For her 10th birthday, I gave my daughter an iPod touch with speakers. I chose the Philips DS1100 Fidelio because it was cute: round shape, light colours, soft material and rich sound. She loved it and was so excited that it took her only a few minutes to unpack, set-up and start playing music, hugs and kisses included. It helped that the iPod was already configured and charged with some of her favourite songs. I left her in her room happily playing music.
Ten minutes later, I came back to see how she was getting on, and found a very different set-up. First of all, she was listening to the same songs but on YouTube. And to watch the videos was holding the docked iPod titled horizontally. Since, this has become her default way of using it. She has put together a little stand with books and things to keep it horizontal, and only rarely has it standing.
I thought this was an interesting observation and that with relatively minor modifications, like a tilting pivot solution, the docking station could support both portrait and landscape orientations. So, I wrote to Philips customer care. In response, I received a polite letter explaining that the dock speakers were designed for portrait orientation use only and that a cable was available and on sale to connect it to a TV and use it in landscape orientation. The letter mentioned also that the observation was going to be shared with Philips Design.
Last week, I got an invitation from Philips to write a review of the Philips DS1100 Fidelio, after several months of use, for the Philips site. I did some edits to the letter I had written to customer care, praising the design and quality of the product, but also pointing out the issue with lack of support for landscape orientation use. A few days later Philips informed me that my review had been rejected:
Thank you for taking the time to write a review on Philips Fidelio Docking speaker DS1100. Your opinion is very important to us and will help other consumers to choose the product that’s right for them.
Unfortunately your comments did not meet some of the guidelines we have to be posted on our site.
Please review the guidelines and resubmit your comment on Philips Fidelio Docking speaker DS1100.
The Philips Team
The link to the guidelines not working, I couldn’t work out where exactly my review had failed the screening.
In the past, I never trusted user reviews on corporate sites, and this experience definitely reinforces my prejudice.
About 5/6 years ago, many thought social networks were going to solve the massive information overload problem through community-based filtering of relevant content. Summify’s infographics Social Sharing: The Impending Sharepocalypse (Robin Campbell, 24-08-11) shows how social networks are actually amplifying the problem.
At IconMedialab, I was lucky to work with some of the most talented user experience designers and researchers I have ever met. Too many to acknowledge here unfortunately. But if you really want to know who they are have a look at my IconMedialab contacts in Linkedin. IconMedialab merged with The Lost Boys to form the LBi Group.
Many of our assignments were early generation web sites improvements for web sites that performed well below expectations in terms of acquisition, retention or conversion. We approached these assignments in a user experience-focused, structured way. The first step was a thorough analysis of the current user experience combining usage data, usability testing and online surveys. The second step was a description of issues with and opportunities for user experience improvement, prioritized in relation to the web site specific business objectives. The third step was the redesign plan, focused on the changes that would produce the most significant user experience improvements and its execution. In some cases, the redesigned site was usability tested prior to launch, to assess the overall improvement level achieved and make some additional changes. The approach was extremely effective, and successful with our clients.
Some of the cases were documented and used in seminars and presentations, with the clients’ accord. When you read them, please keep in mind that these projects took place in the early days of the web, around 1999 – 2001. Today, the issues and opportunities for user experience improvement are of a different nature, but the approach, I believe, is still very much valid.
http://www.assurland.com/ is a French insurance broker. Usage data indicated that most of the users who initiated a request for quote abandon before getting a quote. We redesigned the form and process breaking it up in smaller sections; grouping and reducing the number of questions; simplifying the terminology and providing contextual support. After redesign on average 75% of the users who initiated a request for a quote got it.
http://www.bokkilden.no/ is one of the first online bookstores to be established. It was then very popular with visitors, but made relatively few sales. We analysed usage patterns and found that people followed very distinct paths: some were very task-oriented; while others explored and browsed. The site design was then generic and didn’t support well any of the usage patterns. We focused on providing both very effective search capabilities and greater visibility on the content available with multiple navigation systemes and dynamic content bubbling up on the home page. The redesigned site had an immediate impact, increasing the conversion rate six-fold.
http://www.gazzetta.it/ is the reference source for sport in Italy. In May 2000, it had 4M monthly views (350k for football). We run a user satisfaction online survey, qualitative usability tests and usage data analyses to identify the main opportunities for improvement and worked on flattening the information architecture, providing a simplified navigation system, increasing consistency and offering richer content on the homepage. A month after launch, the redesigned site had monthly views up 10M (4.5M for football alone).
http://www.opentv.com/ offers intuitive and personalized viewing experiences for consumers of television content worldwide. We worked together to improve the user experience of some of the earlier applications (program guide, email, browser, viewing angle control). We first combined a qualitative usability testing with a quantitative analysis of usage data, and, because of low satisfaction and success rate, concluded that the applications had to be radically simplified in features and flows, and given a more homely visual interface. We then redesigned the applications around tighter concepts, fewer core functionalities, consistent object-action logic, fewer steps and a new front-end. Before launch, we run a user experience quality check with 100% success in the main tasks.
One of the questions that have been nagging me since I started working in the world of technology and innovation is why some products are so unbelievably more successful than others, equally advanced and sophisticated from a technological and marketing perspective, in capturing immagination, engaging people and generating new behaviours. So much better at conveying a new range of possibilities, inviting exploration, rewarding learning and sharing, that they are adopted at ultra-rapid pace on a global scale. In the process, they redefine the product category, often giving it their name, and generate unmatched interest, passion and financial returns.
Looking for commonalities that would help understand what makes innovations hugely successful, I started researching some of the cases of product families that transformed the market and drove social innovation on a large scale: Palm Pilot, Nokia 1010, Nokia 3310, RIM Blackberry, Apple iPod, TiVO, Nintendo Wii, Skype, Apple iPhone, Flip. I used this research material in my teaching at Telecom Paris and in a few seminars, one of which at the Otaniemi Forum, in Finland.
My favourite case was the Palm Pilot, also thanks to the excellent documentation available, from interviews and business cases, to books like the one pictured on the right by Andrea Butter and David Pogue. All the ingredients for a transformative product were present. The whole industry was focused on one innovation opportunity: the handheld computer aimed at PC rejectors. Little attention was put on understanding who the few customers of handheld computers were and what they did with it. The Palm team was one of the few in the industry willing to do so. They discovered that handheld computers customers were all but PC rejectors. They used the handheld computer to access information stored on their PCs, with some addition and editing of information, while on the move. The concept of PC-companion rather than PC-alternative was born, opening the way to the PDA (Personal digital assistant) product family. Contrary to the handheld computer, the PC-companion needed few functionalities targeted to specific mobility use cases, but world-class user interface, sync applications and energy management in a pocketable form factor. As in most cases of successful innovation, the product was based on existing, proven technologies with technological innovation concentrated on the key experience differentiators that made the product stand out. Add to the mix a new behaviour of overt social networking offered by the new wireless-enabled peer-to-peer exchange of contents, like business cards, between Palm Pilots, and the product had several intrinsic elements that can explain its success. Naturally, financial, technical, people, marketing, partnership elements played a very significant role too, but, I would claim, the single most important factor was the initial “PC-companion” intuition, and the selection of the core product features to deliver that “PC-companion” experience.
It is however easy to run these analyses a posteriori……..
The internet bubble burst in 2001 couldn’t stop nor slow down one of the most rapid and profound transformations society had ever experienced. Over a short period of time, nearly all of the everyday practices used to go about daily life, were ported from physical to digital settings and, in the process, deeply transformed. As transactions were disintermediated, people took direct control of many activities that previously required travel to dedicated locations, presence, lenghty processes, material artifacts and face-to-face interactions. The mad race to be the first and the best on-line unleashed a formidable amount of energy, innovation, creativity and capital.
Social activities cannot however simply be translated from the material to the digital realms. Many aspects of the physical settings, like guidance and help from human agents, familiarity, dedicated artefacts, immediate feedback and the learning context available to master the activity, are not immediately available in the digital setting. On the other hand, when operating in the digital realm, people can choose where and when to engage in the activity; can learn the task first hand and can find additional guidance from documentation and customer care.
I was fortunate enough to be fully involved and play an active part in this transformation. I worked alongside Internet Service Providers who were introducing people to the internet; publishers who were making their contents available digitally; bankers who were giving direct access to a level of information and direct transactions tools to their customers; television channels who were developing interactive TV.
One theme run across all these innovation domains: empower people, make them more autonomous, while at the same time extract value by increasing returns and/or decreasing costs.
The Nouvelles Architectures de l’Information article, written with Stefana Broadbent, which was first published in French (2003) and then in English (2006), captures the spirit of the moment and discusses some of the principles that were driving our design work at the time to make the new transactions enjoyable and successful. Our design work aimed at removing hurdles and frustrations; giving full visibility on options, immediate control and support for learning; making the digital setting familiar.
The approach we took to design services combined observations of existing routines, emerging digital practices and benchmarking of best in class services. The Narrative Approach to User Requirements for Web Design (Interactions of the ACM, November-December 2000) article, written with Stefana Broadbent, describes the way we linked consolidated practices to new digital ones, while introducing tangible new benefits as incentives to adopt the new services and adapt to it. We came to the sweet spot for innovation by tightly linking ethnography and design: gaining quick insights on existing practices and emerging digital practices through ethinographic observations; combined with in-depth analysis of the leading services for positioning and differentiation.
This systematic, demanding approach led to several groundbreaking web designs for media, maps and navigation, financial, travel and public services, measured in terms of experience innovation, uptake and usage.
The user-centered process underlying this approach was captured in rational unified process e-business development and then documented as the IconProcess.
One of the conditions of successful design is the in-depth knowledge of the target audience’s aspirations, expectations and behaviours that a new product or service is meant to address and serve. Research on usage of innovations generates insights on the behaviours that emerge around the innovation as well as on the needs and aspirations that remain unmet.
Most of the usage research I was involved in was part of the early phases of design projects. Some research projects were instead aimed at following the evolution of usage over a period of time, to be in the position of extrapolating future trajectories and identifying new opportunities. This type of usage research was strategic in nature.
The Usages d’internet par les demandeurs d’emploi (Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (52/3, 2006) article reports on a series of observations of unemployed people using the internet not only to search and apply for jobs, but also to be part of networks and support each other.