Mobile first is winning. That’s what Kayak (one of my favorite websites and iOS applications) is doing, moving the design of their applications to the web:
Normally a web-based company that decides to make an app wants to translate the look and feel of its site to that app. But Kayak has been there, done that. And from the design team to the executive team, those within Kayak say it now makes more sense to do the opposite. "I got to the point where I actually liked iPhone app better than our website, I thought it was aesthetically more beautiful," Kayak co-founder and CTO Paul English told me in an interview last week.
At its design lab up on Concord, Mass. Kayak does eye-tracking studies to see what users are or are not using. "Our design goal – if something is on the screen and people aren't clicking on, we remove it," said English. The overall goal in making the site look more like a mobile app is to shed unnecessary details and simplify.
A VC that in my opinion gets it right:
Code cannot come before UX. Design the experience before you code it. Art takes time and has to be at the core of your product/service. If you don’t have a designer as one of your first three team members, well, in my humble opinion, you’re already in trouble.
To illustrate, here are some details I assess when every new venture comes my way: Email structure, word choice, the signature, the amount of deck slides, the weight of the presentation, whether the dollar sign is placed before or after the amount, the choice of stock photography backdrops, whether MS Clipart was used, the thickness of the business card, the choice of typography, even the entrepreneur’s choice of laptop and phone.
All of these go to the heart of our assessment the product/service, the team and the venture as a whole.
It’s about the sizzle, which is UX. It sells the product. If you don’t have a great UX, investors have to be aware there are going to be many, many other costs, like additional marketing, to make a product successful.
Great UX is art, but it’s worth it.
Culture is a balanced blend of human psychology, attitudes, actions, and beliefs that combined create either pleasure or pain, serious momentum or miserable stagnation. A strong culture flourishes with a clear set of values and norms that actively guide the way a company operates. Employees are actively and passionately engaged in the business, operating from a sense of confidence and empowerment rather than navigating their days through miserably extensive procedures and mind-numbing bureaucracy. Performance-oriented cultures possess statistically better financial growth, with high employee involvement, strong internal communication, and an acceptance of a healthy level of risk-taking in order to achieve new levels of innovation.…
If there’s any doubt about the value of investing time in culture, there are significant benefits that come from a vibrant and alive culture:
- Focus: Aligns the entire company towards achieving its vision, mission, and goals.
- Motivation: Builds higher employee motivation and loyalty.
- Connection: Builds team cohesiveness among the company's various departments and divisions.
- Cohesion: Builds consistency and encourages coordination and control within the company.
- Spirit: Shapes employee behavior at work, enabling the organization to be more efficient and alive.
Look at Zappos, one of the fastest companies to reach $1 billion in recent years, fueled by an electric and eclectic culture, one that’s inclusionary, encouraging, and empowering. It’s well-documented, celebrated, and shared willingly with anyone who wants to learn from it. Compare that to American Apparel, the controversial and prolific fashion retailer with a well-documented and highly dysfunctional culture. Zappos is thriving and on its way to $2 billion, while American Apparel is mired in bankruptcy and controversy. Both companies are living out their missions–one is to create happiness, and the other is based on self-centered perversity. Authenticity and values always win.
Great post. It has answers from some of the leading UX practitioners, some of whom don’t have a degree.
"A degree or a certificate isn't going to magically get you respect, make you employable, get you on the speaker circuit, cure acne, or make you more attractive to the love of your life. A degree is not going to instantly improve your UX skills. Only lots and lots of practice can do that. All of the employers of UX professionals that I know-myself included-are looking for experience first and above all. However, that doesn't mean a degree is useless.”
"Of course, having a degree gets you past foolish HR departments that require a degree. However, remember that people who require a degree also look at applicants' experience. The most experience wins-the degree just lets you take part in the race.”
Ping me. I’m revamping my Twitter lists, and want to add you to one.
You can find me at @usabilitycounts.
Here’s a job posting that a friend contacted me about (Lingo and Actionscript probably aren’t strict requirements). Ping me if you’re interested.
Also, ping me if you’re a visual designer or user experience designer in Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York. Recruiter friends of mine have 10 jobs open. Send me an email at email@example.com.
The Senior Interactive Designer is responsible for developing impactful design options and user interfaces in multiple platforms, including the development of prototypes, selling these ideas internally and to clients, and guiding the execution of these ideas across digital media.
Don’t say I didn’t tell ya.
Congrats Brian Chee and the VW Team for another awesome piece of work. Will this one pass 50 million views on YouTube?
I blacked out the home page of the blog. Below is a link to Google’s petition to oppose SOPA. Also visit SOPA Strike.
Join the millions like myself who think SOPA is the wrong way to oppose piracy. Please sign it. The internet’s future as a place where information can be freely and sensibly exchanged depends on it.
Enrique Allen is a cool cat. This is also a great post.
In A Software Design Manifesto, Mitch Kapor argues that the most important social evolution within computing professions would be to create a role for the software designer as a champion of user experience. He defines a designer as someone who stands with a foot firmly in two worlds – the world of technology and the world of people and human purposes – and brings the two together. Although over 15 years old, Kapor’s argument holds strong to this day. Designers need engineering skills and technical understanding so they can continue to stand with feet in both worlds.
The successful designer founders we’ve seen are consistently multidisciplinary – they have the full range of skills necessary to make decisions about product design and work with a development team to execute on those decisions. Their skills range from user research, to interaction design, to information architecture, to communication design, to writing. They may not be experts in all areas, but they can “wear all the hats” in the early days of a startup and attract specialists when needed.
Designer founders understand the technology commonly used to build software products and the business methods used to market and evaluate those products. As a designer, design skills are important – but as a founder, technology and business skills are critical to lead not only product design but an entire company.
If you’re in User Experience, there’s no other place like the Bay Area.
There are thousands and thousands of jobs and, seemingly, that many job openings. All the great product stuff gets done here — which means you won’t have to do silly micro sites or get as many stupid questions like, “Hey, can you write code too?” The Bay Area is a manageable size, more so than a Los Angeles or New York.
That’s read: If I have never have to sit on the 405 at Manchester Avenue trying to get to Santa Monica in under two hours, it won’t be too soon.
It’s not my dream place. Vancouver or Portland are, but for different reasons. I’m living the true San Francisco experience — my apartment was built in 1915; I’m two blocks from Golden Gate Park; and I live in a neighborhood that you only enjoy if you love fog and hate sunlight, which eternally pleases me.
It’s not for everyone, or maybe it is. If your New Year’s resolution is to settle on the Left Coast, here’s a few tips and things to consider before you pack up the U-Haul and leave for the city by the bay.
About two and a half years ago, I was interviewing with Microsoft for the typical social media/user experience consulting gig. I asked them, “So, where would you like me to move?” They hinted toward San Francisco, and it took me three milliseconds to make the choice.
I moved, and it was the best decision I have ever made.
The recruiters were literally begging me to move. So move, I did. I really wanted out of Los Angeles pretty badly. There’s not a lot of product work down there, the user experience environment is built more toward agencies, and the culture is kind of less about doing great work.
Other than being total A-list talent, it wasn’t as hard to stand out (and get interviews) as you would think. You do have to bring your A-game; but as long as you have a solid resume and a decent portfolio, it’s easy to get in the door. You won’t be able to fake your way through it, or if you do, you’ll have a series of one year gigs. There are plenty of places willing to take these people, but they aren’t very stable.
As an agency professional once told me, “The best people are in-house now.” That’s true. The agencies struggle up here to keep talent, because the payoff to work for a startup is so strong.
A few Los Angeles user experience professionals called me, and I recommended they should get up here as quickly as possible. Some of my ex-Angelino peeps are at some really cool companies or founded their own (Yammer, Blurb, Oink, Gogobot)… or, “So how’s MySpace hangin’?”
The hardest thing was getting in the door at the first place. After you establish street cred, you’re golden to stay here as long as you want.
Deciding where to live in the Bay Area is almost as important to your career as it is to your personal life. Are you looking to break into Yahoo or eBay, or do you want to join some hot startup? The rules are bit like this: most of the large companies are down on the peninsula; and the hipper startups are closer to San Francisco. A younger crowd tends to gravitate to San Francisco as a city, and companies build their talent pools and company cultures around this.
It is quite a culture difference.
Last weekend, I was down in Sunnyvale, which is fine for a lot of people. However, it’s surburbia. Leaving the party I was at, I was matching street corners to places in Orange County or the San Fernando Valley. Some people like suburbs, but it’s not for me at this time in my life.
Decide what kind of company you want to work with, and where you get to live will kind of match. San Francisco is way too far from most of the larger companies to make the commute, but you’re probably looking for different things.
I live in Inner Sunset, which is best known as the former world headquarters for Craigslist. They moved, but the site literally reflected the neighborhood — an unpretentious place where you have everything you would ever need and would forget why to go to other places. A lot of doctors in training live here because UCSF is up the hill, so it makes for a comfortable, smart neighborhood.
The standard joke is you can just look at someone and figure out what neighborhood they should live in. I’m more of a North Beach guy (I lived there for a year and a half just to say I lived there). Inner Sunset is a slower place but still has all the conveniences I like: easy cab access, decent parking and a good enough pizza after 9pm. There’s a bus stop (I kid you not) downstairs from my place, and the N-Judah is a block away.
When you visit, get a local to give you a tour of the city. Ask them to bring them to neighborhoods you would like. Request to visit their favorite haunts. Everyone has one or two (mine is Tony Nik’s). It’s a town that you can lose yourself in.
That said, San Francisco isn’t perfect. This a city that isn’t as clean as it could be, and the city government seems to waste more money than it spends wisely. The homeless population makes walks through certain neighborhoods an obstacle course. Muni, the mass transit system, varies from amazing (I can get into downtown in 20 minutes) to the absurd (There are fights, and it’s unreliable at times). And don’t get me started on the cabs.
It all depends on what you want. If you want a city, San Francisco is one in spades. But if you want the suburbs, better to move down to San Mateo or Mountain View. You can always visit the city and retreat back safely.
You’ll hear a lot of startup ideas: good ones, bad ones, copycat ones. But everyone has an idea. Everyone has come here to reinvent themselves; and if you want to do it, this is as good of a place to do it than anywhere else.
It reflects what San Francisco and the Bay Area is: a place where people can be almost anything they want to be. That’s why San Francisco is such a city of neighborhoods because each one fits a person perfectly in their time of life.
Each neighborhood is also much more diverse than you would think: Castro isn’t always about the LGBT population; the Tenderloin is gentrifying; and there’s at least one person that didn’t go to Stanford that lives in the Marina. But the neighborhoods do have their constituencies, and they demand respect.
This is not a cheap place to live.
San Francisco is one of the few places where’s it’s normal to have roommates well into your late 30’s because apartments are so expensive here. Average home prices on the peninsula have survived much of the housing slump. Because of the current tech boom, finding an apartment in the city is a combat sport (be first or be gone). When I moved up here in 1996, I had to go through ten apartment interviews to find a roommate, and I hear those times are back.
Once you get past some of the high rents and the need to budget for parking tickets, it’s not that much more expensive. In fact, going out to get a great meal can be sometimes cheap; and if you move to the right neighborhood, there’s no need to have a car.
You’ll see a pay increase from just about anywhere in the United States unless you’re in some cushy job where you are now. And when you move here, you’ll be renting anyway. If you decide to settle here, you’ll get a real taste of California real estate, but that can wait after you’ve made your first million, right?
I was at a meetup about a year ago having a beer with one of the attendees. He was a smart guy. About mid-way into the conversation. He paused.
“You know, if you had a full tank of gas, you could eat and drink for free for a month by going to meetups and events. That’s if you could put up with the people.”
I did a search on meetup.com and found a staggering 210 events in the next month matching a search for “technology,” But your mileage may vary. Most of the meetups seem to be attended by a) people hiring (which is good), b) people looking to break into the industry (which may not be good), and c) people that hold the meetups on the oft chance they’ll get the next great gig and it’s more about them than building the community (which sucks).
The people that are super talented are a) too busy to go to meetups or b) can’t figure out the return on investment. The valley also is relatively spread out, so you never see everyone you want to meet.
In the Bay Area, I would look to Twitter to network. The real leaders in the space here seem to use Twitter as their broadcast channel, and it’s much easier to engage in conversations. What makes this easier is that you can engage in conversations like, “Hey, I would like to move there, what’s it like?” and “Are you hiring?” before you get here. It’s cheaper. And trust me, this works. I hired a designer this way
Interesting post worth reading:
In his presentation at An Event Apart, Jared Spool detailed the importance and role of links on Web pages. Some notes:
- On the Walgreen's site, 21% of people go to photos, 16% go to search, 11% go to prescriptions, 6% go to pharmacy link, 5% go to find stores. Total traffic is 59% for these five links. The total amount of page used for these 5 links is ~4% of page space. The most important stuff on the page occupies less than 1/20th of the page.
- This violates Fitts's law. The bigger and closer, the easier a target is to hit. So we're often using the real estate of Web pages poorly.
- Product manager win is using the screen space on Web sites to communicate “messages” people don’t care about.
- Make real estate reflect the importance of links. Link copy needs to communicate what the user will get. The links have to take the user to where they want to go.
- Nobody goes to a Website just to visit. They have a reason. Trigger words serve the goal of the user. They trigger the user to click/take an action. When trigger words are well done, they get the user to the content they want and signal where to click.
- It's easy to know when your website scent is bad. Use of the back button, pogo-sticking, and using search are all signs that the scent of your links is off.
- Usage patterns are the same across all websites. In 15 years (and thousands of sites) things have not changed much. Only 42% find what they are looking for. 58% do not find what they are looking for. For these people the scent is not coming through.
Worth reading the whole post. Come on, it is Donald Norman.
Technology dictates the activity. In turn, the activity dictates the design. When the design is appropriate for the technology, people accept it, regardless of culture. Consider musical instruments as a good example. Many are difficult to learn, such as the violin that requires an awkward, injury-prone posture and hand configuration. Consider the awkward fingering of musical instruments across the world. People learn these with incredible skill, not because they fit the body, but because the designs seem quite appropriate to the technology, and therefore to the activity.
There are regional differences. Food and eating provide dramatic contrasts with different cultures adopting very different behavior. Some use silverware, some chopsticks, and some use fingers or bread. Some cultures prefer more ornamentation than others, so that, for example, products intended for East Asia display decorative scrolls and artwork. When the same products are sold elsewhere in the world, they are often identical except for the removal of the ornamentation. Style differences? Yes. Fundamental differences? No.
A presentation by Jon Fox for IdeaLab and Ubermedia on the benefits of simplifying products and how to achieve better results through design. Contains the video “I Luv UX Design” found at iluvuxdesign.com. All artwork from that video produced by addikt.
This. Is. Awesome.
Will the next generations learn that software development is the next big opportunity and has been for years?
There is a new opportunity emerging for young people to do productive, entrepreneurial, satisfying work: they can learn to code. Code isn't that hard to start to learn – one outsourcing firm takes people with no training and makes them full-time Java programmers in 3 months. (Of course, mastery takes tremendous talent and craft.) Coding isn't expensive – with netbooks, cloud hosting and storage, and open source software. Beyond a certain point, coders are self-taught, and can continue to advance their skills.
They're handing out Gutenberg printing presses out there: with services like Treehouse (I'm a dues-paying member) and Codecademy (and its expertly-timed year of code), countless university courses free online, Google Code University, the warm embrace of Stack Overflow, in-person courses like Dev Bootcamp, summer camps for kids, even the promise of a one-day result with Decoded (the six-minute abs of learning to code), and great organizations like CodeNow (which I've been supporting) reaching out to teach code in underserved communities. I'm sure I've left many out.
Why aren’t more high schools teaching these skills?
There are idiots on Twitter. But dealing with them is easier than than you think.
Twitter can be a great B2B or B2C marketing tool; however, just like any social networking site, it has its share of idiots. There are sad and lonely souls in this world – people with mental illness and delusions of invincibility. When those individuals find an opportunity to express themselves in horrible ways, they take it.
My normal advice is simple. You have a choice to ignore, respond to or block someone. If you feel something illegal has happened or your employee is at risk, call the police. Most fears are overstated. Focus on creating relationships and nurturing your most loyal fans. The offensive tweets are no big deal.
And the best way to mitigate social media risks? Follow the rules listed below as defined by The Starr Conspiracy.
So my advice still stands for B2B and B2C engagement on all social networking sites.
- Create an editorial calendar that reflects your voice.
- Understand your rules of engagement.
- Train your employees to effectively monitor your brand.
Every web app needs someone talking to the customers regularly. It’s their job to know exactly what’s going with all types of customers, new, old, free, paying. What excites them, bothers them, how often they’re using the product, is the feature getting usage, if not why not.
It’s their job to answer “What-Ifs” and “I wonders” from the product team. This is how you spot issues before they cost you hard-earned customers. Metrics junkies are obsessed with details like Cost Per Acquisition, it’s worth remembering that it’s investing in customer loyalty and retention can be far more valuable. Buckets fill up far quicker than sieves.
You should be able to talk to your customer:
- Frequently – the more they talk with you, the more loyal they become
- Easily – If it’s easy to do, chances are it’ll get done more often
- Openly – let it be clear to your customers that they can complain or questions decisions, as their opinion is what matters
- In Context – Talk to users as they use your app, not outside of it. The difference in what they say is remarkable.
There’s nothing worse than sitting in meetings and hearing the words “I think” and “Let’s just get a bunch of people in a room and come up with features” when developing a product.
You have to talk to customers to understand the context of their environments, to learn what the challenges they face and how they solve them. This isn’t market research, this is understanding your customer. For example, there’s this fallacy that Apple doesn’t talk to their customers to discover new markets. They don’t do market research, which is different. They do leak information and create opportunities (i.e. allow jailbreaking of phones) to see how the market will innovate.
Because you’re not Apple and you are likely not selling a similar set of products, you must do research to understand the customer. And, while I’m sure Jobs says he doesn’t do research, it’s pretty clear that his team goes out to thoroughly study behaviors and interests of those they think will be their early adopters. Call it talking to friends and family; but, honestly, you know that these guys live by immersing themselves in the hip culture of music, video, mobile, and computing.
The point is not to go ask your customers what they want. If you ask that question in the formative stages, then you’re doing it wrong. The point is to go immerse yourself in their environment and ask lots of “why” questions until you have thoroughly explored the ins and outs of their decision making, needs, wants, and problems. At that point, you should be able to break their needs and the opportunities down into a few simple statements of truth.
And, in a lot of ways, Apple employees are their own customers. They are designing products they would buy, because they are the target audience. They buy the products, and use them.
So, have you tried talking to your customers? Have you tried using your product?
Patrick Neeman is a Sr. User Experience Director and formerly a UX Instructor at General Assembly in Seattle, WA.
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