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Timing is Everything

On a human-computer interaction (HCI) and design thread again. I was reading the seminal article by Dr. Vannevar Bush in which he introduces ‘memex’ to the world (Atlantic, July 1945), I love this passage which eloquently reminds us that however brilliant an idea, it’s quite possible the rest of the puzzle/ stack/ ecosystem isn’t ready for it yet.

“Two centuries ago Leibnitz invented a calculating machine which embodied most of the essential features of recent keyboard devices, but it could not then come into use. The economics of the situation were against it: the labor involved in constructing it, before the days of mass production, exceeded the labor to be saved by its use, since all it could accomplish could be duplicated by sufficient use of pencil and paper. Moreover, it would have been subject to frequent breakdown, so that it could not have been depended upon; for at that time and long after, complexity and unreliability were synonymous.

Babbage, even with remarkably generous support for his time, could not produce his great arithmetical machine. His idea was sound enough, but construction and maintenance costs were then too heavy. Had a Pharaoh been given detailed and explicit designs of an automobile, and had he understood them completely, it would have taxed the resources of his kingdom to have fashioned the thousands of parts for a single car, and that car would have broken down on the first trip to Giza.”

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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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.

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.

Making the Sale at Checkout

“While e-commerce has continued to grow, the experience of buying online has remained largely unchanged for the past seventeen years. To this day, the most common digital shopping experience consists of finding an item you want to buy, adding it to a cart, then checking yourself out.

Unsurprisingly this process just about always culminates in a form. After all, online retailers need to know who their customer is, where they want their item sent, and how they’ll pay for it. This has resulted in a fairly standard set of required input fields.”

Great article about checkout conversion from Luke Wroblewski, “Evolving E-commerce Checkout” (July 3rd, 2012).

He goes on to describe the impact of mobile and how this might push further evolution on the checkout process. Go read. Or if you feel like a little light-hearted 2 minute distraction…

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History Lessons from Advertising

“We may gather up a beautiful collection of words, arrange them in charming style with a handsome picture to top off, and print this final product in the best medium in the world. If the advertisement does not help to make more sales, we had better throw it away. It has been an interesting experiment – and nothing more.”

- The Thompson Blue Book on Advertising (J. Walter Thompson Co., 1906)

Ours is not a new problem. We use sophisticated technology on the most exciting and effective medium of the internet but we should never forget that the challenge to present a relevant and engaging message to our viewers is an age old problem. Whatever our objective, history does have something to teach us. And advertising – more specifically – can show us how to engage and influence a potential customer efficiently and quickly.

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