Planning design ahead

One of the questions that has kept me awake last weeks is ‘how can you create design visions?’ , how can you set a direction of the path the design is taking. How can you set goals for design five years ahead. For business planning these questions are still tough but they’ve got a history of business planning of several centuries to get inspiration from, and they have the numbers, so their goals are more easy to measure. For example: By the end of the year we want to have ten mayor clients and a turn over of one million, check at the end of the year, 9 clients, nine hundred thousand turnover, almost there only ten percent off.

Measuring user experience
Design is measurable in goals of clicks, visits and conversion, but does this equal user experience too? If your conversion goes up by 10 %, does that mean the user experience went up by 10% too? One way of approaching this problem is by measurement, although not as easy as financial goals, there are several methods available to measure user experience, and get their experience expressed in numbers (for example see here: Measuring Usability and a paper about Single Usability Metric or Usability Benchmarking or the work of Nigel Bevan and this great thread) This might solve the problem of measuring how usable your product is, and might even being capable of measuring some emotional states. And therefore you could start expressing statements, as our overall user experience is now 7.1 by the end of the year I want it up to 8.0. For those who love numbers this is a wonderful method, is does not really solve the problems of design visions though. As Donald Norman states in his book, ‘as easy it is to create usable products, it can be pretty hard to create useful products. For usable most times applying the rule ‘simple is better’ will the job, and eventually you will end up producing hammers and nails.

Future visions
An other popular but more expensive way is the future visions that Microsoft and IBM for example push out every year

Neuro Web Design – a book review

This review is of the book Neuro Web Design – what makes users click by Susan M. Weinschenk. As the title suggests this book is supposed to be about what web designers and web marketeers can learn from ‘recent’ insights from psychology to build websites that are better up for their tasks. I.e. how do you get a user to click, write, engage with your website in a way that you want.

The book is divided into eleven chapters that all support one main concept and end with a handy summarizing bottom line. Because the book is neatly structured it’s not that hard to summarize. Therefore I will first provide you with a summary, and secondly a conclusion. As you might notice, that there are hardly any mind-blowing new insights, but one could say its the execution of ideas that count, not merely having them.

First chapter is about the working of the brain in general. We have three brains, working closely together, Susan uses the easy to remember names, new brain – where the active thinking happens, mid-brain – where emotions are processed, where your feelings are, and the old brain – that focusses on general survival, also works with the automatic functions in our body, as walking and breathing. An interesting fact is that we receive around 11 million sensory inputs a second, but our concious brain – the new one- is only capable of handling 40 of them simultaneously. To create successful websites we should therefore not only focus on our new brain where reason and logic live, but just as much -or even more- focus on the other parts of the brain that are outside our concious regions.

Second chapter is about social validations, we want to be normal, we want to be like others, therefore we continuously scan the environment to get a feeling of what might be expected from us. We therefore are particularly influenced by the decisions that others made, recommendations on Amazon for example, or the interestingness factor on Flickr. An other great way is to use case studies and stories of people who we can imagine to be real and who’s stories we can connect with.

Third chapter is about reciprocate and concession, about how giving things away for free actually helps working on peoples guilt feeling to balance out their relation to you, give them free information, and they might be willing to give some information back. Give them a free trial period, and they will consider your offering to pay for a service more happily.

Forth chapter is about scarcity. If things come in endless amounts, than or they are too easy, and we might take them another time, or they are not good enough, and people wouldn’t even want them if it is free. If there is some price to pay though, we feel more interested, expensive things must be good right, hard to reach places must be more interesting. Make information harder to get, make product offers run for a limit time, and they all appear to be more interesting.

Fifth chapter is about not providing endless choice, give people distinctive choices. We can only handle one or two product features at the same time, so if you want people to choose a particular product, make it appear on top of the list, let the most expensive one have more features, connect it with a story about a identifiable person and the deal is closed. Or if you want to sell a model X of 20 pounds, present it next to model Y of 110 pounds and model Z of 12 pounds. Even if X is only a slightly bit better than Z people will still go for it, because it looks like such a deal compared with Y, and Z is so cheap that there must be something wrong with it. (supermarkets love this trick to sell you their home brand) Perhaps here filtering techniques start to help too. As long as we have the feeling that we are slightly in control. Not every advanced search delivers on its expectations. Horizontal browsing might therefore provide a good alternative to vertical search (Check this presentation on Amazon)

Sixth chapter is about you! have you noticed how many times Flickr uses the word you on the logged in homepage? -nine times the word you, two times your name, and a whole menu named ‘you’. Your old brain is completely you focusses and loves to know more about things that are there for you to provide you with a better life. This focusses on three general themes of survival. Avoid danger – even if the danger isn’t focussed upon us, our brain will still be extra alert when we see risky things, show advertisement right after a scary film scene and we are more likely to take notice, and by having things flicker and blink they will get our attention. Find food: if you are by any chance in the food business, lucky you, show food lusciously and the customers will run into your shop. Sex sells, pretty people, girls with Bambi eyes, it all still helps to close the deal.

Seventh chapter is about commitment and consistency. Get people on board and they are more likely to stay on-board, increase your fees slowly each year, and they still feel committed and stay with you. Speak towards an inner vision of who some-one things she is, and more likely she will go for your product to stay consistent with her inner story and with her history of being. Writing positive reviews for example will not only give other people the feeling that they make better informed decisions, but it will commit the writer of the review stronger to the product.

Eight chapter is about similarity and sameness. Attractive people still are a good way to sell products, celebrities go a long way, and if your site is created for a specific target audience, than do show them. People that appear to be just like us, are trusted more.

Ninth chapter is about the fear of losing. Losing an offer because time runs out, buying the most expensive version because fear of missing some of the good stuff. (Nine is also about chapter four) Threadless can be seen as a good example here

Tenth chapter is about pictures and stories. We are in general not that good in remembering dry information, but when folded in a delicious story and topped with emotional pictures of real (attractive) people it moves right into our unconscious brain.

Eleventh chapter is a conclusion; we are social animals, think in stories, in emotions and in humans and your next product that will help people to communicate more divers, more easily, faster and more engaging will become a hit.

Although the book is not really bad, it’s lack of web bases case studies (even the most famous ones are absent) and the chunks of information that leave you behind hungry for more (yes, I really was able to summarize chapter nine in one line, it was hard not to write more words than Weinschenk about this topic) make the purchase of this book doubtable. I got the feeling that Weinschenk certainly does know her psychology facts and research reports, nevertheless her lack of knowledge on the area of web and design do prevent this book from being exciting and engaging. At least 60% of the book is filled with examples that have nothing to do with the internet. Although I actually learned a few things about the latest neuro-research, calling this book neuro web design is misleading. My advise would be that she teams up with web designer and writes a follow up as soon as possible. Until than, just read my summary and save up for books that are filled with passion for the field. Susan’s conclusion is a great example of her doubtful motives:

I don’t know what the next big thing online will be. I wish I did know. Than I could create it, make a lot of money and retire.

Her desire for money unfortunately led to this joined attempt with New Riders to create a book that promises much, but fails in execution.

I will give this book three stars, one for the great topic, one for the nice construction of the book, one because I did learn something, a minus for the lack of related case studies and a minus for the lack of real engaging content.

Another definition of design

As I pointed out in my previous post, I think that there is still something missing on all the great diagrams that are already made about design. And that is “why bother about design in the first place”. I placed my writings in a nice little diagram that hopefully explains what I meant, but also opens new questions.

What is the function of design

As far as I can explain from this diagram is that the goal of design is to enable people to work with technology in such a way that they can do their task they think they need to do to achieve their goals.The most important thing I wanted to make clear is that not only should designers focus on which task a user want to preform with a certain technology, they should also consider which goals (and vision) a user has, for their might be other tasks more suitable to achive their goals.

What is Ux Design

I stumbled upon some slide decks the other day, some arguing quit strongly against calling the artist formally known as interaction designer Tafkid a user experience designer.

Although i do agree with the key ingredients of these presentations, I also think one should avoid wasting ones time on defining meaning of words or meanings of professions. By the time that you successfully defined them, something new will have coma along that is exactly the same but 5% extra, and you can start defining again. Although it is interesting, I feel I have better things to do. If you feel you have some time left, please start working on defining art and artist, the difference between a blogger and a journalist and what web2.0 really means. I’m happy with that it is impossible, but I do believe that it is certainly possible to call a number of concepts that it is related too. That will be sufficient for me. If the world calls my profession UXD designer (or UX designer, or UE designer) than that is what I will work with.

Frank Spiller of the very interesting blog Demystifying Usability made a great illustration to cover this problem (source)

So User Experience Design (formally also know as Usability) deals with all these subjects, and many more, sometimes it will be the right name, sometimes it wont.

To quote good ol’ Shakespeare

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.

Emotional Design

Emotional design, or should I say, emotional technology, sounds like a concept or thought up by hippies, or some Japanese scientist on a remote island (Aibo anyone?). Though in his book Emotinal Design Donald A. Norman explains that, although most technology is without any soul, we humans, trained for social interaction, are capable of putting a soul into everything. It is therefore that we judge the technology around us, in a similar way as we judge the people with whom we interact.

So just as you can like, love, dislike, hate or be indifferent to people around you, objects (or in this case, software) can create a similar emotional response. How software creates this response depends on our own value projections on the software. If the product manages to surpass our expectation we might start to love it, if it under qualifies our expectation we might slightly dislike it, and if it turns out to be counter productive, we might start to hate the damn thing. How our expectation are raised depends on a collection of variables. Maybe its the price we paid for it, the good reviews we read about it, the design of the product etc. As Norman states ‘well designed technology works better’, although Norman isn’t that clear about what he means with well designed, if this is a statement only about the visual side of the product, or also the interaction design, it’s not hard to argument why well designed products work better. For the second time we can compare technology with its social counterparts. We have no problem paying extra for well dressed, smart looking people, (doctors, bankes, lawyers) and if they make mistakes, we are more likely to forgive them for their actions. (We might be entering the field of reputation here, but that’s not the direction now) Well designed technology makes us more happy, and less stressed about handling it. It works better because we are more calm in exploring the way it works.

Norman’s book includes so many interesting cases that I most likely have to separate them in multiple articles. Subjects that I would like to discuss are: Why software design is so much harder to understand than hardware. How actions have changed through the years, but goals have remained more or less the same over the millennia. Why, therefore we should focus on goal oriented design. The multiple level of human understanding of things.

Three levels at play in design: visceral, behavioural, and reflective. (source)

And how we can use all those concepts to recreate a frame work for user experience design.

Facebook, Foucault and the CIA

From the surface Facebook might look like just another toy for teens to waste their time on, but Facebook is much more than that. Not only is the audience comprised of much more than purely teens, the amount of users –70 million– and the time spent on it – the 6th most trafficked website in the world- make it a platform that is a seriously big player in the world of online destinations. Tom Hodgkinson, journalist for the Guardian, writes in his article about Facebook With friends like these… about the size and the goals of Facebook:

Furthermore, have you Facebook users ever actually read the privacy policy? It tells you that you don’t have much privacy. Facebook pretends to be about freedom, but isn’t it really more like an ideologically motivated virtual totalitarian regime with a population that will very soon exceed the UK’s? Thiel and the rest [shareholders of Facebook] have created their own country, a country of consumers. (Hodgkinson 2008)

With Facebook, state and commerce seem to have found a solution to the problem of decentralisation that they had been dealing with on the web. Where they already had solved some of their problems by building in surveillance possibilities in the hardware, with Facebook they can directly see what users are doing by following every click they make on this closed platform. I’ll try to present you with some background of Facebook as both a surveillance and marketing tool and we will try to relate the ideas of Foucault, biopolitics, segmentation and the Panopticon to the way Facebook allows its users to interact on the platform and itself the surveillance all this.

With Facebook as a closed platform, commerce no longer needed to need tools anymore to track users on different internet sites, for as long as the user stayed on Facebook, they could be followed on every page they visited. From research done by Harvey Jones and José Hiram Soltren for their article Facebook: Threats to Privacy, we can understand that on average nearly 90% of the students of their researched universities (including MIT and Harvard) had a Facebook account (Jones/Hirman Solten 2005 [14]) and although Facebook has a privacy option to disallow ‘strangers’ from viewing specific information (Jones/Hirman Solten 2005 [14]) this setting does not interfere with what Facebook itself can see; their privacy statement also leaves no doubts:

When you use Facebook, you may set up your personal profile, form relationships, send messages, perform searches and queries, form groups, set up events, add applications, and transmit information through various channels. We collect this information so that we can provide you the service and offer personalized features. (Facebook 2007)

It is pretty clear that those surveillance powers of getting all the user data are used by marketers to up its fullest potential, and according to Tom Hodgkinson the government in the form of the CIA also managed to get onboard; he writes:

Facebook’s most recent round of funding was led by a company called Greylock Venture Capital, who put in the sum of $27.5m. One of Greylock’s senior partners is called Howard Cox, another former chairman of the NVCA, who is also on the board of In-Q-Tel. What’s In-Q-Tel? Well, believe it or not (and check out their website), this is the venture-capital wing of the CIA. (Hodgkingson 2008)

And although the CIA were only indirectly related to Facebook in this article it would be of no surprise if the CIA were indeed capable of having the same information as Facebook’s commercial partners.

Foucault and Facebook
If we take another example that Foucault uses in his book Discipline and Punish, namely measures that have to be taken when a plague hits town, we can see another kind of social control happening on Facebook, the user-to-user control. An interesting feature on Facebook is its News Feed, which is on the opening page for everyone who has logged in and shows everything that your friends have done on Facebook: whether they have added new friends, uploaded photos, or even if their relations are still working out; and thereby reminds us both of the ideas of the Panopticon as to the segmentation after a plague, as Foucault writes: ‘Everyone locked up in his cage, everyone at his window, answering to his name and showing himself when asked – it is the great review of the living and the dead’ A quite somber image for the profile pages users create for themselves, but it could be used as a way to think about how social networks (especially those with a reach of more than 90% in certain groups) force their members to behave in a certain way. If we see each profile page as the representation of a human being, and we know that the News Feed allows everyone in the group to know about all the changes a person makes, then we can see the order Foucault mentioned:

This enclosed, segmented space, observed at every point, in which the individuals are inserted in a fixed place, in which the slightest movements are supervised, in which all events are recorded. (Foucault 1977 [140])

Two things are different though; first, the users join voluntarily (although is it a free choice to not join, when you know you will miss out on an activity 90% of your friends are joining?) and second the unknown guard is replaced by all your known friends that could be watching, although there is no way to find out which ones exactly, because Facebook does not give insight into who is watching your profile. It is here that we choose to be part of a self-created Panopticon, we are the inmates of a self-inflicted social prison; Foucault states: ‘that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers.’ (Foucault 1990 [31]) The current Internet users do not need power of state, or seduction by marketing anymore to keep them in control; rather they happily agree with self-surveillance to create an online society of social normalisation.

Facebook is a dream platform for extracting marketing data –and possibly security data- because it no longer has to deal with the problem of decentralisation; from the moment the users show up on one of Facebook’s pages their every move can be tracked and traced. Facebook’s privacy policy also leaves no doubt that they will. The way Facebook is created also allows us to see it as a sort of social prison or Panopticon and use the work of Foucault to understand better how social surveillance creates a status of social normalisation.