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Showing posts with label experience design. Show all posts
Showing posts with label experience design. Show all posts

Friday, January 31, 2014

A Design Lesson: Customers Don't Remember Everything They Experience

My brother is an ophthalmologist in a small town in India. In his private practice, patients have two options to see him: either take an appointment or walk in. Most patients don't take an appointment due to a variety of cultural and logistics reasons and prefer to walk in. These patients invariably have to wait anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and half on a busy day. I always found these patients to be anxious and unhappy that they had to wait, even if they voluntarily chose to do so. When I asked my brother about a possible negative impact due to unhappiness of his patients (customers) he told me what matters is not whether they are unhappy while they wait but whether they are happy or not when they leave. Once these patients get their turns to see my brother for a consultation, which lasts for a very short period of time compared to how much they waited, my brother will have his full attention to them and he will make sure they are happy when they leave. This erases the unpleasant experience from their minds that they just had it a few minutes back.

I was always amused at this fact until I got introduced to the concept of experience side versus memory side by my favorite psychologist Daniel Kahneman, explained in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow and in his TED talk (do watch the TED talk, you won't regret it). While the patients waited the unpleasant experience was the experience side which they didn't remember and the quality time they spent in the doctor's office was the memory side that they did remember.


Airlines, hotels, and other companies in service sectors routinely have to deal with frustrated customers. When customers get upset they won't remember series of past good experiences they had but they would only remember how badly it ended - a cancelled flight, smelly hotel room or production outage resulting in an escalation. Windows users always remember the blue screen of death but when asked they may not necessarily remember anything that went well on a Windows machine prior to a sudden crash resulting into the blue screen of death. The end matters the most and an abrupt and unrecoverable crash is not a good end. If the actual experience matters people will perhaps never go back to a car dealership. However people do remember getting a great deal in the end and forget the misery that the sales rep put them through by all the haggling.

Proactive responses are far better in crisis management than reactive ones but reactive responses do not necessarily have to result in a bad experience. If companies do treat customers well after a bad experience by being truly apologetic, responsive, and offering them rewards such as free upgrades, miles, partial refund, discounts etc. people do tend to forget bad experiences. This is such a simple yet profound concept but companies tend not to invest into providing superior customer support. Unfortunately most companies see customer support as cost instead of an investment.

This is an important lesson in software design for designers and product managers. Design your software for graceful failures and help people when they get stuck. They won't tell you how great your tool is but they will remember how it failed and stopped them from completing a task. Keep the actual user experience minimal, almost invisible. People don't remember or necessary care about the actual experiences as long as they have aggregate positive experience without hiccups to get their work done. As I say, the best interface is no interface at all. Design a series of continuous feedback loops at the end of such minimal experiences—such as the green counter in TurboTax to indicate tax refund amount—to reaffirm positive aspects of user interactions; they are on the memory side and people will remember them.

In enterprise software, some of the best customers could be the ones who had the worst escalations but the vendors ended their experience on a positive note. These customers do forgive vendors. As a vendor, a failed project receives a lot worse publicity than a worst escalation that could have actually cost a customer a lot more than a failed project but it eventually got fixed on a positive note. This is not a get-out-of-jail-free-card to ignore your customers but do pause and think about what customers experience now and what they will remember in future.

Photo courtesy: Derek 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Learning From Elevators To Design Dynamic Systems


Elevators suck. They are not smart enough to know which floor you might want to go. They aren't designed to avoid crowding in single elevator. And they make people press buttons twice, once to call an elevator and then to let it know which floor you want to go to. This all changed during my recent trip to Brazil when I saw the newer kind of elevators.

These elevators have a common button panel outside in the lobby area of a high rise building. All people are required to enter their respective floor numbers and the machine will display a specific elevator number that they should get into. Once you enter into an elevator you don't press any numbers. In fact the elevators have no buttons at all. The elevator would highlight the floor numbers that it would stop at. That's it! I love this redesigned experience of elevators. It solves a numbers of problems. The old style elevators could not predict the demand. Now the system exactly knows how many people are waiting at what floors wanting to go where. This allows the system to optimize the elevator experience based on several variables and criteria such as speed, priority, even distribution, power conservation etc. This also means an opportunity to write interesting algorithms for these elevators.

This is how I want ALL the systems to be - smart, adaptive, and dynamic. Just like this elevator I would like to see the systems, especially the cloud and the analytics, to anticipate the needs of the end users as opposed to following their commands. The context is the key to the success of delivering what users would expect. If the systems are designed to inquire about the context — directly or indirectly, just like asking people to push buttons before they get into an elevator — they would perform more intelligently. Some location-based systems have started to explore this idea, but it's just the beginning. This also has significant impact on designing collaborative recommendation systems that could help the end users find the right signal in the ever increasing noise of social media.

The very idea of the cloud started with the mission to help users with elasticity of the commodity resources without having users to learn a different interface by giving them a unified abstraction. If you had two elevators in a lobby, you wouldn't use this. But, for a high rise with a few elevators, the opportunities are in abundance to optimize the system to use the available resources to provide the best experience to the people, the end users.

Self-configuring and self-healing dynamic systems have been a fantasy, but as the cloud becomes more mature, dynamic capabilities to anticipate the needs of an application and its users are not far fetched. Computing and storage are commodity on the cloud. I see them as resources just like elevators. Instead of people pushing buttons at the eleventh hour I would prefer the cloud take a driver's seat and becomes much smarter at anticipating and managing applications, platforms, and mixed workload. I want the cloud to take this experience to the next level by helping developers develop such adaptive and dynamic applications. I almost see it as a scale issue, at system as well as at human level. If the cloud does promise scale I expect it to go beyond the commodity computing. This is why PaaS excites me more than anything else. That's a real deal to make a difference.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Augmented Reality Will Change Enterprise Software For Real

Augmented Reality (AR) has seen a sudden buzz in the last few weeks. The announcements just keep coming; Layar announced a 3D API and Wikitude announced AR API. VentureBeat recently ranked the emerging start-ups in augmented reality. AR is still a nascent domain with many quirks and twists but it is for real and it is going to cause disruptions in many dimensions. This is how I see it would affect the enterprise software:

No interface will be the interface

The augmented reality uses the most natural interface, the reality, and layers information on top of it essentially eliminating the need to have an artificial interface. Users will prefer in-context user experience at the locations where they perform their primary task compared to unnatural static experience on their current devices. I also see the impact and potential for innovation in the MVC frameworks. The AR opens up a lot more opportunities for the developers and designers, who were constrained by the traditional technological barriers, to innovate new UI frameworks that have higher affordance and closer mapping to users’ mental model against an unproductive artificial user interface. Getting closer to user’s mental model is going to make the user experience a pleasure and the users more productive. Check out this Layar video:



Data will be the new design

With the growing popularity of AR once considered a nice to have feature, the alternate data consumption, will become the core requirement of the enterprise software. The users are likely to access data with a variety of new clients in unanticipated ways. The widespread adoption of RSS feeds made the interaction and visual design of a blog less relevant against burning the feeds to deliver the content in realtime. Similarly accessibility to a range of rich enterprise data in real-time is going to outweigh everything else. The users will create new environments and experiences. This emergent behavior is a golden opportunity for the companies that have captured rich enterprise data but have faced challenges to make it accessible and useful to the end users.

The SaaS, the cloud, and mobility will be base expectations

The AR applications require the data to be accessed from a range of physical locations on mobile devices without any latency. This distributed data need combined with the nature of the AR deployments where one company does not own an end-to-end solution will necessitate the data and the apps to be delivered from the cloud to optimize the solution. The users will not only demand that the application be accessible from the mobile devices but the mobile devices might be the primary and in some cases the only interface to the business information. Emerging technology trend such as cloud-based rendering, when combined with such AR deployments, has potential for some killer innovative applications.

These are exciting times and I hope that the entrepreneurs tap into the world of augmented reality and make it real by creating innovative experiences that demonstrate technology excellence, create new business models, and make it a real pleasure to interact with the enterprise software.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Alaska Airlines expedites the check-in process through design-led-innovation

Southwest airlines is known to have cracked the problem of how to effectively board the aircraft and Disney specializes in managing the crowd and long lines. Add one more to this list, Alaska Airlines. Fast Company is running a story on how Alaska Airlines has been designing the check-in area to reduce the average check-in time at the Anchorage airport . This is a textbook example of design-led-innovation and has all the design thinking and user-centered design elements - need finding, ethnography, brainstorming, rapid prototyping, and end user validation. Alaska Airlines visited various different places to learn how others manage crowd and applied those learnings in the context of their problem supported by contextual inquiry of the check-in agents. They built low fidelity prototypes and refined them based on early validation.

The story also discusses that Delta is trying a similar approach at Atlanta terminal. Passengers see where they're going. The mental rehearsal or mental imagery aspects of cognitive psychology have been successfully applied to improve athletic performance. There have been some experiments in the non-sports domain, but this is a very good example. Imagine an airport layout where a security check-in process is visible from a check-in line. This could make people mentally rehearse a security check while they wait for their boarding passes so that they are more likely to complete the actual security check much faster.

What makes this story even more compelling that they managed to satisfy customers by reducing the average wait-time and yet saved the cost and proved that saving money and improving customer experience are not mutually exclusive. The innovation does not have to be complicated. They also had a holistic focus on the experience design where a customer's experience starts on the the web and ends at the airport. Some people suggest airplane-shaped boarding areas to expedite the boarding. This is an intriguing thought and this is exactly the kind of thinking we need to break out of traditional mindset and apply the design-thinking approach to champion the solution. I am all in for the innovations to speed up the check-in and boarding as long as I don't have to wear one of those bracelets that could give people debilitating shocks!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Monetizing social networks and preserving privacy - an oxymoron?

How do social networks monetize their core platform and applications? It's more than a billion dollar question, figuratively and literally. The social network companies such as Facebook does recognize the potential of an open platform for participation and developer-friendly attitude to let the community sip the champagne of the social network data. There is a plethora of applications built on Facebook platform and and this might be the key towards monetization. The other key players have also been experimenting with their platforms and business models but there is no killer business model, at least not yet.

Monetizing efforts do ruffle some feathers on the way since it is intertwined with other factors such as privacy, data portability, and experience design. The Facebook's experience design keeps applications' users inside of Facebook but at the same time provide the necessary, or sometimes unnecessary, access to user's data to the application providers. This has set off some debates around privacy concerns. Access to user's data and open architecture is a key to increased adoption that can potentially lead to monetization, but Facebook needs to be careful here not to piss of the users. Compare this with Google few years back where Google made a conscious decision to keep the search results rank clean (do no evil) and that strategy paid off when Google started monetizing via AdSense.

Marketers argue that the spending power of the current demographics of Facebook is not high, so why bother? This is true but don't forget that when these millennial grow up to buy that 60" plasma TV, some companies do want to make sure that they have a brand tattooed in their heads from their previous branding experience on such social networks. As pointed out by many studies, the millennial are not brand loyal and that makes it even more difficult for the marketers . The Facebook is a great strategic brand platform to infuse the brand loyalty into these kids.

Data portability is part of longer term vision for any social network. The applications are constrained inside a social network, but an ability to take the data out in a standard format and mesh it up with an application outside of Facebook has plenty of potential. Leading social and professional network providers have joined the Data Portability Group. Imagine to be able to link your Facebook friends with your LinkedIn contacts and provide a value add on top of that. There are plentiful opportunities for the social network providers to build the partner ecosystem and have the partners access to the data and services in the process of co-innovation. LinkedIn for the longest time resisted providing any APIs and relied on their paid subscription services. LinkedIn has tremendous potential in the data that they posses and standardizing the formats and providing the services has many monetization opportunities. It is good to see that LinkedIn has also joined the Data Portability Group and has also promised to open up APIs. Google's OpenSocial effort, partially opening up Orkut as a sandbox, and social network visualization APIs are also the steps in the right direction.

What I can conclude that the growth of such social networks is in two directions, platform and verticals. As platform becomes more open we can anticipate more participation, larger ecosystem, and service innovation. This should help companies monetize (no, no one has figured out how). The growth in vertical will help spur networks for specific verticals such as employment, classifieds, auction - who knows?

Monetization, experience design, and privacy cannot be separated from one another and few wrong strategic decisions could cause significant damage to the social network providers and their users.
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