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.
We’re excited to share that our redesign of the Intuit Trends application has just launched!
Intuit Trends is a free online application that lets small businesses compare how they are doing financially (such as income, expenses, profits, etc.) with other businesses that are similar to them.
We talked with small business owners to find out what they most wanted to understand about how their businesses compared to their peers/competitors, and then introduced some big improvements to the previous design. This release delivers the first preliminary round of changes, and there are many more to come.
Key features of our redesign effort included in this preliminary release are:
You can check out our redesign for yourself at: https://workplace.intuit.com/db/bejqb2kpn.
We’d love to hear what you think!
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:
A recent SmartGridNews.com article praised Greenbox Technology for “deliver[ing] understanding to utility customers.” While Greenbox does provide useful functionality that differentiates it from its competitors, key improvements to its interaction design would go a long way to provide a better overall user experience.
To be fair, Greenbox does deserve a gold star for displaying energy data specifically in dollars ($). As I mentioned in an earlier post, consumers don’t understand energy units, such as kWh, and are motivated to change their behavior by saving money.
But, what about the rest of the Greenbox design? Greenbox gets caught up in the same usability pitfalls I’ve seen in other consumer energy portals as well –too much information and not enough direct reference to the things that matter most to users. Here are my top three suggestions to help Greenbox, or any consumer energy portal, deliver an excellent user experience:
1) Simplify, simplify, simplify!
My foremost suggestion is simplicity. At first glance, the Greenbox interface looks very busy. There are many controls and buttons, and it tries to accomplish too much on a single page. Do users really need to be able to adjust their thermostat controls right on the main landing page, and also view their overview and data details at the same time? Instead, the home page could show only the most important information at first glance, and use color to further highlight and differentiate content on the page. The user can always drill-in to inside pages to access the less urgent information or access info on mouseover.
2) Engage users immediately with compelling content and proactive recommendations
My first response to the Greenbox dashboard is, “So what?” I’m missing context to understand the significance of my data. For example, is my overall usage good or bad? Am I using more or less energy than I did last month? Am I on track so far this month? Also, the portal doesn’t offer any suggestions for changing my behavior so it’s unclear what my next step should be.
To engage its users, Greenbox should focus on delivering insightful content that immediately provides context and motivation. Delight users by anticipating their questions and displaying answers at-a-glance. Provide simple charts and visuals on the dashboard to compare energy usage to different time periods and to others in the community so that people understand why this information matters.
3) Adhere to basic design principles
In addition to overall experience enhancements, here are some basic user interface guidelines to help GreenBox or any other site be more usable:
Instead, GreenBox could make these two items more visually related to connect them. For example, put the same green border around the box on the right and give both elements the same background color (see update below). Then, I would be much more likely to quickly understand their relationship.Updated design with green box:
If we take the recommendations above and do a very minimal redesign of Greenbox limiting ourselves to only minor changes to content and layout, we already begin to see large improvements in terms of usability.
For example, in this minimal redesign, the relationships between content is clearer due to stronger visual cues and use of titles, the interactive elements more readily “pop” from the page, and inclusion of arrow icons begin to tell an interesting story about the user’s energy consumption.
Of course, it would take GreenBox more than just a simple redesign with no change in functionality to address all of our recommendations. As a next step, I think Greenbox would benefit to take a more critical look at its overall structure and content to ensure they lend themselves to a good user experience – in particular thinking about the best items to put on the home page and trying to answer the question “So what?”
Will we see a new and improved Greenbox site in the near future? We hope so. In the meantime, let’s learn both from the things that Greenbox does well and from the areas that Greenbox falls short so that we can continue to focus our energy on creating intuitive, meaningful, and persuasive user experiences.
Related post: Watts all the buzz about smart grid energy?
One of the greatest tools available to me as an interaction designer is the ability to see real metrics. I’m guessing that’s surprising to some people. After all, many people still think that design all happens before a product ever gets into the hands of users, so how could I possibly benefit from finding out what users are actually doing with my products?
Well, for one thing, I believe that design should continue for as long as a product is being used by or sold to customers. It’s an iterative process, and there’s nothing that gives me quicker, more accurate insight into how a new product version or feature is performing than looking at user metrics.
But there’s something that I, as a user advocate, care about quite a lot that is really very hard to measure accurately. I care about User Happiness. Now, I don’t necessarily care about it for some vague, good karma reason. I care because I think that happy users are retained users and, often, paying users. I believe that happy users tell their friends about my product and reduce my acquisition costs. I truly believe that happy users can earn money for my product.
So, how can I tell whether my users are happy? You know, without talking to every single one of them?
Although I think that happy users can equal more registrations, more revenue, and more retention, I don’t actually believe that this implies the opposite. In other words, there are all sorts of things I can do to retain customers or get more money out of them that don’t actually make them happy. Here are a few of the important business metrics you might be tempted to use as shorthand for customer happiness – but it’s not always the case:
An increase in retention numbers seems like a good indication that your customers are happy. After all, happier customers stay longer, right?
But, do you mean retention or forced retention? For example, I can artificially increase my retention numbers by locking new users into a long contract, and that’s going to keep them with me for awhile. Once that contract’s up, they are free to move wherever they like, and then I need to acquire a customer to replace them. And, if my contract is longer than my competitors’, it can scare off new users.
Also, the retention metric is easy to affect with switching barriers, which may increase the number of months I have a customer while making them less happy. Of course, if those switching barriers are removed for any reason – for example, cell phone number portability – I can lose my hold over long time customers.
While retention can be an indicator of happy customers, increasing retention by any means necessary doesn’t necessarily make your customers happier.
Revenue’s another metric that seems like it would point to happy customers. Increased revenue means people are spending more, which means they like your service!
There are all sorts of ways I can increase my revenue without making my customers happier. For example, I can rope them into paying for things they didn’t ask for or use deceptive strategies to get them to sign up for expensive subscriptions. This can work in the short term, but it’s likely to make some customers very unhappy, and maybe make them ex-customers in the long run.
Revenue is also tricky to judge for free or ad-supported products. Again, you can boost ad revenue on a site simply by piling more ads onto a page, but that doesn’t necessarily enhance your users’ experience or happiness.
While increased revenue may indicate that people are spending more because they find your product more appealing, it can also be caused by sacrificing long term revenue for short term gains.
The net promoter score is a measure of how many of your users would recommend your product to a friend. It’s actually a pretty good measure of customer happiness, but the problem is that it can be tricky to gauge accurately. It generally needs to be obtained through surveys and customer contact rather than simple analytics, so it suffers from relying on self-reported data and small sample sizes. Also, it tends to be skewed in favor of the type of people who answer surveys and polls, which may or may not be representative of your customer base.
While NPS may be the best indicator of customer happiness, it can be difficult to collect accurately. Unless your sample size is quite large, the variability from week to week can make it tough to see smaller changes that may warn of a coming trend.
For products using the freemium or browsing model, this can be a useful metric, since it lets you know that people like your free offering enough to pay for it. However, it can take awhile to collect the data after you make a change to your product because you have to wait for enough new users to convert to payers.
Also, it doesn’t work well on ad-supported products or products that require payment upfront.
Most importantly, it doesn’t let you know how happy your paying customers are, since they’ve already converted.
Conversion to Paying can be useful, but it is limited to freemium or browsing models, and it tends to skew toward measuring the free part of the product rather than the paid product.
Engagement is an interesting metric to study, since it tells me how soon and often users are electing to come back to interact with my product and how long they’re spending. This can definitely be one of the indicators of customer happiness for ecommerce, social networking, or gaming products that want to maximize the amount of time spent by each user. However, increasing engagement for a utility product like processing payroll or managing personal information might actually be an indicator that users are being forced to do more work than they’d like.
Also, engagement is one of the easiest metrics to manipulate in the short run. One time efforts, like marketing campaigns, special offers, or prize giveaways can temporarily increase engagement, but unless they’re sustainable and cost effective, they’re not going to contribute to the long term happiness of your customers.
For example, one company I worked with tried inflating their engagement numbers by offering prizes for coming back repeatedly for the first few days. While this did get people to return after their first visit, it didn’t actually have any effect on long term user happiness or adoption rates.
Engagement can be one factor in determining customer happiness, but this may not apply if you don’t have an entertainment or shopping product. Also, make sure your engagement numbers are being driven by actual customer enjoyment of your product and not by artificial tricks.
While registration can be the fastest metric to see changes in, it’s basically worthless for figuring out how happy your users are, since they’re not interacting with the product until after they’ve registered. The obvious exception is products with delayed (i.e. lazy) registration, in which case it can act like a lower barrier-to-entry version of Conversion to Paying. When you allow users to use your product for awhile before committing, an increase in registration can mean that users are finding your product compelling enough to take the next step and register.
Registration is only an indicator of happy customers when it’s lazy, and even then it’s only a piece of the puzzle, albeit an important one.
You’d think that decreasing the number of calls and emails to your customer service team would give you a pretty good idea of how happy your customers are. Unfortunately, this one can be manipulated aggressively by nasty tactics like making it harder to get to a representative or find a phone number. A sudden decrease in the number of support calls might mean that people are having far fewer problems. Or, it might mean that people have given up trying to contact you and gone somewhere else.
Decreased Customer Service Contacts may be caused by happier customers, but that’s not always the case.
While all of these metrics can be extremely important to your business, no single one can tell you if you are making your customers happy. However, looking at trends in all of them can certainly help you determine whether a recent change to your product has made your customers happier.
For example, imagine that you introduce a new element to your social networking site that reminds users of their friends’ birthdays and then helps them choose and buy the perfect gifts. Before you release the feature, you decide that it is likely to positively affect:
Once the feature is released, you look at those numbers and see a statistically significant positive movement in all or most of those metrics. As long as the numbers aren’t being inflated by tricks or unsustainable methods (for example, you’re selling the gifts at a huge loss, or you’re giving people extra birthdays), you can assume that your customers are being made happy by your new feature and that the feature will have a positive impact on your business.
Of course, while you’re looking at all of your numbers and metrics and analysis, some good old fashioned customer outreach, where you actually get out and talk directly with users, can also do wonders for your understanding of WHY they’re feeling the way they’re feeling. But that’s another post.
Interested? You should follow me on Twitter.
For more information on the user experience, check out:
You spend months on a new feature for your existing product: researching it, designing and building it, launching it. Finally, it’s out in the world, and you sit back and wait for all those glowing comments to come in about how happy your users are that you’ve finally solved their biggest problems. Except, when the emails, forum posts, and adoption data actually come in, you realize that they hate it.
There is, sadly, no single reason why your new feature failed, but there are a number of possibilities. The failure of brand new products is its own complicated subject. To keep the scope narrow, I’m just going to concentrate on failed feature additions to current products with existing users.
Ah, the allure of the shiny new feature! It’s so much more exciting to work on the next big thing than to fix bugs or improve the user experience of a boring old existing feature.
While working with one company, I spoke with and read forum posts written by thousands of users. I also used the product extensively myself. One of the recurring themes of the complaints I heard was that the main product was extremely buggy and slow. The problem was, fixing the bugs and the lagging was really, really hard. It involved a significant investment in infrastructure change and a serious rewrite of some very tricky code.
Instead of buckling down and making the necessary improvements, management spent a long time trying to build new features on top of the old, buggy product. Unfortunately, the response to each new, exciting feature tended to be, “Your product still crashes my computer. Why didn’t you make it stop doing that instead of adding this worthless thing that I can’t use?”
Now, you obviously don’t need to fix every last bug in your existing offering before you move on and add something new. You do, however, need to be sensitive to the actual quality of your product and the current experience of your users before adding something new. You wouldn’t build a second story on a house with a shaky foundation. Don’t tack brand new features onto a product that has an unacceptably high crash rate, severe usability problems, or that runs too slowly for a significant percentage of your users.
Before you add a new feature to a product, ask yourself, “Have I fixed the major bugs, crashes, and UX issues that are currently preventing my users from taking advantage of core features?”
Remember the old Saturday Night Live spoof commercial that advertised, “It’s a floor wax! It’s a dessert topping!”? It’s not as funny when it’s true. Products cannot do everything, and when they try, they end up with interfaces far too complicated for the average user to navigate.
I see this happen all the time, especially with startups looking for a way to make their product appeal to more people. Instead of improving their core product and adding features that enhance that experience, they add unrelated feature after unrelated feature, often stolen directly from more successful companies with larger user bases. Their goal is to find something that makes them blow up huge, but they just end up with an overly complicated product that tries to do too many things and doesn’t do any of them well.
It’s not just startups that suffer from this. Products that have been around for many years often get bogged down with feature after feature, all of which have to be supported because some fraction of the user base still uses it. These products then become vulnerable to new challengers with more focused, easy to use interfaces and smaller feature sets.
Of course, there are times when companies have to take their products in a new direction. For example, Flickr started as a set of tools for an MMORPG called Game Neverending. The game has ended, but Flickr lives on as an entirely different business. PayPal began as a way to make PDA to PDA mobile payments, but that feature got killed years ago when they realized that web payments were a far better business model.
When you do find that killer feature that’s going to change your whole business model, commit to it and make it a serious focus rather than burying it under dozens of less popular features. Don’t try to be all things to all people, or you will end up with nothing but a giant, unusable mess.
Before adding a new feature, ask yourself, “Does this enhance my current product experience or just add to an already confusing and cluttered interface?” And, if it doesn’t fit with your current product offering but you still want to do it, ask, “Am I prepared to cut other features to make this part of my core offering and simplify my experience?”
Let’s face it, sometimes your priorities are different from your users’. For whatever reason, be it a new business partnership, a need for a new revenue stream, or the desire to attract a different group of users, sometimes you’re going to build something that your current users don’t want and didn’t ask for.
This isn’t always a bad thing. For example, something that annoys your current non-paying users but attracts a whole slew of new, paying users is worth a few nasty emails to your customer service department. Just make sure that the new feature is really going to do what you think it will. It sucks to piss off your current, paying customers to build a feature that never really fulfills its initial promise. Trust me on this.
Before building a feature that potentially has more benefits to your company than your current users, ask yourself, “Am I prepared to deal with the fact that this is going to annoy some of my customers, and what is the real likelihood that I will get more out of this than I will lose?”
I know. It doesn’t seem fair. They’re angry if you don’t do what they want, and they’re angry if you do what they want.
The truth is that users will often ask you for a solution when it would really be more helpful to tell you that they have a problem. I’ve written more extensively about when you shouldn’t be listening to your users, but the upshot is that users aren’t great predictors of which brand new features will be big hits. Sometimes users will tell you that they want a toaster in their car, when what they really mean is that they don’t have time to make breakfast in the morning.
Before building a new feature that your customers are demanding, ask yourself, “What known user problems is this solving, and is this the best way to solve it for everybody?”
Now, I’m all for building the minimum viable product, getting it out in front of users, and then iterating on it to improve it, but some features just aren’t ready for prime time. By launching a half baked feature without key functionality, you’re running the risk of turning a lot of people off on the idea before they ever get a chance to really try it out.
Remember, your customers aren’t in the conference room with you when you come up with your grand vision. They don’t know where you’re going with this neat new idea. They’re judging the feature based on their first experience with it. Make sure that the first version is at least usable and hopefully that it’s far enough along that users can see the same promise that you do.
Also, good enough to ship doesn’t necessarily mean good enough to remain in your product long term. A big part of shipping early is continuing to improve the feature once it’s been out for awhile. One company I worked with had the tendency to ship early versions of features and then let them just sit there gathering dust, rather than iterating on them until they were truly high quality. What they ended up with was an enormous product that all seemed about half finished and a lot of unhappy customers who didn’t believe features would ever improve past version 1.0.
Before shipping a new feature, ask, “Is this good enough that users will get why they should care about it? And, if they do care about it, am I committed to improving it?”
At many of the companies I’ve worked with, features have tended to evolve before they even get built. What generally happens is this: you have an idea based on something you’ve heard from users; that idea gets brainstormed and grows based on internal input; UX and visual designers spec out the whole idea, often expanding on the original idea; then engineering gets involved and gives a time estimate of how long the feature will take to build; finally the whole thing gets cut back by about 80% based on the estimates.
Unfortunately, the 20% you end up implementing may not solve the original problem. That means, when you finally announce your great new feature, users who originally asked to have that particular problem solved are justifiably upset.
Before drastically cutting your new feature back, ask yourself, “Does this still solve the original problem I was trying to solve?” If it doesn’t, ask, “Can this problem be solved with a reasonable level of investment?” There’s no shame in answering no to either or both of these questions, as long as you decide not to go forward with the new feature.
I’m joking. There’s no secret. The truth is that it’s almost certainly impossible. But by asking yourself the right questions during your feature development phase, you can dramatically cut back on time spent creating things your users hate.
And never forget, when you do build something they hate, acknowledge it, apologize for it, and fix it. It will go a long way toward making your users happy again, and it might even get them to like that neat new feature you just shipped.
Interested? You should follow me on Twitter.
For more information on the user experience, check out:
We recently worked on a new energy tracking site to help consumers monitor their energy use and find ways to save money. With President Obama’s recent announcement awarding a few billion dollars in smart grid grants, we expect to see an even larger effort devoted to creating new energy tracking systems and devices. So, let’s save all of us some energy by sharing our top tips for creating a consumer energy portal.
1) Simplicity is key
We’re noticing that far too many of the new energy portals on the market are delivering complicated interfaces and busy dashboard-style pages with dense data charts and lots of buttons. Although heavy data, analysis tools, and controls might be interesting to data geeks, most consumers will find this information overwhelming or just plain boring. Consumers don’t want it to be rocket science just to learn to set their thermostat, and they don’t want to spend hours reviewing their usage details just to determine how they can save money.
A few examples of interfaces with too much data for consumers:
So, we encourage you to simplify, simplify, simplify! Anticipate user’s most common questions, then make it easy to find these answers. Highlight key information in an easily scannable format, and engage consumers with friendly language, like “How much energy am I using?” and “Is my electric bill on track this month?” If you have more data, you can always offer it on drill down for people who want to learn more.
2) Present energy data in meaningful unit equivalents, specifically dollars
Which in-home energy device would you want to use in your home?
I bet you chose Option 2.
To engage consumers, phrase information in a way that makes sense to them. What we say has to be both measurable and meaningful. Consumers do not understand the electricity unit of ”kwH”, unless they’ve had considerable experience with it. And the words “tons of carbon” are just as meaningless even to those who are in the industry. Instead, all energy data should be presented in terms of dollars ($), with kwH and other meaningful equivalents shown as alternative views that can be visualized. For example, “You’ve saved $53.44, or enough energy to watch 362 hours of TV.” Check out Chevron’s “Energy Generator” as another great example of how to present meaningful unit equivalents that consumers understand.
3) Consider a “new user” experience
Most consumers have not had a lot of experience seeing detailed analysis of their energy data, so there is going to be a 3-6 month period of active learning for new users. During this time, users are going to be interested in identifying some basics about their energy usage. For example,
After this initial learning period, consumers will have a good sense of the basics that will remain fairly static over time, and will start shifting their focus to a different type of monitoring. For example:
We suggest that you recognize this consumer learning curve by considering a “new user” experience for your consumer portal. The purpose is to educate users on their energy basics and to appropriately highlight information that is most relevant while they’re still learning, but might remain static overtime or become less interesting after initial use. Then, after this initial ramp-up period, keep users engaged by presenting an ongoing use experience that highlights the dynamic information they want to continue monitoring overtime.
4) Deliver proactive recommendations with bottom-line savings
Consumers want to know what concrete steps they can take to reduce their energy consumption, and they want to know what impact those steps will have on their bottom-line savings. Our research has shown that people are highly concerned and knowledgeable about environmental issues, but their primary motivation is still saving money. We recommend creating a predictive savings calculator based on actual energy usage that would allow users to see how various changes would affect their consumption and bill. Users could even use this calculator to help convince other household members to make the behavioral changes that matter most for their bottom dollar. Will the calculator show you which trade-off is right for you? Probably not, but at the very least, it will provide you with your top options for having the biggest impact on your bottom dollar. You can take it from there.
5) Offer a highly-visible, integrated in-home solution
In addition to creating a web portal for access to consumer’s historical data, we suggest also providing a highly visible point-in-time meter for integrated placement within the home. Consumers are looking for visible, real-time meters that can become an effortless part of their daily routines – much like their thermostats – because they know that everyone in their house has to be able to stay on track with one simple glance. Otherwise, it will be “one day up then one day down” instead of a forward-moving effort by everyone involved.
Also, remember what we’ve learned– keep the device simple, and present energy data in dollars and other meaningful equivalents, such as the following example from Energy Aware.
We hope you found these tips in creating consumer energy portals helpful. Think about it… talk about it… try it… and get out there and create your own green power designs so that others can give it a try, too.