Thursday, December 25, 2008

Air Tran's argument clinic

I have recently been flying every other week on several different carriers and have had experiences that leave me flummoxed.

All of the actual flights I took were relatively pleasurable. Yes I know most flying experiences are mildly painful at best... remember I said RELATIVELY.

I flew on AirTran round trip to DFW.

Making the Reservation - Good.
Getting my tickets and seats - Good.
Flying - Good.

Applying my A+ rewards number... not so much.

Given that one of my co-workers made the reservation for me, my rewards number was not attached to the reservation. I talked with the ticketing agent. No dice. I called the 1-800 number. No dice.

Listed below in ascending order are the three things that were really frustrating for me:

1) Poor systems design - any person along the reservation and flight supply chain should be able to serve a passenger in common use cases. This is good multi-channel experience design.

2) Poor understanding of the human mind - who memorizes their A+ rewards number? I already have enough numbers in my brain and companies want to keep tossing more numbers at me when I have no space to keep them in my wallet, or facility to write them down. The only time I have to be on the phone with them is in the car, where I can't write. Good design requires basic understanding of your customer and their lifestyle.

3) Poor customer service philosophy - when I called the 1-800 number, the representative went into detail about why I was wrong to expect him or the ticketing agent to be able to attach my number to my reservation.

I highly doubt that he was trained to argue with customers, and when I asked him why he was arguing with me, I got the proverbial Monty Python response. Here are some responses I would deem as acceptable when my request goes beyond the boundaries of policy or system capability:

a) I'm sorry Mr. Fishman, our systems are not designed to do that.

b) I'm sorry Mr. Fishman, our policies won't allow me to do that.

c) I'm sorry Mr. Fishman, I'm not authorized to do that.

d) I'm sorry Mr. Fishman, I am unable to do that right at this time, however, I could take your information down and call you back when this is done.

e) Any of the above followed by: I'll mention it to my supervisor that I had a problem expediting a customer request.

Here are the two most common responses:

1) I can't do that. <- I hate this one with a passion. Can't means unable. What they actually mean in most of these situations is that my request is against policy or that they are individually are unwilling.

2) You need to call to do that. <- This one raises all the original problems listed above. The very simple and compelling aim is this: One face to the customer.

Separately, I flew Delta this week and while the Sky Cap applied my frequent flyer number (YAY! Woo-Hoo!). The customer service person had to give me another number to call to log a "lost and found" request that left me on hold for 20 minutes before I gave up (BOO! DOH!).

Official Rating:

Most airline's customer service experience design - Crap

Tip your servers well. I'll be here all weekend.

Why I don't love my Nuvi

Now don't get me wrong, I do indeed like my Nuvi. As GPS devices go it is really usable and useful, but there are some simple improvements a good UX designer could have implemented if just a little more effort had been put into the design process.

Without further ado, here is my open letter to Garmin as to how to improve the Nuvi experience:

1) Change the alphabetical ordering of the keypad to QWERTY. This is a no-brainer and needs no explanation.

2) Modify the algorithm and interface for finding fuel, restaurants, etc. to allow the user to filter the results that are on or close to the current route. Picture yourself driving on a road-trip to Albuquerque and wanting to stop for a quick bite to eat or to grab a coffee at Starbucks. Now you passed the last exit 3 miles ago and you're not really into turning around. The current interface always shows the closest first and only allows filtering by restaurant type or name...but not "on the way". C'mon folks, this isn't rocket science UX work here.

That's it. Short and sweet. I do think that they are wasting their time on device unification features like making the Nuvi hold photos and music. This is feature bloat that the device and brand are just not elastic enough to support in my mind.

Anyway, it's rating time:

Nuvi - Like it
Nuvi's design team attention to detail - Garbage

See you dudes on the flip-flop. I'm out.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

New Frontiers for our Celebrity Obsessed Culture

Two years back or so I remember seeing some statistic where more than 2/3 of respondents said they would rather be an assistant to a celebrity than a US Senator. I think this really says a lot about loneliness in our society and many people's complete lack of meaningful connections with other people in their everyday lives (along with a complete lack of meaningful connections with intelligent ideas).

Everyone already knows about American's deep obsession with fame. Within the last couple of years, however, a new form of celebrity has emerged - The Internet Celebrity. Crossing over on to the cover of WIRED, or showing up on the Today Show are meat-space nobodies who have what it takes to be cyber-space somebodies.

You may have seen them pop-up every now and then - David Elsewhere, Philip Chbeeb, lonelygirl15. Marina Orlova, the Hot For Words woman, has taken it to a new level. If you have not seen her, she is the hands down favorite of every word-nerd. She has all the bases covered - her own youtube channel, facebook page, twitter following - and her own ecommerce site - all centering around her brief entymological explanations on the most mundane words. She has used her web-based platform to get on the Today show, the O'Reilly factor and several others - and now it is a career for her. What is that career? Selling herself as a brand through her web content (i.e., advertising) and her product (i.e., pin-up calendar).

The concept of web celebrities as a a concept is even crossing over to the mainstream (e.g., Weezer's "Pork & Beans" video at the top of this entry) and the phenomenon is now feeding on itself. Facebook's video posting application has allowed for the faster spread of viral videos and of course allows for shameless self promotion.

Speaking of self promotion... I know I have some guilty pleasure when people comment on my blog and I've just added subscription and "following" links. Part of the enjoyment of writing for me is knowing that people read it and find it interesting. So yes... I have been shamelessly promoting my blog on my facebook page. Will I ever become a web celeb? Probably not. But I'll still keep experimenting with ways to increase my web profile. Why? I guess it's like the lottery, you gotta be in it to win it.

Celebrity Obsession = Garbage
Web Celebs = It is a guilty pleasure, but I have to admit I like it.

You stay classy San Diego.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Improper affordance

For the non UX (User Experience) professionals out there, affordance is a term from "The Design of Everyday Things" by Don Norman, that speaks to concept of how objects in life seem to speak out to people in terms of how they can be used. e.g.,

  • A door with a protruding handle "affords" a pulling action.
  • An image on the web that looks like a button "affords" pushing (i.e., clicking).
  • A baseball "affords" throwing based on it's size, density and shape along with it's cultural context.
So what?

Who cares?

If you have a facebook account, you care. The current facebook interface affords messaging through the "wall" in such a way that messages meant for private consumption are being written in public places. This is exacerbated by the explosion of facebook to the masses, many of whom are unfamiliar with social networking. People are using facebook to stay in touch with extended family and friends and now the mixing of these groups in a "public" context like the "wall" is becoming quite embarrassing for many users.

Think of the posts that could show up from one of your crazy friends that your mom might see:

"yeeeeeeah boy! did u get any action wit that grrl last night? she waz so drunk and totally HOT!"

Think of the posts that your crazy friend might see:

"I do not like the idea of you prowling around for girls at bars! Go meet a nice Jewish girl at temple. And make sure you wear that nice blue suit I bought you. You look so smart! A real Mensch!."

It would be easy to blame the unfamiliar users with not knowing that facebook has private messaging capabilities, but that would be pointing in the wrong direction. The real problem lies in how facebook is revealing its functionality to its user base. Facebook was designed for college students and technorati - not thier grandparents. And thus we come to the big problem facing UX professionals - How do you design an interface that is at once targeted towards people of many demographics and experience levels without moving the design to the "lowest common denominator".

Many designers lose sleep over this and no clear solution has emerged at this point short of designing multiple or adaptive interfaces which are cost prohbitive. Either way, I still love facebook. It's greatness is showing in an odd way - it is a victim of its own success and many users are feeling the mild pain of being embarrassed within their social circles.


Facebook - like it
Facebook wall/message design - garbage

Peace up. A-Town Down.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Design by committee

Ruth's Chris Steak House?

Lettuce Souprise You?

WTF! What is a "Chris Steak House"? I would say this about the worst choice I have seen for a restaurant name except I have a hard time picking between "Ruth's Horribly Named Restaurant" and "Lettuce Surprise You With A Really Bad Pun". One of my wierd eccentricities, I will refrain from patronizing establishements that have made bad marketing decisions for that reason alone.

Actually these do not surprise me. Why not? One big reason... Steve Jobs aside, taste does not often correlate with power. Many executives, managers, owners, directors etc. have great vision while at the same time, have little to no aesthetic taste or ability to remove themselves from their own shoes in perceiving their vision. This realizes itself when project owners, sponsors and their bosses give "creative feedback" in the only way they can. A bad way. "It needs to POP more", "I love Apple's taste for design. Make it like that with MORE!", "Be MORE creative!" All of these exact quotes belie the same actual lack of a clear vocabulary and understanding of design and are the result of a desire to imbue a design with their fingerprints so they can feel they were a part of the design process without any actual aesthetic motivation.

One of my favorite illustrations of this sort of behavior is...

props to Danny Elfman - composer for the music, originally from one of the modern movie masterpieces... "Pee Wee's Big Adventure".

One of my smartest friends once told me - when you take two great visions and mix them together sometimes all you get is a watered down version of both that actually appeals to no-one. Someday I hope to run into a sponsor who can own the vision and be confident enough in their own contribution to let designers do their job


Business Executives making design decisions - Crap
Pee-Wee's Big Adventure - Like it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

What is a facebook friend anyway?

So I have been using linkedin for professional relationships and facebook for personal ones and I am very comfortable with that. But I have recently been bombarded by friend requests from people with whom I have no interest in re-connecting with or personally connecting with. Maybe I'm kind of whacked (well, I actually already know that I am whacked, but that is more like a chapter in a book than a blog post), but I do not want to have the entire world as "facebook friends". In fact, I almost long to have some new sections:
  • facebook enemies - for people who have invited me and I want to ignore with extreme predjudice
  • facebook acquaintances - for people who I might meet once or twice but they are not really friends yet
  • facebook co-workers - for people with whom I have a professional relationship with but am not really comfortable with them having full access to my profile
What's more unusual to me is that I am not a private guy. I really don't care who knows what about my status and infomation. I just don't like calling them "friends". Am I so crazy in that I don't like the label "friends" for people whom I am not "friends" with? Doesn't this devalue the people whom I am friends with? Does the facebook modifier actually have an effect on the meaning of the term? Facebook is still too new for me to know.


Facebook - Like it. It really has set a new standard in terms of a killer RIA.

People who want to be "friends" with everybody - Garbage

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Oh cruel Starbucks! Why do you mock me so?

I read an article in INC magazine online today about Starbucks, authored by one of my favorite bloggers Joel Spolsky and was inspired to write an entry wherein I do my usual thing; offering free advice to those who did not ask for it and certainly won't take it.

Many people already know what is wrong with Starbucks, what I am going to do is identify 3 ways to fix it.

1) Well Designed Kiosk Systems - I've been harping on this one forever! Some people say that Kiosks would impact the illusory atmosphere of a little coffee house escape that Starbucks has so carefully crafted, and I'm not sure that they are wrong. What I sure of however, is that the daunting rush hour lines crush that illusion in a way no well-designed kiosk could ever deign to. Picture walking into a Starbucks (even during rush-hour) and passing a little fob (which knows who you are, what your favorite drink is and your preferred form of payment - including credit card, just like amazon) over the kiosk. The kiosk presents your typical order (which is transmitted to the barista), along with an upsell pitch (offering a free biscotti if you buy a travel mug) in a way that does not require you to take ANY extra steps at all (much like a banner ad on a web site) if you chose not to touch it (of course the kiosks are touch screens) and also presents you with any other recent orders you have made (like when you came in with your insanely hot girlfriend and ordered her favorite drink too). You touch your choice, the order is submitted to the barista, your card is charged, you read the paper until a barista calls out: "Herman! Your grande non-fat ice latte is ready!". At which point you enjoy your drink.

Get it?
  1. Walk in
  2. Flash an RFID embedded fob
  3. One touch for a typical order
  4. Read the paper / check email on your phone / chat up your girlfriend
  5. Drink your expensive coffee beverage
You can't tell me that is not a remarkable experience.... well you could, but I would think you were lying, joking or not too bright.

2) iBucks iPhone App - Picture an app on your iphone that knew all the starbucks locations, your calendar and your location too(if you allowed it to). You could:
  1. tell it to have your favorite drink ready in 5 min for when you walk in (of course the charge is handled in the same way as it is described above)
  2. have it offer you text-alerts 20 -30 min before certain meetings with discounts on your favorite drinks
  3. invite your other iBucks enabled pals to join you
3) Solve the actual problem at the root - Create a position and hire a "Chief Experience Officer" whose job it was to continually infuse and reinvigorate every location, every system and every employee with the essence of the Starbucks brand promise - A truly great coffee drinking experience.

Oh yeah, almost forgot... If Starbucks already has a CXO. Fire him/her and hire a new one who will actually do their job well.

Starbucks rush-hour experience - Garbage

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

American Brandstand

Brands are strange enigmatic beasts that are omnipresent in our daily lives in more ways than most people think. Most people who live in a commercial society are familiar with organization-based brands. Some people are also highly tuned to individual brands of well-known personalities. I sometimes refer to certain aspects of my life or personality being “on brand” or being harmonious with “brand Fish”.

Just as many people are aware of brands, both organizational and personal, many people and organizations are unaware with how to care for and enable a brand. It’s actually a lot more simple than many people think, but the problem is that simple does not mean easy or pain free – simple means lacking complexity.

How I care for and engender my personal brand are grounded in my upbringing. Growing up, there were things my parents taught me by explanation and then there were things they took for granted that I would absorb from their example and the culture around me. The value of standing for something fell into the latter category.

The reason why it has fallen into the "took for granted" category is sort of interesting - it emerges out of my Jewish heritage. Being raised as a Jew on Long Island meant I grew up hearing Holocaust this, Anne Frank that, Elie Wiesel the other! One of the key parts of these stories and lessons was that amidst all the horrendous tragedy that befell the Jews and many other minorities, there were some things to be learned – in the forms of perseverance, courage and the respect for life. Some of the greatest bravery displayed was by people who had the courage to do what was right by hiding Jews from the Nazis while risking the well being and safety of themselves and their families.

As I grew up, finished school, and got a job that I turned into a career, the stories gave me a sense of honor and continuously affected my everyday work and life choices.

When I became a father, however, things changed subtly. My engrossing responsibility to someone other than myself took the highest priority in my life and for some time I was conflicted on how to think about this in the context of my upbringing. After some thought I figured it out - it was not that my principles had become luxuries, my principles had remained the same, I just now had new "input" into the decision-making process. My questions then became, "How do I apply my principles to this new situation?" and "Where does 'protecting' them become forsaking my values and heritage?" The answer for me became that if, in the act of protection, I cease to be a figure they can admire and trust, then that "protection" is not something that actually serves their best interests. I believe that my children are best served by seeing me behave in a manner that is consistently honest and forthright – regardless of context.

Reader – “Whoa! Is this crazy dude ever going to get around to talking about company brands or what?”
Blogger – “Patience please.”

Being a person of deeply ingrained principles, tradition and devotion, I have stood fast on many "small battles" that seemed to hold precedent and consequence within them. Over time, I have refined this approach by improving my ability to actually see looming precedent in balance with long term interests and goals.

These sorts of decisions where short and long term interests seem to be at odds are the same sorts of conundrums that face many companies and organizations every day. The difference between sustained greatness and short term success is in part tied to the fortitude of the organization's members, the clarity of purpose and the ability to see the decision points as they actually are.

My point is this - companies who are willing to compromise who they are at the most core level are NOT protecting shareholder value as some of the decision-makers proclaim. In many cases they are actually compromising the value proposition that the organization holds to the public and ultimately short-changing the both the shareholders and the community at large of the long term promise of the organization (i.e., THE BRAND!).

Blogger – “Comically enough, this matches up with all the data and data-oriented conclusions of the phenomenal business books Good to Great and Built to Last by Jim Collins.”

Many people think a brand is a logo. It is not. There are some more-educated people who think a brand is a promise (what an organization says it stands for) - they are half right. There are still some other educated people who believe that a brand is an emotional context held by the customers, employees and partners who are served by the organization when thinking about the organization (what people believe an organization stands for – see The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier) - they are half right as well.

Blogger – “Almost there!.”

It is my belief that the brand is a two-sided coin - the promise and its reflection, the perception. In order for an organization to be of sustained value to others, it has to define its promise clearly and live up to it every day so that the beholders of the promise can see it for both for what it is and what it aspires to be. In this manner, individuals can have relationships with the organization on something other than price - because to many individuals TRUTH HOLDS VALUE!!!

Blogger – “Wait for it…

Just like truth holds value in how my kids look at me.

Blogger – “Wow! I wasn't sure if I was actually gonna get there!!!! Thanks for sticking it out.”

Standing for something - Like it.
Purporting to stand for something - Garbage.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

being known vs just being

Several years ago I was in a company all-hands meeting where one of the speakers posited the idea that it was highly important that our clients felt like we were experts. After the meeting one of my enlightened co-workers opined that it would be better to "be experts" rather than to be "thought of as experts".

I am often faced by this subtle differentiation both in the workplace, in politics and in personal relationships where people focus on being known for something or being perceived as something rather than just plain being what they want to be.

One of the consequences of this differentiation is that the overriding focus on the perception is actually one of the barriers that will prevent the reality from occurring.

Does Apple want to make the best products or be known for making the best products?

Does Adaptive Path want to make the best user experiences or be known for making the best user experiences?

Does Chad Johnson want to be the best wide receiver or be known for being the best wide receiver?

Does Barack Obama want to help the poor or be known as candidate who is out to help the poor?

Does John McCain want to always talk straight or be known as candidate who always talks straight?

Stop worrying about being known and just be!

Managing perception = Garbage.

Managing Reality = Like it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.


No not in that way...

While this blog does often talk about the elusive nature and meaning of words and it sometimes plays with them, I am not going to talk about the meaning of "inconceivable". Rather, what I find to be inconceivable is that so many people do not understand the meaning of the word "sorry".... hmmmmm, no that's not it. I do think they understand it, I just don't believe that they grasp what it means to actually mean it.

So many people use it as an attempt to claim compassion or empathy. While in reality what they actually mean is that they are uncomfortable with the current situation and either:
  • don't know what to say
  • want your absolution of any wrong-doing
  • want to be acknowledged as permitted to end the current portion of the conversation
While I find myself on the "being sorry" end of the first example when confronted with someone else's tragedy, I more frequently find myself on the other end in business contexts - which strangely enough also leaves me as "being sorry" - as in a sorry state of affairs.

In business contexts - a retail or service employee will say "I'm sorry" or "I apologize" or something else with a similar supposed meaning. What I find offensive is that they believe I should accept it at it's face value when they are un-willing to back up said sorrow with any action or any actual attempt to make amends. The lack of any willingness to make amends robs the supposed empathy of any sincerity or meaning.

Professed empathy without sincerity makes "sorry" a platitude - a trite remark uttered as if it has actual meaning.

The crux of the matter is this - If a service employee says "I'm sorry" in the above fashion without any actual sincerity but as a means to end a topic of contention, then they are essentially assuming:
  • that I should believe that they actually have empathy for me
  • that saying "I'm sorry" is sufficient to make amends
  • that I should belive that saying "I'm sorry" is sufficient to make amends
And while a small apology is appropriate in small circumstances, many organizations use it as if it were an panacea to any deficiency in any product or service. Stop insulting the intelligence of customers and consumers. If you are going to express remorse, empower people to back it up with an attempt to make amends - It doesn't have to be a grand gesture, It just has to demonstrate some level of sincerity. This sincerity is what will lead to authentic brand relationships and brand loyalty. A great example of a sincere apology is flickr's coloring contest - The site went down for a brief period of time and as a sincere apology to its users, flickr made a simple coloring contest and gave away a "pro" account. The cool thing here is that flickr goofed and in its sincere apology capitalized on goof in a way to strengthen their brand, user loyalty and raise their awareness profile!

Why? Because in the world of falseness - people crave authenticity! Smart customers don't judge the character of your company when things go right, they judge it by your conduct when things go wrong.

Insincere platitudes - crap.
Authentic responses - like them.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

We don't need to build the Bentley... or do we?

It's been a while since I've been inspired. Some recent experiences have pushed me to the keyboard once again.

Lately, I've been seeing a common myopia (HAH! SEEING! MYOPIA! That's a joke son! Don't you get it? I'm too fast for you! You'll never learn nothing with your nose in a blog boy!) . The people who typically surround me are overachievers and we all seem to share a passion for excellence in what we do. This is not so strange. What is strange and interesting is that when we ask for something from others and have certain constraints (like time or money) we seem to lose some ability to empathize with the passion for excellence from the other party.

In a past life, we called it "building the Bentley syndrome" - the endemic need in groups of overachievers that nothing but their best work was remotely acceptable. In trying to lead teams of overachievers, I am constantly faced with this problem... and I think I have made some sort of break-through.

I've tried the "redefine" approach where "best" is subjective and requires a balance of all constraints to little avail.

I am loathe to try the "dictatorial" approach where my option is the only option. I feel that this option is doomed with people who bristle at authority.

Well, maybe break-through is a little strong. Gained some new insight is more appropriate. Maybe what people need is a little understanding and empathy. All the people around me want to create "remarkable" solutions and feel that shortcuts and delivering to managed expectations is not very remarkable. When challenged on their approach the replies basically come to this - it
is always easy to do something poorly. I agree with this sentiment - but my new retort will be, I understand your need to do your best work. I empathize with the need to shine. Please understand that even work that is half-assed by your standards will more than likely be better than anything the client has dreamed. Please empathize with the fact that the quality of work you are capable of delivering when you are not tying up every loose end will definitely exceed what the client is willing to pay for. Sometimes, if we deliver crisply, we leave clients wanting more. And over time, that delivery focus will lead to trust and partnership. That shared trust and context will allow us to do our best work and get paid appropriately for it.

Understanding & Empathy - Like em.