likely to spark emotional responses and those emotions bond with information and make the experience more easily remembered. Digital hasn’t changed anything about that. Photo by Nikkorz, http://www.flickr.com/photos/nikkorz/5272343726/
  • DIGITAL DOESN ’T CHANGE EVERYTHING Visual = emotional response, emotion + information = memory
  • Lies don’t get all the credit for our success. We’ve counted heavily on shams as well.
  • Mobile is a sham, a fad, an artificial description, and it always has been. We see this in our inability to define it. “Mobile is obvious in it’s mobility, duh,” you might say. But laptops have outsold desktops for years and we generally don’t include them as part of mobile unless they fold up funny or their screen size shrinks drastically.   How about that then, screen size. So a phone is mobile as is a tablet. But if the tablet screen is close to a laptop screen does it lose its mobile citizenship?
  • Is mobile design really a unique category? Interaction design has a greater impact on smaller screens, certainly, but that’s because of the role of touch gestures more than anything else.   I need some tighty-whiteys, but the only way to find them on this iPad app is to plow through 212 items. That’s not a mobile design problem and it won’t be solved with any false “mobile” conventions. This is an interaction design challenge.
  • Social is a sham, too. Or at least the idea of a social media campaign is a sham because it treats social as a thing unto itself.
  • Social is at a best a loose confederation of interaction patterns, but those patterns only have significance as a part of a larger experience. Here a funeral home provides the tools and venue for a tribute wall for the recently departed. It’s integrated with more traditional memorial elements and carries its own weight helping loved ones deal with grief.   This doesn’t seem like something that came about by the funeral directors sitting around watching Old Spice campaigns or exploring all the places they could jam Twitter and Pinterest bugs.
  • The third, and least impressive UX pillar is idiocy.
  • It’s hard to believe, but well-paid people still talk about balancing business and user needs without cracking up.
  • … and the result is crap like this: Every possible tactic to increase page views and so very few to actually provide value for the user.
  • Here’s a model that’s almost the exact opposite. Netflix succeeds when their customers watch more movies. They are doing everything they can to help people discover things they will want to watch.   The commercial web is driven more every year by organizations who have found ways to profit from satisfying the goals of users. It has taken restructuring their business processes and lowering their expectations, but the emergent model has proven to be sustainable and has nothing to do with balance.
  • A smart tool in an idiot’s hands becomes a dumb tool.   That’s the case with Google’s heavily imitated mantra: “Data beats opinion.” Its original intent was to dismantle the influence of dominating stakeholders. In the wrong hands, it becomes an excuse to treat half-assed user research as credible information.   Opinion-killing data has become intercept interviews conducted by eager, but under-trained team members and “analyzed” by the group. How many user opinions does it take to trump the opinion of a stakeholder? Is it 10? Is it 20?
  • There is an inverse relationship in user research between structure and expertise. The less expertise available, the more structure needs to be in place. Intercept interviews have little structure and therefore need the highest level of expertise to run them effectively. Unfortunately more and more, we’re letting untrained designers and other team members loose on unsuspecting test subjects out there in the wild. All in the misconception that it will bring us more data. It will, but left unchecked, it will be really bad data.
  • I’ve probably gone a little overboard here. The fact is, we’re a pretty earnest community. We’re not out to rip anybody off or mislead our clients or our peers. The biggest lies we told, we told to ours.   I’ve been arguing this morning that the lies, shams and idiocy of our past aren’t holding up very well.
  • The things we were missing in the early days? Something significant has changed.
  • There are now digital touch points for just about everything people do. User experience work now is about supporting users who begin a task on one device and blithely stumble across platforms and devices.   Mobile devices now stitch together segments that used to be unconnected. As the number of devices involved increases, the significance of devices decreases. What’s left over is the user’s personal data, the stuff running through all those devices. User experience work is more and more about that information and less and less about screens.
  • Wireframes have limited value now; designing individual screens is the easy part. Just to address what a user might consider a simple task, we have come up with new kinds of maps. Maybe something like this …
  • Or more like this …
  • … or this. The complexity of multi-device, cross-channel experiences can seem pretty intimidating. How the hell are we going to pull this next rabbit out of our hats???
  • First: remain calm.
  • Expanding the scope of design means we have to change how we do our work. For one thing, we used to bitch that everybody thinks they’re a designer. Well now, in a way, they are. We have to invite the whole team into the kitchen. We have to figure out how to do that while still protecting expertise. It’s a work in progress, just like those intercept interviews I complained about earlier, and we should expect both successes and failures for some time.   But for all the new things we have to consider, our effectiveness comes back to something old. Something 200,000 years old.
  • This is our greatest hope for success.   Use whatever tools you can think of and consider every technological advance, but ultimately it will come down to a bunch of bald apes with their opposable thumbs and their brains’ baked-in evolutionary attributes.   In the mid-1990s, the user took control of context and that disrupted everything. Now that simple, but significant shift has evolved into experiences defined not by devices or individual digital products, but by the user’s data. Not just their personal stuff, but also their opinions, stated desires, implied interests, and proclivities.   The complexity can be overwhelming, the pressure to figure out this stuff on the fly is intense.   But we’ve got this. We know these guys and we know how they think.   Now let’s get to work.

Designing Successful Experiences for Bald Apes Presentation Transcript

  • 1. Filmstrip slide
  • 2. Filmstrip slide
  • 3. Filmstrip slide
  • 4. Filmstrip slide
  • 5. TITLE SLIDE My name is Dan Willis. I’m the Director of Mobile Experience Design for Marriott. There are only 5 Marriott hotels in Australia, but in another 73 countries we've got around 3,700 properties. This means I work on really small screens for a really big company. I want us to talk today about the future of user experience design. I hope you think it’s a bright future; I do. Of course, it’s more than a little intimidating, even kind of scary. We’ll get to that this morning, but first, it’s useful to figure out where user experience work is in its maturity. So what do you think, is it a baby? A teenager? Middle-aged already? However you answer that question, what kinds of things have gotten us to where we are right now, today? What has defined the industry so far?
  • 6. LOVE POTIONS & UX SNAKE OIL I’m going to argue that our success has been built on three pillars: Lies, Shams and Idiocy. First: lies. You know, things like self-delusion never get their due credit and that’s a shame considering that it and other forms of dishonesty have played such an important part of our success.
  • 7. “I DESIGN WEB SITES” At the dawn of this century, for example, the role of designer seemed to confuse so many. Print design might have made some sense, but then they’d ask wasn’t designing things for the Internet just like designing the applications we’d all been using since the 1980s? And besides, didn’t developers decide where things went on screens? So we told them “I design Web sites” and it seemed to give them some comfort, and then that made us feel better, too. Years passed and screen sizes got both bigger … and smaller. The screens we designed got scraped or showed up as part of RSS feeds or appeared as part of other screens and sometimes had additional navigation slapped all around the original stuff. Our work started showing up on phones, and not in a good way. “I design Web sites,” we said, but a more honest explanation would have been “I get paid to design Web sites and I try to pretend none of that other stuff is important.”
  • 8. “I DESIGN EXPERIENCES” Then, instead of coming clean, we changed our lie. “I design experiences,” we said. Yeh, that’s the ticket. Except the “experiences” we designed tended to be incomplete. We had a habit of missing important parts. You want to take the whole family out for dinner and a movie? Get the kids cleaned up, fed, packed into the car. Keep them moving across the parking lot, stick together in the lobby, get your ticket, get 15 different kinds of food and drinks, cycle the younger ones through the toilets, get seats all together, anybody sitting there? Quiet them down, keep them focused on the flick, a couple more trips to the toilets, uh oh is that frontal nudity? What is this movie rated? Okay, back in the car, did we forget anybody? Traffic, traffic, traffic. Pull into the driveway, ahhhhh, home at last. What did we do for that family? Hey, have you seen this shopping cart for tickets? Pretty nifty, right? Don’t forget to print your tickets at 100% or, um, you know, they won’t scan correctly. Heh. It’s more hubris than reality to say we’d designed much of anything important. And we had other lies.
  • 9. “DIGITAL CHANGES EVERYTHING” “Digital changes everything”: At some point, every user experience professional finds themselves muttering that one. This is where bald apes come into the conversation.
  • 10. BALD APE ON THE STREET That’s all we are – just a bunch of genetic experiments. Hey, opposable thumbs are working with those opossums, let’s try it with a cerebral cortex, that’ll be fun to watch! We hyperventilate when a new screen size sells well for a couple of quarters, but bald apes haven’t changed in a couple hundred thousand years.
  • 11. NPR MUSIC While it’s true that a screen is not a print magazine or a broadsheet newspaper, visual contrast is still the key to moving someone through information. Proximity and chunking and other principles of design lose none of their relevance in digital solutions. Contrast makes a screen like this work …
  • 12. THE WASHINGTON POST – LIFESTYLE … and lack of contrast is what kills this screen.
  • 13. NPR MUSIC The grid for this page contrasts one area that’s twice the size of another and then inside those areas we see 4:1 and 3:1 ratios in play.
  • 14. NPR MUSIC There’s a clearly dominant main image, which creates a hierarchy for the rest of the images.
  • 15. ESPN APP Proximity on the screen on the left helps us make assumptions about the scores even for those who nothing about American football or baseball. The lack of proximity on the screen on the right triggers those bald ape brains to interpret each chunk independently.
  • 16. T. ROWE PRICE Done well, proximity is a big “no-duh.” The chunking on this screen works even without labeling.
  • 17. AUSTRALIA.GOV.AU The chunking on this screen, by contrast, seems arbitrary and without labels, the user would be lost.
  • 18. SKYPE APP Similarity is another principle of design unaffected by the evolution of our digital products. Successful smaller screens rely heavily on the same principles that designers have used for generations. Here, four actions are clustered by the use of similar shapes.
  • 19. SKYPE APP And then the similarity of video messaging and voice calling binds them together and sets up the independence of IM and Send Photo actions. 1 2 3
  • 20. BALD APE ON THE STREET Digital hasn’t changed bald apes. Vision, for example, still trumps all other senses for the sighted.
  • 21. PUPPY DOG We collect visual information faster, it is more likely to spark emotional responses and those emotions bond with information and make the experience more easily remembered. Digital hasn’t changed anything about that. (Photo by Nikkorz, http://www.flickr.com/photos/nikkorz/5272343726/)
  • 22. “A CUTE PUPPY” The words offer just a small subset of the information the photo provides.
  • 23. “WAR” And a chunk of text like this offers so much less than this ...
  • 24. VIETNAM EXECUTION [Photo by Eddie Adams. See http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2009/04/22/the-execution-of-a- vietcong-guerilla/ for details]
  • 25. LOVE POTIONS & UX SNAKE OIL Lies don’t get all the credit for our success. We’ve counted heavily on shams as well.
  • 26. MOBILE IS A SHAM Mobile is a sham, a fad, an artificial description, and it always has been. We see this in our inability to define it. “Mobile is obvious in it’s mobility, duh,” you might say. But laptops have outsold desktops for years and we generally don’t include them as part of mobile unless they fold up funny or their screen size shrinks drastically. How about that then, screen size. So a phone is mobile as is a tablet. But if the tablet screen is close to a laptop screen does it lose its mobile citizenship
  • 27. TARGET IPAD SCREEN Is mobile design really a unique category? Interaction design has a greater impact on smaller screens, certainly, but that’s because of the role of touch gestures more than anything else. I need some tighty-whiteys, but the only way to find them on this iPad app is to plow through 212 items. That’s not a mobile design problem and it won’t be solved with any false “mobile” conventions. This is an interaction design challenge.
  • 28. SOCIAL IS A SHAM Social is a sham, too. Or at least the idea of a social media campaign is a sham because it treats social as a thing unto itself.
  • 29. TRIBUTE WALL SLIDE Social is at a best a loose confederation of interaction patterns, but those patterns only have significance as a part of a larger experience. Here a funeral home provides the tools and venue for a tribute wall for the recently departed. It’s integrated with more traditional memorial elements and carries its own weight helping loved ones deal with grief. This doesn’t seem like something that came about by the funeral directors sitting around watching Old Spice campaigns or exploring all the places they could jam Twitter and Pinterest bugs.
  • 30. LOVE POTIONS & UX SNAKE OIL The third, and least impressive UX pillar is idiocy.
  • 31. ‘WE MUST BALANCE THE NEEDS OF BUSINESSES AND USERS It’s hard to believe, but well-paid people still talk about balancing business and user needs without cracking up. “We must balance the needs of businesses and users.”
  • 32. ROBERT DeNIRO SCREEN … and the result is crap like this: Every possible tactic to increase page views and so very few to actually provide value for the user.
  • 33. NETFLIX Here’s a model that’s almost the exact opposite. Netflix succeeds when their customers watch more movies. They are doing everything they can to help people discover things they will want to watch. The commercial web is driven more every year by organizations who have found ways to profit from satisfying the goals of users. It has taken restructuring their business processes and lowering their expectations, but the emergent model has proven to be sustainable and has nothing to do with balance.
  • 34. “DATA BEATS OPINION” A smart tool used badly can become a dumb tool. That’s the case with Google’s heavily imitated mantra: “Data beats opinion.” Its original intent was to dismantle the influence of dominating stakeholders. In the wrong hands, it becomes an excuse to treat half-assed user research as credible information. Opinion-killing data has become intercept interviews conducted by eager, but under-trained team members and “analyzed” by the group. How many user opinions does it take to trump the opinion of a stakeholder? Is it 10? Is it 20?
  • 35. MISALIGNMENT CHART There is an inverse relationship in user research between structure and expertise. The less expertise available, the more structure needs to be in place. Intercept interviews have little structure and therefore need the highest level of expertise to run them effectively. Unfortunately more and more, we’re letting untrained designers and other team members loose on unsuspecting test subjects out there in the wild. All in the misconception that it will bring us more data. It will, but left unchecked, it will be really bad data.
  • 36. LOVE POTIONS & UX SNAKE OIL I’ve probably gone a little overboard here. The fact is, we’re a pretty earnest community. We’re not out to rip anybody off or mislead our clients or our peers. The biggest lies we told, we told to ours. I’ve been arguing this morning that the lies, shams and idiocy of our past aren’t holding up very well.
  • 37. “I DESIGN EXPERIENCES” The things we were missing in the early days? Something significant has changed.
  • 38. SCREENS PHOTO There are now digital touch points for just about everything people do. User experience work now is about supporting users who begin a task on one device and blithely stumble across platforms and devices. Mobile devices now stitch together segments that used to be unconnected. As the number of devices involved increases, the significance of devices decreases. What’s left over is the user’s personal data, the stuff running through all those devices. User experience work is more and more about that information and less and less about screens.
  • 39. CHUBE Wireframes have limited value now; designing individual screens is the easy part. Just to address what a user might consider a simple task, we have come up with new kinds of maps. Maybe something like this …
  • 40. SERVICE BLUEPRINT Or more like this …
  • 41. JOURNEY MAP … or this. The complexity of multi-device, cross-channel experiences can seem pretty intimidating. How the hell are we going to pull this next rabbit out of our hats???
  • 42. GAS MASKS First: remain calm.
  • 43. COOKS IN THE KITCHEN Expanding the scope of design means we have to change how we do our work. For one thing, we used to bitch that everybody thinks they’re a designer. Well now, in a way, they are. We have to invite the whole team into the kitchen. We have to figure out how to do that while still protecting expertise. It’s a work in progress, just like those intercept interviews I complained about earlier, and we should expect both successes and failures for some time. But for all the new things we have to consider, our effectiveness comes back to something old. Something 200,000 years old.
  • 44. HOMER SIMPSON This is our greatest hope for success. Use whatever tools you can think of and consider every technological advance, but ultimately it will come down to a bunch of bald apes with their opposable thumbs and their brains’ baked-in evolutionary attributes. In the mid-1990s, the user took control of context and that disrupted everything. Now that simple, but significant shift has evolved into experiences defined not by devices or individual digital products, but by the user’s data. Not just their personal stuff, but also their opinions, stated desires, implied interests, and proclivities. The complexity can be overwhelming, the pressure to figure out this stuff on the fly is intense. But we’ve got this. We know these guys and we know how they think. Now let’s get to work.
  • 45. Dan Willis dan@dswillis.com @uxcrank