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Have We Got a Good User Experience?

What is user experience beyond the obvious reference to the experience a user (or customer) has of a product or service? And importantly, do we have one!

In the online world specifically, we have great tools to measure how people use and interact with our business. The question is whether we make use of this to extract the most benefit.

In many online business situations, user experience is the thing that suffers when there’s a mentality of ‘just do it’, demanding deadlines, etc. Like most things, user experience needs a business case along side many other operational decisions like timing, staffing, marketing, etc. Without a strong business case it cannot be prioritized and ends up being a bit of an artistic flourish.

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Work is a Game, Seriously

I love video games. In the not-so-distant past, I have lost countless midnight hours totally absorbed with particular games. From Tetris and Sid Meier’s creations in the early days, to Second Life and Minecraft more recently (I’m more of a strategy guy than an FPS junkie). So much so, that I forbid myself to start new games now for fear of losing chunks of my life.

It’s no wonder that research and opinion makers have latched onto the fact that a task, when treated like a game, becomes enjoyable and perhaps even addictive. If you can persuade someone that a task is to be ‘played’ as a game, the perceived time spent doing the task reduces and a more positive energy is created.

This is interesting: can gamification be a legitimate way to boost someone’s motivation in the workplace?

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Investing in UK Technology

“Investment into UK technology start-ups reached a 10-year high in the first half of 2012, with nearly £600m put into early-stage businesses. This level of funding exceeds the last boom year, 2008, when some £550m was invested in tech companies in the first half – and is already three-quarters of the total funding committed last year – according to figures released Wednesday by Ascendant, the corporate finance advisory company.

Ascendant says the total for this year is likely to be between £900m and £1bn. “There is a lot of money going in to companies,” said Stuart McKnight, managing director of Ascendant. “We have not seen a boom year like this since 2008.” Much of the money is going to internet, mobile and digital media companies, as well as new cleantech businesses.”

Source: “Investment in UK tech at 10-year high” from Maija Palmer at the Financial Times

Following on from my post about UK Competitiveness, excellent indicators from the technology sector on new investment. Let’s hope this translates into some world-class enterprises that grow, employ and stay rooted in the UK ecosystem.

In Support of Vacations

“I also learned about the importance of vacations from observing others on our team. The intensity of demand had begun to wear them down, too, and it showed up in a collective tendency to be more emotionally reactive — shorter and sharper — and more willing to settle for an easy solution rather than do the hard work necessary to get the best result.”

As we return from the summer vacations, a great article, “More Vacation is the Secret Sauce” from the HBR Blog from Tony Schwartz in support of maintaining one’s energy levels by using the time off wisely. And more to the point, what happens when you don’t. We’ve all felt it, and we’ve all recognized it in others. Mandatory 2 weeks vacation a year should be government policy.

The Kinect Gesture

I’m intrigued about how Microsoft’s Kinect technology might start to surface in desktop computing once Windows 8 goes live. Not just for gaming but in security, navigating and dictating using gestures and voice control. Being design-minded, I saw the Human Interface Guidelines and was intrigued. The design principles in the Introduction struck me as quite elegant. By that I mean, they hold certain universal truths and can be applied to many areas of human interaction. For example, when giving a presentation that involves interesting visuals, or a sales pitch that involves a product demo.

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Wisdom on long questionnaires

“Whenever I’ve worked with design teams collaborating with marketers, I’ve pushed hard for short vs. longer A/B questionnaire tests. Almost without exception, both the response rates — and responders — for the short form generate the most useful and usable insights. Needless to say, iterating another just-in-time follow-on survey to short forms proves much more practical and palatable than inflicting new questionnaires on long-form participants.”

Full article by Michael Schrage (30 Aug 2012) from Harvard Business Review Blog here.

UK Industry Competitiveness

From the Guardian today following the publication of the World Economic Forum’s report on global competitiveness. Article here, full Report here.

WEF’s summary of the UK: lies in 8th position gobally (up from 10th), warning of a weak economy, but praised flexible labour market.

“In its annual Global Competitiveness Report, the WEF scores each country according to 12 “pillars of competitiveness”, from the state of its infrastructure to the effectiveness of its health and education systems. The UK’s flexible labour market – making it easier for firms to hire and fire workers – is singled out as a strength by the WEF, which says “the country improves its performance in several areas, benefiting from clear strengths such as the efficiency of its labour market, in sharp contrast to the rigidity of those of many other countries”. Read more

A Letter to a New Leader

Found this flicking through some old books in my library. Ten years old but still works. Comes from a book “Execution, The discipline to get things done” (Bossidy and Charan, 2002)

Congratulations on your promotion!

We couldn’t be happier for you. We know you are excited about exercising your leadership at a higher level. And we’d like to share with you some information we think will help you with your new challenge.

Start by considering what skills this job requires and how they compare with the ones you have. We’re sure you’ve got the self-confidence to make this kind of candid assessment. If you’re short on experience in one area (most leaders are at some point in their careers), be sure you’ve got someone who’s strong in it. Overall, you’ll want to put together a team balanced with the different types of talent you need to improve your chances of success.

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Is that the right question?

I often find myself evaluating ideas in relation to taking products to market. I’ve come to rely on a core set of questions ideally asked in the very earliest stages of an idea. I’m not sure where I got them or whether I made them up. Maybe I should pin them up on a wall somewhere and claim them.

  • Where’s the money?
  • Who are our users?
  • What pain points are we solving and for whom?
  • What’s the minimum we can go to market with?
  • Who can give us feedback quickly when we start this thing?
  • What do we need in order to evolve this thing further if the first feedback is positive?
  • How does this leverage our most passionate supporters?
  • Are we doing this thing because of markets/platforms/customers/skills/product lines we supported last year?

That last one’s a tough one. If the answer is ‘yes’, best take a long look at how much history and past performance is affecting your investment decision.