Today Smashing Magazine published our article, Ten Things To Think About When Designing Your iPad App. Mosey on over to Smashing to check it out — we’re pretty proud.
Today Smashing Magazine published our article, Ten Things To Think About When Designing Your iPad App. Mosey on over to Smashing to check it out — we’re pretty proud.
I recently had a discussion with Mike McCue, the CEO of Flipboard, on how he and his team managed to get things so right with the Flipboard design. In particular, I was interested in how they were able to balance functionality with delightful, polished, user experience features. Mike’s answer was very simple — they had to make some very tough choices and a lot of cuts. Their goal with Flipboard was to communicate to first time customers the potential of the product and have them yearning for more. Mike explained that when people used Flipboard for the first time, he wanted them to think, “Yes, I get it! And it would be even better if…” Consequently, they cut all but the most important functionality for their v1. For example, Flipboard was a news reader but didn’t have full RSS on first launch; it only supported some predetermined feeds. Also, it had a Twitter reader but didn’t let you post tweets. These types of painful functionality decisions allowed time to implement the polish to the interaction that Flipboard is known for – gorgeous visuals, subtle animations and a magical, contextual user experience. Flipbooard’s goal was that people would become so enchanted by the experience on first use, that they would be willing to wait for more complete functionality in v2.
This approach clearly paid off for Flipboard, but it’s a difficult one for many companies to embrace. We frequently have conversations with clients who try to cut user experience features and polish in order to put in more functionality. Many of our clients ask us why they can’t have a product that works like an iPhone. If you remember when iPhone first launched, it also had all the polish and a limited set of features that were far less than current market leaders like RIM or Palm. However, by capturing people’s imaginations with amazing user experience, they were able to buy some time to round out their feature set in subsequent releases.
The lesson? Creating a beautiful, compelling, polished user experience for v1 takes guts. You have to be ruthless with your feature set and treat the user experience features as equal to the core functionality when planning your roadmap. We’ve often seen companies who have great design ideas cut those ideas at the last minute to squeeze in one more feature so it’s not a lack of ideas that’s at play here. It’s a matter of priorities.
Looxcie has just launched their wearable camcorder and the associated mobile app that we designed! Looxcie is basically a camcorder that you wear on your ear which pairs with your smartphone so that you can use it as the viewfinder and to review, create, and share clips. If you see something interesting, you can hit the “instant clip” button on the headset which will save the last 30 seconds of video and package it into a video file which can be shared via Bluetooth to the companion mobile app.
The Android version of the mobile app is out today. Our designs for iPhone, all the various Blackberries, and Nokia are launching shortly. You can buy Looxcie on Amazon for $199.
What I LOVE about Looxcie is the instant clip feature I alluded to earlier. Nobody wants to spend hours looking through their video to identify when something interested happened. Instead, you can create 30 second clips from interesting moments when they happen with one touch and then if you want to, go back later to edit together longer segments, extend 30 second clips, etc… It’s the perfect tool for me as a mom and me as a user researcher trying to capture what a subject is saying but without a good way (before Looxcie) to mark the “good parts” in the midst of videoing. I think this is the killer app for video.
WeatherBill has just launched our new site design targeted at farmers and insurance agents. Following several rounds of rapid iterative design and Fast Insight user testing, we developed a user experience that educated customers about the unique process for purchasing WeatherBill’s insurance, provided insight into their current risk, and offered a simple yet powerful information architecture. Here’s what Greg Smirin, WeatherBill’s Vice President of Marketing and Product, had to say about our work:
“SlicedBread was a dream to work with. They’re smart, creative and took the time to understand what our users really wanted – and needed. The whole WeatherBill team can’t wait to work with them on the next project.”
Beautiful visual design:
To check out the site for yourself, visit www.weatherbill.com.
While consumer smart grid energy portals are an important area for user centered design, there is an often overlooked design challenge in helping utilities craft a demand response (DR) program that really works. For readers unfamiliar with the term, demand response is a program utilities are exploring which asks customers to reduce electricity use during peak times in exchange for financial incentives. Utilities have recently launched DR programs with the basic assumption that providing access to energy usage data and an economic incentive would motivate users to change their behavior. Turns out, encouraging behavior change is not so easy. With that challenge in mind, I decided to look at what’s been done in the past to motivate energy behavior change and see how learnings from past efforts can be applied to the design of demand response systems – from a consumer perspective.
Based on my literature review, the following are ten ideas to consider when crafting your demand response program to create an effective user experience:
1. Carefully craft and explain rate structures
Construct the rates and program carefully with consideration of more than the just the economics. A 2008 study of a time of use pricing pilot found that suggestions for behavior change were highly time sensitive to key family patterns such as mealtimes and did not work if they were disruptive to the household. To make sure you create a structure that is within the capabilities of your target audience, consider conducting a user study to understand how household behaviors align with specific time periods. Then you can craft a program with realistic expectations for consumption management and provide users with actionable advice that they can follow without changing their family patterns.
2. Create a goal – get commitment – provide feedback
Consider structuring the DR program so that participants get a specific difficult goal for participation, commit to the goal, and then get feedback on their goal. This type of structure has proven repeatedly to be one of the strongest approaches for motivating energy behavior change. In one study, researchers gave households a difficult goal (20% energy reduction), easy goal (2% reduction), or no goal for energy use. All groups (including the no goal control) were then given information on which appliances used the most energy. The goal was also combined with feedback or not. Households who received a difficult goal + feedback conserved the most (15.1%) and were the only group to significantly differ from the control. Participants with the easy goal did not differ in behavior from the control at all. To make an even stronger program, consider an extra reward if the goal is reached.
3. Provide frequent feedback
The more continuous the feedback, the more effective the intervention. In a seminal study conducted over 30 years ago in 1979, households were given continuous feedback over a period of 11 months about monetary costs of electricity use by means of a monitor displaying electricity use cents per hour. On average, households that had a monitor installed reduced electricity by 12%. Although hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly feedback all create savings effects, the more frequent the feedback, the more effective it is. Consider creative ways to deliver that feedback via web portals, in home devices, smart phones or on SMS (intermittently).
4. Emphasize choice and control
One study considered people’s resistance to installing automatic day/night thermostats. Once the thermostat was redesigned to allow residents to override the system temporarily, the thermostat was much more attractive to residents – even though in actual use most people never overrode them. Similarly, a DR program should emphasize choice and control – people can opt into the program and still have full control over their consumption.
5. Tap into the power of the group
One energy conservation program that had a lot of success enrolled people in groups where they discussed and compared conservation behavior with their social group over a long term basis. Similarly, virtual networks of known groups can be set up to motivate participation in DR programs – for example by tapping into existing social networks of friends on Facebook to encourage participation.
In addition, consider a structure that offers additional savings if everyone in a group or neighborhood participates and reaches a set goal (see point 1 above). One study indicated that an incentive that offered on an individual and group level – in this case for all residents of one apartment building — was more effective than solely an individual incentive.
6. Frame program benefits as avoiding loss rather than emphasizing gain
The amount of joy that someone experiences when winning $100 is not equal to the consternation suffered when losing the same amount. Most people are more willing to take risks to avoid or minimize a loss than to increase their fortune. So, focus on showing residents how much money they are losing every month by not enrolling in demand response. Once the loss is obvious, people will take action.
7. Integrate complex information
When calculating energy savings, people usually can’t take into account all the elements such as rising fuel costs, the real long terms benefit, etc… So, do the math for them! Give price information that shows the full savings, presented as avoidance of a negative consequence of non-action (see point above). Use the actual data you already know about the consumer’s energy usage to make the information actionable and real.
8. Present information using vivid personal stories and videos
Statistical data summaries and impersonal information are less effective than case studies and colorful stories for motivating participation. For example, imagine that you are considering a new car and are choosing between a Volvo and a Saab. Consumer Reports informs you that the consensus of its studies is that the Volvo has a better repair record. That evening, you go to a party and run into an acquaintance who tells you a horrific story about a Volvo. Although the Consumer Reports article is based on hundred of repair records and your friend’s story is just one additional data point, most people will be swayed by their friend not to buy that car.
When communicating the benefits of a direct response program, demonstrate benefits with concrete stories about real people who save more energy than average but are “just like you. To be even more effective, present the content in videos. Numerous studies have also shown that videos of people modeling the desired actions are more effective in getting people to change their behavior than written information or lectures.
9. Use a foot in the door strategy
Individuals who agree to a small initial task are much more likely to agree to a larger request. So, instead of asking people to enroll in the full DR program immediately, first ask people to participate in a small act, such as filling out a survey, and then later ask them to consider signing up for demand response as a follow up to the first request. For example, one representative study showed that the percentage of people agreeing to an unattractive sign being put on their front lawn encouraging people to drive carefully increased dramatically (from 17% to 55%) if they had first been given the opportunity to sign a petition favoring safe driving.
10. Communicate trust
One key differentiator for successful energy programs is successful marketing to get people to even consider trying it out. We’ve found in our research that people inherently don’t trust their utility so partner with a local organization people do trust to market your program. In a marketing experiment conducted in Minnesota, a county government contracted with a private company to install energy saving equipment in homes in exchange for payment of a percentage of the value of the energy saved. To market the program, households received one of three types of letters: one letter was sent on company letterhead with no mention of cooperation with the county, one letter went out on company letterhead and mentioned the county’s role, and the third went out on county letterhead and was signed by the County Board of Commissioners. The source of information had a profound effect on consumer response – request for energy audits came from 6%, 11% and 26% respectively of households receiving the three types of letters.
We’re continuing to do more research in this area and will publish more insight expanding into some areas mentioned above. In the meantime, here’s a partial list of references…happy reading!
For related posts about designing for the smart grid, check out:
AT&T just announced in an investor’s conference that smart phone users are using too much of its network for data and that something is going to have to be done to curb their usage since their network isn’t able to handle it. All I can say is WAH-WAH-WAH.
Let me get this straight. AT&T has an issue that their network is slow, which clearly is not the fault of the network but is the fault of the users of the network. So, instead of upgrading their network or preparing for the introduction of more smart phones which are going to cripple their network further, they are going to do something punitive to get smart phone users to download less data. And is their plan to do this while still continuing to charge $40/month for data service? They could offer tiered pricing to people so that some can opt into a lower price plan for more limited data, but charging users who are already paying $40 for apparently subpar unlimited service doesn’t seem fair.
As you can tell, as a user advocate, I think this is absurd. Problems with your product are never the fault of the customer. They are your fault. And, most importantly, if you are AT&T and ACTIVELY PROMOTING all the awesome apps and great things you can do with the iPhone while then complaining that people are using them too much, you don’t have a leg to stand on.
This behavior is not acceptable for an organization with a lot of competitors (rumored to be losing its iPhone exclusivity soon) that sells a service. Your goal as a product manager, engineer, designer, CEO, etc… is to make your users happy and not think of ways to save money by pissing them off. It may save money in the short term, but if your business is selling a service, there should be a high level of service involved.
This is a new announcement from AT&T but I predict it is going to lose them customers in the long run. In the words of Stephen Colbert, AT&T you’re on notice.
We’re proposing two panels for South by Southwest. Audience voting on the panels is open until September 4th and you can vote thumbs up or down on any as many panels as you want so if these sound interesting, please vote yes! (note that you’ll have to register but it only takes a second)
Comfort foods are the epitome of success. Delicious, ubiquitous, and easy. This panel of chefs and designers will explore what food can teach about product design. What makes a new recipe take-off? How do you make your product comfy on first use and then make people want to use it again?
Dazed and confused in a sea of technology and marketing fluff? This talk will help you pick the right technology for your Rich Internet Application based on the user experience implications. See specific examples of the trade-offs with each so that you can finally make an informed decision.
I’m a big advocate of lazy registration. Lazy registration is the concept that you don’t have a sign up form on your site but instead let the user try out your site for as long as they like and ask them for user data as part of their natural trajectory. This results in an experience full of open inviting doors.
The key is providing users with a reason to give you the registration data you’re looking for. If you’re site is good enough to do that (and if it’s, than that’s a bad sign), you’re golden.
Picamatic, an image hosting service, is a fantastic example of lazy registration.
A user can upload their images and can then either copy and paste a link to that image on their own:
Or click Save these images to get emailed a link to the images:
Another good example is the way that commenting works in blogs. It’s only when you enter a comment that you are asked for your email address to register.
Similarly, on sites like Stackoverflow , when you ask a question, then you are asked to enter in your email address at the bottom of your post:
On GetSatisfaction, when you’re done entering in your question, you get a pop-up after you hit submit that asks you to register:
Cookies are another key to lazy registration. See how much info you can keep for the user when they come back to your site. If you’re an ec-ommerce site you should be saving anything the user adds to their shopping cart. You can also save items they visited, searches they did, etc.
Kayak is a great example which retains searches you’ve made and saves them to your account when you do register.
Now go out there and rid your site of those registration black holes.
The new shopping area of the Intuit Health Benefits Center has just launched! We’ve been working very closely with Intuit on the design of this new venture for months and are proud to be a part of making healthcare insurance more accessible to small businesses.
In response to everyone’s awesome feedback on last week’s diagram of what we do, I’ve posted a new one:
This one adds a circle for the user which I agree is super important and a key part of our process. It also more specifically spells out what we do — strategy, user research, and design. The idea is that someone has an initial concept and we can help create the strategy and design for that concept based on our understanding of the concept, user needs, and development constraints. Thoughts?