Users are People

Observations and evaluations of UX and UI design

iWatch

The iWatch

Apple is rumored to be delivering a new smart watch. The potential benefits of a wrist-worn computer are great and the challenges this new technology application creates is going to cause quite a stir.

The creative and internal editing process required to produce a culture of collaborative design and engineering talent is not easy to replicate or maintain. That may be a recipe in many ways still unique to Apple and other leaders of industry.

A small, fashionable computer product that is resistant to many climates across the globe, air pressure, water, sweat, sunlight, heat, cold, humidity, etc. would be pretty terrific. It has to stay cool as these devices give off heat to prevent burning someone’s skin. Laptops and some tablets have had this problem, some resulting in class action lawsuits.

It will require unprecedented battery life. While Apple fans loved Steve Jobs’ “One more thing…” segue used to introduce new products over the last decade, people want something that doesn’t feel like one more thing they didn’t really need that they now have to worry about charging. We don’t want to feel like a slave to our machines.

More sustainable energy solutions could solve some of this problem.

High-quality watches have kinetic energy chargers, which take arm movement and transfer that energy back to the rechargeable battery, similar to how hybrid cars work. By not having to open the watch to replace the battery, it reduces risk to the water-resistance seal.

The sad result of every watch I’ve ever owned is when I replaced the battery after a year or two, I was left with a watch that was never the same. The moisture-resistant seal was now unreliable, so the watch face would get foggy.

Add a powerful solar energy collector to a kinetic energy tool and you have a micro-sized energy recycling center that has a screen which encourages the person wearing it to exercise, take better care of their health, go outside and get fresh air and sun, which research has shown, can reduce risks of mild depression and other psychological ailments. These can lead to a snowball effect of further long-term, compounding costs of modern lifestyle choices negatively impacting our future healthcare costs.

It will still have to be charged, but this combination of sustainable energy could offset a significant portion of power loss.

Similar to how a hybrid car uses breaks and wheel motion kinetic energy collection, one’s own body movements and environment now act as a zero-emission power source that gets them out and moving.

Now that would be ingenious for a consumer-grade product.

It will need to be a seamless, wireless Bluetooth device that includes enough local storage for music or podcasts, while sending audio to a wireless headset product.

No more fiddling with wires to listen to audio. Better Bluetooth technology requires less battery power for running programs in the background, collecting data and storing it to automatically sync later when it’s near the iPhone.

There are lots of great opportunities in this type of product category. One can imagine this inevitably replacing the phone itself for many use cases.

However, we must be cautious of how much these devices are built to learn about us, deliver customized experiences which are designed to make us happy, encourage us to share our information and consider how much we can rely on the parties entrusted to store that very personal information or protect us from hackers looking to exploit that data.

In healthcare in the United States, there is a history of ethical, financial and legal repercussions to the impacts of pre-existing healthcare conditions, leaving us with an ongoing legal and moral quandary.

This is something we can not be dismissive of, as new technology challenges our preconceived notions about the ways we live and struggle to co-exist.

Let’s be mindful of how this technology further expands on our new way of life, with us inviting frequent interruptions and participating in a constantly monitored and connected experience.

One should expect Apple to do what they do best: think through details of the user experience and creatively apply currently available technology into unique combinations that feel like something brand new and revolutionary.

After all, every one and everything is a remix.

I’d wager a guess that the device is called “iLife.” From a brand strategy perspective, they already own that identity and it makes sense for a device in this context.

It’s far more than a watch.

How Smart is Your Kid’s Technology?

First to market in the toddler wearable tech space.

Smart watch

Overcoming present bias at Epcot’s Future World

I recently went with my family on a trip to Walt Disney World and enjoyed introducing my children to one of the most magical theme parks imagined.

As a user experience designer, I was very curious to see how Epcot’s Future World would hold up to my memories of a utopian science fiction inspired by the Disney work that was done at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

Spaceship Earth is inside the iconic, geodesic sphere at the heart of Future World inside Epcot at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Epcot Spaceship Earth

It’s an educational ride that takes you through a summary of important events in human history with animatronics, voice over narration and experiential elements, such as the smell of smoke passing by a fire-light room.

A problem with representing all of human history in the limited physical space of a theme park ride is choosing what’s important to show, especially when significant and relevant events keep happening after the ride design was completed decades ago. Recent events need to shift around.

So how do you represent the future without truly knowing it? Trend line analytics can be watched to help predict where we’ll see economic opportunities emerge from new circumstances. Competitive analysis can help businesses stay relevant. Macroeconomic behavioral analysis can be offered.

The flaw of science fiction and Future World is that it will always suffer from present bias and requires design revisions and reframing through iteration and maintenance.

The future requires leaving things up to unpredictable imagination. Or in this case, imagineering.

At the end of the ride, passengers were once shown a starry sky and encouraged to think about the future as you wait to be brought back down to Earth.

That time has now been enhanced, giving passengers a new opportunity with an interactive animated experience of touchscreen devices and cameras that allow you to apply your daydreams to practical elements of the near-future.

A digital camera takes a photo of you and your ride partner (in my case, an exuberant 4 year-old daughter) and incorporates you into an animated world, clearly inspired by the Jetsons animation art direction, demonstrating the effect of new technology on one’s daily life through different segments of industry you can choose to learn more about.

It made perfect sense for imagineers to compensate for physical space constraints of the ride and embrace the endless future through interactive screens that can have content updated and customized to new requirements.

We’ve seen a seismic shift of increasingly smaller, more efficient computer technology working to deliver more relevant, increasingly valuable, personalized digital experiences fueled by our new infrastructure of massive, always-connected, offsite systems of storage and processing that collect, store and present you with more information than you probably even know about yourself. Use the present to represent the future! How very meta.

After the ride is over, there is an abundance of interactive elements games that can be easily updated when the future starts to take shape in new ways, unhindered by today’s limits of what’s possible tomorrow.

My daughter and I enjoyed it at different levels, which made a potentially dated experience a modern success.

Web UI Design Mistakes That Lead To Poor User Experience

Jennifer Birch offers her guest post on Web UI Design Mistakes

Worst website design

Photo courtesy of rancid637 via Flickr

In creating a foundation for a great user experience (UX) in mobile apps, websites, or even physical devices, a designer should focus heavily on implementing a good user interface (UI). Most of the time, when we see this topic being discussed, we center on talking about aesthetics. And while that’s important, there’s actually more than just the physical design.

To accomplish a great digital product and to deliver a great user experience, designers and developers should bring importance to the “usability” for their outputs. Usable websites delight and satisfy visitors by offering a great UX, rather than frustrating and annoying them with less accessible design decisions. In this entry, I present the various pitfalls in UI design to avoid, as they may affect your site’s  overall UX.

1.    Splash Pages 

A splash screen or page is a “front page of a website that doesn’t provide an actual content,” but presents visitors with background information or some kind of intuition of what the site is all about, wrote Sven Lennartz of smashingmagazine.com. UX experts believe that using this technique has always been a terrible idea. Sometimes, issues with relatively loading times and are of little value to the web presence.

Lennartz said the only way to add this feature is when you want to awake excitement for the real content of the site or as an additional method of advertising. For me, the additional loading time had never been effective in “awaking my excitement”.

2.     Horizontal Scroll Bars 

Online scanners know how to scroll, but it only works with vertical scrolling. In Windows 8 OS, Microsoft implemented horizontal scanning on their new start screen, which made it difficult for users to navigate the Metro UI Tiles.  Using the horizontal navigation on websites can also be difficult to some site visitors.

· A horizontal scroll bar can take 1000 x 17 pixels or half the size of an average banner, according to Richard Foshee of Inbound Marketing Agents. Use it as an advertising space instead.

· Most handheld devices and computers (whether they are programmed for a landscape screen) don’t use horizontal scroll. People will never scroll sideways and it will just force them to leave the page.

3.    Tiny Clickable Buttons 

A hyperlink is placed on a website to be clicked, thus they should be easy to access. Designers should focus on this tiny detail when incorporating a hyperlink on a web page because if it’s too small, people will not notice that it’s even there at all. It can also lead to poor UX, especially when your viewers are using a touch-enabled screen when browsing. When there are too many tiny clickable buttons that are grouped together, people might also find it difficult to access each of them or they might accidentally tap on their undesired hyperlink. A large clickable area makes it so easy to point the mouse cursor over it.

4.    Using Only JPG Image To Convey Text 

Another UI choice that may lead to poor experience is the use of an image to convey the copy of your website, since it’s difficult to scan. Remember that a copy is an essential part of an overall website UI. Let’s Get Wise suggests that apart from being “useful and information rich,” a web copy should also be bold, clear, catchy and most importantly, geared primarily for users. Using an image to carry the text element can also lead to poor UX since it can consume larger bandwidth and may take forever to completely load. It is best to keep most of the copy of your website in text rather than in the image.

5.    Painful Color Schemes and Misleading Buttons For Pop-Ups 

Another thing that irritates visitors is the use of painful color scheme. Avoid using colors that are too contrasting and are not easy to the eyes. Instead, use a neutral colors such as gray, white, black, etc. Aside from the site’s color, pop-ups should be kept in moderate amount. These are are for critical actions for user attention and importance. You should get rid of misleading buttons such as “Play” / “Download here” that leads to an advertorial pop-up rather than playing its content. That’s a major turn off.

Avoiding these pitfalls of web UI design will definitely lead to the delivery of great user experience. Great UX means more visitors and greater conversion rates.

Do you have any other tips in mind? Feel free to post them in the comments.

Are digital purchases really just leases?

The New Yorker raises a concern that a digital product “buy” is really a “lease,” a license to use the content in the platform it was locked to: Amazon, Android, Apple, Windows, Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, etc.

Anyone who has tried to play digital content with regional encodings while traveling internationally has run into problems with this. They don’t own their copy not do they have the right to use it anywhere they want.

There is no single universal standard.

An interesting historical perspective does make you wonder about the argument for physical media. Did buying a physical copy of someone’s work entitle you to be able to keep using it? For how long? It depends on the medium.

Each digital distributor is trying to lock in their audience.

A digital format license can get extended to future versions of the platform, if the vendor choses to. They want you to remain a captive audience, to some extent.

If your digital copy of a book, movie or app gets upgraded as part of the license to work with a future software version and piece of hardware, there’s no risk of loss to you. However, it does lock you in to software and/or hardware from that vendor to keep getting access.

Does buying a physical copy of a work come with the expectation to use the product forever?

Any physical media format still requires some form of translation to the audience: books need paper and light (or Braille or audio), and discs, vinyl and tape, all need players.

If your disc player breaks, what are your options?

Even more tragically, if you lose your sight, are you entitled to the Braille or audio copy of the books you have?

You need a translator to change any medium into a message and accessibility to experience it.

Mint condition or rarities from our culture in any medium will have some inherent value to an enthusiast: books, films, music, comics, video games, etc.

It’s probably true that there is no value to an old digital file format.

But what is the value of an 8-track recording without a functioning 8-track player? Did you “buy” that piece of work or simply get a copy that only works on the intended platform with unclear future limitations?

What was my cassette purchase of the Ghostbusters soundtrack entitling me to? That format was hardly archival.

What is the value of an 80s Nintendo GamePak without a functioning Nintendo Entertainment System? Good luck finding one that doesn’t cause you to run through the gamut of techniques to get one to work.

Nintendo offers information on what to do, but it’s certainly more convenient to just buy a new, modern, cleaner digital copy.

Digital distribution is a trade-off for convenience.

Young artists need financial support as quickly as they can get it to continue producing, so getting access to regional audiences through a middle man offering a convenient method of access makes sense.

Unlike physical copies, digital has alternatives. Any creator can offer open-source digital and physical formats through their own website, if they chose to. The real question is determining if a digital vendor has any obligation to inform the audience that there are alternatives.

Is “buy” misleading the public?

When you hit “buy”, do you get access to a copy of a file?

That’s the most important question of digital rights access.

With any proprietary or open format, you need the hardware and software to access the content. As long as you have access to your files to get a copy, which conversion software could empower you to reformat, it doesn’t seem to be any different than yesterday’s proprietary format.

I’d rather download a remastered digital copy of an old cassette than bother recovering a worse quality copy. Nostalgia only has so much value.

Will physical copies of today’s digital content be more valuable if our devices don’t support backwards compatibility? What value will a CD, DVD or Blu-Ray have in 30 years?

There is no guarantee that optical disc readers will always be around.

Funny thing is, handing down old technology unexplained to future generations leads to interesting confusion and guesswork.

A Walkman introduced to kids today without explanation.

Unprecedented

iPad vending machine in a Macy’s.

It would be interesting to know how effective this is.

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Are mobile devices putting unprecedented demands on our car batteries?

Modern mobile devices require a lot of energy to maintain a 4G/LTE data connection, often switching between whichever networks are available in the area. The GPS also drains the battery far more than just about anything else in a mobile device.

We’re increasingly dependent on our devices for what feel like critical functions of modern living. There’s an expectation that we can and should always be connected, as long as our battery is charged and our signal is strong.

I’m reminded of Scott McCloud’s thoughts in Understanding Comics on the extension of the self and how it gets applied to inanimate objects, such as the car we’re driving, a bicycle we’re riding or a keyboard we type on.

The same concept applies even more to mobile devices as they have become always ready extensions of our self expression.

In the context of a car, we rely on these devices for:

  • Traveling with the most rapidly updated maps in history
  • Voice-over computers guiding us toward our destination and helping us keep our eyes on the road
  • Reporting real-time traffic through apps like Waze as a public service to other drivers, hoping our data can be shared and our lost time can be avoided by others before they pass the next exit
  • Streaming music, podcasts or audiobooks over the 21st century data airwaves
  • Talking and texting others so we don’t feel alone, even if we shouldn’t (Lots of drivers do it at red lights, especially)

We rely on our car batteries to support our device needs by consuming more energy than we ever have.

It would be interesting to see research to determine if batteries are keeping up with the increased demands being placed on them from more electronics.

As more electronics are integrated into automobiles, how much of the cost of battery replacement are we feeling?

Are we seeing faster battery replacements in cars since the mobile technology boom?

Unlock

Which side is lock and which side is unlock?

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This design works much better:

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Can a touchscreen laptop have value if the UI isn’t designed for touch?

Great exploration by Dr. Drang on what needs to happen to software UI to make a touchscreen laptop not a compromised mess.

A hit target for the mouse cursor is much smaller than a touchscreen target.

A solution would be a software/hardware fusion that can dynamically respond to the user’s choice of input method on the fly.

Can the hardware use the camera to see when a user raises their hand to point at the screen, make an assumption and adjust the software hit targets fast enough to make the targets touch-optimized? Even if the user doesn’t engage touching the screen, and was simply pointing something out to someone, the raised hand could proactively get the software ready, in case the user does touch the screen.

Or do you need a lightning-fast responsive screen/software response to change at the point of interaction?

iOS Airplay user pro-tip

If you have an AppleTV, you use the Photos app on iOS to share photos to the TV, then move on to watch a video (like content for your kids on Netflix) , then go back to the Photos app on the same device, the Photos app will default to sharing to the TV and will interrupt the current playback.

This is especially helpful if there’s any chance your Photos app has content of any kind which you don’t want in any public display.

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