My client, who is in the legal research space, wanted to test whether the language used on their product resonated with users. So we ran an open card sort this week and it was great.
We got good data. Participants were asked to think-aloud while grouping content. The card sort reminded me of how much I enjoy qualitative research. It also emphasized how much of an essentialist have become.
I have been an Android user since December 2009. Since then I have owned the Droid Eris, Droid Bionic and the Droid Razr M. I got the Razr M few weeks ago and it’s a great phone. Prior to the Razr M, though, I was (it feels really weird and confessional saying this) a Blackberry user.
Why? I lost the Bionic while out with colleagues 7 months ago. Somehow I left my phone in a cab and didn’t realize till the next morning. Rather than paying full price for a phone or buying one second hand, I suspended my service for a month. At the end of the my month long non-smartphone experiment a friend let me borrow her old Blackberry.
The Blackberry and I never got along. Trying to send my first text message was frustrating. Launching the texting app and selecting a recipient were straightforward tasks, but sending the message was frustrating. I tried pressing the “Return” button on the keyboard. Nothing. I tried pressing the trackball. Nothing. I couldn’t figure it out. At that point, I seriously considered downgrading to my old flip phone and forfeiting my unlimited data.
But I held off. It turns out the menu button drives the Blackberry experience. All the actions or tasks one is likely to do are hidden within the system menu. Since this was my first Blackberry device I knew none of this. A former Blackberry user saw what was going on and taught me how to send a text message. It was bad.
There were some benefits, though. My overall mobile usage patterns changed. I stopped texting because it was frustrating. Browsing the web on the device was crappy, so didn’t do that. I had no interested in applications, so, I didn’t download any. I didn’t setup my email accounts either. The phone was simply a phone.
I then began thinking about my experience with the phone and, by extension, communication. I became fascinated with a question: what is the fundamental essence of modern communication? From a quantitative perspective, Claude Shannon presented the “How” of communication pretty effectively.
Shannon’s explanation was so well argued and fundamental that his theory pretty much informs the qualitative perspective as well. But, there’s something to be said about the following observation: I used communication tools less and I ended up feeling more connected with others.
There’s a certain qualitative experience (or consciousness) that defies formulaic representation. Formulaic representation enables powerful devices to encode, transfer, and replicate a the contents of a communication.
It is important to understand that process, the systems that enable communication, and the limitations or problems of those systems. Jaron Lanier, Nicholas Carr, Sherry Turkel, and slow web folks have attempted to address these issues.
Here are my two cents: it’s not clear what all of this communicating we do actually means. Does it mean anything or, more fundamentally, should it? I think it should. Lastly, if you believe we attach value to our communications then what governs that value? Narcissism? Sentimentality? I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you.
Avis will acquire Zipcar. The announcement was made earlier. This news is interesting for 2 main reasons: industry consolidation and mobile apps.
The travel industry is going through a process of consolidation. Avis’ move is part of a larger trend. In the past few weeks Priceline has acquired Kayak, and Expedia acquired trivago. Most of the travel/tourism companies you are likely to know are subsidiaries of an increasingly smaller group of companies. As long as the prices are competitive, there’s nothing wrong with any of this.
From a design perspective, I wonder if there will be any impact to the mobile experiences of Avis & Zipcar. I spent 6 months working on Avis’s mobile apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone. During that time, I reviewed a number of other apps, just to oriente myself with the market and understand the industry framing and messaging.
Here’s the heuristic review I did 10 months ago of Zipcar’s Android app. At the time I was using a Droid Bionic, which has a qHD display, running Gingerbread 2.3.4. Fun times. I’ll start publishing the other reviews I did.
Last night I saw Radiolab @ BAM. The show, “In the Dark,” was really good. There was a mix of dance, creative visuals, and pre-recorded interviews that blended into a very fun night. During the show, the audience was asked to participate by holding an LED light with a battery. I’m not sure how many people participated, I can tell you it was an impressive sight. Imagine 300 or 400 mini-lights glowing in the darkness of a theater. It felt great.
Two days ago, while cleaning my house and doing laundry my throat became a little parched. So, I reached into my refrigerator, picked up a package of coconut water, poured myself a glass, and took a sip. A moment later I spit the drink I thought was coconut water all over the kitchen. It turns out I mistakenly poured a glass of chicken broth.
Why would I make such grave mistake? The packages. The packages and their designs. Take a look:
The two boxes essentially have the same design: blueish boxes with imagery framed in white on the front. It’s no wonder I made this mistake.
Now, you might be asking yourself, why don’t I just pay more attention next time? Sure, I can pay attention, but that’s not the point – I shouldn’t have to pay attention to something so trivial. The quicker I can grab something I want from the refrigerator that the better.
There is a problem when two very different products somehow end up looking so similar. The FDA maintains a set of requirements that food preparers must adhere to and these requirements outline how food must be labeled. While I applaud the requirements, I wish the powers that be would go a bit further to be of greater utility.
Foods should be color coded based on their category. For example, juices would be colored blue box, and liquids used for food preparation are yellow. Another example, organic foods would have green labels, while conventional foods would have a brown labels. Creating this sort of visual language would be helpful to customers.
I also think this would be helpful for brands as well. Encouraging a consistent look & feel can help brands differentiate themselves be creatively relating their brand to a category. So, how about it?
“The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose…” – EAB
The mobile industry is in the middle of a “patent war,” which led to Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility (soon to be called googarola?) today. While there have been lawsuits in process for sometime, the lawsuits started in March. Apple sued HTC and Samsung because of certain “similarities.” HTC and Samsung fired back. Meanwhile, Microsoft continued suing Android manufacturers by going after, of all companies, Barns & Noble.
The back and forth’s continue for a couple of months and 2 key events take place. Apple, Microsoft , RIM, and a few other companies are given the go ahead to purchase 6000 patents Nortel for $4.5 billion. Google was also bidding for the patents, but lost out to the other companies. It was pretty clear this purchase was going to impact the Android ecosystem in a negative way. Then Oracle sued Google because of patents that relate Java.
Everyone was trying to get a piece of the Android pie.* HTC pays Microsoft $5 for every android phone they sell, and other manufacturers may enter similar licensing agreements. A similar licensing agreement between Oracle and phone manufacturers make take place. Things were looking bad for Android manufactures.
Google was basically forced into buying Motorola Mobility. This surprising move is smart, but it raises serious questions. The most pressing question seems to be what impact will this have with other Android manufacturers? From a consumer perspective, why would anyone buy an Android device that was not designed and built by Google? Will manufacturers decided to build Windows Phone 7 devices?
Let’s see what happens.
* This may or may not be the name of a future Android release. =P
A year ago, I took a course on qualitative methods, which has helped my work tremendously. From time to time, I put on my “participant observer hat” and I take in what’s happening around me.
The following are brief notes of what I observed today:
Students were scheduled to take pictures for the yearbook on the 5th floor of Georgia Tech Library. Apparently, an email, with the wrong room number, was sent to students, which ended up confusing them.
While I was working on something, I noticed a number of students going to R1 (see the diagram below) despite the signs (see image below) highlighting the room change.
A person who was in room R1 essentially redirected traffic from room R1 to R2. The photographers in room R2 eventually added a hand-written sign to room R1‘s door
Without fail, all students mistakenly walked to room R1, a computer lab located on the right hand side of the diagram. They were then redirected to room R2.
The following sign appeared on all of the bookshelves, which was “visible” when a student exited either elevator. However, the placement of this sign worked against its purpose. People normally expect reference numbers on bookshelves; that expectation made the sign virtually invisible. This phenomenon is similar to Ad Blindness.
After 4 hours of watching students going to the wrong room, the following sign was placed on the door of room R1 by the photographers. It’s not elegant, but it did manage to get the job done.