Ultimately, customers don't judge you based on how well you gather business requirements, choose development technologies, manage projects, or march through the development process — they judge you based on how they feel before, during, and after they use your software. This is the digital experience. If you get the customer experience wrong, then nothing else matters. And expectation inflation is sky-high thanks to the Apple-led smartphone revolution. To succeed in the new age of digital experience, application development professionals must collaborate with their business partners and customers to create experiences that customers love. You need a new approach represented by these five axioms:
Software is not code; it creates experience.
Development teams are not coders; they are experience creators.
Technical talent is table stakes; great developers must be design and domain experts.
Process is bankrupt without design; you get what you design, so you had better get the design right.
Software is a creative endeavor, not an industrial process like building automobiles. Structure your methodology to empower your creative talent.
They say "content is king." But, "context is kingier" when it comes to designing great smartphone and tablet mobile apps. Don't make the mistake of thinking that mobile app design is just about a smaller screen size or choosing the right development technology. Content and context are both important to designing great user experiences, but mobile amplifies context on five critical dimensions: location, locomotion, immediacy, intimacy, and device. Understand each dimension of Forrester's mobile context to design mobile apps that will make your users say "I love this app!"
Forrester LLIID: Location, Locomotion, Immediacy, Intimacy, And Device
Location. People use apps in an unlimited number of locations. And not all places are the same. A user may be in a quiet movie theater, at home in the kitchen, on a train, or in the White Mountain National Forest. Contrast this with desktop computers, stuck in places such as an office cubicle, home office, or kitchen. Laptops provide some mobility but are larger and less able to provide the immediate access of instant-on mobile devices such as smartphones, eReaders, and tablets. Location is a key dimension of context, driving different needs for users depending on where they are. Fortunately, GPS-equipped smartphones can use a geodatabase such as Google Maps to determine precise location.
[For earlier posts in this series, click here and here.]
Imagine that you're dining at a new Italian restaurant that just opened in your neighborhood. You've heard that the chef is well known and widely respected, so you're expecting a great first experience.
You sit down, and the waiter hands you a menu. Actually, it's not a menu, but a listing of all the top-quality ingredients in the restaurant's refrigerator. Some ingredients suggest the kind of recipes that the chef might prepare: For example, the veal shank might be destined to become Osso Bucco. Since you're not an expert in Italian cuisine, it's hard to guess what kind of recipe might require some of the other ingredients (rabbit, goat, boar, etc.).
The waiter is no help. He'll dutifully return to the kitchen with the ingredients you tell him the chef should prepare, but he won't tell you if that combination will transform into a delicious meal or an indigestible lump.
In this scenario, chances are slim that you'll get the sort of dining experience you expected. If you were hoping for an experience you've never had before, the kind that a world-class chef could provide, the odds are even worse.
Sadly, this is exactly the way in which technology companies have pitched their products. Rather than explaining the experience you should have, they leave it up to you to figure out what experience might be possible, given the ingredients (features and functions) available in the product. This approach has two pernicious consequences:
[As promised, here's the first in the series about the tech industry's drive to reduce complexity.]
Remember the magic number? It's the one thing from Psych 101 that you should recall, since it pertains to memory. The brain has an upper limit on the number of chunks of new data it can stuff into working memory at one time. The number is around seven, plus or minus one or two depending on the person and the task. It's the limitation that makes the old game Simon challenging, and that bedevils us when we try to remember a phone number that someone just told us.
The magic number is one way in which the human brain tries to trim down complexity. Another more recent discovery is the brain's fuzzy boundary between literal and metaphorical statements. Attach a candidate's resume to a heavy clipboard instead of a light one, and the interviewer is more likely to treat the candidate seriously, because the resume seems somehow weightier.
Countless other examples exist where the brain takes shortcuts, filters information, and otherwise simplifies the constant, complex stream of perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and actions that would otherwise turn into a "blooming, buzzing confusion." We're not stupid creatures, but the machine that grants us powerful mental capabilities also puts limits on them.
The Death Star Would Be Great If I Could Figure Out What All These Buttons Do
Ever since I got an iPad, I've been eager for the update to the upgrade to the iOS4 operating system that premiered on the iPhone months ago. The ease of use of the iPad erodes, grain by grain, with each app that you add to it, as long as you're forced to keep sweeping across page after page of apps. Organizing apps into functional groups across pages is a tedious process. After a while, you really feel the need for folders to organize your apps more effectively.
Imagine my disappointment, therefore, when iTunes froze as soon as I launched it. It was the start of yet another chapter in the story of my hate-hate relationship with iTunes, because of its unstoppable bloat and accompanying seizures. With every major update, iTunes grows another layer of fat, causing more frequent electronic coronaries when it needs to run (or waddle) through its paces. I can't say I was surprised that iTunes froze, forcing me to reinstall it (the software equivalent of sending someone to fat camp?) before I could get it working again.
Here, from a single company, on a single desktop, is the history of the tech industry's problems with complexity. A device that is consummately simple to use, the iPad, is handcuffed, like a slender Sidney Poitier to a morbidly obese Tony Curtis, to iTunes. As Apple keeps jamming more of its business plan, in the form of new features (Genius, Ping, etc.) and new content (anything that could be described as "released" or "published"), iTunes swells to ever-increasing levels of complexity.
During last August's Agile 2010 conference, I attended a session that used a board game to simulate the collaboration between developers and UX professionals. The object of the game was to coordinate the schedules of these two groups, who normally follow the beats of different metronomes. On top of that basic timing challenge, unexpected events complicated this dance between development and UX.
While this session does show a novel application of serious gaming (one of my favorite topics, in case you hadn't noticed), the interesting aspect of this session is that it happened at all. Until recently, UX was not a major concern for Agilists – or most people developing software, for that matter. The phrase, "And then we'll throw a UI on top of it," summarized the indifference of all too many development teams to UX concerns.
In the last few years, many teams have learned a new attitude. Instead of treating UX as a tarpaulin, thrown over the application to clumsily hold it all together, UX is as much a part of the system as the technical architecture or the application logic.
If you're still baffled, flummoxed, or concerned about Facebook's now-infamous privacy policies, here's a handy chart from The New York Times. (Thanks, Madiha, for the pointer.) While the diagram retains a neutral tone, it's hard to read the phrase 50 settings with over 170 options without having a "What the hell?!?" moment.
In defense of Facebook, they're no worse than many technology companies that devise confusing UIs, full of knobs and dials that users don't understand or use. These companies are still to blame for creating the circumstances in which a confusing UI is hard to avoid, so they're not completely blameless.
An apology to future generations
Here's where we venture into the idiosyncratic sub-culture of the tech industry, which is hard to understand if you've never been part of it. In spite of having big development budgets, a staff of seasoned professionals, and months to build a useful product, tech companies repeatedly build software that begs the question, "Daddy, why is your product so hard to use?" (Even weirder: usability is often inversely proportional to the price.)
Last week I was once again hustling through a brutal travel week (10,000 miles in the air and two packed red-eyes) when I came across something really interesting. It was ~ 9 AM and I'd just gotten off AA flight 4389 from Toronto. I was a bit bleary eyed from a 4 AM call with a Finnish customer and was just trying to schlep my way to the Admiral's club for a cup of coffee when I stumbled across Accenture's Interactive Network display at the juncture of terminal H and K.
So what? You might ask, it's just a big screen and we already know our future is minority report -right? Yes - those of us in the echo chamber might know that, but what really struck me was watching my fellow travelers and how they interacted with the display. I sat and watched for about 10 minutes (while forgetting about the sorely needed cuppa joe) and just watched people as they started to walk past, then pause, then go up to the screen and start playing with it. On average folks would stay for a few minutes and read some of the latest news feeds, then hurry on to their next stop. But what I really found intriguing was how they interacted with the system: