User Experience - Not the Silver bullet

SILVER BULLETA few days ago I shared UX Won't Save You from the 52 weeks of UX blog, an article talks about the impression that many current think that User Experience is the new hot 'Silver Bullet'. Briefly after sharing two of my team members emailed me and asked if I had written the article. Their question made sense, because in the same week I had been managing down some expectations on User Experience and tried to explain that User Experience is NOT the silver bullet. However credit me for the great article is a bit too much, Joshua Porter gets all credit for the article.

I like to explain the importance of User Experience as one of the three cornerstone for great product design.  1.  The business side determines what is useful and thus also valuable. You require excellent business insights to pinpoint the business pain you are solving. This way you provide value to your customers.
2. Engineering determines what is feasible. You always deal with technical constrains, but by pushing the boundaries you constantly try to overcome them.
3. User Experience determines what is usable and therefor desirable. Deep insights of your users helps you to determine their desires.

All three elements are equally important!
1. Business and engineering created useful and feasible products, the productivity and business automation software as we know it so well today. It's very feature rich, but you only use it because your boss tells you to do so.
2. Engineering and User Experience create feasible and desirable products, something we might even all art. They usually don't solve any business pains.
3. Business and User Experience aren't able to create anything, except for valuable and desirable dreams.

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Image credit: Steffe

Road testing Gowalla and Foursquare

Last Saturday I had a few hours to kill and spend them hopping around a few locations, a great opportunity to road test Gowalla and Foursquare. For the tests I most of the time used an iPhone and in a few other situations an iPad. I was traveling in the north of the Netherlands and unfortunately the cellular data reception was poor, but that makes the test so much more realistic.

The test is nothing scientific, it just reflects some of my personal experiences

The Gowalla stuff I liked:

  • It's the beauty, especially the iPad app is really stunning!
  • It's faster, at least in my experience, to bring up a list of places nearby.
  • It rewards creating new places by tweeting them around.
  • It surprises you with newly found items and adds some fun by swapping them around.
  • It's cool to add pictures with your check-ins.
The Foursquare stuff I liked:
  • It's the beast, with more users (and more of my friends) and sharing is more fun with friends.
  • Has much more places already available (unfortunately also many doubles).
  • Mayorships are there to be protected.
  • The surprises are in the badges, however it's getting harder and harder to get new ones
  • Keeps cool stats of you check-ins.
Is this all relevant? No! Was it fun to do? Yes!

A New Hair Cut [Warning: Useless Information]

Once in a while I leave the office for a while and go for a hair cut. Hair grows during office hours, so why not going to the hair dresser during office hours! Each time after returning my new hair cut is suddenly the main topic of conversation in the office. Today wasn't any different and actually it go a bit worse because I just took a DailyBooth picture to test the Twitter integration. It even caused a Twitter conversation.

Now so you can all join in, here is a picture.

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iPad Disappointment

I love my iPad, it's really a pleasure to lay on the couch and consume content. I've significantly increased the amount of information I consume, just because it's always around. The endless battery, the instantly on capabilities, the snappy performance and smooth touch experience makes it a joy to use.

So why the title of this post? You first need to understand that I prefer to centrally store my information in the cloud to eliminate the need for synchronization, back-ups. I always can access the most recent version from any device I'm using. I keep most of my documents and notes in Google Apps and my presentations on Microsoft SkyDrive.

Unfortunately both web applications have decided that the iPad browser is Mobile Safari and only allow me to view read-only version of the documents and presentations. This is fine for most situation, but especially for note taking or last minute editorial adjustments (The Microsoft scenario for Office Web Apps) it would be extremely useful to have edit capabilities.  I'm disappointed that both Google and Microsoft don't give the the option to switch to the full browser version.

Call to action: Microsoft and Google the mobile web is changing, todays mobile devices are capable enough to run full web apps. Give us what we need, not what you are capable of delivering!

User Experience - The Battle

About a month ago I wrote about some tips on getting started with User Experience. Now you are well on it's way, gave your teams freedom and they plastered the walls with mood boards, schemas, designs, etc.

You are getting attention for your team and heaps of requests for help.

The requests usually go along the following lines:

  • Can you design a new icon set?
  • Can you write guidelines for standard components in my applications?
  • Can you design some of the screens for me?
  • Can you test and improve the usability of ....
... and now you battle starts. The requests are usually always related to design, usability and improving an already existed product. It hardly ever refers to business goals, users and their happiness. 

This is where it's getting tough for you. You now constantly needs to explain that User Experience starts with your target market, for who are you building your solutions, what are their business goals and pains? What is the functionality and which functionality delivers most value addressing the business pains. Every project needs to start with user research with users from the target market you are addressing. These don't have to be existing customers, actually you don't want to have only customers in your research group. They are already 'brainwashed' with you mind set and are biased. It's gonna by tough, but keep repeating and never ever settle for a mediocre approach. 

Ask your product guys a simple question: Do you want to optimize the customer's business processes to improve their efficiency or do you want to drive and grow the customer's business?

Good luck with your challenges.