Wrenches and hammers

Tools
Tools by fissionchips (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Per Axbom’s tweet, written in frustration about digital often seen as the answer to everything, stirred a range of emotions in me. On the one hand, I was quick to agree with the statement, thinking about how  commonplace the digital tools have become in our daily lives. They’ve become so mundane and we have become so accustomed to them, that we’ve started appreciating the tools more than what they help us accomplish or who they enable us to be.

On the other hand, I couldn’t help thinking how the technological achievements of the relatively short period of time would not have been possible, if someone somewhere didn’t go, “I wonder how I can eliminate the imperfections that physical things limit me to?” and didn’t think of making ones and zeros do the job for them.

We arrive at lasting change, when we aren’t satisfied with the existing order. In our heads, problems require solution. In our attempts at finding it, we tend to focus more on the nature of the solution rather than the problem. I believe that, in part, the technological advancements are to blame for it.

It is crucial that we consider, understand and address the real need in the solutions we promote for a given problem. Often, it’s easier said than done. Eric Meyer and Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s book Design for Real Life has had a profound effect on how I view creating processes and designing flows that serve humans and solve problems. Eric and Sara rekindled my love for looking beyond the obvious. A highly recommended read for anyone in touch with humans!

Later, Per followed up on his original tweet, by proposing the discussion about offline solutions to digital problems as an alternative:

I like the idea of breaking free from the hypnosis of the “offline denial syndrome”, as James puts it. Maybe the medium is not the answer. Maybe online and offline aren’t rivals, struggling for minutes they get to be used as solutions. If we see them as tools, maybe it would be easier to consider the problem first. A wrench and a hammer serve different purposes. A wrench can be used as a hammer, but it really shines its purpose as a wrench.

Building a product the users’ way

Rattle
Rattle by Daniel Goude (CC BY-NC 2.0)

So I did a quick test on my youngest daughter yesterday. I wanted to test her preference of hand to hold a toy rattle in. Left is wrong, I learned, and right is right—she’d switch hands every time I placed the toy in her “wrong” hand. After a while though, she got tired of the experiment and refused to take the toy at all.

Users will always try doing things their way, not yours. If you don’t heed their way, they will become disinterested, frustrated, or worse yet, hostile.

Place your product in users’ lap and observe. Act thenceforth accordingly.

This post is part of the #blogg100 challenge—100 blog posts à 100 words in 100 days.

All links should be blue

Blue links
Photo cropped. Original: Links. by C/N N/G (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The less effort it takes for users to recognise an element on a web site the better. If a button looks like a button, the users are more likely to associate it with something pushable and to actually push it. Right?

It’s only partially true. What users recognise, and subsequently take for granted, is patterns. All patterns are culturally fabricated. The target audience is the key to decisions on both aesthetics and functionality.

If users expect links to be blue, they’ll look for blue to click. Building on what rocks their boat is the surest way to get it right.

This post is part of the #blogg100 challenge—100 blog posts à 100 words in 100 days.

UX is about user advocacy

User experience can have an influence on the potential profit a company can get. They only ought to start with users’ needs and desires before creating their product and focus on them while building it, right? They would then be able to sail into the sunset with full pockets and squillions of happy new customers.

Yet, UX is not about what your company can get by means of users. It’s what users can get by means of your product. It is about advocating users’ delight, empowering them to go beyond the impossible. Even despite your empty pockets and broken sails.

This post is part of a blog writing challenge #blogg100 – 100 blog posts in 100 days

Adaptive apps – are they here to stay?

The overflow of information I face daily through the abundance of channels is striking. Personalised search results, breaking news in my area, film suggestions based on my ratings – the apps are getting smarter as the algorithms get more complex with the purpose of bringing me the right information at the right time and place.

When I’m at work, I don’t require navigation at my fingertips. When I’m in a car, I don’t watch films. When I’m on vacation, I don’t (usually) read e-mail. Apps that learn from users’ habits of using a device and adapt to users’ behaviour are therefore smart, really smart. Moves is an example of an app with minimal setup requirements or settings alternatives. It just “knows” whether you walk or run or cycle and “remembers” the places you’ve been at, learning your moves in the everyday.

Adaptive apps are built with the user’s needs and goals in mind. They empower users to focus on the current situation they are in without being disturbed. Ultimately, they make it fun using technology without jeopardising efficiency. (Haven’t all technological innovations been about just that – smarter solutions to achieve efficiency, thus adding new value?)

Necessary apps at the right place and time

Cover is an app that learns “when and where you use different apps and puts them on your lockscreen for easy access.” It is a very interesting idea that I think is on the verge of breaking new ground of interaction with a mobile device.

Cover – The right apps at the right time is a video by Cover for Android on YouTube

Homescreen adapting to user’s context

There’s also Aviate. Reminding of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Home, it is an “intelligent homescreen that organizes the information in your phone and surfaces it at the perfect moment”.

AVIATE is a video by Aviate on YouTube

Here to stay?

I doubt that the apps themselves are going to be dominant as the ones staying. The mindset behind them though is bound to be incorporated across the mobile operating systems at some point. Furthermore, I’d be curious to see a similar solution for desktop, even if, at first, it might be about my behaviour and habit based coupled with time (and timezone?) regulated applications.

Applications that enhance my efficiency and empower me to focus on the essential for the moment are fundamentally the ones that I think well can stand the test of time.

The dirty work of laying foundation

Foundation

Building a pretty website or developing an app quickly may seem attractive at first. It is not, however, durable in the long run. The value of a digital product lies in its usability, which is attained by focusing on the users’ interests. They are all too often considered all too late, usually as a user testing activity. Neither is engaging your users early in the design process enough—starting with them is a necessity, if you want to ensure your website is a worthy result of your work.

Your users do not usually know where the navigation bar should sit, what the breakpoints or font size should be, or which jQuery plugin should be called upon, if any. While they can tell you what makes them happy when they are browsing the Internet, they are more prone to explain what makes them mad when something is not working the way they expect. These are the insights you must gather in order to build on them. The insights you collect about user behaviour are the foundation of your building, not the wallpapers you choose when the walls are already there.

This is neither to undermine a designer’s creative eye or developer’s skillful hands. Both are capable of producing a work of genius. Very often, however, the best ideas for worst inventions are grounded in fantasy, not reality and its implications.

Before creating your next interface, application or QR code, do the dirty work first. It will pay off in the long run. Do you have an idea in your mind? Great, now think about use cases. Who do you want to use your product? In which situations? With whom? Do they have a need to use your creation, otherwise why would they want to do it?

Describe the idea thoroughly, jotting down answers to this kind of questions. Now, make a presentation. You are going to be selling your idea to potential customers. Gather people around and explain what you want to do. Draw stick figures, paint cardboards, wave flags. Let them judge your idea. Let the discussion spin off into their experiences—because that is exactly what you are after: the insights into the everyday of your users. You can then lay them as cornerstones, guiding your construction.

What kind of foundation you build your structure upon will determine whether the formation will be a success, whether the work will not have been futile, and whether your creation will stand the test of time. Crucial dirty work.

Photo Credit: mac_ivan via Compfight (cc)