Brain re-wired

Hotels are great aren’t they for wayfinding? A series of signs that take you on a journey of discovery, confident in your own ability to find your way around. Only to have your path halted mid corridor when all of a sudden you’re met with blanks walls adorned with work by the artist of the moment instead. TripAdvisor is littered with comments from guests of MGM Grand and the Venetian in Las Vegas getting lost in the 6000+ room hotels. Studies of those wayfinding systems would make interesting reading.

On the smaller scale, there are still challenges to overcome. On a recent trip, I stayed in a hotel of probably less than 100 rooms. Stepping out of the lift to my floor, I was met by this:

Now I might have been tired and weary, but it took me a little while to compute this. We in the western world read left to right. Yet this sign required me to read right to left, then back again. Firstly I locate my room number – 517 – then to see which direction I turn.

Having the arrows so close to each other didn’t assist scannability. Some space and distance could’ve helped with that.

Ok, so I turned right. I locked this away for future reference. Next time, I’d let my nose do the walking.

The next time I got out of the lift, I turned right. As I walked I perused the door numbers but they were not as I expected. They descended away from, not ascended to, ‘517’. What the…?

I returned to the lobby to discover 4 lifts – 2 x 2 lifts facing each other across a small lobby. And 2 room signs – one on either wall a mirror of the other. From one side of the lobby turn right. From the other side, turn left.

I got there in the end but I didn’t want to be dealing with this on holiday.

Agency Designworkplan outline 3 core principles that drive their work in helping people navigate in built environments. These include landmarks, orientation and navigation. A three dimensional rule that tells you where you are in relation to another place, how far you are from your destination and what direction you need to get there. Simple. City maps accomplish this easily with a helpful marker of ‘you are here’.

Based on this, here’s a suggested approach:

The amenities are fictional, to help illustrate the point that surrounding landmarks can help with orientation. A little more helpful than a batch of numbers tacked on to a wall.

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Data-driven world

The hot topic at a client organisation at present is data-driven development (DDD). Not only a topic, but an approach that is well integrated within the engineering team. Sitting alongside various measures – analytics and heatmapping tools (on both legacy and new infrastructures), NPS, and A/B testing – various departments are grappling to implement code and get access to the data stream that will soon hit all product team’s shores.

Its intent is to be a more accurate measure of friction in customer experience, where they struggle, drop out of the product and gather their feedback along the way. What it won’t do is sweep the floor of the qualitative approaches – the data team have been very clear about that.

Some product managers however have missed this vital point. Those uninitiated, or still in a world where Google Analytics used to tell all, believe that a number alone does not lie. A feature or flow only gets 2% usage – ‘ah, off with its head!’.

Once, I would have agreed with this response. Many years of experience later – and to some product managers chagrin – has told me, the question we need to ask is, why. Why is there only 2% usage?

It may be painfully obvious to the team why – usability problems, doesn’t work on mobile, wrong place in the user’s flow, too many other competing options, etc.

Descoping is too a factor. All too many times, I’ve seen due process followed – user research, market research, diligent design, testing – leading to a design solution that stands on its merits. Only to have it ripped apart by technical limitations, reducing time scales, dwindling budgets, development team reshuffles and changing priorities.

So when a validated design solution only fulfills a shadow of its intended glory when implemented, is it really a surprise if only 2% of customers use it? The number identifies the problem; it may be the design or it may point to process. But only after we dig around and ask, why.

At the end of the day, these are all assumptions and need validation. A number alone does not state this. It simply lights the way to finding out a problem.

Research. Insight. Discovery. It’s a cyclical process.

Simply looking at a number and saying – well no one’s using it, we’re taking it out of the product – is a naive approach. A clear intent led to its inclusion; the execution failed.

This idea left me wondering, DDD comes after the fact. It’s measuring the impact of a feature or interaction AFTER it’s been implemented. It’s assuming that an upfront design-led process is in place and working. That a customer’s experience influences a process, not only at development level but at a higher strategic level. Influencing a product offering, driving the discovery into new markets, fully exploring a user’s world and context to ascertain how technology can help them – rather than devise a solution and push it to them.

While DDD may be a move in the right direction, it raises the question of, is it the right place for an organisation to start?

Sweet packaged cupcakes

I love startups … creative, food, culinary. And this weekend I saw a cupcake startup hitting their stride with free samplings at a large gourmet supermarket in London. Woo hoo !

I arrived on time for the tasting – didn’t want to miss out – but I couldn’t find their stand. Did I get the date wrong? No, the store’s bakery staff were expecting them also. So I wander the bakery counter and see that they’re already stocked in the superstore. As I want to investigate the different flavours, I am unable to easily see what’s inside the boxes.

The problem? The packaging design.

The individual cupcake was beautifully housed in a clear plastic box with a dovetailed lid. The entire front of the box however was covered in their promotional label. You get a much better view of the cakes on their website.

The space on the shelf was tight, so picking up the plastic boxes was difficult without disturbing the neighbouring boxes and pulling the entire shelf load to the floor. I was becoming a little annoyed. All I could do was stand on tiptoe to look through the top of the box to see the morsel inside.

I eventually bought one. Not the one I wanted because I couldn’t see the description of the cake easily – this was written on the back of the box. Hmm…

I pondered the situation as I stared at the empty box at home after finishing the baked good. How could the packaging done a better job of presentation?

Firstly, a reimagined packaging design so that the label did not cover the merchandise from view. Allow people to freely see what’s inside – why do you need an illustration on the label when you have such a pretty cupcake inside to do your advertising for you?

And secondly, the strapline that describes your cake – for eg. a vanilla buttermilk cupcake with a juicy passionfruit centre – should also appear on the front, not the back. Let people know what they’re buying. You don’t want the customer to have to pick up box after box just to find basic information. Don’t let them get the cake home to realise that the simple chocolate cupcake they bought is really a chilli chocolate cupcake laced with brandy … not everyone likes liquer in their cakes.

Two simple steps to package your wares could save people time in perusing and entice them into filling their baskets with more of your goods. I know I would have 🙂

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Taking the sting out of the worker bees

Recently I was asked to study users that process subscription orders and handle customer service requests for a publisher. They want their antiquated and clunky administrative tool updated and honed for their purposes – which they’d been promised for years would be fixed.

Considering that tensions may be high when the subject is broached, I’m proposing a lighter approach for the workshop – using a board game. This idea came from a children’s television show I saw in Australia, which also had the same format in the UK.

Do you think it may work?

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.