How AI is being leveraged to design better UX by Gavin Lau

Image — @skippuku (twitter)

Image — @skippuku (twitter)

If you’re in the tech industry at this point of time, my hunch is that you have heard something about Artificial Intelligence (AI) or User Experience (UX). As AI continues to become more understood, its becoming less confined to the domain of developers and data scientists. As Designers/ Tech enthusiasts/ Entrepreneurs/ World Changers its important we start or continue to think beyond the devices and interfaces we currently use. To continue improving the world, we shouldn’t become limited to what currently exists. We should be looking for inspiration in everything, and be thinking of the world as an interface.

Jake, awesome intro, but what is AI? Is that flying cars and stuff? Good question, lets find out with this video by Peter Diamandis.

In conclusion to this video, as I write this in 2017 AI is controlled, limited, evidence based and a form of code. AI is not alive, conscious, Skynet, creative, ambitious or empathetic. Lets have a look at some case studies of companies that are using various forms of AI to improve their UX.


Airbnb

Image — Airbnb https://www.airbnb.com

Image — Airbnb https://www.airbnb.com

When you think of Artificial Intelligence, your first thought isn’t exactly renting out rooms or flats. With AI and a data-driven culture, Airbnb have revolutionalised not only the hospitality but also the way the industry engages with AI. When you go on holiday, regardless of location or type of accommodation — your likely to be paying a price that’s based on a demand vs supply model.

Airbnbs ‘Price Tips’, is an AI tool that “lets Airbnb hosts see exactly where they should set the price of their property on a day-by-day basis to make it most likely to be rented” — Airbnb. With this tech, property hosts are able to see a calendar that displays the price they have set for their asset every day. If hosts have priced their asset right, the dates appear green — if the price is too high, price tips displays the price red. With this information hosts can use a slider adjust the price and find the ‘sweet spot’ — a price low enough that it’s likely to be rented, but high enough that you’re not leaving money on the table.

Price Tips AI algorithm is based on the massive amount of data Airbnb receives and processes using the company’s open AI tools. There’s a host of different factors that go into the price tip model, including listing type, location, price, availability, and how far away each date is from the current time. With all this data, Price tips can automate calculation and thinking processes for Airbnb users and in turn make the experience more intuitive and transparent.

More on this here.

Online / Inproduct Support Chat Bots

Chatbots and other modern interfaces are becoming more human every day (Well atleast the way they feel) — This is due to the ‘Hollywood Formula’. The Hollywood formula is a formula to help create meaningful stories by Martin Stellinga . Think about how Disney characters create relationships with their users. They manage to establish these large scale relationships with diverse demographics. Each of Disneys characters have unique personalities that are displayed across various mediums (apps, books, films ect). Imagine if we could become experts in creating these human narratives across our interfaces and constitute similar connection for our users. If AI is the new UI, then personality could be the new UX.

Many websites/products offer their customers the opportunity to chat with a support representative while browsing. *Plot twist* Although they may feel human, not every company actually has a live person on the other end. Often you are communicating with primitive AI. What’s interesting about this is that these chat bots need to be skilled in interpreting natural language — a rather difficult hypothesis.

Netflix

Example of face and full-body features to determine the focal point of the image — Image : Netflix https://www.netflix.com

Example of face and full-body features to determine the focal point of the image — Image : Netflix https://www.netflix.com

In a multi-device world, designers of all kinds have to come up with a large amount of variations in content/graphics to cater for many mediums. This process takes time… lots of it — Well, not for Netlfix. Netflix and many other companies have handed over this ideation phase to AI.

Netflix discovered early how much its visuals influence user groups and their decisions to watch particular content. To take advantage of this conclusion, Netflix developed an AI algorithm to crop characters from images and apply stylized movie titles to create a poster unique to a users interests, languages and location — cool hey? Alongside this, the algorithm also A/B tests the effectiveness of each design on Netflix’s users to self train and optimize its content. When AI handles such tasks, the design team can focus more on understanding the user journey and refining these rules.

More on this here.


AI is not only limited to the big players, smaller companies like RealEyes are also taking advantage of such advances in technology.

Its not reason that drives human decision — its emotion. We know that humans are motivated by their emotions, with emotion stimulating the mind “3,000 times faster than cognitive thought” — Tier 360. To help organizations objectively and accurately measure human emotion RealEyes offer forms of technology that read human expression through facial recognition algorithms.

RealEyes software records human emotion through a webcam and makes sense of it with an underlying AI algorithm. This tech is great for things like usability testing — when testing a product you may find that users are able to use and understand it (good), but are experiencing some form of anger emotion in response to a certain form of messaging (not so good). Without having measured users emotional responses, the product could have been deployed and have resulted in customer upset. Other benefits of this tech could include the automation of work flows by efficiently analyzing and coding video / image data and more.

So you have read through some case studies about how AI is being used to improve UX, but id love to add a final example that’s a bit different. This example is about the way AI can and will change the way we build our products, but potentially also work to improve relationships.


Pix2code

AI could be your new front end developer — yes front end developer, awesome hey? Pix2code is a form of intelligence that can generate code from screen shots of your interface. A tool like this could help bridge the gap between UI/UX designers and front-end developers, but not replace either. Check it out in action.

While the code isn't that great right now, its important to understand that this is a proof of concept. As the AI gets more training its only going to become smarter and more efficient. From this moment on, it will only become better.

Lets Talk Data. Data = Intelligence, No Data = No Intellegence.

1*8h6PhUC4MnCmd9xo8TvLXQ.jpg

Image —Fabien Girardin : A feedback loop that will feed the algorithm with learning material (data).Its quite easy to get carried away with AI and the adequacy of this system in UX. Yet, its important to remember that the results it provides users is only as proficient as the data its learnt from. The quality of the data matters to AI. The more sophisticated the information gets, the better informed the AI is, and thus the better the resulting decisions.

Its quite easy to get carried away with AI and the adequacy of this system in improving experiences. Yet, its important to remember that the results it provides users is only as proficient as the data its learnt from. The quality of the data matters to AI. The more sophisticated the information gets, the better informed the AI is, and thus the better the resulting decisions. Supplying the AI with undeveloped information could prove to be disastrous — large holistic data sets are a must.

Although a scary thought, we may need to design experiences that incentivise the engagement that can help improve/train our AI. We may need to prioritise AI over our users by taking one step back with our UX, to take two steps forward with our AI. The more unpredictable the experience, the smarter the AI can become, and therefore; we need to be okay with launching premature experiences to our users to collect data. As designers we need to solve the friction between getting the info the AI needs to know and the info our users are willing to provide.

The flow diagram below helps illustrate a feedback loop between AI and a humans.

Image — Elaine Lee (AI Designer at Ebay)

Image — Elaine Lee (AI Designer at Ebay)

Conclusion

The world is rapidly moving towards AI. As designers we have the opportunity to define how our relationship with AI will play out. Its an opportunity for us all to collaborate with data scientists (and other stakeholders) to innovate, and create exciting meaningful experiences that will benefit our users and the future of UX. Remember, data is the staple of experiences with systems that learn. The combination of data, learning algorithms and UXD can trigger an evolution of memorable experiences for our users.

 

A Guide to the Art of Guerrilla UX Testing by Gavin Lau

1*-Mj1L_-7wLgovpjus63b7Q.png

Research and testing are great things — they give design teams the ability to inform their designs with reality. Nowadays, research and testing are pretty much a requirement for web and mobile projects. There are plenty of methods for conducting UX testing, but many of these methods are resource-intensive and time-consuming, and this often stops teams from testing in the first place.

Luckily, an easy technique for refining the user experience exists. It helps product team validate (and invalidate) critical assumptions at cheap cost and with rapid speed. It’s called guerrilla testing.

In this article, I’ll show you how to conduct guerrilla usability testing to get the most out of it. You’ll learn how to avoid or minimize the technique’s weaknesses, and improve planning for all research and testing. But before we dive into details, let’s first define what guerrilla testing is all about.


What is guerrilla testing?

Perhaps the best definition of guerrilla testing was coined by Martin Belam. He defined guerilla testing as “the art of pouncing on lone people in cafes and public spaces, and quickly filming them whilst they use a website for a couple of minutes.”

Basically, guerrilla testing means going into a coffee shop or another public place to ask people about your prototype. It’s low cost and relatively simple testing that enables real user feedback.


This type of testing has following characteristics:

  • Participants are not recruited but are approached by persons conducting testing sessions.
  • The sessions themselves are short (typically 10–15 minutes) and are structured around particular key research objectives.
  • The output is typically qualitative rather than quantitative. Testing helps to quickly validate how efficient design is on its intended audience or whether specific functionality works in the way it is supposed to.


Each testing session can be represented as a following number of steps:

  • Approach a person
  • Introduce yourself and ask if they would like to participate in product testing
  • If they agree, get basic information about them
  • Give them a few scenarios to do
  • Observe their interaction
  • Ask about their experience
  • Thank and reward them for participation


The beauty of guerilla testing:

  • Guerrilla testing is a fast method that provides sufficient enough insights to make informed strategic design decisions. Guerrilla research can be squeezed into nearly every timetable or deadline.
  • Since it doesn’t require a lot of money, most product teams can afford to do guerrilla testing on a regular basis.
  • Doesn’t require specific research skills. Anyone on the product team can conduct guerrilla testing.
  • Can be used as a demonstration the value of user testing/research for stakeholders, especially for those who struggle to acknowledge the value of usability testing.

Guerrilla testing is great for:

  • Identifying critical usability issues early in a product design lifecycle.
  • Testing hypotheses/assumptions during design sprints. Guerrilla testing can be an easy way to validate those hypotheses and create validation checkpoints.
  • Validating tasks that don’t require specific knowledge (e.g., completing a signup form, ordering a product in e-commerce store).
  • Getting quick baseline measures of an existing product experience (your key competitors).


Guerrilla testing isn’t so great when:

  • Domain-specific knowledge is required to use a product (e.g., completing specific use-cases in financial or medical apps). You can’t expect all the people you talk to will have all required skills.
  • A specific environment is required to conduct testing (e.g., testing can be done only in a certain location).

Now when you know what guerrilla testing is, let’s walk through how to conduct it.



Step 1: Prepare for testing

Many UX professionals consider guerrilla testing as bad practice. They say it often doesn’t reflect the real picture. This opinion comes from a flawed approach to testing.

The danger of guerrilla testing comes from poorly planned and executed test sessions. Such test sessions don’t provide any reliable insights. While guerrilla testing is a definitely less formal way of testing (in comparison with lab usability testing), that doesn’t mean that it can be successfully done in a planned fashion.


Know your objective

The number one rule of research/testing is that before collecting data, you must know why you’re collecting data. No matter what testing technique you employ, it’s always worth being certain of your objectives before conducting testing sessions.

If you don’t know what you expect to get from your research, you won’t gain sufficient insights after the test session. Having an objective doesn’t mean having a big-detailed plan (which would probably be overkill for this flexible, “on the fly” technique) but it does mean having a clear definition of what you’re looking for when you start.

For example, if you’re testing an app for ordering food you might want to know answers to questions like:

  • Can users easily search a particular type of food they would like to order?
  • Can users submit the order without too much effort?


Have an interactive prototype

Some UX experts suggest guerrilla testing can be done with almost anything, including concepts drawn on paper. As a result, many researchers print out designs and ask test participant to test paper sheets. This isn’t right way to do guerrilla testing because that’s not how someone experiences a product in real life. You can’t expect people to understand how your product works by flipping through paper pages.

While you don’t need to have a finished product to conduct guerrilla testing, you still need a prototype testers can experience. The more it resembles a real product, the more valuable feedback you’ll receive.

Tip: If you’re at the early stage of your design process and don’t have a prototype yet (even a semi-functioning one), you can test your competitor’s solution. This way you’ll be able to understand how real users interact with a product from the category and what areas of UI/UX you should focus your attention during development.

A prototype of mobile app created in Adobe XD

A prototype of mobile app created in Adobe XD

 

Pick the right location

A lot of UX professionals think guerrilla testing can be conducted in the nearest public place (cafe, sports venue, shop, etc). But that’s not always true. You need to pick a location where your target audience spends their time. For instance, if you’re testing a new mobile app for a retail chain, you might go to one of the stores and test there.

Tips:

  • Ensure the environment is relaxed. You won’t be able to conduct a proper guerrilla testing if all your test participants are rush or stressed.
  • Always ensure staff at the venue are OK with you doing some user testing.
  • If your prototype requires internet connection, make sure to pick a location with a stable Wi-Fi.
Image credit: johnferrigan

Image credit: johnferrigan

 

Create smart scenarios

The tasks you select for your testing session play a critical role in whether findings will be useful or not. Since it’s impossible to test everything at once (not in regular usability testing, and not in guerrilla testing), you need to select carefully.

Tips:

  • Think about all the important things people need to be able to do using your product and write down a short list of tasks. For example, if your product is a mobile app to order food, you probably want to test how people find a product, compare products, order a product, add a product to a wishlist, etc. Write these tasks down.
  • Now that you have a list of tasks, it’s time to prioritize them and decide what to test. Give each task points from 1 to 3 based on how frequently the tasks are performed. 3 points are for tasks a majority of users will do most of the time, 2 points if they do it occasionally, 1 point if they only perform this task rarely (like complaining about an order).
  • Choose the top 3 tasks. You’ll use them to create scenarios users can understand and grasp easily.
  • Create a scenario based on each task. A good scenario has following characteristics: it describes a problem for participants to solve; it’s easy for them to relate to (by providing context and a realistic level of detail); and it doesn’t hint to the participant how to achieve the goal. An example of a scenario:
“Imagine that you’re looking for ordering a pizza for your office party. You found this app and you want to try it. Go ahead and give it a try.”
  • Before testing your scenarios with test participants, pre-test them with friends and colleagues. Make sure that scenarios are easy to understand and people can follow them without any confusion. Not doing a proper run through of the test in advance is a common guerrilla testing mistake.



Take someone else with you

While you definitely can conduct guerilla testing alone, it is worth taking someone with you for two reasons:

  • You won’t be worried about your stuff — your colleague can look after your things while you approach potential subjects.
  • It will be easier to discuss the results of test sessions.

At the same time, it’s not recommended to have more than two people in research group because it will make test participant feel uncomfortable. Two is the perfect number.


Conduct five test sessions

Jakob Nielsen did an extensive research and found that testing with five users will help you find up to 85% of the core usability problems in your product. You learn a lot from the first person you talk to, a little less from the next, and so forth. After the fifth user, you’ll observe the same findings repeatedly, but won’t necessarily learn anything new.

You only need to talk to five users to find 85% of the core usability problems.

You only need to talk to five users to find 85% of the core usability problems.

 

Be ready to adapt to context

The lack of a controlled environment is one of the most significant differences between guerilla testing and regular user testing. Guerrilla testing is about adapting to the situation. Even when you carefully picked out time, location, there’s always a possibility that things may not go according to plan. Consider all potential risks and have a plan of action for it.

Tips:

  • Have a backup internet connection in case the Wi-Fi connection isn’t fast enough. Also, don’t forget your charging cables or additional power packs.
  • Be ready to trim the number of questions if a person decides to leave a testing session earlier.
  • If the environment around you is too loud, focus on tasks that require less verbal clarification.



Step 2: Approaching people

Proper introduction is essential

Think in advance about how you are going to introduce yourself. You’ll only have a couple of minutes to get across what you’re there to do and what you want from the participant, so you better get your intro right!

For my initial approach I use a 5-step formula:

  • Question: Do they have a time? (1)
  • Describe: Who are you and why are you there? (2)
  • Describe: What do you want from them? (3)
  • Questions: Can they stop for 10 minutes? (4)
  • Describe: How you reward them. (5)

Hello, do you have a minute? (1) My name is Amy and I work for company ‘Awesome.’ (2) I’m here asking people to take a look at our product (3) and let me know what they think of it. If you have 10 minutes for me (4), I’ll ask you a few questions and record the answers. In return, I’ll buy you a coffee or a muffin to say thank you. (5)

Before starting a test session, it’s important to learn some basic facts about your test participant. Spend a minute or two to find out if they are the type of person who may use your product. If you have specific criteria for people who you want to talk to, a few simple questions will help clarify. For example, if you’re testing mobile app for ordering food, you can focus on finding the following information:

  • Do they order food online?
  • What is their level of technology proficiency (whether it’s a tech-savvy or regular user)?



Step 3: Running the testing session

Explain the purpose of testing, and mention you’re testing the app, not them

Before you start testing, make sure your participants have a good idea of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Since most people don’t know what guerrilla testing is all about, provide some context. This helps develop trust between the researcher and test participant, and leads to more honest responses.

Another important moment that should be taken into account is that people in testing situations often can feel as though they are being tested (as opposed to the product itself), and sometimes start to apologize or shut down. To prevent that, say something like:

“I’m testing the product, not you. No need to worry about making any mistakes. And please don’t worry about our feelings. We want to improve our product and need to hear your honest reactions.”


Follow ”Think Aloud Protocol”

The think aloud method is critical for getting inside the user’s head. It means asking the user to speak out loud everything they are thinking, so you can gain insight into the thought process behind the user’s actions.

As the participant uses the product, you should encourage them to think out loud and share their thoughts and ideas with you. Since talking while doing isn’t typical for people, you should ask them to do it:

“While you’re using the product, I would like you to think out loud. Just say what you’re thinking, what you’re trying to accomplish, what you expect to happen after an interaction, and so on.”

For example, if you’re testing a mobile app for ordering food, you should expect people to say things like, “Hm, this looks like an app for ordering food. I wonder how to find a product category. Maybe if I tap here, I’ll see it.” Give them an example like that one to help them understand what you’re looking for.

Tips:

  • Don’t hesitate to ask test participants questions like, “What are you currently thinking?” “What do you think will happen next?” or “Is that what you expected to happen?” during the testing session to stimulate them to verbalize their thoughts and feelings.
  • Even when people are thinking aloud, sometimes they experience problems with verbalizing their thoughts. That’s why you should ask clarifying questions if something seems unclear or you think there’s more information a test participant can share.


Keep testing consistent

A common problem with guerrilla testing is the temptation to go with the flow when querying the user. Often a particular question can trigger interesting insights, and a person who conducts the testing wants to get the bottom of it. This can cause the test to go in an entirely different direction and, as a result, it’ll be impossible to compare results.

It’s always better to focus on your primary questions while conducting sessions. If you found something unexpected during a test session, note it and circle back to a particular topic to dig deeper at the end of the session.


Encourage creativity in user feedback

Making testing consistent doesn’t mean you can’t foster creativity. Help test participants get creative by asking them to sketch their ideas or feelings. For example, if they think there’s something wrong with UI, you can ask them to draw a simple schematic solution for the problem. These ideas might help you to improve things in the next iteration.


Speak less, observe more

As soon as you give test participant your scenario, you should stop talking, lean back and watch how they use your prototype. Don’t provide any extra explanation. Why? Because you want the testing session to be as real as possible, and you want to see how test participants figure out things for themselves — and the best way to see the natural behavior is to remain silent during testing sessions.

Just give test participants your scenario, lean back and observe how they use your website, app or prototype.

Just give test participants your scenario, lean back and observe how they use your website, app or prototype.

Your participants will undoubtedly have questions, and since you’re sitting next to them, they will ask you. To avoid any misunderstanding or bad feelings whenever they ask you something, just say something like this:

“That’s a good question, but I can’t tell you the answer right now because we’re interested in natural user behavior — how people use the product without any hints. I’ll give you the answer after the testing session, but for now I would like to hear what would you do if you were using this product on your own.”


Be a timecop

Remember, guerrilla testing isn’t a usability lab with paid users. You’re asking people to take a break from their busy lives and spend a couple of minutes with you and your research. Be mindful of how much time you spend with test subjects. If you ask someone for 10 minutes, make it 10 minutes—not 30. If you don’t respect their time, they’re not going to very happy, and that will impact their feedback.


Minimize note-taking

During the test, make sure you don’t continuously keep taking notes. When you’re sitting next to test participant and spend most of your time writing, it’ll definitely make test participant stressed and wonder what’s going on. There’s absolutely no need to write down everything you find — write down only the most critical things and observations, your key findings.

Tip: Record the session. Video or audio recording a session can be a good way to collect all important information. Obviously, recording should only be done with the interviewee’s permission. Be prepared to abandon recording if your interviewee is uncomfortable or reluctant. In the context of guerrilla testing, you can utilize specific software for this purpose: apps like Silverback or UX Recorder collect screen activity along with a test subject’s facial reaction.

Image credits: Sean Melchionda

Image credits: Sean Melchionda

 

Step 4: After testing

Conducting the tests is only half the journey to perfect UX. The feedback from testing sessions should be converted into improvements or (and) requirements for your product.


Analyse task completion ratio

Completion ratio is perhaps the most obvious finding from guerilla testing. You should capture the task completion for each of your participants and each of the critical tasks you identified earlier. The number of users who face problems on certain screens (calculated as the drop-off rate) will help you decide which parts of your app should be reworked.


Fix the biggest problems first

After guerilla testing, you’ll probably have a list of usability issues faced by test participants. How to know which problem to start first? You should focus on fixing the most important problems that affect a majority of your users.

Tips:

  • Don’t try to fix the problem in code — instead, create a prototype. Fixing problems can be expensive, especially if the issues affect an already-released app. To prevent any potential reworks, it’s better to create a prototype and test it again to be sure the fix works for your users.
  • Good is better than perfect. Find easy-to-implement solutions. Remember that time is money — don’t seek a perfect solution. When fixing usability issues, it’s essential to find solutions that can be implemented quickly.
  • Fix only the problems you find. When working on a fix, it’s tempting to make changes that go beyond the problems you actually observed. Avoid that temptation. Remember that you have a lot of work to do, and it’s better to move according to the plan.


Combine guerrilla research findings with other research data

It’s important to understand that guerrilla testing can’t be a replacement for other types of UX testing. Thus, you can’t focus entirely on guerrilla testing to understand how people perceive/interact with your product. Nearly all projects would benefit from multiple research methods such as:

  • User interviewsUser interviews can deliver a lot of insights about a target audience, such as their behavior, expectations, etc.
  • Moderated in-person usability testing. Moderated testing is a great way to understand how users complete certain user flows. In most cases, it’s possible to record interaction on a video and use it as a reference in a future.
  • Remote usability testing. Remote testing removes many of the challenges related to session setup. This inexpensive way of testing allows you to quickly verify a design with an unbiased audience.
  • A/B testing. A/B testing, also known as a split test, is a perfect type of testing when you want to compare two versions of the design and select the one that performs better.

When you combine results of guerrilla testing with other research techniques, you can get valuable results more quickly. To achieve really great results, make testing a habit.



How different companies conduct guerrilla testing

Here are a few case studies for your inspiration:

Airbnb Guerilla Usability Testing
I ran a usability test uncovering pain points in Airbnb’s rental booking process.medium.com

A Guerilla Usability Test on Dropbox Photos
Part 1 in a series on reimagining the Dropbox Photos experiencemedium.com

Guerilla Usability Test: Yelp
Improving Yelp’s web experiencemedium.com



Wrapping up

Whether you’re exploring a particular research problem or testing a design solution that you already have, guerrilla testing can be a huge time-saver. Now when you know a lot more about this great testing tool, it’s time to try it in the real world!


 

When AI gets in the way of UX by Gavin Lau

1*zVLjtBcXi98GLdz1vV5WWw.png

Don’t let your fascination for AI get in the way of your fascination for solving real problems from real people.

Artificial Intelligence is the big buzzword of today. If you are a digital designer, there are good chances that a quick scroll through your RSS reader, Twitter feed or Slack channels will show you more instances of the term “AI” than you would see just a year ago. New products being launched, journalists speculating how many years it will take for robots to take over the world, experts giving their opinion about how to design for AI.

Our entire industry is rushing to launch the world’s first AI-powered _______ (insert a product category here), without a proper use case or business case for it.

It doesn’t matter how it is going to be used, or by whom. What matters is to be the world’s first. Whatever it is. As long as there’s AI powering it.

In the next few months, every vertical of every industry will start to attach the AI-powered label to all its products — as well as its variations “AI-enabled”, “AI-driven”, “AI-controlled”. It’s a process that has been happening in the last 1–2 years and will only intensify moving forward.

On the other hand, products that are proudly created by humans (not robots), will start to attach labels that sit at the extreme opposite of the spectrum: “hand-made”, “hand-crafted”, “curated by humans”, “human-made”.

1*joC9wEvjoV3QMkOm4oGb3w.jpg

 

But what does that mean for UX Designers?

To create anything that will be powered by AI, technologists inherently have to start with the data that will be used to train the AI and ultimately create these amazing AI-powered tools and services. This process is usually driven by engineers — the experts that actually know how to model the intelligence and enable it to take action based on data.

The problem with that is that teams usually pick the first problem that technology can be applied to, without validating it with real users. Is that technology solving a real user need?

Just because something is possible doesn’t mean it should exist in the world.

It’s the same story when the concept of mobile apps came up in the late 2000s. Hundreds of apps were being launched every week, solving problems no one ever had. The vast majority died; the ones that were relevant for people persisted.

As UX Designers, our biggest challenge will be to participate as early as possible in these types of projects. To be designing along with developers, as soon as data is available to be looked at. And to bring the good old design methods of user validation and user research to the moment decisions are made — so companies don’t spend millions of dollars solving problems that don’t exist.


 

Stop Annoying Your App Users: 4 Push Notification Best Practices by Gavin Lau

Image credits: Pexels.com

Image credits: Pexels.com

Push notifications are sometimes more important than the rest of your UX. So, it’s a big deal to know what the push notification best practices are these days.

As mobile app users, we all have seen some great push notifications and some that just suck. If the push annoys the user, then they might simply end up uninstalling your app. That’s sad. But that’s the truth.

Imagine your app users are your beloved people. Yes, they are eager to spend time and money on you. But they will not stand it if you spam them, trick them into doing something they don’t want to, or simply keep annoying them with asking for favors. I am not saying that push notifications are something spammy. I am just trying to say that they might look spammy if you are not doing it right. Don’t do like this.

1*CmsYoeaJkXhlFWyTKG86yA.png

We often speak of app users as if about some strange creatures. And we sometimes forget that they are all people just like you and me, just like your mom or wife or husband or girlfriend. So, when we are creating apps, we need to hold this tightly in our minds that products are for people, not users. A push notification is a product too. Accordingly, it should be designed in a way as to be attractive and exciting and engaging. It should be for people.

Some app makers are really good at this. They are able to re-engage app users and boost retention rates with the help of push notifications. These are the rockstars. So, in this article, I have gathered some really cool push notification best practices for you to try. Here we go!

1. Get the opt-in

They say “The good thing about push is it reminds the user that your app is installed. The bad thing about it is it reminds users that the app is installed.” In fact, the push can either make or break your plans regarding re-engaging app users. So, you need to be extremely careful before even starting to design the push notification content. The first thing to do is getting a permission to send push notifications to your users. Make them opt-in.

1*wQAYVmyolGzN_Y7Jyhulnw.jpg

You can even create your own splash screen to speak to your users personally. On that screen, try to create an attractive message about the importance of opting in to push. Include the best arguments you can think of. From there, if they answer positively, you can show the official opt-in prompt which they can confirm.
 

2. Make the push relevant

Personalization matters! Never ever send content for anyone. Each and every user should say, “Oh, this is a message for me.” So, you know your task: no more generic messages. Use segmentation and send tailored, unique, exciting push notifications instead of faceless junk.

1*8fLh8VQINoYCF-xY-nvd4g.jpeg

Now you might ask: “Based on what should I segment my users?” The answer is — you can segment them based on several parameters. Let’s look at examples. You can personalize based on the user journey. For example, if it’s a gaming app, you can send pushes based on the level of the game the user is on. If it’s an e-commerce app, you can send push notifications based on the list of items the user has in their cart.

There are a bunch of marketing and UX tools that can help you segment your users based on various factors and send push notifications. At Inapptics, we are now creating an AI-powered engine that is going to find usage patterns in our customers’ apps and let them know whenever something interesting is happening.

For example, we will be able to predict which app users are more likely to churn. With this information in hand, our clients can send push notifications to those users and re-engage them and not let them abandon the app. You can subscribe for an early access on our Product Hunt Upcoming page.
 

3. Choose the right words

Push notification content comes next. The rule is simple here: content should be interesting. Choose the right tone and be careful with your wording. Generally speaking, you have around 10 words to make a positive impact. Here are a few quick tips:

  1. Be precise and obvious about what you want
  2. Add a clear-cut call-to-action
  3. Use your 10 words wisely
0*8Y2VZ8IOGYmnQrzX.jpg

If you are offering a discount, use phrasal verbs. Pushes that include words like “off,” “today,” “now” provide a feeling of urgency and seem to be working quite well.

P.S. never use the word “click” when sending mobile push notifications. We don’t click on mobile, we tap.

4. Let your users know you have missed them

This one seems to be one of the most overlooked push notification best practices. But the thing is sometimes even the most loyal customers drastically stop using their once favorite apps. Yes, that’s the saddest thing for app makers. Another sad thing is that churn is so hard to predict.

0*Gy8d_BIwbkBiAKKh.png

That’s why you need to cuddle your app users with love, affection, care and sweet push notifications of course. Let the dormant users know about your redesign, about a new feature or just simply about how much you have been missing them lately.

 

Summing up

Using push notifications strategically can be a great way of reminding your users about your app. Just make sure to use them at the right dose: too many irrelevant pushes can make your users leave and never come back again. Not enough messages can result in a decrease in engagement.

In both cases, there is a risk of your app being uninstalled. So, brace yourself and get ready to not let your people go.

To Get More Creative, Become Less Judgemental by Gavin Lau

The need to do more great work drives many creators. More quality and (or) quantity. Or both. Creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives.

We have come this far because a few bold innovators and creators chose to create, build, make, do, or start something. In “Body of Work: Finding the Thread that Ties Your Career Together author Pamela Slim says:

“We are made to create. We feel useful when we create. We release our ‘stuckness’ when we create. We reinvent our lives, tell new stories, and rebuild communities when we create. We reclaim our esteem, our muse, and our hope when we create.”

Prof. Dean Simonton, a psychologist who’s spent many years studying creative productivity, discovered two things about highly creative people.

  1. They’re woefully bad at knowing when their own work is going to be a hit or a miss
  2. Their capacity for productivity that makes them original, not their innate talent.

Simonton writes: “On average, creative geniuses aren’t qualitatively better in their fields than their peers, they simply produce a greater volume of work which gives them more variation and a higher chance of originality.”

Quantity lead you to quality.

But sometimes maximizing your creative output can be a struggle.



Decide what you want to create and why

Purpose is a great motivator. Your “why” can move you to do the impossible.

What do you want to accomplish right now?

You need enough clarity to give yourself a direction.

Clarifying not only your purpose but your direction reinforces your ultimate life purpose. You should have a clear understanding of what you want next month, next quarter or next year.

Napoleon Hill once said “There is one quality that one must possess to win, help and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.

Successful people have a definite sense of direction. They have a clear understanding of what success means to them. Everything they do is consistent with their goals. They look forward and decide where they want to be. Their day to day actions helps them move closer to their vision.

Once you find your why, you will be more careful and selective about your daily actions. Knowing your why is an important first step in figuring out how to achieve the goals that excite you.

The titans of creativity pursued the one thing that brought out the best in them. They defined their direction in early in life.

Thomas Edison held over a thousand patents in his name.

Picasso made 50,000 works of art in his life.

Mozart composed over 600 pieces in his lifetime.

Charles Schulz drew his iconic Peanuts comic strips for 50 years. He made 17,897 Charlie Brown strips before he died.



Create first, judge later

If you are striving to be prolific, forget judgement. Forget perfection.

Stop judging your work. Nothing kills creativity faster than comparing your work to someone else’s. Your job is not to judge your work. Your job is to put it out there. To see what will become of it. Give your creativity every chance of survival.

Don’t fuss over details as you move forward. What matters is that you get something done. Every day if you have to.

The real world doesn’t reward perfectionists. It rewards people who get things done. Give yourself time in your life to wonder what’s possible and to make even the slightest moves in that direction.

You will screw up in the process but it’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up for making a mistake or making a wrong choice. It will only lead to self destructive behavior.

Ed Catmull says, don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share ideas with others. He recommends you show early and show often. In his book, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, he writes:

“Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way.”

It’s okay to screw up as long as you are willing to try again. Non- comformists and originals screw up a lot. But they move on, knowing that at some point, the breakthrough will happen.

Creativity flourishes when you don’t seek perfection but focus on getting stuff done. Creating is the result of thinking like walking. Left foot, problem. Right foot, solution. Repeat until you arrive.



Find your flow

Have you ever completely lost yourself in a task, so that the world around you disappears? You lose track of time and are completely caught up in what you’re doing.

That’s the popular concept of Flow, and it’s an important ingredient to doing work and loving what you do. It’s in this state that we do our best, most efficient work effortlessly.

In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life.

Achieving flow is often referred to as being in the zone!

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist who has studied the relationship between attention and work, has written extensively about Flow. Mihaly enourages us to muster enough energy to do what we know we should do. In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi writes:

“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times — although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.

Uninterrupted creative process is the key to great work. Many creatives resist the idea of systems and structure. But you need to commit to a process, routine or system that works for you. Do more of what works for you.



Start and maintain a creative routine

Chances are you already know whether you’re a morning person or a night person. Morning larks and night owls have very different opinions on the best time of day to do important tasks.

If you pay attention to your body’s response to work for a period of time, you will be able to find out what works best for you and when you are more likely to be creative.

You are most active in the morning, hence your ability to concentrate, focus and get challenging tasks done. Your body is at a perfect physiological state (being well rested and recovered from previous day’s work) for optimum performance. Many people believe that morning is the best time to create.

Mason Currey writes, in Daily Rituals: How Artists Work:

“A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.”
“But one’s daily routine is also a choice, or a whole series of choices. In the right hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism. A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.”

Benjamin Franklin, once advocated for a lark lifestyle in a famous saying: “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

Charles Dickens was a morning person. He finished his writing by 2:00pm each day.

Barack Obama, on the other hand chooses to stay up reading past midnight despite his incredibly long days.

Experiment and find out what works best for you and stick to it. And when you find the best system for your creative work, do everything in your power to protect it from interruptions and distractions.



Consistency trumps everything

To succeed in anything you put your mind to, build a system that makes it easy to stay consistent.

Jim Rohn said “Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals.”

Defining your direction as early as possible is the most important decision in sport, and everybody knows it. But, curiously enough, this is also the most important decision in life in general, but much fewer people realize it.

In order to get what you want, you have to choose one direction and move towards it, constantly improving over a prolonged period of time.

As Anders Ericsson, author of “Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise” notes, “Elite performers in many diverse domains have been found to practice, on the average, roughly the same amount every day, including weekends.”

More deliberate practice equals better performance. Tons of it equals great performance.

John Maxwell said: “Small disciplines repeated with consistency every day lead to great achievements gained slowly over time.”

In order to reach big goals you need time, during which you must continue moving in your chosen direction.

Commit to doing a little, often. When you do, you’ll never be daunted by the size or scale of a creative project again.


Be deliberate. Be consistent.

You can’t be consistent accidentally. It has to be a deliberate choice you make, every day. Deliberate consistency doesn’t feel good because it’s hard work and requires discipline.

It’s about knowing where you want to be, and creating habits, behaviours and actions that will support you in getting there. Then doing or being them as often as you can, intentionally and deliberately. Over time your deliberate and intentional consistency will become natural consistency.

The shift from deliberate to natural is powerful and transformational.

Consistency and a series of purposeful actions will transform the way you work and hone in your chosen craft.

When you find your flow, you will be so prolific, they can’t ignore you.


 

How to Be More Productive in the Digital Age by Gavin Lau

Experts from Evernote, General Assembly, and more share tips and tools for staying on top of your work and life.

Staying on top of everything in our busy, digitally-driven lives is a huge challenge for most of us. How do we balance fielding work demands, being attached to our smartphones, and staying on top of wellness, all while trying to excel in our careers?

Last week, I had the pleasure of discussing productivity in the digital age on a panel hosted in partnership with Evernote and General Assembly at GA’s London campus. The aim was to understand how to become more productive in our work and life, and a crowd of 230 self-starters in business came out to learn more.

The panel of experts consisted of:

  • Graham Allcott, author of the global bestseller How to Be a Productivity Ninja, founder of Think Productive, and host of the Beyond Busy podcast
  • Josh Zerkel, director of global customer education and community at Evernote and Certified Professional Organizer®
  • Richie Barter, founder & CEO of machine learning and AI software analytics company AltViz
  • And me! Lora Schellenberg, marketing lead at global tech education company General Assembly, and co-founder of Circle, a community advancing women’s careers in our new world of work

During the discussion, we explored the productivity challenges faced by our panelists representing various backgrounds including marketing and community teams for global brands, running a consultancy, and managing a rapidly scaling startup.



4 Tips for Personal Productivity

Being productive on a personal level comes naturally to some, but for many it must — and can — be learned. Chances are, you’ll notice a difference after incorporating even one of the following tips into your routine.
 

1. Think about what “mode” you’re in at each point of the day.

Not all hours of the day are created equal. How can we optimise each part of our day to make sure we’re doing the type of work that’s most impactful at that time?

I’m not a morning person, so getting simple emails out of the way is an ideal way for me to spend the beginning of my day. I’m generally in a hyperfocused mode at midday, which is when I’ll find a quieter spot in the office to zone out with no distractions.

You may feel hyperfocused, collaborative, or tired and unmotivated at different points in your day, so think about what type of work that makes the most sense to do during those times.

Zerkel recommended being deliberate with how you’re spending your time. “It’s fine to occasionally enjoy some mindless television, but know that you’ve chosen to do it — it didn’t choose you,” he said.

(For more ways to stay focused, read these tips from one of GA’s product team leaders.)

1*pvEN27kTp1Mfio8JmM_nlw.png

2. Stop being a slave to your digital devices.

How do we control our ever-increasing dependence on our smartphones, which tend to cause constant disruption? Josh Zerkel suggested not constantly being at the mercy of your mobile. “Turn off notifications for everything and be more deliberate about how you spend your time,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s not an emergency,” especially when it comes to social media.

To reduce the interruption of our phones during times of critical focus, Graham Allcott suggested the app Quality Time to block unnecessary apps on your phone at a predetermined time that you decide. It breaks down the amount of time you spend on certain apps per day, giving you more visibility into which apps you want to spend less time on, like Facebook or Instagram.

Another more straightforward suggestion is to put your phone on airplane mode or turn it off entirely when you’re focusing on a particular task.


3. Break down projects into manageable tasks.

The word “project” is overwhelming, so it’s important to divide your work into smaller tasks, which helps to avoid procrastination. Allcott said, “A project is anything more than two to three tasks. I use a tool called Nozbe to get things done.” It’s a simple task management platform that helps individuals and teams prioritize tasks and get them done quickly and effectively.

I suggested a time-management method called the Pomodoro Technique(which I practice through the TomatoTimer web app), which allows you to focus on an activity for 25 minutes without distractions and makes tasks less overwhelming. Once you complete the first round, you’ll feel a sense of satisfaction and achievement. These emotions trigger endorphins, which, in turn, propel you forward. The technique works best when you plan your small tasks beforehand, allowing you to feel less overwhelmed by the idea that you’ll only need to focus for 25 minutes at a time before getting a short break. You can then feel accomplished after each 25-minute interval is finished and you can check the task off your to-do list.

Zerkel also encouraged attendees to “be careful of the projects you’re committing to, and learn to say ‘no’ early and often.” He went on to share that, “Yes is good for learning, no is good for productivity.” In an age with an astronomical amount of notifications, information, tasks, and so much more competing for our attention, we need to be judicious about our decisions when it comes to which projects we’re choosing.


4. Nurture your business network.

You never know when you might need to call on your network, whether you’re looking for a new job or in need of an introduction. (Need tips for building a community and connecting with executives? We’ve got you covered.) Nurturing and maintaining your network — even when you don’t feel it’s a priority — will take you far in business. One way to do this is to occasionally give without expecting anything back, like introducing a friend from university who’s launching a startup to an investor you know. Having a reputation as a “connector” will get you seen as someone who’s trustworthy and solid to work with.

Allcott pushed the point that “you shouldn’t beat yourself up about needing to ‘work the room’ during events. It’s way more valuable to have two meaningful conversations than 10 empty chats.”

1*rl7_hxSZ-TCAmXw-bWx5dA.png

I went on to suggest that because you may forget many of the specific conversations you have at an industry event, you can use the typical business-card exchange as an opportunity to jot down what you chatted about, and whether you said you’d follow up — directly on the business card, if there’s room. And don’t give in to pressure or a sense of obligation to make connections you’re not actually interested in: You represent your personal brand and your company, so always follow up when you say you’re going to, and if you don’t plan on following up, don’t say you will.

Zerkel took this opportunity to jump into a demo showing Evernote’s feature that allows you to snap a picture of a business card and import it into the app. It automatically digitises the person’s information, creates a profile, and even pulls details from their LinkedIn page. “This makes it incredibly easy to stay in touch,” he said. “You can also create a quick note about what you discussed and how to follow up.”

You can also consider utilising a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, like Trello, to keep track of your contacts, especially one with the capability to auto-remind you to follow up after a certain period without contact. This helps foster your business relationships and keeps you on top of your key contacts. Zerkel suggested that if you’re the person who follows up, “you win, because not many people will do this.”

1*VhnfSZhCMYn7B_7qt89azw.jpg

 

3 Tips for Productivity at Work

Being productive at work benefits your career — and your company — in a huge way. You get tasks done faster, work smarter, and ultimately prove you’re a valuable asset to your team. Here are our panelists’ best tips for workplace productivity.
 

1. Prioritise great communication.

Solid communication within your team at work is vital to creating a culture of openness and understanding, and I suggested that it’s a good idea to over-communicate. It can be tough to make this a priority when you’re heads down in your work, but it pays off in the long run in terms of productivity.

This doesn’t mean constantly being touch with your team on Slack, for example, as this can be a distraction or cross the line into annoying. But if you’re collaborating on a project, making sure you take even five minutes to sit down with the individuals involved to make sure they understand the brief and are able to ask any questions will pay off in the long run. After all, certain team members may consider asking questions to be a weakness, so it’s best to get ahead of this and build a culture in which it’s encouraged.

On the culture piece, Allcott mentioned the importance of developing a culture in which your team bonds outside of the office as well. Of course, not everyone is able to make time for a weekly happy hour, but what about a monthly Friday-afternoon team activity? At GA London, we get together for team breakfast at a nice restaurant once a quarter to celebrate our wins. After all, well-developed relationships make communication smoother and ultimately prove beneficial for the business.


2. Be data-driven about performance.

Do you use Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) within your role? I suggested utilising them for productivity because they help keep teams stay on track and be aware of where everyone stands. At GA, we set them for ourselves (once a quarter) and agree on them with our manager to make sure we’re on the same page. At the end of the quarter, we review them together to see what we hit and what we missed, and re-evaluate the OKRs for the next quarter. For example, as the marketing lead, one of my OKRs is to get a lead conversion of 13% by the end of the quarter. Being data-driven in my marketing role helps stay on track every day.

1*MHvBFkqN98ig91AqzhAFSQ.png

Also, collect data in all areas of your business to help you understand which activities produce the best output for the company and iterate on those further. I suggest investing in business intelligence software, such as Tableauor Looker, from the very beginning of launching your company. This helps your various teams, like sales and marketing, have a better idea of where they stand. For example, you can track how many new leads are coming in based on various marketing activities (like driving users from social media to your website) and determine which of them converted into sales. These programs also allow you to visualize the data in graphs, to more powerfully see business trends. Allcott said, “Don’t just chase what looks interesting or promising for the company — make decisions based on the data.”


3. Self-manage yourself as a leader.

As a founder, Richie Barter used to always attend his team’s daily standup meeting. However, he’s become aware of the importance of stepping away from this — though it was challenging to do so — because he found his employees would shape what they said around what they wanted him to hear instead of being honest.

Barter goes on to suggest that from his experience managing teams, he finds it important to be somewhat hands-off and give his team autonomy to innovate and even fail occasionally, with the ability to call on you in times of need. After all, it only helps you be more productive not to be involved in everyone’s business at all times!

Needless to say, I learned so much being part of this panel, especially the various ways to look at productivity whether you’re the founder of a business, a team leader, or an individual employee. The most important point? Productivity is not only accomplished by the “gurus” — it can be achieved by any individual, including you. It’s a matter of simply tweaking certain habits in your daily life, like committing different times of the day to different types of work. Figure out what’s most important to you and what works within your lifestyle — there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.


 

Make relationships, not things by Gavin Lau

1*Ywc9YkY6BXhH3DrqIvdhGw.png

Brands think of content as another product to create, but content isn’t a thing. Content is a relationship.

This statement has the whiff of woo woo, but allow me a moment to convince you of its simple truth. Because once you’re convinced, you’ll be free to stop deliberating about what to make, or how to make it, or whether it will go viral, and instead realize this one, simple truth:

All storytelling decisions begin with deciding what kind of relationship you want to have with your audience.



Relationships are based on trust

All relationships are based on trust.

You trust someone when you have confidence in their reasoning, or their feelings, or their abilities. You have that confidence because that someone has exhibited that reasoning or those feelings or those abilities over time.

In other words, you trust someone because their behavior is consistent across weeks, or months, or years.

Trust, you could say, is simply another word for time.

This is, of course, why people get attached to even-handed managers, and companies that meet or exceed analyst expectations, and monthly magazines that always have good articles, etc.

It’s not just that the manager is fair, or that the company is profitable, or the magazine is good. It’s that the manager is fair in every situation, and the company operates efficiently no matter the market, and the magazine always arrives on the first of the month.

It’s the consistency of a thing’s actions over time that builds trust, not the simple fact that the thing exists.

This should tell you something about telling stories: you have to keep telling them if you want anybody to care.

This should also tell you something about relationships: they take a lot of work.



There is no trust without honesty

Trust, of course, requires honesty.

You can’t trust someone if that someone isn’t honest about their reasoning, or their ability, or their intent. Their dishonesty takes away your ability to make good decisions.

This is, of course, why people try to avoid managers who dissemble — because the manager’s lie compels the employee to make poor career choices.

And this is why people try to avoid companies that provide falsified guidance — because the company’s lies compel investors to invest poorly.

And this is why people try to avoid magazines, or branded content, or TV anchors who aren’t forthcoming about why they publish certain articles or promote certain beliefs — because lies, whether by omission or commission, compel the audience to make unwise decisions.

In each case, the liar is lying because they fear a negative response to the truth. They’re afraid that if they tell somebody the truth, that somebody will no longer like them, or love them, or trust them, or whatever it is the liar fears most. They care about themselves, not their audience.

Another way of saying this is that the liar is optimizing for an output by falsifying an input. This can never end well. By lying to his audience, the liar makes himself unable to trust that audience. He can’t trust the audience because the audience believes in what the liar knows to be untrue. That means that the audience becomes a thing to be manipulated — which incentivizes further poor decision-making on both sides.

Anyway, this is the reason to reject all kinds of stupid perfidy, from the deplorable (“eco-conscious” gasoline companies), to the inane (unlabeled-but-paid-for lifestyle porn on Instagram), to the wildly unhealthy (stop posting for the likes, friend — you’re killing yourself).

This should tell you another something about telling stories: you have to begin with how the world really is, not how you wish it to be.

If you’re only optimizing the output, you’re optimizing a lie.



And so this is why a publication’s most valuable asset is their relationship with their readers

A publication isn’t content. A publication is the exploration of an idea.

The Economist, for example, explores classical and economical liberalism. Ben Thompson’s Stratechery explores the business strategy of technology companies. Kottke.org explores the liberal arts of the internet.

Each of these publications explores their ideas through the lens of current events; they are dependable voices that provide context for what’s happening, in their purview, in the world.

These publications have material assets (offices, computers, web sites, whatever), but those assets are simply commodities. The one truly valuable and non-fungible thing that they own is their audience’s trust, which was earned over time.

Their audiences trust that the authors will honestly examine the idea territory they’ve set out to explore. The author gives honest effort (input), the audience gives attention and trust (output).

This is a relationship.

This is two parties (publisher and audience) agreeing that a thing that exists between them (the content) is true.

As it happens, this relationship functions just the same for independent publications as it does for successful content created by brands — from a16z’s podcast, to Y Combinator’s Macro, to Autodesk’s Redshift.

In each case, the storyteller knows that they, the storyteller, aren’t the point of the discourse; the point of the discourse is the idea — which is larger than the storyteller and which never ends.



Make relationships, not things

The decision to create a relationship instead of a thing has real consequences for what you make, who you ask to make it, and how it gets done.

If you want to create a conversation because what you value most about your audience is their insight, then there are appropriate platforms and tools and people to help you do that.

If you’d rather create a teacher-student relationship because your audience needs tutelage, then there are appropriate platforms and tools and people to help you do that, too.

Regardless, the strategy flows from deciding what kind and quality of relationship you want to have.

Which is why it’s disappointing when a brand says “we need three pieces of content!” Yes, but why? You might as well ask me to make you three one-night stands.

Here’s your three one-night stands.

Was it as good for you as it was for me?



Everything works this way

Relationships are based on trust. Trust takes time and honesty. You can’t just create a pile of content and be done with it. You can’t “thing” your way to people trusting you.

Which is to say: the question isn’t what content to create.

The question isn’t how to create that content.

The question is why do you care about the people you’re creating the content for? What makes them special? What kind of relationship do you want to have?

How do you want them to feel?

 

Too Good To Go redesign by Gavin Lau

1*oONDJhnbkaqoR9EbowxMTQ.jpg

Unsolicited redesign projects seem to be a delicate subject in the design community. People either love them or despise them and they often bring out strong opinions and emotions. I for one have always found it interesting to see how other designers approach improving already existing digital products, understanding their design process and learning from their work. So inspired by other great redesigns, I decided to do one of my own.

Too Good to Go (TGTG) is a service that lets you find and buy leftover food from cafes and restaurants at low prices right after they close. So instead of wasting food that hasn’t been sold at the end of the day, customers can buy it at a greatly reduced price. I love this idea because it benefits both the vendor and the customer: vendors don’t waste as much food and customers get a great deal on the food they buy.

Since I discovered TGTG last year, I’ve been a regular user and a supporter of the concept. But I’ve always felt there were several ways the app could be improved to make the experience of using the service even better.

Screens from the current TGTG app

Screens from the current TGTG app

So I took it upon myself to look into how users use the app and feel about the experience to propose changes to the usability and UI that would improve the overall UX.

Rather than basing my project purely on my own ideas for improving the app, I found it crucial to include other users in the process. The app is in the end used by many other people than just myself. As such, I used user research as a starting point of this project and the findings to validate my assumptions and the design decisions made in the process.

Disclaimer: I do not work for TGTG, nor was I contracted for this project. I did this project purely out of interest and desire to help improve an already great service.

Goals for this project

  • Learn how users are using the app today
  • Identify possible usability and UX issues

Personal goals

  • Challenge myself to come up with design solutions that fit with user needs

Roles assumed in this project

  • User researcher
  • Data analyst
  • UI/UX designer
  • Product designer
1*rAt1jPpKFnf7y_jRQrBzWg.gif

 

User research

To get an understanding of how current users of TGTG are using the app and why, I conducted 5 in person interviews. The users I talked to had all used the service at least once and had experience using the mobile app. Demographically, the users interviewed were in the range of 20 to 37 years old, 3 men and 2 women.

The types of questions I asked were all open questions aimed to let users describe their experience with TGTG in their own words. The questions were mainly about why they use the service (what are their motivations and needs), how they use the app (which features do they use) and the context in which they use it (when/where are they, which situation are they in).

The following points summarize my key findings from the interviews:


Motivations & needs

  • All users mentioned they used TGTG because the prices are low and because they want to help reduce food waste.
  • The overall motivation to use the app was to get food cheaper.


App features & usage

  • All users had used the map feature and had experienced a vendor that was sold out before they could make a purchase.
  • Several of the interviewees mentioned they were insecure about buying from new vendors because they didn’t know what they would get for their money.
  • None of the users had used the search feature to search for a specific vendor or type of restaurant.


Context

  • Most users said they use service at noon or in the afternoon, typically after work or school. They open the app to find something to buy nearby and within a short amount of time.

These findings give us a good general understanding of why and how users currently use the TGTG app. Next step in the process is to look at the current app design and see how it matches with the learnings from the user research.

The current home screen used to find TGTG vendors

The current home screen used to find TGTG vendors

The screen above is the home screen used to search for and find vendors. By default, this screen shows vendors nearby that are available. Emphasis is put on a search function with a search bar at the top of the screen and filtering by vendor category.

As we learned from the user research, the users I talked to use the app when they are ready to make a purchase. Also, we found that the type of vendor isn’t the most important thing for users. With that in mind, how can we rethink this screen?

I suggest the following:
1. Less emphasis on searching for specific vendors. 
2. More focus on vendors nearby and with offers that can be picked up soon.
3. Explore designs that encourage users to try new vendors and incorporate elements that make it appear less risky to try an unknown vendor.

I incorporated these suggested changes into this new home screen:

The suggested new Too Good To Go home screen

The suggested new Too Good To Go home screen

The new screen introduces the following:

  • New top menu structure
  • New browse/discover flow
  • Updated vendor profiles
  • New user review feature

Let’s me explain the changes one by one:



New top menu structure

A new filter icon has been introduced with the intention of clearer communicating what it does. I found the current icon quite generic and unclear as to what it actually does. A label was also added to further stress the function of the icon.

The search function is still available since we must assume that some users still would like to have the option of search for specific vendors, but the feature is much less prominent. Instead of showing the search bar by default, the screen now shows a search icon and label, that users can tap on to bring up the search bar.

Finally, the map has been moved from the bottom menu to the top. I felt like it was more natural to incorporate the feature into the search and browse screen rather than in its own tab in the bottom menu since it’s part of the search flow.



New browse/discover flow

I removed the prominent search bar at the top since the user research found that users do not use it for searching for vendors. Rather than opening the app to search for specific restaurants, users open it to see what’s available nearby. Therefore, the new search screen by default presents vendors nearby. While this is also the case in the current design, it’s not communicated. Nowhere on the current screen are users informed that the vendors they’re seeing are sorted by distance. I thought it was an important fact to inform users that vendors on the list are show in order of distance. To do this, the design now includes a label that indicates how vendors are listed.

Apart from “Nearby”, users can also choose “Pick up soon”, which lists vendors by pick up time compared to their current time. Again to reflect the situation they’re in, looking to buy food right now. Other labels could also be considered, including “Most highly rated”, which uses the user ratings (more about those later) or “Most popular”, similar to the current “heart” feature.

Browse vendors nearby or for pick up soon

Browse vendors nearby or for pick up soon

Updated vendor profiles

The current vendor profiles make use of several different images: a vendor logo and a larger background image. To simplify these a bit, I decided to strip down the vendor profiles to focus their logo and the basic vendor information. I found the images to be quite dominating and taking up too much space. The idea with clearner, simpler profiles was to give users more information about the vendors while browsing and adding new information such as “new” labels for newly added vendors and the user star rating (more info about that later).

I removed the green/red indicator from this view since I didn’t feel like it was relevant to show users vendors that are sold out or unavailable. Since most users I talked to said they use the app shortly before they want to purchase and pick up their food, sold out vendors would not be interesting in that context.



User rating feature

Since several users expressed that they were unsure about purchasing from unknown vendors because they didn’t know if they were worth the money, I suggest adding a user review feature. It allows users to review each vendor with a rating of 1 to 5 and a short text-based comment. This would make the experience of each vendor more transparent for all users and hopefully make a purchase from an unknown vendor less of a risk.



Additional usability changes

Apart from the above mentioned changes to the design of the app, I have would suggest making a few other changes.



Map screen

The map screen, which gives users an overview of vendors in their vicinity, seems to have a few usability issues. First off, the initial view of the map the user gets when going to screen is very zoomed out. So instead of showing the different vendors that are around the users, vendors are grouped in chunks. To see each one individually, users need to pinch, pinch, and pinch some more. This is often very tedious and make it quite a hassle to see what’s around you.

Users have to zoom in quite a bit to find vendors nearby

Users have to zoom in quite a bit to find vendors nearby

The animation above shows an example of this that I recorded recently. As you might notice, the icons used to pinpoint vendors on the map are small TGTG logos highlighted with either a green or red color to indicate if the vendor is available or not. I suggested earlier in this review that showing unavailable vendors in search results weren’t very relevant since users are typically looking to make a purchase when using the app. This is also the case on the map screen, so the green/red indication doesn’t really add anything to the experience. Also, using miniature logo doesn’t give the user any information about what kind of vendor it is.

Instead of a colored logo pin, I would suggest only showing vendors that are available for purchase. Also, instead of the TGTG-logo, each vendor would be illustrated with an icon to indicate which type of shop it is. This would give users a quick overview of what type of vendors are around them without having to tap on each one.

Here’s an example of what this might look like:

The new map screen gives more information about each vendor by default

The new map screen gives more information about each vendor by default

Notifications

Another finding from the user interviews was that several users had forgotten to pick up their order and everyone had found sold out vendors. A way to avoid users forgetting and missing a sale could be by making use of push notifications. Currently, the app does not make use of these (to my knowledge), so it seems like a logical solution.

Push notifications are a delicate creature though. They’re often misused and overdone to a degree that they annoy and disturb users. In short, the opposite of good UX. So I would implement them with caution and consider how they can benefit users by providing relevant information based on the context.

In this case, I could imagine sending users a push notification to remind them to pick up their order at a certain time. The time could either be set manually by users or be based on the GPS-location of the user and automatically calculate the time needed to get to the vendor. This could help eliminate the mistake of forgetting to pick up an order and the app would act as a helpful tool to the user.

Another way push notifications could be used is by informing users when their favorite vendors open up for orders. By doing so, users would know exactly when to open the app and make a purchase in order to avoid being late and finding the vendor sold out. The option could be activated after a user favorites a vendor and could easily be disabled if the user wishes to do so.

Let users know when they can make a purchase from their favorite vendors

Let users know when they can make a purchase from their favorite vendors

Takeaways — and where to go next

Too Good to Go is a great service with a bold mission to reduce food waste. Their current app does a great job at connecting vendors and customers in a quick and convenient way. By talking to some of TGTG’s users, I got great insight into how, when and why they use the app. This knowledge is a good starting point for improving different parts of the app to better help users achieve their goals.

But of course my research does not cover every TGTG user, or even the majority of them. More interviews are necessary to broaden learn even more about users and broaden the knowledge about user needs, goals and motivations.

I also did not have business insights into TGTG. These should be aligned with the findings from the user interviews to make design decisions that also make sense from a business perspective.

In the end, a digital product such as an app is never finished. To keep your product aligned with your user needs and business goals, continuous iteration is required. In short: keep on keeping on!



 

A Google Design Sprint Gone Wrong (And What It Taught Me) by Gavin Lau

1qsv4f4zGJznx9c9AL0Uq3w.jpg

Sprints are all the rage, but beware the snake-oil! This is what I learnt by taking part in a modified design sprint, run by people with incomplete understanding of the Google Ventures Design Sprint process.

1KCkvAcyuENlUnHmNrxVLZg.png

Jake Knapp describes Design Sprints as a greatest hits of productivity, decision making, innovation, creativity, and design — and I think that’s true. But I recently took part in a sprint which modified this “greatest hits” formula heavily. My gut feeling was that these modifications were not beneficial, but since I was unfortunately not in a position to change the process, I chose to view it as an opportunity to gather data, and do a comparative analysis between this sprint, and the GV process outlined in the book — to learn, and to be more prepared for the next time around.

I’m not going to go into specifics about the GV Design Sprint process.. all that stuff is in the book, which you should definitely read — but here is a boiled-down outline of the process:

1dFv00laI1RzWPr6OlT0FBQ.png

A Design Sprint is a learning loop where you define and create something (an “it”) you need to learn about. You test with real users, and gain valuable feedback and insights.



Here’s the stuff I learnt by taking part in a ‘bad’ sprint

Don’t change the vision / foundation during the process

This should be a no-brainer, but do NOT, under any circumstances start revising the foundation of the sprint, which was defined at the beginning of the process. In our case, assumptions, questions, goals and problems were literally revised on the last day of the sprint, rendering much of the process pointless, since everything in the sprint is built on top of this foundation. Mess with the foundation — and the whole house comes crashing down.



Don’t rush the time when sketching ideas

We only had very limited time (a few 10-minute slots) for sketching out ideas, which led to little time for exploration. The ideas that resulted seemed to be “shallow” and uninteresting. This belittles the true power of sketching: it is a formational activity which supports emergence of new ideas, and elaboration of existing ones. Sketching is a language which shapes and adds to the ideas which are put down on paper — but it takes time to explore, and go past the obvious ideas.



Don’t go backwards in the process

In this case, the facilitators asked us to review the solution after we had already picked and elaborated it. This led to a random features being added, a general lack of focus, and a bad group dynamic where some group members dominated the discussion.



Don’t test multiple “its” in the same sprint

We ran a sprint over three days, with each day dedicated to a different “it”. This led to two issues. First, ideas spilled over from one day to the next. Ideas that had been discarded on day one, would be “frankensteined” alive again, on days two and three. People get attached to their ideas, and it showed! Second, there was a lack of clarity about the purpose of the sprint, which led to a lack of focus and slow momentum.



Don’t hand off the actual building of the “it”

In our case we had a 3rd party standing by to translate our sketches into finished layouts. And while this was convenient and easy for us, it is super important for people to get their hands dirty, and build whatever they’re going to test, for themselves! It teaches the importance of being specific and detailed, it shows how new issues emerge during such a process, and it provides first-hand experience of how easy it actually is to create a “just-real-enough-to-test” facade of an artefact.



Do stay neutral if you are facilitating a sprint

Our facilitators took active part in the sprint. This might have seemed like a good idea, but since they were also facilitating, they were in a position of authority, and ended up influencing many decisions which should have been in the hands of the sprint team. Facilitators are people just like the rest of us — they can also get attached to their ideas, suffer from biases. So don’t get actively involved if you are facilitating a sprint — stay neutral.



Be mindful of group dynamics

In our case, dot voting / heatmaps was done after people had explained their ideas and concepts. So there was full disclosure about which sprinter had sketched which ideas — this led to unfortunate group dynamics and biased voting.



State explicitly which mindset you should adopt in a sprint

A lesson which is perhaps the most important one, especially if you are sprinting with people who are new to design thinking and design in general: be extremely mindful to explicitly state what sort of mindset one should adopt in a sprint. Specifically, outline what design is, and what wicked problems are. Provide a warm-up exercise such as the 30-circle challenge. Explain the importance of not falling in love with your ideas — that you should fall in love with the problem instead. You should fall in love with the “it” you are trying to figure out how to solve.



Final thoughts

Some good did come out of the sprint — specifically, three prototypes, ready for testing. It will be interesting to see what kind of user feedback the prototypes can generate. My hypothesis is that it will be fairly broad and hard to decipher, but time will tell.

Despite this somewhat critical article, the sprint was a good experience for the team, and it demonstrated (to some extent, at least) how collaborative ideation and sketching works wonders when designing new concepts.


 

UX of microinteractions for user delight by Gavin Lau

0*z0PFec0Od85oqnrS..png

Imagine you liked a medium post, you want to appreciate the work. What will you do?

You will click or tap on the clap icon.

Now, if you are reading this post on a desktop, then gently hover your mouse on the clap icon on the left side of your screen.

What happens? The circle bursts a little.

Now click on the clap icon. There is another little explosion and you get a number on the top of the icon.

0*yGsZbLV3Mjk7tK3c..png

The little burts. The tiny explosions. The movement of icons. The popping of numbers. All of these are microinteractions.

Microinteractions have become an essential part of our digital life. From the time you wake up to your mobile alarm, to checking emails, liking your friends post on Facebook to playing songs on your iPhone- we live with microinteractions all day.

“Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible, serving us without drawing attention to itself.” — Don Norman

 

Why microinteractions matter?

We are living in the age of user experience. Be it on mobile or desktop, your user wants to accomplish their goals with fun and an humanized experience. But microinteractions do more than that like-

  • Help your user navigate the website
  • Give feedback on completed actions
  • Help users in their next action
  • Motivate users to take action
  • Boost engagement with software

Dan Saffer in his book ‘Microinteractions- Designing with details’ identifies four parts of a microinteraction.

0*S2D9O-ycvT_UEoYi..png
  • Triggers initiate a microinteraction. Triggers can be user-initiated and system initiated. In a user-initiated trigger the user has to initiate an action, say in the medium’s clap icon. In system initiated trigger, the software detects certain rules are being met and initiates an action, say the locking of phone when it is idle for sometime.
  • Rules determine what happens once a microinteraction is triggered. In the medium’s clap icon it initiates a little burst or explosion.
  • Feedback lets people know what’s happening. Anything a user sees, hears, or feels while microinteraction is happening is feedback. It means that your action has been acknowledged. Remember the vibration on your phone when it is silenced or when it is switched on/off.
  • Loops and Modes determine the meta-rules of the microinteraction. What happens to microinteraction when conditions change or when they expire? Will the feedback be repeated?

Now that we know microinteractions play a big role in boosting your user experience and helps in making him engage with your website/app, let’s discuss how we can maximize their impact.


Here’s few tips to boost UX of microinteractions

Identify right opportunities: Microinteractions are tiny elements that can be used anywhere. However, it is important to tie the microinteraction with some value. The value can be to-

  • Attract your user’s attention
  • Communicate with the user
  • Provide feedback to the user
  • Help him complete an action
  • Motivate him take an action
0*cJ2XI_db1Ggnqfp5..png

Keep it simple: One thing users hate is cognitive load. And this comes from complexity. Your users want to accomplish their tasks fast. Super fast. Don’t make your microinteractions a stumbling block in their path. Keep it simple and easy to understand.

Source: Opera

Source: Opera

Keep it short: Micro in ‘micro interactions’ is an operative word. Keep your microinteractions tiny and short. Keep it fast. It shouldn’t take more than a second to happen. More and you are not helping the user.

Source:Technousa

Source:Technousa

Be predictable: Your users are tuned into a set of behavioral patterns. Like the color ‘green’ means go ahead while ‘red’ means stop. An ‘upside thum’ means like and ‘downside thumb’ means it’s not good. Changing them will take time. And microinteraction is not the place. So it’s important that you follow standard conventions while designing your microinteraction.

Source: Adobe

Source: Adobe

Make it fun: The idea behind creating microinteractions is to humanize the experience. And humans love having fun. Use animations and icons to good effect.

Source: UX Planet

Source: UX Planet

Make it a part of your overall design: Align the design of your microinteractions with your overall theme design. Use complimentary colors, typography and styles to create a visual harmony with your overall design.

0*C1MXJxx6sTGZGSdK..png

Test to perfect it: As with any design element, you must try out different microinteractions and test it. While testing it’s important that you also consider user fatigue with the microinteraction. Many a times, an interaction looks fun first time but gets boring thereafter. So make sure that your microinteraction is able to keep the user interest after repeated use.



Final Thoughts

User experience is important for the success of the software you are designing for. And microinteractions have the potential to take the user experience to next level. So think about the end-to-end experience, identify gaps and then use microinteractions to delight your users.


 

Designing Facebook for Mobile VR by Gavin Lau

1*FuCHZktdV4VIOuVc3WjoLw.png

The mission of the Facebook Immersive Design team is to enable people to experience moments as if they were there. We believe the ability to tell and experience stories unbounded by a rectangular ‘frame’ allows people to connect more deeply with those moments and ultimately each other.

We’ve built support for 360 photos and videos on all platforms and have seen more than 25 million 360 photos and more than 1 million 360 videos posted on Facebook to date. Although Facebook hosts a lot of great 360 content, it can be easy to miss in your News Feed and hard to find when you have a headset ready.



Introducing Facebook 360

For the past few months, I’ve been working on designing the next step in making 360 photos and videos even more immersive and easier to discover: the Facebook 360 app for Samsung Gear VR, powered by OculusIt is the first dedicated Facebook media app for the Gear VR platform, a destination to view 360 photos and videos from Facebook in VR.

1*klof4wvN8Hir7_xWSEz8Pg.png

Facebook 360 is a one-stop shop for catching up on what you may have missed from your friends and pages you follow, immersing yourself in the 360 photos and videos you’ve saved while finding something new to enjoy.


The app features four sections:
 
Explore: The most popular 360 content on Facebook from media companies, organizations, and individual creators.
 
Following: 360 content from friends and Pages you follow on Facebook.
 
Saved: 360 content you save from News Feed on mobile and desktop right in the app, ready for you to enjoy at a more convenient time.
 
Timeline: Your memories ready to be relived in a new way through the 360 photos and videos you’ve shared.

We focused on providing people with a coherent experience in Gear VR that mirrors people’s traditional Facebook usage. We ran weekly research sessions with participants of different backgrounds to validate our assumptions along the way.



Facebook as a Destination

When designing the app, it became clear that the context of use for 360 photos and videos from Facebook is very different in VR. People are likely to visit Facebook on their phones or desktop many times a day, but VR sessions are typically longer and more deliberate; users typically set time aside for more immersive experiences.

1*PJPbtDq-8MJtCDsr6ocWLQ.png

Furthermore, we heard that even though people enjoy viewing 360 content, it can be inconvenient to move your phone around to interact with it, especially in a public setting. To address this, we added the ability to access your Saved content from within the Facebook 360 app for Gear VR. This allows people to save 360 content for later as they encounter it on News Feed, then access it within Facebook 360 when it’s most convenient for them. By doing this, folks can set aside time throughout their week to catch up on what they’ve saved to watch later.

This symbiotic relationship between 2D and VR environments aims to meet people where they are and guide them along a more immersive experience at their own pace.

Once inside Facebook 360, our goal was to help people discover some of the great 360 content on Facebook that they might not have encountered. We set out to address this by creating an Explore feed, which highlights popular 360 photos and videos across Facebook. People can visit this feed in Facebook 360 to discover great VR content creators and follow them to build up their Following feed over time.

The following are five design considerations that informed the making of the Facebook 360 app:

  1. Passive Immersive UX
  2. Support redundant interactions
  3. Use depth to reinforce hierarchy
  4. Optimize for sloppiness
  5. Always try it on headset



1. Passive Immersive UX

Through user testing, we learned that most Gear VR owners don’t use VR standing up, instead, they use it while sitting on a couch or in bed and find constant interaction with the headset’s touchpad to be tiring. This informed a lot of our design decisions for navigation and interactions in Facebook 360.

1*DnSDLBXZPvQJq1E8TS4Xfg.png

For example, many apps require people to constantly jump between a grid and a piece of content. This seemed like a big friction point. To address this, we made the decision to automatically transition you to the next photo or video after viewing the current one without having to go back to the grid. The result is a seamless, story-like slideshow of content that allows people to lean back and immerse themselves in the content without having to constantly jump back to a grid to make another selection.

From the grid, people can tap any story to dive into a slideshow of one of the four sections in the feed — Discover, Following, Saved, or Timeline. If they see something they like, they simply tap and hold anywhere to leave a reaction or tap to bring up more information about that story.



2. Support Redundant Interactions

When possible, we designed more than one way to accomplish something. This redundant interaction approach aimed to give people the option to use what is most comfortable for them to accomplish the most common tasks.

For example, browsing content can be done simply by looking left or right in the grid. People can also tap a visual affordance or swipe with the touchpad to advance.



3. Use Depth to Reinforce Hierarchy

Traditionally, we’ve been trained to design information hierarchy from top to bottom, left to right. However, in VR, the center point takes precedence over anything else and objects placed closer to you will take priority over objects that are farther away. This informed our decision to use depth as an element to disclose hierarchy within the app.

1*mRActAC_oSEc2OUE9QLlFA.png

For example, we found that showing depth when looking through the story previews in the grid gave the effect of looking through a window into another world. This made sense for people’s mental models and added an element that feels welcome in VR.

1*pSuhZEHhcojlxnCCxZzBtA.png

We designed the story cards in the app to move forward as the person showed intent to interact. A story card sits at 6 meters away from the person but animates closer when they look at it. After tapping it, the card animates even closer to drive focus on the metadata and show a smooth transition between states.

We found this helpful to give people a sense of where they were and help them easily navigate between different surfaces in Facebook 360.



4. Optimize for Sloppiness

We put a lot of effort into designing gaze-based interactions that were comfortable to use and required interacting with the touchpad only when necessary.

1-XaSZQKEZvuOwxcf93HH7jA.gif

In this example, the reticle snaps to UI elements as you approach them, allowing people to be less precise with their head movements. This seemingly small detail presented an opportunity to make gaze-based interactions easier and required minimum effort to complete a task.



5. Always Try It In Headset

We were fortunate enough to validate our assumptions along the way by involving folks from all levels of expertise to participate in user research as we made progress in the app. We invited participants every Friday to test mental models, comfort zones, information architecture, and other interactions with people who’d never used VR before, as well as VR experts.

We learned that prototyping is an integral part of developing a product in VR: what often seems obvious in 2D is far more complex when experienced in headset. Through the development of this app, we ramped up our ability to quickly prototype rough ideas and test them out in headset. Finally, we built an end-to-end prototype that used sample data to convey the intended look and feel and interactions for the final app. This was instrumental for engineers to have a ‘North Star’ as they implemented the production app.


Usable Usability. Are you impacting product design cycle in a good way? by Gavin Lau

1*xZgGhvMXGlvoImn2Dk7VfA.jpg

Recruit the right user

Believe it or not recruiting the right user for your usability test is even more important than the test itself. If you are a small UX agency or a multinational enterprise, you have challenges when looking for right people to recruit.

Let’s assume you have a participant pool or use an agency to recruit, you should ask yourself Do they represent your target audience?! And I’m not talking just about few screener questions that tell you some basic information about each participant. If users you recruit are not representative of the major users your team is designing for, then your test will not bring any valuable insight into the product team!

If your team has already created a persona, then try to recruit users as close as to the persona. If your team does not have any persona created and there is no time for it, simply chat with your key stakeholders in product team and find few key possible characteristics which can help you to identify who you are targeting [and don’t be surprised if they didn’t know!].

Also, Avoid professional participants. Believe it or not, some people are making living out of this. They sign up for every agency and any user study they see. This might dramatically cause your research to be biased, as often I learned these types try to please you and say what you like to hear, instead of a genuine response which is what you need to influence smarter decisions.

Recruiting is tricky and what I just said was probably 2 out of 234 recruiting tips from The Don Norman group.



Be Aware!

People behave differently when they are observed. It is a FACT! The goal here is to make users as comfortable as possible so they perform the tasks as close as possible to a regular situation where they are not in a usability lab. That’s all I know! Make them feel comfortable and build RAPPORT.



Be a politician!

Be friend with stakeholders!

Tomer Sharon in his book, IT’S OUR RESEARCH says:

“50% of my time is devoted to research planning, execution or analysis, and the other 50% involves politics”.

Being a good listener is not just for the usability room and with users. Listen carefully to your stakeholders for two reasons.First to understand what exact insight they need from the test. This will inform your usability study design. Second, try to understand what is their side and what do they believe to death about the product you are testing. This will help you to massage your report and make it consumable, rather than destroying all they have done.

Bring key stakeholders to the usability table! This is MAGIC! Not only it helps you to get buy-in, also the first-hand experience of watching a user struggling to figure out how to make sense of a feature generates empathy and injects User-Centred juice into stakeholders brain.

Often design team, developers and project managers are so immersed in their work, which they forget at the end if intended users can’t make sense of the products, the mission is failed!

Make sure to tell stakeholders not to interrupt the session and not to talk to the participant unless you say so. Ask them to keep their questions for the end if you plan to have any.



Don’t party the night before

Get a good night sleep before the test day

If you already scheduled an intense day of testing with users, and if sessions are long, chances are that you get sick of what users are saying repeatedly and that will cause losing focus and interest which participants can easily tell if you are not interested and that might affect their responses. This is critically important if YOU are the MODERATOR!



Shut up! Listen and nudge

Do not ask YES/NO questions!

Aim for open-ended questions, and avoid those that end up with a simple answer of yes or no. Not only these questions will not have any qualitative insights, but they might also force users to give you false data as they want to please you and not look dumb. Instead, focus on questions that give you insights about WHY a certain thing happens or HOW it affects the user.

Encourage talk but do not lead the conversation

In another word, Shut up and listen! It is the most important skill a UX researcher MUST have especially when it comes to interviewing and moderating usability studies. Be an active listener, make eye contact appropriately.



This is not a lecture

Practice lean notetaking

Do not try to take notes from everything. This won’t help you for a quick analysis at the end. Being a good note taker ain’t easy. I suck at it big times! Anyway, make sure to be absolutely focused. Here is how I try to take notes:

  • From the things that surprises me [unexpected behaviours].
  • When the user gets confused and struggles [Make sure to note WHY they struggle, not just the fact that they struggle!].
  • When I see or hear something from a user that might answer a stakeholder question.

If you can, try to have someone else to take notes and focus on being a good moderator. Make eye contact if it helps to build rapport but do not distract the user.



One test stand

Do not recruit the same users for the future iteration of the same product!

The nature of design iterative process indicates that you make something, you test it and make it better and AGAIN! This means you will need to test the same feature over and over and over again as it improves. Users who already tested a product will have prior knowledge, therefore having them to test another iteration of the same feature they are already familiar might not give you the insight you look for. That being said, cases are different. Sometimes you want to know if a certain product pleases the current users, and in that case you may actually recruit users who have prior knowledge.


 

How to apply design thinking in Healthcare by Gavin Lau

1*rquYS-mAQWdsKLAOkcQspw.png

Design Thinking, at its core, is a creative process to solve everyday problems with a human-centered approach. While the word ‘creative’ may sound like something do only with designers/artists, good news is- it’s not. Anyone can implement design thinking. Only thing that you really need is- listen to your customers as people who need your help. Once you understand their needs, their hopes, their fears and the friction they face while dealing with a particular problem- Bang! You are halfway through it.

Let’s hear a story. The story is about a woman named Elisa (yeah! I made that pseudonym). Elisa is an eighty-one year old woman suffering from age-related macular degeneration (AMD). When she was told she needs to take an injection in the eye for treatment, she was petrified. And why wouldn’t she? It’s not just any injection on the skin, it’s a needle in the eye. At the age when you are struggling with survival, it’s terrifying to think of ways in which you can go blind.

Apart from this particular case, it’s a fact that many of us dread getting an injection. Diabetic patients go through this painful experience, everyday. Sometimes they have to administer these injections themselves, and sometimes they have to deal with a less skilled, less empathetic nurse.

Don’t you think we need a better solution to this? Can’t we develop something which makes this experience less scary? Can we go that extra mile and feel the pain of these patients? Can we somehow make them suffer less than they are already suffering?

An organization called Portal Instruments has now challenged this 160 year old needle & syringe technology with design thinking. They have created a needle-free computerized injection system which fires a jet of liquid into the human skin. The handheld, low-cost unit is highly precise and accurate. The device is easy to use and its digital health features empower the patients to holistically manage their chronic condition interactively.

Design, particularly in healthcare, is about efficiency, usability, and a better user experience for patients as well as medical practitioners. And Design Thinking is a very powerful approach to solve customer’s problems. So where can you apply design thinking in healthcare?



Design Thinking in Patient Care

Patient care is not just about exchanging pleasantries and moving ahead with the treatment. When you apply Design thinking to this process, you will uncover ways in which care goes beyond the treatment.
 A customer empathy map will help you understand your patient’s pain, concerns, fears and go beyond the clinical treatment. For instance, simply by listening to the concerns of expectant mothers, you can help them ease their anxiety. After quality research & brainstorming viable solutions, you can arrive at a proposed solution to help them be better informed about the labor process.



Design Thinking in Clinical Experience

Memorize the last time you were sitting in the emergency-room and recollect your waiting experience. Wait times are difficult to pass. You are in a troubled state of mind. Patients and their families spend a considerable amount of time in waiting rooms, sometimes waiting to be treated and other times waiting to see the doctor.

Design thinking may bring forth innovative ways of helping patients feel comfortable and making their experience bearable. You can start by asking questions and understanding their mindset. Must the patient be left alone while they wait for care? Is there a better way in which family wait time can be utilized? If you can not reduce the wait time, think of ways to utilize it.Once you answer these questions, you’ll be able to elevate the user experience of your users.



Design Thinking in Websites

If you are building a healthcare app/website, then you have to take care of the reliability and accuracy of the information that you provide. A person’s medical records can be critical information while monitoring health patterns, or detecting disease symptoms. Prioritize the most important information & fields for your users. Boil down to basics. Take all age groups into account and design keeping in mind their ailments.

They (might) want more information with less number of clicks, they (might) wish for larger and readable fonts. And while you may get away with frequent ‘small’ updates on social media apps, here it (might) frustrate them.



How to design a great Healthcare Experience

You know why every superhero is veiled behind a mask? Because creators of comic heroes want you to believe that even superheroes are like any other human. Their only superpower is endurance and resilience. They understand people; they want to solve their problems. They put people before anything else.
Much like Spidey! Or Batman.

Design thinking is same. It’s about organizing those mindful scattered ideas that everybody forgot to care about. Design thinking is about subtle differences which make you outshine from the ordinary. Yet it’s not so easy put yourself into some else’s shoes. It takes a lot of efforts in brainstorming and generating ideas. Then, you should quickly pivot on a prototype and gather use feedback for continuous improvements.

Design thinking has already made it to healthcare. But, as we all are aware of the sad state of product design and innovation in Healthcare, there are still areas where it remains underused, such as patient transportation, communication gap between doctors and patients, to name just a few. Here’s one approach that might be useful to you-



Research and define the problem statement

If you are dealing in food business, wouldn’t you start talking to the farmers? So, start with conversations. Talk to patients/families about their problems.
Build customer personas. A persona is an imaginary character that embodies your real customer. Learn about your user’s lifestyle, their goals, their values, the challenges they face. Empathize for your users & their problems.
If you are designing an online appointment experience, you need to involve every single person associated. Right from the doctor to the patient. Even the receptionist. You need to understand their roles and most importantly, where they fit in together. Once you understand their pain points, then you’ll be able create the experience for patients who need care.



Ideate

Enough talking! Time for some action. Gather all that you have talked and use the outcome of Research phase to generate interesting ideas. Not all ideas will be usable; so try and stay close to ‘potential solutions’. Use techniques like high-level drawings, user-mapping and plot a user’s experience map to arrive at innovative solutions.
For instance, while building a SaaS-based mobile engagement platform for one of our client, our design team took conscious efforts to understand the whole journey- health plan benefits, treatment requirements, appointment details, communication medium, medication instructions etc.

Putting down our ideas on paper helped us a lot in working on user work flows. We were able to visualize a smarter workflow which connects with patients through mobile messaging for more effective communication.



Prototype and iterate

Giving your ideas a shape is crucial to the design thinking process. Otherwise it will just be castles in the air. Prototyping is something that pushes you into making things tangible so that you keep moving forward.
Prototypes will be a proof of concept of your ‘ideation exercises’. They will help you in demonstrating and validating your concepts and understanding. Moreover, they are important because you would want to test your functionalities in a real environment with real users.

Prototypes need not be beautiful. It can be a black and white template of your colorful understanding. It must answer simple question- as simple as “How would you like to reach out to your members?”

Depending on your application (web/mobile), prototypes can be interactive or static. What really matters is that they must convey the user experience flow.

The advantage of building a prototype is that it’s something substantial and not just some thought process going on in our mind. Once you have pushed that into real environment, you can take feedback from users and iterate to simplify functionalities.

Designing for healthcare won’t be a joyride. Unlike social media apps like Snapchat, your healthcare platform will grow slowly. And that’s not your mistake. The user base that you are catering to, is not looking for socializing or entertainment. So the only solution lies in applying design thinking to approach problems.

Before aiming for success, first, offer a service that’s valuable. Offer a service that solves a real problem. Offer a service which makes them forget that they are interacting with a machine.
Let’s build a better healthcare experience. Let’s be more human.


 

Designing Voice Experience by Gavin Lau

As a voice user experience designer, I’ve worked with Fortune 500 companies to help improve their speech applications. In this article, I want to share my experience on what are some of the things you should think about when designing for voice.

(Google Images)

(Google Images)

The rise of voice interfaces are pretty obvious as every single major company rolls out their idea of a virtual physical assistant. With voice interfaces, all of a sudden we can search, send messages, even control our connected devices seamlessly — all by our natural voice. But there’s a catch — according to VoiceLabs, 69 percent of the 7,000-plus Alexa “Skills” — voice apps, if you will — have zero or one customer review, signaling low usage. Now that’s really not good statistics. So why is that? I believe VentureBeat has said it best:

“ We are not creating conversations, we are building old-school commands hidden behind voice requests.”

With these voice interfaces becoming more and more common, the need to make them more conversational and user-centered is significant. In this article, I’ll explain my process for voice design based on my experience of working with clients from variety of industries from telecommunications to retails.



What is a Voice User Interface?

Let’s visit the concept of what exactly a voice user interface is. A Voice User Interface, or VUI (pronounced “voo-e”), is simply an application that the user interacts with by communicating vocally. Most of us are familiar with voice interfaces by interacting with automated phone systems. Sadly, a lot of phone systems have a very badly designed interface. There’s a reason behind this, and it’s because the developers who design these systems don’t understand how to design for voice experience.

Some of the reasons why you have such bad experience with voice devices:

  • They lack context in speech and not truly conversational in nature.
  • They’re designed to act as, “information collector.”
  • The dialogues are spoken the way we write and not speak.

It’s important to realize that it’s usually not the technology that’s causing a bad experience but rather the design interfaces you’re interacting with. Let’s look at some ways we can get started on designing a great experience for your voice devices.



Understanding Persona

(Source: pexels.com)

(Source: pexels.com)

Everything has a personality, even your bots and voice devices. I remember a friend who once told me that he prefers Amazon Alexa over Google Home since he can wake Alexa up by using a name rather than OK Google. He was referring to its persona and it is relevant as technology tries its best to connect with its users.

Clifford Nass, who was a professor of Communications at Stanford University, and a renowned authority on human-computer interaction claimed in his book, The Media Equation:

People tend to treat computers and other media as if they were either real people or real places. (The Media Equation)

We’re emotional beings and tend to bring that association to everything. Don Norman, a giant in the field of Human-Computer- Interaction, even wrote a book on this called Emotional Design. Norman states:

People can more easily relate to a product, a service, a system, or an
experience when they are able to connect with it at a personal level. (Emotional Design)

As you can tell, a great user experience is not about just making usable or functional apps but also about creating an emotion. Likewise, a great persona in voice is not about just having a pretty voice. It’s also about connecting with the user on the other end. When we hear a voice, we unconsciously make a lot of assumptions about that person. These assumptions include how intelligent that person might be or which region or country they’re from.

A persona or personality can be thought as a character in the voice user interface world, just the same way in a film or book. It’s one way a company can brand itself, for it’s an extension of the brand itself. Therefore, it’s very important to pick the persona very carefully. I remember running a usability study with a major healthcare brand and hearing comments from participants stating, “That voice sounds too happy. I’m calling to refill a prescription. Why does she sound too happy?” We eventually had to coach the voice talent to adjust the prompts to match the proper tone. One common misunderstanding is you can hire a voice actor with a pleasant voice and that’d be the end of persona creation.

Creating a well-crafted persona takes time and research. According to the book, Voice User Interface Design, here are some of the things one should think about when designing a persona for your voice interface.

  • The Role: What’s the role of the application to the user? In other words, is it an assistant that the user is familiar with that gives advice on stock options? Is it a bank clerk?
  • Company Brand / Image: The persona that you pick for the system or application should be at least compatible with the brand or company’s image.
  • Familiarity & Target Audience: Your persona should be familiar to your users. Therefore, for a compelling persona, we need to consider demographics, attitudes, the frequency of usage and the lifestyle of the user. A persona that works well in one culture might not work in other.



Designing the Blueprint

(Source: pexels.com)

(Source: pexels.com)

While it’s very tempting to design your voice experience using a flow-chart, it’s not the best way to achieve a great experience. Although it’s important to have a flow-chart explaining the workflow or information architecture, the conversational design prompts shouldn’t be focused on that. Remember that speech happens in a context and is not strictly based on logic.

How many automated systems have you heard with prompts such as, ‘If you want to return to the main menu, press 1’. This is not recommended since we tend to move conversations forward and not backward. For example, if I ask you to repeat something, you don’t go back and retrieve it. Instead, you simply state differently — i.e., “Sure, here’s it again”. The more I ask you to repeat, the more differently you explain. The ingredient to make a design naturally conversational is understanding linguistics. In a conversational design interface, the focus is on building an interaction based on the way people speak, not how they write. A lot of voice interfaces are written in the way we write rather than the way we speak.



Designing a VUI dialog

(Source: allexpress.com)

(Source: allexpress.com)

In voice interfaces, we don’t have wireframes; we have sample dialogues. But before we get to that, let’s start with user stories. Start by describing scenarios in which your users will find useful. Identify major scenarios to describe the purpose of your interface and ways your users can interact with them.

Next, start crafting a few sample dialogs for your scenarios. A sample dialog is a script that shows a conversational flow between the system and the user. You can think of this as the VUI version of a wireframing process. A sample dialog can be something you show your client to get feedback before you start prototyping.



A Sample Dialog

Here’s an example of what a sample dialogue might look like:

Caller using the phone to make a payment; payment info stored.

System: Thanks for calling BankOMatic. I looked up your number and found an account. I see you have a payment that’s due today. Are you calling about that?

Caller: Yes.

System: OK. For security, tell me the last four digits of your Social Security number.

Caller: 4321.

System: Thanks, let me look it up. 
Found it. You have a payment of $40.98 that’s due today. 
Would you like to make a payment now?

Caller: Yep

System: All right, I see you have a VISA card ending in 789 on file; would you like me to use that?

Caller: Yes, please.

System: Just a second… All done! I’ve put that through. Just so you know, it might take up to 48 hours to show up on your account. Now, if that’s all you needed, feel free to hang up, and thanks for using BankOMatic.

While the dialog above is a happy journey, you should also write for not-so happy scenarios such as, what happens if the user says something out-of-context, error progression, etc. We’ll talk more about errors later on. You probably notice the use of contraction in the dialogue above. In a conversation, we tend to use contractions (i.e. ‘You’re,’ ‘I’m’). And it’s not because we’re lazy. There are some things that would sound really odd if we don’t use contraction. For example, how would you say the following without the use of contraction?

  • “Wasn’t John’s presentation great?” → “Was not John’s presentation great?”

The question above makes you want to say, “Yes, your honor. It was indeed a great one!”

Whilst we do this unconsciously, it’s important to realize once again — the way we speak is different from the way we write, so please do keep that in mind when designing your VUIs.

Another idea to keep in mind is what’s called a discourse marker. A discourse marker is a word or phrase that you can use to connect and arrange what you say or write (i.e. ‘anyway,’ ‘now’, etc.). In the dialogue above, I have used the word ‘Now’ to make an obvious transition from one idea to another.

You see a lot of speech systems these days using technical jargon or words that are often only familiar to engineers and developers. Let’s take this example:

System: Your request has been processed.

How would you rewrite in everyday language? Here’s one way:

System: Done! You’re all set!



Error Strategies

In early 2017, Google published In Conversation, There Are No Errors , and according to the article, one should think of errors as opportunities to create meaningful conversations. I’ll let you read the article on principles behind handling errors on your own time. For now, I’ll just jump into some examples.

Rapid re-prompts

The rapid re-prompt approach doesn’t provide detailed information right away. This is similar to the kinds of statements people might use in a typical conversation to show that they didn’t really understand the speaker:

  • “What was that?”
  • “Say it again?”
  • “I’m sorry?”

Escalating Errors

From my personal experience of running usability studies with clients from variety of industries, I’ve found that escalating errors can save time and task completion; especially for power users.

System: What’s your date of birth?
Caller: Uh…
System: Just tell me your date of birth using 2 digits for the month, 2 digits for the day, and 4 for the year.

As you can see, the error strategy started escalating from general to specific rather than just giving all of the information right away. It’s also great for power users who are used to hearing the prompts so many times.

Be Cooperative

When writing prompts and error strategies, consider being cooperative by applying Grice’s Maxims. Not only this will help the user experience, but would also create confidence and trust in your users when interacting with the device.

  • The maxim of quantity — try to be as informative as one possibly can, and give as much information as is needed, and no more.
  • The maxim of quality — try to be truthful, and don’t give information that’s false or not supported by evidence.
  • The maxim of relation — try to be relevant, and say things that are pertinent to the discussion.
  • The maxim of manner — try to be as clear; avoid obscurity and ambiguity.



Final Thoughts

While there are many ways you can design a great experience for voice, remember that the end focus is on users like you and I. So, it’s important to understand not only the target users but also the context in which the dialogues will appear.

In other words, study the way we speak and write. Study user-centered design processes and learn how to approach the challenge humanly. It’s usually not the limitation of speech technology that’s responsible for a horrible voice experience. It’s usually the designers not knowing how to apply these processes that result in a less-than-desirable voice interface. Hopefully, this article will help you design for mere mortals.

Design in the Age of Anxiety by Gavin Lau

1*-ZVjt-oTPg_8F7I-vS0u0Q.jpg

To create a better future, understand the now


Last weekend I gave a research workshop on a rainy Sunday in Prague. Following a tram ride across a bridge over the Vltava under grey skies, I walked up a cobblestoned alley to the shiny new Merck IT Innovation Center, with a view of at least 2 castles from its rooftop garden. Prague is like that.

During the discussion, one of the participants asked, “But how do you design for situations other than the one you are in? How do you design for wartime during peace?” Someone else handily pointed out that there is never really peace, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Czechs go deep fast.

That is a big question — the question rattling around at the bottom of all objections to evidence-based design. Why bother thinking about what exists when you want to create something new?

Design is exciting because it is the practice of shaping the future. Research requires the discipline of taking an honest look at the past and present. The present is a mess. It always is. But the present is the soil in which we grow our potential futures. Those who strive for innovation without inquiry will have trouble getting their ideas to thrive in the real world. This world includes every pesky human occupying the corporate kitchens and Slack teams inside, and every lagging technology still in use out there. Habits die hard.

The future spreads like cold butter

I think about this every single day as I reach for the out-the-door trinity: keys, wallet, phone. For most of the 20th century, it would have been keys, wallet, watch. Now my iPhone, having devoured dozens of other devices, is hungrily eying my wallet. The keys, an incremental update from ancient Mesopotamia, are losing ground, but still hanging on. I ride a bicycle dressed per Alexa’s weather advice, and most days I do wear an analog watch. The future spreads like cold butter.

My workshop — like all of my research preaching — is a bit of a bait and switch. I don’t want designers to do research for its own sake. In fact, I want the opposite of that. I want to help them get better design out in the world faster. I want meaningful products and services with a longer shelf life. Real change requires asking the right questions before rushing to come up with an answer. Innovation takes hold when a new idea fits into existing habits like a key into a lock.

Innovation without inquiry leads to trouble in the real world

As Jared Spool says so economically “Design is the rendering of intent.” Poor design often results from the distortion of good intentions. Few organizations set out to create, on purpose, products that harm or fail, information that confuses or distresses, or teams consumed by status concerns. These things happen because something happens along the way, often something as habitual as it is unintentional.

Nothing distorts intent like anxiety. Anxiety pulls focus from the goal and lets energy flow towards distractions and perceived threats. Anxiety flourishes in the absence of information.

Most of my time, I’m working directly with clients. My role as a designer is not only to inform and articulate their intent, but also to help our clients stay the course and defend the process in order to meet the goals. This is the advantage of coming in from the outside. We can ask the questions that get to the heart of the concerns and redirect requests with evidence. And this doesn’t mean just laying out the data. It means explaining how our work will meet the specific needs and goals of the people we’re talking to.

With the right information, delivered with care, anxiety dissipates

The most well-known area of design research is ethnographic user research — understanding the behaviors and mindset of the intended users of a product, service, or system. While that is necessary, the most critical research we do often centers on the organization itself. Only by understanding the behaviors and mindset of the people with whom we’re collaborating can we define a process that leads to a successful outcome. This can take a anywhere from a couple of days of conversations to three months of intensive interviews. Whatever the investment, it always pays dividends.

We don’t use what we’ve learned to dismiss the inevitable anxieties that crop up, but we can counter them effectively by knowing where they originate, and minimize their pull. The capacity to innovate is fragile in the face of entrenched habits and unspoken fears. So, we get them all out on the table and consider them in our solutions.

Toxic politics? Legacy technology expertise? Resource constraints? Seemingly infinite stakeholders? Inexperienced team? Demanding executives? No amount of customer-centered design thinking can defeat these. Because we work in the real world, every project has something, and we embrace it. This mundane chafing of humans working together will persist long after we’ve donned our spandex jumpsuits and gone into space.

Leadership throughout a design project is a matter of maintaining clarity, rewarding trust, and encouraging the most effective participation from every stakeholder at every point. It is up to us to create the conditions that allow our clients to make the decisions that lead to the future they envision. While we’ve seen patterns over the years, every client has their own habits and concerns.

Removing anxiety from the design process can decrease the potential for anxiety in the world. A reactive process leads to me-too products, solutions for non-problems, feature-creep, and tone-deaf communication. Internal issues that pervert the intent of good design threaten to become the vexing material of daily experience for millions.

If we do our job right, our work together also gives our clients the tools they need in order to protect that intent from future anxieties, and to adapt the system to those changing scenarios. We can’t predict the future, but we can use information to give our part of it a nudge in the right direction.


 

Gamification Mechanics in UX: Smart User Journey by Gavin Lau

From the very childhood people start playing games and they never really stop. Game spirit follows us in every sphere of our life revealing its facets such as challenges, achievements, or rewards from time to time. Trying to transfer game features into everyday life is a habit helping people to deal with complicated situations. Such a tendency could possibly cause the appearance of the gamification concept.

The word “gamification” stands for the technique of exerting game mechanics into the non-game environment. Designers often use gamification to create effective digital products and secure high level of user engagement. In one of our previous articles, we’ve mentioned common game mechanics such as challenges, points, badges, leaderboards, and journey. Each gamification element serves for certain goals and has a different influence on users. Today’s article is devoted to one of the most commonly used game mechanics called user journey. We’ll define its essence and find out how it works for UX improvements.

 

What’s user journey?

To make pleasing UX design, it’s vital to think out all the stages of user interactions. The thing is that one person may use a product for accomplishing different goals each day, even more, they apprehend the product differently every time. Designers and researchers noticed that experience and user interactions gradually evolve as people gain more skills in using the product. Such characteristics make it similar to a journey which players go through in games.

Considering this fact, designers come up with the idea of applying a game mechanic called user (player) journey in digital products. User journey can be defined as user’s progression stages over the time of product usage. Designers create UX that way so that people could go step-by-step through the various features and interactions which gradually change depending on users needs.

Let’s look at the example. A standard video game always has different levels from the easiest to the most complicated one. This way a player can adapt and easily comprehend how the game works on the easy levels and then constantly learn and make a progress. By the end of the game, a player is usually a skilled competitor who can deal with more complex tasks. If people receive difficult tasks at the beginning, they aren’t able to handle them. Or in case a game only consists of easy challenges, players will soon be bored.

The same works with digital goods. A product which has a simple system of interactions often attracts users with its convenience. However, if people use it for a long time and there are no changes at all, they may get bored. In case a product has an enormous amount of features at the start, they may just get lost within it. To avoid such problems, designers need to think of UX as a user journey, guiding them step-by-step to the point of achievement.



Stages of a user journey

User journey is a game mechanic which aims at making the process of interaction with a product easier and more understandable. A user feels as a real player starting the personal journey of the product usage. Designers plan different stages which a player (user) will gradually go through. Let’s look at the common steps which a user journey includes.



Onboarding stage

People who only start their journey within a product need to be actually onboarded. It means that users should be offered an introduction to the features so that they wouldn’t be afraid to make a mistake. Also, it is good to present a navigation system if it has some peculiarities.

Designers use onboarding tutorials in various digital products. Tutorials appear to users who launch an app or a web product for the first time helping them get oriented within unfamiliar features and controls. One more task designers need to accomplish at the stage of onboarding is user motivation. The product should be presented that way so that people had a motivation to use it more than once. That’s why onboarding tutorials need to contain short but clear info describing the possibilities of a product helping users to understand if a product can be useful for them.

 

Scaffolding stage

When users continue their journey, they go to the next stage of interactions called scaffolding. The step includes disclosing features progressively as the people become more experienced in using the product. Unlike the onboarding stage, users don’t get long instruction. Scaffolding is more like practical part. Users are trained to use a product proficiently, and the more they learn, the more tools (features) they receive. This stage allows people gradually learn more about a product and receive more features as far as they need to use them. Users don’t get a great number of features at once, so the interactions system won’t seem too overloaded or complicated.

 

Progress stage

No matter what tasks people do, they always want to know about their progress. Providing the feedback on the results of a user journey, we can inspire them to continue. It’s a core step since people lose the enthusiasm of a beginner pretty soon and they need to be motivated to stay.

Some may ask what progress can be in non-game digital products? For example, a social app can notify users when they gained a certain number of new followers or friends. Meanwhile, educational applications can inform users on how much they’ve learned from time to time. All small details matter. Just tell people they achieved something and they get a dose of enthusiasm to continue.

 

Endgame stage

Designers usually stop at the stage of scaffolding and progress uniting them in the endless loop, where users constantly learn and receive feedback. However, sooner or later people get bored of such patterns and may quit the product. Here is why the endpoint of a journey is also important to be thought out.

Endgame stage doesn’t mean that users will receive the message “Thank you for being with us! Bye-bye.” At this stage, proficient users are recognized as experts or veterans and they are usually given some privileges for loyalty. People like to be valued and they often give it right back. It’s not a secret that loyal customers are the best marketing managers for a product. New users willingly follow satisfied users’ testimonials.



Why a user journey?

User journey is a complex game mechanic which requires deep attention to details. Each stage should be carefully planned and connected to the others. Moreover, it requires long-term plans for future updates, so the process of user journey development may take a long time. Of course, some may ask if it is worth the effort to bring it into a product. Let’s see what user journey can give you back.

Clear interaction system. Users receive features gradually at the stage of scaffolding and learn to utilize a product step-by-step. An approach helps to avoid problems with incomprehensible interactions and functions.

Increased user engagement. One of gamification principles is to make people always motivated and involved in “game”. User journey is usually full of different tasks and achievements which people can gain, so users can’t resist game spirit.

Customer loyalty. If a product is constantly improved for its users, people really appreciate it. Moreover, if a product has some privileges for loyal customers, people trust it more.

Product recognizability. As we said above, satisfied customers are effective marketers for a product. Users willingly share their pleasant experience and it won’t stay unnoticed.

The element of fun. As any other game element, user journey is a good way to bring an emotional aspect to a product. People always need some kind of recreational activity so that they could escape from everyday routine for a bit. By adding the fun element into a casual product, you help people reduce some stress and relax for a moment.

All in all, we can say that user journey is an effective method for UX improvement. However, a designer and a client should consider the fact that gamification works well not for every product. It depends on a type of an interface, its target audience, and business goals. For more detailed information, check our previous article where we’ve defined the tasks which gamification helps to accomplish and don’t miss the updates on gamification in UI coming soon.


 

How To Design Notifications For Better UX by Gavin Lau

Notifications evoke mixed reactions from users. Many a times they find it useful. Many a times they are annoyed by it. But notifications serve a purpose. They are powerful tools to inform users of app crashes, introduce them to new features & updates, and inform them about new messages and mails from friends. From marketing perspective, they help connect with users who have abandoned apps and promote engagement.

Notifications are anti UX. They are a distraction. So how to design your notification so that it becomes purposeful and useful?

But before that let’s understand notifications in detail.

Typical interface for notifications

Typical interface for notifications

 

What are notifications?

We go by the simple definition. Notification is an act of bringing something to the notice of the user. Notification is a way for an app to notify you or send you a message that you can read without having to open the app.

A very simple example of a notification is an email alert. You get a flash message on your smartphone screen when you receive an email. You wish to open the app directly from the main screen itself. You can also dismiss the notification by sliding it across. However, the main purpose of the notification is to announce the arrival of the email. Under normal circumstances, you have to open the email to check out your mails. The notification enables you to get a gist of the matter without having to open the mailing application.




Types of notifications:

  • User generated notifications:
0*6YIy8q9IC5qmJqMp..png

This is the most common and engaging types of notification. Mobile messaging is the simplest example of this type of notification. It is directed specifically at a particular user. Other simple examples of these notifications are the posts, likes, and comments you pass on social media.

  • Context generated notifications:

This is also a fast growing type of notification where the application generated a notification based on permission of its users. The location based notifications are the best examples. Sports and meeting updates are also very common in this category.

Source: Macrumors

Source: Macrumors

System generated notifications:

Source: aboveandroid.com

Source: aboveandroid.com

These are notifications generated by the app based on the needs of the app. An example of such a notification is a security alert requesting for resetting of password.

  • Push notifications:

In fact, all kinds of notifications can come under the classification of push notifications for the simple reason that they are pushed through by the system.Push notifications are of two types. One that requires you to take immediate action and the second one is passive notification.

  • Notifications requiring action from the user

The very purpose of the notification is to induce the user to take immediate action. It can be an email alert, a notification to change the password, a notification offering a sale discount asking you to use a discount code, etc.

Source: material.io

Source: material.io

Passive notification:

These notifications provide information to the user. There is no need for the user to take any immediate action on it. A weather update could be one simple example of this type of notification.

Source:Androidcentral

Source:Androidcentral

Smart notifications:

Source:Beebom

Source:Beebom

The smart notifications have the unique ability to be delivered to each app. You can set up triggers to sensitize the app when to release the notification. We have already stated earlier in the article that the timing of the notification is very important. The objective of pushing a notification is to ensure the user to take immediate action. This makes the timing very important. The system can sense when the interaction level can be at the maximum. This will deliver a positive experience to the user.

Secondly, you can track the smart notifications and analyze the results. This enables the system to improvise on the quality of the notifications. This can determine the success rate of the notification campaign.



What makes a good notification?

  • Non-interfering: A notification is a timely alert. However, it can distract the user. Hence, the main characteristic of a notification is that it should be non-interfering. It should achieve the purpose of letting the user know that something important is on the way.
  • Small in size: A good notification should be as small as possible but effective at the same time. An example of a simple unobtrusive notification is the calendar notification that usually slides at the top of your mobile screen. They are small in size but they serve the purpose well.
  • Contextual: A location based push notification is contextual. They can alert you in case you are in the vicinity of the particular retail store. This feature works depending on the shopping and wish lists you create on the online shopping websites.
  • Serve warnings: A good notification should act as a confirmation message, especially when you delete apps or important messages. It can serve a timely warning to the user that you are about to delete something permanently from your mobile phone.


When not to use a notification?

Source: kissmetrics

Source: kissmetrics

Notifications should not be used at every instance, as frequent interruptions may cause annoyance. Its best not to use notification when:

  • A user has never opened your app
  • There is no value to bring to a user, such as “Haven’t seen you in a while”
  • Requests to review or rate an app
  • Operations that don’t require user involvement, like syncing information
  • Error states from which the app may recover without user interaction



How to design a notification?

The good news is that you can design meaningful notifications without compromising the user experience. Here are a few tips on designing notifications-

  • Design considering the importance of your message: Choose different designs for different types of massive. For passive notifications, choose a lighter design while an action-required notification, design to attract user’s notification. Pick right colors, say a red for immediate action. Use relevant icons.
Source: Designdeck

Source: Designdeck

Provide enough information: The purpose behind a notification is to inform about an event and encourage him to take action. But, for that, he need enough information. So make sure that your notification has enough information to help him understand the purpose of notification and what needs to be done.

Source: easycodeway.com

Source: easycodeway.com

Give user the control: UX accentuates when users feel that they are in control. They has the choice of switching off notifications. Go beyond that and give them choices in- types of notification they want to receive, when they want to receive and the frequency of notification.

Source: Gadgetguideonline.com

Source: Gadgetguideonline.com

Handle multiple notifications smartly: To handle multiple notifications of the same type, create one notification that summarizes them all. For example, a messaging app might have a summary notification that says “3 new messages.” Upon expansion, it could show a snippet for each message. This lets the user know about the time it would take to deal with the notification.

Source:material.io

Source:material.io

Embrace A/B testing: The best way to get your design right is to put it to rigorous testing. Try out different designs and test them. See which design is making the user take the desired action. And what’s not working.

0*favEgcGEH9ylDLrP..png

Final Thoughts:

Notifications are double-edged swords. They can promote engagement but can also result in user annoyance. So getting it right is important for your overall experience?


 

Why Do So Many Hardware Startups Fail? by Gavin Lau

In July 2017, device maker Jawbone became one of the most spectacular failures in the history of startups.

The company’s announcement that it was selling off its assets was long coming: Despite grabbing $930M in funding during its 10-year lifespan, Jawbone failed to hold on to significant market share for its line of headsets, fitness trackers, and wireless speakers.

Jawbone became the second-costliest VC-backed startup failure of all time.

0*DJIoEpbOswibaKWs.png

This was just months after well-funded consumer hardware startups Electric ObjectsHello, and Lily Robotics also kicked the bucket.

Why did they fail? Many reasons typically come together to lead to a startup’s death.

But it is possible to tease apart some common drivers if you look closely. We sifted through nearly 400 failed consumer hardware startups from our database and identified the reasons for failure among a subset of them, and found some of the main reasons include:

1. Lack of consumer demand

2. High burn rate

3. Lack of interest after initial crowdfund

4. Product strategy mistakes

The list of well-funded flameouts we looked at includes companies like NJOY, Pearl Automation, Coin, Plastc, and Jawbone, as well as lesser-funded startups like Inq Mobile, Bia Sport, Electroloom, and others.

(For a full list of the top 9 reasons for consumer hardware failures and the relative frequency of each in causing startups’ demise, download the complete whitepaper.)

It’s notable though, that while failure may be common among hardware startups, there always seems to be a second act.

After the asset sale in July 2017, Jawbone co-founder/CEO Hosain Rahman found investors to keep the company’s pulse alive in a related venture: According to reports, former Jawbone financier BlackRock has a stake in Rahman’s new effort, Jawbone Health Hub, which will sell health-related software and hardware.

So it seems to go in consumer hardware: Despite the huge challenges of building a successful business in this space (even with massive funding), investors and entrepreneurs never stop chasing the dream of creating the next mass-market product.

Ignoring the tired-but-true cliche that “hardware is hard,” they look past the graveyard of once-praised failed startups, including Jawbone, Juicero, Flip, Pebble, and others.

And they try again … and again.



Investors continue to pile into consumer hardware

Part of the reason they do so is that investors and crowdfunding sites keep putting cash in their pockets. Entrepreneurs continue to raise funds through Kickstarter or the early-stage markets based on their aspirations to build a future consumer hardware empire.

The second quarter of 2017 saw nearly 140 deals and $1.2B in funding to consumer hardware startups. And last year was a record year for deals and dollars. Some $4.4B went into consumer hardware across 624 separate deals. Half of the activity went to early-stage opportunities, including nascent companies in emerging areas like robotics, smart-home solutions, and AR/VR. Three early-stage upstarts to raise last year included robotics startup ROOBO, “intelligent oven” maker June, and VR-headset developer Fove.

0*dr95r4-MAQotUJ0E.png

Consumer hardware startups continue emerging at a fast clip.

When we look at data on how many companies in this category receive their first round of outside funding in each year, the number keeps going up.

That means entrepreneurs and investors continue to believe in consumer hardware innovation, despite the odds being stacked against them.

The number of new consumer hardware startups hit an all-time high last year with 450+ first-time financings, including rounds to connected-home company Latch (maker of a smart door lock) and Rythm (maker of the Dreem, a wearable device designed to improve sleep quality).

0*0N1q6R9rrrv2iNv_.png

“Investors have a deep-seated bias against hardware,” Paul Graham wrote in 2012, citing the conventional wisdom that software businesses can scale up faster and more cheaply than hardware businesses.

However, the data stretching back to that year tells a different story — as long as crowdfunding sites are included in a stretched definition of “investors.”

Crowdfunding actually plays a big role in the consumer hardware ecosystem and the proliferation of problematic startups: Sites like Kickstarter and IndieGogo make it possible for hardware entrepreneurs to raise money (or even take pre-orders) for concept designs or poorly functioning prototypes that would never pass VC muster.

Entrepreneurs often believe the exposure will help them land the VC funding that will bring their wares to life, but as our funnel data shows, that doesn’t happen often.

Another notable trend emerges from the funding data: There’s been a significant run-up in the size of late-stage rounds.

The median late-stage round size peaked at $45.5M in 2016, after three consecutive years of deal size increases.

0*XwnzkrxiEBE566ib.png

 

Chasing the big exit

Is investor’s confidence in consumer hardware warranted? IPOs in the consumer hardware space are rare, and for every multibillion dollar acquisition achieved by makers of Beats headphones, Nest thermostat, or Oculus Rift headset, there’s a trail of postmortems by the creators of the Pebble smartwatch, Narrative Clip camera, Angel Sensor wristband, and so many others.

Only 17 consumer hardware startups have gone public since the start of 2012, and the category has averaged less than 50 total exits per year over the last five years. However, there have been over 55 exits per year in each of the last 3 years.

0*q7JrBqAyV8BJQn9l.png

 

The brutal statistics on consumer hardware failure

For any startup, the path toward success is brutally difficult.

We’ve tracked a tech startup’s chances of success after raising an initial seed round, including both hardware and software companies. Only 46% of them will succeed in raising even just one additional round of funding.

We also found that 70% of them will die or become “zombies,” i.e. self-sustaining.

These are the walking dead of the venture ecosystem which may be earning revenue but aren’t successful enough to IPO or be the next billion-dollar M&A.

As hard as it is for all tech startups, it’s even more difficult for consumer hardware companies. See the data below.

0*1UuKQtgrNogGY6xm.png

 

As the graphic shows, they have a very small chance of survival.

Only 24% raised a second round compared to 46% for tech companies generally. A full 97% of the consumer hardware companies we tracked died or became zombie companies. Although we did include business plan competitions and crowdfunding in our hardware funnel, the stark difference cannot be explained away fully.

In all, 56% of the 382 consumer hardware startups analyzed raised their first funds on a site like Kickstarter or IndieGogo.

The median size of those crowdfunding raises was just $210,000 — providing very little runway to support hardware manufacturing, marketing, or sales costs.

Intuitively, it makes sense that many hardware startups fail after one round of financing.

For hardware startups — which face the added need to build consumer-ready physical items before going to market — a small seed round, incubator/accelerator deal, or crowdfunding raise can rarely take a startup’s product beyond the prototyping phase.

Startups are likely raising money to get to a limited release stage, and then finding that there is not a large enough market for their product to justify a larger raise and production at scale. Indeed, as we saw above, lack of consumer demand was the №1 reason for product failure.

We also dug into consumer hardware zombie companies to see roughly how many of them were likely to be active at all.

Since startups don’t typically publicize their failure, and maintain their websites and even social media accounts even after operations have ceased, we used web traffic data as a gauge to get a rough idea of how many of the zombie companies are likely dead outright.

We found that among the consumer hardware startups in the CBI database that haven’t raised funding since 2014, 57% see negligible levels of website traffic, almost certainly indicating a defunct operation.

0*-XVmJWO50zyoX6En.png

As we mentioned the other side of the coin is the occasional big exit for hardware startups, including Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR for $2B in March 2014.

Despite the long odds, not all hardware startups are lost. Get the full reportfor profiles of startups still in contention for a significant exit, followed by an analysis of two of the most prominent and well-funded hardware startup failures of recent times: Juicero and Jawbone.

If you’d like even more data on the most (and least) successful startups out there, be sure to check out the CB Insights platform or subscribe to our daily newsletter to follow the biggest news — and biggest blowouts — in the tech world as they happen.


 

Empathy and product design by Gavin Lau

1*Ww5iQVH0YehsbaldS3ePEg.jpeg

Product design is one of the most commonly discussed topics. There have been many discussions going around regarding user experience design, psychology and emotion when coming to product design. Product design is a norm which is modified from the original word user experience design. The word product design looks into both user experience as well as looking into the business aspects of the product as well.

Over the years product design has evolved into a significant factor for product development companies, and many types of researchers have been done to improve the quality of the products. There are new techniques and process introduced to enhance the understandability and discoverability of the products which customers are using at the moment and in the future.

The problem with most of the product today is that product designers have a lack of interest in understanding how users feel about the product. The product designers have to think in a way they should feel that they are “in the user’s shoes” which is called empathy.

Empathy is one of the keywords that has been going around in the word User experience but never thought of using correctly. Most of the time designers use the power of empathy to acquire insights only.



What is Empathy?

1*AwpH8AxRGcVJkzS_QbjI-Q.jpeg

Empathy is to see the real world through another’s eyes. In design terms, it means that to understand and discover needs of people so the designers can design solutions for them. In order to do that the designers should feel, give and receive unity with the users of the application.

In my study, I came across a video that beautifully explains the empathy and how empathy empowers the creative process.

How Empathy Fuels the Creative Process: Rethinking the Meaning of Connection When we hear the word "connection," we often envision a line being drawn between two separate circles. In this talk, Seung Chan Lim (Slim) shares stories and theories that arose from his recent research into the intersection between empathy and the creative process of "making."

 

The designers should look in to empathy. Why?

Designing a product is not just to create a good looking design. As designers, we should give a proper meaning to the product and make the product understandable and discoverable. More than that the product should give good user experience and should match the business goals of the relevant user groups. In order to do that the designers have to have an understanding about the life of the users.

Three state of empathy — resource : UX Magazine

Three state of empathy — resource : UX Magazine

The states I have mentioned above are the states that designers always misinterpret. We will look at them one by one.

Not empathizing : It is the status where the designer is not feeling unity with the “other”.

Empathizing :Empathizing is when the designers feel unity with the “other”

Over empathizing : When the designer confuse him-self with the “other”

The designers have to have a proper understanding of how to work with empathy. In order to do it properly, the designers should have the understanding of the process of the empathy.

The Empathy Process

The Empathy Process

By using this process the designers are will be able to create better engagement towards to the user and understand “others”.

What is the role of empathy in design?

  1. Empathy should not be limited to “Users” : We always consider that we can use empathy for our users. We tend to forget that we can use empathy can be used in many ways. We can use empathy to understand fellow team members, the devices we are going to use the applications on, business values of the clients.
  2. Empathy can be used more than just a tool :We talk about improving the quality of the product all the time. In product design, we do observations, interviews, and other means to create the best product that can solve their problems. We can use empathy as a gateway to communicate with clients, core-workers and the users for the product.
  3. Empathy empowers ideas : When designers engage with people using empathy may help them to come up with new ideas for the product since they become capable of looking at a problem on a different set of angles. This can be achieved by having a good relationship for a longer time with the user groups as well as your fellow team members.



How can we create empathy driven designs?

photo credit — www.theartofed.com

photo credit — www.theartofed.com

Create and maintain humanity for the people who you are designing for

1*ikWKAVWJuAci_JsQ1y22-g.gif

We tend to forget our products are being used by actual human and not by some advanced AI. When we create persona’s it’s better to create visual personals so that when your team looks the visual persona they will get a feeling of what the user’s feelings and thoughts.


Validating your ideas constantly

1*pkqQV2HBIQMKvhy8Fa5BqQ.png

When you design, your design ideas are mostly based on hypothesis. By having empathy you should be able to go to your clients and users and get their feedback with an open mind. The designer will be able to get the best designs by validating the ideas.



Use story-boarding

1*nlCuLVQfC3F6S0An2wr7zg.jpg

Storyboarding is a tool that visually helps the designers to understand and predict how the users are going to interact with the product. It helps the designers to understand how people go though the application flow and how they are interacting with it. This will support the designers to understand and create strong narratives.



Learn and observe the user groups

1*OWQnC213W67lvTRdhyMWaQ.jpg

When your clients come to you with a problem they tell a story that is incomplete. Most of the time they do that because they do not understand what they want most of the time. It is up to the designer to understand what the real problems are and design a solution for it. The designers can fill in the gaps for the product by observing the users. Using empathy the designers are able to understand what they like, what makes them use that application, what are the pain points, their frustrations.



Create Empathy maps

credits — davidleeedtech.wordpress.com

credits — davidleeedtech.wordpress.com

A empathy map shows and discuss about what a user needs. Empathy mapshelps the designers to understand the users. Empathy maps helps designers to have a broad understanding on users rather than focusing on factors such as behaviors. An empathy map is divided in to four main groups.

  1. Quotes & Identifying words : The quotes and defining words that has been spoken by the user who’s being interviewed. The designer should look in to unusual words as “stuck” which has a deeper meaning when come to product use.
  2. Actions and behaviors : See and capture the things that users do in using the product. The designer can write down or draw the process of the user when interacting with the product so the details can be referred later.
  3. Thoughts and beliefs : There can be quotes that can be said by the user beginning “I believe”, “I hope” and “I think”. The users might say things such as “I hope that the process is not too long to finish” must be noted.
  4. Feelings and emotions : Understand the emotions and feelings that the user has displayed while using the product.

Creating empathy in product design is one of the key things that product designs can come up with to create meaningful products with better user experience and better quality.


 

The Future of Voice Design by Gavin Lau

voice-recognition-990x711.jpg

Speech interfaces are on the rise. Consumers are excited, taking note, and playing with tools like Google Home and Amazon Alexato see what voice can do and how it can fit into their daily lives. Don’t be fooled, this moment isn’t a fleeting one—the adoption of voice as a mainstream medium has been a long time coming. When I submitted my session for IA Summit ‘17, the reviewing team of designers were excited to learn more about voice, and others said (almost reluctantly) “now is the time to get on board with this stuff.”

Designing for voice involves writing prompts and responses to help users get acquainted with the possible actions they can take and make it easy for them to accomplish the task at hand—my work as an Interactive Communication Designer involves a lot of writing! Designing conversations is like designing an information architecture: ultimately we want to help people achieve an end task and find what they’re looking for, but there are lots of unique things we have to account for to help them accomplish these tasks with no visual interface. 

As it happens, UX designers already possess the skills they need to design effectively for voice—this isn’t a revolution, but rather a natural extension of the skills many of us have been utilizing in designing for other digital mediums. Knowing how to design well for this growing medium will be an integral part of the growth of products and applications that will shape the ways we communicate with our devices. 




Principles of VUI Design

Designing conversations is ultimately the goal of voice design. In the same way that UX designers create visual interfaces that are easy to navigate, drive users to take action, and reduce constraints in their way, voice interfaces lead users to accomplish tasks with as little confusion and barriers as possible. In the case of voice though, it happens through a seamless conversation.


Error Handling

I’ll cover several principles of Voice User Interface design during my talk at IAS ‘17 this year, but I couldn’t help talking about my favorite principle early—error handling. Handling errors through voice is one aspect of designing for voice that makes it unique, and directly parallels to the ways we think about designing thoughtful and clear visual interfaces. 

Error handling is an essential component of designing thoughtful voice interactions. How can users understand the limits and possibilities of a system without any visual cues? The answer is through thoughtful handling of errors. When designing for a voice interface, designers have to expect what users will say. I’ll use my work in designing interactive phone calls for healthcare as an example. 

In a situation where I’m designing an interactive phone call for patients that need to get a colonoscopy, I can expect that when I ask if patients would like to schedule a colonoscopy now, they might respond in several ways: yes, no, stop calling me, I don’t need this, etc. For each of these expected answers, I can design thoughtful responses and can even capture variations on each of these types of responses, like: “yeah, sure, okay, no way, no thank you,” or even “never call me again.” But in some cases, patients either get confused, lost, or curious about our systems and sometimes speak “out of grammar” or out of the possibility of the responses I’ve expected. 

For example, a user might say something like… “pickles.” 

My system obviously doesn’t know what to respond to the word “pickles”, since I as a designer didn’t expect a patient would respond to my question about colonoscopies in this way. While I can’t be helpful in this scenario, I can thoughtfully redirect the user, or “error handle” to better get them where they want to go. 

When a user reaches a limit, a poorly designed system might say nothing at all, or ask the user to repeat their question until the user asked something the system could take action on. Like a visual interface, designers must be thoughtful about these potential error paths, and help users get back to completing their desired action sooner. In this case, I might say something like, “I’m really sorry, I didn’t quite hear what you said. Would you like to schedule a colonoscopy now? Just say yes, no, or I don’t need one.” In this situation, I’m designing a response that shows a user has reached a limit in the system, but have also provided suggestions for moving forward and getting where they want to go. 



Designing Grammars

Another important principle of VUI design is anticipating how users will respond—also called designing grammars. In the context of designing interactive phone calls for Emmi, I’m typically asking patients lots of questions over the phone—things like, “Have you gotten a flu vaccine yet this year?” or “Would you like to transfer to schedule a screening now?” In both of these examples, I can expect the responses to be fairly straightforward. People will typically respond with a “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t know.” By anticipating these responses, I can train my voice interface to expect these answers, and can also frame my questions to make it clear to patients how to answer these questions. 

In some cases though, identifying how users will respond gets tricky, and the users may break our expectations. In many cases, as users begin to trust their VUIs, they start using more complex responses and phrases that they expect the system should understand. 

For example, I might ask more complicated questions to patients with specific conditions like heart failure. In one case, I wanted to ask patients, “When you cough, are you experiencing any mucus?” in order to determine whether they were having any serious complications their doctors should know about. In a simple scenario, I would expect users to just say “yes” or “no,” but in reality users respond like they would in a polite conversation to a person. They’ll add in extra words like, “yes I am” or “no I’m not” or sometimes even “yes, mucus” or “no mucus.” By anticipating these normal variances in conversation, I can design a system that is smarter, more closely mimics real conversation, and builds the trust of users. 

In other words, by listening to recordings of patients interacting with my VUIs and doing lots of research, I can better anticipate what these variances will be and prepare for them to prevent confusion and frustrating user errors.