Archive for November 2005

Backwards Goals: MS Office Results Oriented UI

November 18th, 2005 — 4:51pm

In the overview of the new “results ori­ented” UI planned for MS Office 12, our friends in Red­mond offer:
“The over­rid­ing design goal for the new UI is to deliver a user inter­face that enables users to be more suc­cess­ful find­ing and using the advanced fea­tures of Microsoft Office. An addi­tional impor­tant design goal was to pre­serve an unclut­tered work­space that reduces dis­trac­tion for users so that they can spend more time and energy focused on their work.“
Let me get that straight. Your first goal is to make it eas­ier for me to find and use advanced fea­tures that the vast major­ity of peo­ple employ rarely if ever, and didn’t need in the first place?
And some­thing else that was also impor­tant — but not as impor­tant as access to all those shiny advanced fea­tures — was to make the work­space unclut­tered and allow me to focus on my work?
Isn’t that… backwards?

2 comments » | User Experience (UX)

Intrusive Online Surveys Damage Brands

November 17th, 2005 — 12:05pm

I got caught in an on-line opin­ion sur­vey trap last week. The setup: In exchange for 10% off my next pur­chase, a Banana Repub­lic cashier told me, I had to answer a few ques­tions about my shop­ping expe­ri­ence. Retail­ers often solicit opin­ions from cus­tomers in return for a vari­ety of rewards. It’s com­mon enough that there’s an under­stand­ing on the amount of infor­ma­tion requested, in exchange for the expected reward. So I thought I was safe…
Twenty screens later, after answer­ing more than fifty ques­tions and with no end in sight, I was feel­ing a lit­tle cranky. Even my wife was irri­tated; I was hold­ing up gro­cery shop­ping for din­ner guests. Very quickly, the reward for my time shifted from a coupon, to using Banana Repub­lic as an exam­ple of an on-line sur­vey expe­ri­ence that under­mines your brand.
The full sur­vey ran more than thirty five screens, and ended with an error mes­sage. Very pro­fes­sional.
Thumb­nails of the whole sur­vey:
img:thumbnails of the whole survey
For kicks, I posted the screen­shots to Flickr. If you run the slideshow, you can see where I became frus­trated and started to give spoiler answers — like wear­ing a size 98, or spend­ing $10 / year on cloth­ing.
Why was the sur­vey expe­ri­ence bad?
1. They didn’t make clear how much time they were ask­ing for. The open­ing screen said 10 min­utes, this is mis­lead­ing for a 100 ques­tion sur­vey. If you’re ask­ing for my time, respect me enough to be hon­est about what’s required.
2. They didn’t make the real pur­pose of the sur­vey clear. From the shop­ping expe­ri­ence itself, the ques­tions quickly shifted to my age, income, mar­i­tal sta­tus, and edu­ca­tion level. This is a trans­par­ent attempt to feed data min­ing and demo­graphic needs that relied on an ama­teur segue to turn the con­ver­sa­tion around and ask for per­sonal infor­ma­tion.
3. They con­tra­dicted the expe­ri­ence I had in their store. The store staff were nice enough to keep track of the umbrella I left in a fit­ting room, and return it before I left, which was thought­ful. Con­sis­tency is the core of a suc­cess­ful brand, but the sur­vey expe­ri­ence was incon­sis­tent.
How does this dam­age Banana Republic’s brand?
1. Banana Repub­lic left me with a series of neg­a­tive impres­sions that work against their brand val­ues: I now feel I was cho­sen to par­tic­i­pate in a sur­vey under false pre­tenses, a sur­vey that offers me lit­tle value in return for impor­tant per­sonal infor­ma­tion that is inap­pro­pri­ate to ask for in the first place.
2. Banana Repub­lic closed a grow­ing chan­nel for con­duct­ing busi­ness with a cus­tomer. I may pur­chase more from their stores — if I have no other retailer at hand, and I need busi­ness clothes to meet with a client CEO the next morn­ing once again — but I’m cer­tainly not will­ing to engage with them online.
Mer­chants in all areas of retail­ing work very hard to encour­age cus­tomers to form pos­i­tive asso­ci­a­tions with their brands. Fash­ion retail­ers work espe­cially hard at encour­ag­ing cus­tomers to asso­ciate val­ues, such as trust and respect, with a brand because these val­ues serve as the foun­da­tion for longer term and more lucra­tive rela­tion­ships with cus­tomers than sin­gle pur­chases. Every expe­ri­ence a cus­tomer has with your brand — every touch point — influ­ences this net­work of asso­ci­a­tions, rein­forc­ing or weak­en­ing the link between a brand and the feel­ings that cus­tomers have about the prod­ucts and the com­pany behind it. A sim­ple test any retailer should use when con­sid­er­ing bring­ing an expe­ri­ence to cus­tomers is wether the expe­ri­ence will rein­force the right brand asso­ci­a­tions.
Loy­alty pro­grams, and their off­spring the online opin­ion sur­vey, are good exam­ples of the inter­sec­tions of cus­tomer inter­ests and retailer inter­ests in an expe­ri­ence that can rein­force a customer’s per­cep­tions of the brand and the val­ues asso­ci­ated with it. Many retail­ers man­age these kinds of pro­grams well.
Just not Banana Repub­lic.
The error mes­sage at the end.
Error Mes­sage:

I wear size 98:
Size 98:

1 comment » | User Experience (UX)

Better To Be Likeable Than Competent...

November 17th, 2005 — 10:14am

At least accord­ing to the Boston Globe arti­cle titled Don’t under­es­ti­mate the value of social skills, in which Pene­lope Trunk quotes an HBS fac­ulty mem­ber as fol­lows:
’In fact, across the board, in a wide vari­ety of busi­nesses, peo­ple would rather work with some­one who is lik­able and incom­pe­tent than with some­one who is skilled and obnox­ious, said Tiziana Cas­ciaro, a pro­fes­sor at Har­vard Busi­ness School. “How we value com­pe­tence changes depend­ing on whether we like some­one or not,” she says.‘
I guess this explains how we ended up with George W. Bush as President…

Comment » | The Working Life

Mental Models and the Semantics of Disaster

November 4th, 2005 — 3:47pm

A few months ago, I put up a post­ing on Men­tal Mod­els Lotus Notes, and Resililence. It focused on my chronic inabil­ity to learn how not to send email with Lous Notes. I posted about Notes, but what led me to explore resilience in the con­text of men­tal mod­els was the sur­pris­ing lack of acknowl­edge­ment of the scale of hur­ri­cane Kat­rina I came across at the time. For exam­ple, the day the lev­ees failed, the front page of the New York Times dig­i­tal edi­tion car­ried a gigan­tic head­line say­ing ‘Lev­ees Fail! New Orleans floods!’. And yet no one in the office at the time even men­tioned what hap­pened.
My con­clu­sion was that peo­ple were sim­ply unable to accept the idea that a major met­ro­pol­i­tan area in the U.S. could pos­si­bly be the set­ting for such a tragedy, and so they refused to absorb it — because it didn’t fit in with their men­tal mod­els for how the world works. Today, I came across a Resilience Sci­ence post­ing titled New Orleans and Dis­as­ter Soci­ol­ogy that sup­ports this line of think­ing, while it dis­cusses some of the inter­est­ing ways that seman­tics and men­tal mod­els come into play in rela­tion to dis­as­ters.
Quot­ing exten­sively from an arti­cle in The Chron­i­cle of Higher Edu­ca­tion titled Dis­as­ter Soci­ol­o­gists Study What Went Wrong in the Response to the Hur­ri­canes, but Will Pol­icy Mak­ers Lis­ten? the post­ing calls out how nar­row slices of media cov­er­age dri­ven by blurred seman­tic and con­tex­tual under­stand­ings, inac­cu­rately frame social responses to dis­as­ter sit­u­a­tions in terms of group panic and the implied break­down of order and soci­ety.
“The false idea of post­dis­as­ter panic grows partly from sim­ple seman­tic con­fu­sion, said Michael K. Lin­dell, a psy­chol­o­gist who directs the Haz­ard Reduc­tion and Recov­ery Cen­ter at Texas A&M Uni­ver­sity at Col­lege Sta­tion. ‘A reporter will stick a micro­phone in someone’s face and ask, ‘Well, what did you do when the explo­sion went off?’ And the per­son will answer, ‘I pan­icked.’ And then they’ll pro­ceed to describe a very log­i­cal, ratio­nal action in which they pro­tected them­selves and looked out for peo­ple around them. What they mean by ‘panic’ is just ‘I got very fright­ened.’ But when you say ‘I pan­icked,’ it rein­forces this idea that there’s a thin veneer of civ­i­liza­tion, which van­ishes after a dis­as­ter, and that you need out­side author­i­ties and the mil­i­tary to restore order. But really, peo­ple usu­ally do very well for them­selves, thank you.‘
Men­tal mod­els come into play when the arti­cle goes on to talk about the ways that the emer­gency man­age­ment agen­cies are orga­nized and struc­tured, and how they approach and under­stand sit­u­a­tions by default. With the new Home­land Secu­rity par­a­digm, all inci­dents require com­mand and con­trol approaches that assume a ded­i­cated and intel­li­gent enemy — obvi­ously not the way to man­age a hur­ri­cane response.
“Mr. Lin­dell, of Texas A&M, agreed, say­ing he feared that pol­icy mak­ers in Wash­ing­ton had taken the wrong lessons from Kat­rina. The employ­ees of the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity, he said, ‘are mostly drawn from the Depart­ment of Defense, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, and from police depart­ments. They’re firmly com­mit­ted to a command-and-control model.’ (Just a few days ago, Pres­i­dent Bush may have pushed the process one step fur­ther: He sug­gested that the Depart­ment of Defense take con­trol of relief efforts after major nat­ural dis­as­ters.)
“The habits of mind cul­ti­vated by mil­i­tary and law-enforcement per­son­nel have their virtues, Mr. Lin­dell said, but they don’t always fit dis­as­ter sit­u­a­tions. ‘They come from orga­ni­za­tions where they’re deal­ing with an intel­li­gent adver­sary. So they want to keep infor­ma­tion secret; ‘it’s only shared on a need-to-know basis. But emer­gency man­agers and med­ical per­son­nel want infor­ma­tion shared as widely as pos­si­ble because they have to rely on per­sua­sion to get peo­ple to coöper­ate. The prob­lem with putting FEMA into the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity is that it’s like an organ trans­plant. What we’ve seen over the past four years is basi­cally organ rejec­tion.‘
If I read this cor­rectly, mis­aligned orga­ni­za­tional cul­tures lie at the bot­tom of the whole prob­lem. I’m still curi­ous about the con­nec­tions between an organization’s cul­ture, and the men­tal mod­els that indi­vid­u­als use. Can a group have a col­lec­tive men­tal model?
Accoridng to Col­lec­tive Men­tal State and Indi­vid­ual Agency: Qual­i­ta­tive Fac­tors in Social Sci­ence Expla­na­tion it’s pos­si­ble, and in fact the whole idea of this col­lec­tive men­tal state is a black hole as far as qual­i­ta­tive social research and under­stand­ing are concerned.

2 comments » | Modeling, The Media Environment

Reality TV Revisits Its Origins

November 3rd, 2005 — 2:35pm

Appar­ently, if you wait long enough, all cir­cles close them­selves. Case in point: I’ve always thought Golding’s Lord of the Flies nicely cap­tures sev­eral of the less appe­tiz­ing aspects of the typ­i­cal amer­i­can junior high school expe­ri­ence.
And I’ve always thought that much of the real­ity tele­vi­sion pro­gram­ming that was all the rage for a while and now seems to be pass­ing like a Japan­ese fad, is sim­ply a chance for peo­ple on all sides of the screen to revisit their own junior high school expe­ri­ences once again — albeit with a full com­ple­ment of adult sec­ondary sex­ual char­ac­ter­is­tics. When I do chan­nel surf past the lat­est incar­na­tion of the pri­mal vote-the-jerk-off-the-island epic, Golding’s book always comes to mind.
Then a friend rec­om­mended Koushun Takami’s Bat­tle Royale as recre­ational read­ing. Bat­tle Royale is, as Tom Waits says, ‘big in Japan’ — it being a Japan­ese treat­ment of some of the same themes that drive Lord of the Flies.
The edi­to­r­ial review from Ama­zon reads:
“As part of a ruth­less pro­gram by the total­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment, ninth-grade stu­dents are taken to a small iso­lated island with a map, food, and var­i­ous weapons. Forced to wear spe­cial col­lars that explode when they break a rule, they must fight each other for three days until only one “win­ner” remains. The elim­i­na­tion con­test becomes the ulti­mate in must-see real­ity tele­vi­sion.“
And so the cir­cle closes…

1 comment » | Reading Room, The Media Environment

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