Everything is UX

The buzzword de jour in the office these days is UX. Everyone is talking about how we “need more UX” as though it is some magic dust we should sprinkle onto products. Unfortunately I’m not convinced that many people understand what UX (User Experience) really means.

In a way, it is magic; but it’s a magic that takes a lot of preparation and hard work to make. You don’t just add User Experience on top of a product; the product is built around it.
The user experience, to my mind, is about the whole lifespan of a product, from buying it through using it to the inevitable retirement.
Marketing types would call it the customer journey probably, but oddly they tend to leave out the middle and end; i.e. Actually using something until it breaks.

Few companies seem to have really grasped what it means. Of course Apple, but they have become an overused trump card in every design discussion.
I think another good example is Amazon and the Kindle. Ok, so the Kindle UI is nothing to write home about; but the advertising, the purchase process, the out of box experience and the ability to buy books over Whispernet all come together to create a great overall experience. It’s still not seamless, but it is so good in the important bits that the other bits don’t matter so much; it engenders the response in the user needed and they become attached to their Kindle.

Out of box experience is probably the best example. If you’ve ordered your Kindle from Amazon directly, they already know your name and account details. This means they can make the out of box experience more exciting and memorable by having the Kindle greet you; how many gadgets have you bought that know your name and can say hello when you first get them?
As we all know, first impressions count. Here they count for Amazon in creating a bond with what is essentially a bit of plastic with some circuit boards in it.

Kindle Welcome Message – By DanieVDM

 

The McLaren Work Ethic

McLaren Technology Centre

Recently I was very lucky to be able to visit McLaren Technology Centre and get a real insider tour. We saw everything, from the construction of next year’s Formula One car to Jensen Button.
The whole building represents the company in many ways. The architecture and facilities they have are incredible, not just in the way they look and the technology they have but in the attention to detail.

For example; their ‘clean desk policy’ – basically you’re not allowed anything you’re not using on your desk, and I mean nothing! Not an uncommon practice in offices, but here they are building cars. This means that the engineering bays where the car bodies are hand-built with carbon fibre and resin are kept completely immaculate. Having done a bit of fibreglassing in my time (ok, a bodge job or two isn’t the same as making a F1 car, but still), this is impressive in itself.

But how do you make it easy to keep an engineering bay clean? Make all the surfaces white, and light the space so no-one casts a shadow of course! It’s like their normal office is a clean room.

This approach makes me think of two things. First, my latent OCD thinks this is awesome. A properly organised office! Secondly I think this is a bit weird; enforced office culture at the most minute level. But the weird thing was, it actually worked.

At one point we were talking to one of the engineers rebuilding one of their cars from a museum. He reached into a draw and pulled out a sheet of paper. It was the original driver manifest, Alain Prost’s car as it turned out, and Ayrton Senna drove it too. I’m pretty sure I can’t do that so straightforwardly for any of my projects (and not just because no-one drives in my line of work).

This says a lot about office culture as a whole to me, not that I’m saying a clean room atmosphere would be nice, but more that just being well ordered is a lot to do with how the whole office is structured as well as your own “style”.
I think there are a lot of things about the office environment that shape the way company culture as a whole grows; at McLaren they’ve decided to purposefully direct that culture through the environment. And you won’t find Comic Sans used to write signage either, which is a bonus.

McLaren font  on a hairdryer

CES 2011

I’m on my way back from CES, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The show is, quite frankly, ridiculously big. Spread across three or four extremely large halls, the bigger companies have stands  so big, it takes several minutes to cross them.

All the heavyweights, sans Apple, are here in force. Usually this means a week of impressive and exciting announcements but this year’s excitement was a bit thin on the ground.

There were a few things that were revealed. The Motorola Xoom running Google’s Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) was new, but only showing a video of what it could do, no interaction allowed. Windows running on ARM was big news, but that’s not much to look at.

Otherwise it was all 3D everything or Internet TV. Personally, I find the parallax effect 3D that everyone is pushing pretty unimpressive. It makes me think of the old 3D layers in After Effects; basically 2D panels which operate in a 3D space. A bit like one of those fairground games where you shoot the cutout shapes moving back and forth.

Internet TV was the other big part of the lineup, but I wasn’t particularly impressed with this either. Samsung, LG, Sharp and Toshiba all had variations along the lines of the app model. All the implementations seemed pretty clunky though and I can’t help thinking there must be a better way of doing things. Apparently all are based on Intel’s Smart TV platform, so ultimately they are all just reskins of the same thing, Wii-like pointer and all.

Sony, Samsung and Logitech all had their Google TV offerings as well, but the complexity of Google’s TV OS and the lack of consistency in the UI leaves a lot to be desired.

Neither is really approaching the problem of TV user experience with a particularly fresh vision while keeping in mind that this is a 10′ UI and people expect it to operate that way. Still, these are the embryonic stages in terms of Internet tv, so I’m looking forward to where things are going to go. Hopefully I’ll be working on it too!

Interaction Everything?

Hello,

This is the start of me writing. I never thought I would really write much, but now it has occurred to me that it might be a good idea, a release. If this sounds like a cliché then that’s probably because it is, but I got over it so you should too.

So what will I write about in my cliché of a blog? Well at the moment I work in the design department of one of the giants of consumer electronics, so I’ll be mostly talking about design and design process.
I have other interests of course, so probably whatever else pops into my head will turn up here too.