Most Boring & Most Important User Experience Quality

When I was 16, I was a drug dealer.

Well, that’s what my friends parents assumed since all I talked about was the music gear I kept buying. I believe their comment to my friend was, “how on earth could he have that kind of money while unloading trucks at Dayton’s!?!”.

Truth is I just never spent a cent on anything else. If I couldn’t play it or drive it, it never really was of interest to me.

I loved buying and talking about gear. “I love my new Oberheim Matrix 6…especially the…”, or, “You’ve GOT to listen to this new patch on my Korg Poly 800″… and on and on. The vibe, sounds, (and smells) of “Knut Koupee”, “Torps” or “The Good Guys” are some of the most fond memories I had growing up.

Over the course of a year, I created a respectable electronic studio where I created some pretty cool sounds and songs

 

But through all the analog goodness, I discovered one thing that the music instrument industry got right that almost no other consumer industry has yet to achieve:

Interoperability.     <yawn>

I know. Boring. But it’s true.

MIDI – Musical Instrument Digital Interface…an inter-company interface that let one electronic instrument (synth, drum machine, sequencer, …) talk to another, regardless of who built it.

For me, a musician, MIDI enabled the ultimate user experience: MIDI lets musician use the tools they want, to create something new and wonderful, without having to adjust their behavior due to greed, or fear, or whatever it is that prevents companies from providing complete interoperability.

Further, the musical instrument industry blossomed! Nobody was trying to “build their ecosystem”, or “Capture the market”, they were driven to create amazing instruments to delight their users … they were trying to outpace their competitors not in proprietary environments, but in awesome sounds…awesome experiences.

Some of my favorite moments is composing a song with the following all working seamlessly together (ready?):

Keyboards (modules):
Yamaha DX7
Oberheim Matrix 6
Korg Poly 800
Roland RD-500 (which could talk to all of them at the same time)
Roland XV5080
Proteus 1

Drum Machines:
Oberheim DMX
Yamaha RX-5
Alesis DM-Pro

Sequencers:
Roland
Yamaha QX3

And it was all synched from my click track on my Yamaha MT1X 4-track recorder where my vocals and guitar tracks lived.

Look at all the companies that focused on the user! (I know, you’re about to say, ya, but some of them are not in business…and while true, it was mostly from the analog/digital wars…impressions that analog synths were crap…which we now know they’re awesome…and just another set of tools to help musicians create amazing art)

But there’s hope!

Just yesterday Amazon and Microsoft announced that “Alexa and Cortana have become friends”. If they really are working for full interoperability, I think this could be the beginning of exponential growth in great experiences. The skeptic in me is wary since they’re currently just passing control to each other based on user commands like “Alexa, open Cortana”… which creates ‘modes’, an awful experience.

VIDI
But just imagine…what if there was VIDI: Voice Interoperability Digital Interface; where a user could just speak into the air, and all the variety of voice assistants would chat amongst themselves to see how which one…or which combination of them…could delight the user…

THAT is a future direction that is truly focused on user experience…and one that could see growth in the industry that would dwarf where it is now.

Here’s to the future learning from the past: How a growing industry can achieve UX greatness…delivering outstanding user experiences, interoperability…and here’s to MIDI…the technology EVERYONE should love because it is a shining example of what can happen if we collectively work to delight our users by just making our stuff work together.

To read more about the Alexa and Cortana friendship, start here:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/30/technology/amazon-alexa-microsoft-cortana.html
http://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-alexa-and-microsoft-cortana-how-it-works-and-why-2017-8?r=UK&IR=T

To read more on MIDI, start here: https://www.midi.org/articles/the-history-of-midi

We Could All Learn From Coffee

I just got an email from Caribou Coffee, and unless it starts with BO and ends with GO, I usually quickly delete them. However, something about the “Uncover our Journey” title intrigued me, so I clicked (full disclosure: I’ve love Caribou Coffee ever since my first napkin had the saying, “Rich and Smooth…because Burnt and Bitter was already taken”).

I opened the email, and clicked on the link…

You can click, too: https://www.cariboucoffee.com/caribou-clean-drink/

What I discovered was an amazing way to communicate integrity, passion, character, deep technical detail, and the ability to execute on a vision through thoughtful design.

I think we could all learn from this (especially those of us in technology).

Transparency
At first glance it looks like a play on words…”see through label?” but right away the site shows its transparency: “Oh, they’re going “open kimono” to show they are proud of their journey and want to share every detail (even the imperfections)

Detail in Design
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but as you scroll to “Our Clean Label Journey”, I noticed three things:

  1. Mouse-over detail: behind the cute marketing message because they know it takes more than shallow words to convince a skeptic…and at this point in the world, I think we are all skeptics of anything
  2. Scroll-Right is optional: They offer details with a scroll-right (or swipe left) to learn every step of their journey
  3. The Scroll Bar Reflects Reality…that Their journey is NOT DONE: I love this part. The design shows a scrollbar … nice big fat scrollbar…and look what happens as you scroll right…it stops before the rail ends. Subtly they are showing that the journey isn’t done yet.

Off-Limits
As you  continue scrolling, you see the “Off-Limits” list where they again have cute slogans with fairly meaty details available for those that mouse over the content

No Guess-Work
This was another favorite: “Guess What Might Be Added  To Other Coffee” section let the user simply scroll and as a whimsical surprise, a very large technical list of ingredients appears on the right. Now, they could have added it in the main space, but how boring!

This was pure design delight. I could see the technical details, and even chuckled when commentary flowed in the list AND the bottom of the page “Almost there…” and so on.

Finally when the list is done, some very subtle yet effective animation throws the “Other” cup aside, and makes the Caribou cup glisten…like it won…but also like it sparkles with purity.

No Detail is Too Detailed
In the menu section there’s a lot of pretty pictures with big words for the main ingredients. Only the most nerdy would scroll through the end of each ingredient list. If you do, then you’re like me and you’ll be further delighted with a “Detailed Ingredients” list that shows every last detail…and then a Culinary Team Note clarifying that even complicated sounding ingredients can be natural.

Finally, there’s a FAQ section that further shows honesty where they list exactly the drinks that are not Clean Label…and what ingredients aren’t, and a nice section on “This sounds complicated…how can it be natural?”

Well done, Caribou. I love the design…and the honesty. Shows you are a great company that cares about its users.

The Way I Lead

This photo says it all:

Photo by Tony Drumm @Tony_Drumm

I music directed Rock Of Ages at Rochester Civic Theatre from July-October 2016 (vocal director, music director, led the band during the run). The lead-off song had a ripping guitar solo. This is a picture of the two of us down stage sharing the spotlight, and that exact moment, it was Remi’s turn to shine.

What I love about this is my look of joy and delight (with a hint of “Damn, he’s good!”) watching him in the spotlight. Certainly I could have taken all the “fun solos”, but I love to see those I’m leading SHINE…do what they’re great at and watch…and smile.

I love that smile in the photo. To me it says…

…we are better as a team contributing all our expert skills complimenting each other rather than fighting for the spotlight. I mean, I could have just been focused on my next part, ignoring his contribution…but (at least the photo suggests) I was thoroughly enjoying what this team member was doing and put the spotlight appropriately on him.

…the best team starts with preparation. I started in January practicing myself, getting organized, and spent most of the time building the best team possible…members with skills that outshine my own…that compliment each other…where the players are also nice…fun to be around.

…a great team truly listens to each other. In this show, there were times we acted as a single organism…completely in synch, and when a glitch happened (vocalist or my miscue) the band didn’t miss a beat…we adjusted and locked in without the audience even noticing….most of the time without even looking at each other…just sensing through a guitar lick, a hand wave, or a drum fill, what the next note should be.

…this great team’s suggestions were valued and many times taken.

…I know we spent endless hours rehearsing and preparing but LOOK AT YOU!! You are killing it!!

…when it came to the performance, they followed my lead. My hope was to gain their trust through rehearsal so that by communicating my vision early, taking and executing their suggestions, that by showtime there was zero hesitation or argument about the real-time directions I gave. The result was hard-hitting, locked-in rock-n-roll that showed not only our individual skills, but showed the elevated “one-ness” of the band in the “this sounds amazing and much more than the sum of its parts” kind of band.

Finally, to me, it says, “you are at your best when you focus on helping others succeed, not when you are striving for your own success”. I know, not very ‘career-driven’, but maybe that’s why in IBM-world I am happiest leading a project where the team has a common vision, where the designers and developers looked to me for direction, but (hopefully) know my main purpose is, through delivering an experience customers love, that each designer and developer have a deep ownership that results in a rich sense of satisfaction when their designs and code are the reason that outstanding experience exists in the first place.

With that kind of success…a product they can feel proud of, I think the teams, like the Rock of Ages band, can forever point to that period in their life and instead of remembering the long hours and demands of a selfish leader, instead think, “Remember that experience we delivered!?! They LOVED IT! I was an important part of that team. What a great time of my life and I’d be a part of that team again in a heartbeat”

Opportunity Curve!

PD_0068Come on, you remember. You’re in high school. You are riding on the bus (or the back seat of your friends car), and the vehicle makes a sharp turn. Etiquette says you fight against the G-forces to keep in your space. But sometimes physics takes over and you lean hard into the person next to you.

If the person next to you is a pretty girl, it becomes an “opportunity curve”…

…a chance to get close to someone who is way out of your league

…a chance to say, “Sorry…the curve was sharp”

…and if you’re lucky, a chance to hear, “That’s OK. It was nice”

There are all kinds of forces that affect us every day. Most of them we naturally resist…it’s what etiquette suggests. Etiquette says it’s not proper to let that force push you…to be pushed into something you can’t control or foresee. Etiquette says you must always be in control.

…but what if etiquette is wrong?

What if etiquette is restricting an amazing journey that could be wonderful…life changing…terrifying…and beautiful all at the same time?

What if…the force isn’t something pushing against you…what if the force is something pushing for you into a dream-making opportunity that could only happen if a greater-than-you-could-muster-on-your-own force helped make it happen?

What if the force is the gentle presence of God guiding you, a divine nudge into your next-best-of-all-possible-multi-verses, and all you have to do is trust that this G-force always has your best interest in mind?

How about this: The next time a force guides us into a direction we aren’t in control of, lets…

…let go

…see what happens

…embrace the challenge/change/discomfort/awkwardness

…smile, take a deep breath, and yell, “OPPORTUNITY CURVE!!!”

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