Kinda Like Finding Dog Hairs In your Cupcake

When we designers at IBM start communicating ideas for a new design, one powerful way is through an analogy. It’s a way to relate a powerful capability and user value of complex enterprise software by associating it with something that everybody 10 years or older can understand.

“Our cloud?…it’s kinda like Disney World for your workloads”

But sometimes analogies are great to communicate how crappy software can be. Like this…

“Bad messages in your software is kinda like finding dog hairs in your cupcake.”

Mmmm…yummy…and thoughtful.

Cupcakes are delicious, beautiful, and everybody likes them. We want our software to be the same! The problem is that your software could be the most functionally rich, best designed, and beautiful UI in the world…but if bad messages appear, it wrecks the whole experience…frustrates your users, and sometimes makes them angry enough to make your users abandon your product.

It just happened to me.

Recently I watched my son register to automatically submit his transcripts to the university he was applying to. Great! Very useful! Love it!

When he signed up, here’s the message he got:

badmessage

We tried other emails and it worked fine. We copy/pasted and all the other tricks (thinking it had hidden characters somewhere) but no luck. Finally, beyond frustration, we just gave up and contacted the guidance counselor the next day.

Days later, we learned that the email was not valid for registration because his school had ALREADY REGISTERED HIM!

While it’s technically accurate that the email is not valid during registration because the email was already registered, it’s a stupid message! It caused us endless grief and prompted us to use the ‘old fashioned’ way and abandon the software.

In the end, a user experience is only as delightful as its weakest message. Designing for error paths and writing great messages is boring. I get that. Most of us leave it to the end. But if we DO focus on messages just as much as the colors and fonts of a product, it could have a far deeper impact for our users.

How about you? Have you been delighted by a products messages? Or did you eat dog hair, too?

Need Purpose In Your Designs? Create An Empathy Map

Maybe it’s the industry I’m in, or maybe it’s my age, but the past year I’ve really been searching for purpose in my work.

You see, my designs don’t help feed the poor or cure cancer (although we at IBM are trying!), so many times I stop and wonder what “Noble Purpose” my work has on my fellow humans around me.

…and then I participated in IBM Design Thinking.

…and found a way to have empathy for my users.

It’s really simple: Create an empathy map.

We identified who are user was, drew 4 quadrants on the wall and simply asked ourselves, “What is Satish saying, doing, thinking, and feeling?”

The doing and saying and even thinking was nothing new…but writing what he was feeling and adding it to a sticky on the wall…I could finally start seeing my purpose.

You see, Satish works really hard. But he feels trapped in his work because he’s always reacting to data center emergencies. Now he’s getting pressure to add new services and to be quite honest, he’s scared. He’s scared of failing, of getting it wrong, of not being valued by his boss, his team. If he only had software that could guide him, educate him, and help him deliver these solutions with ease and speed…without messing up, he would instead feel confident, valued, content, and even happy.

Wow.

In one day I learned that the work I do does have purpose…I can change a person’s outlook on life…and in turn possibly how he reacts to his kids, his wife, his friends. My designs can save him time…time he can spend playing music, playing with his pup.

No, my designs might not cure cancer (yet), but my designs can help Satish have a better life.

…and that’s a pretty noble purpose.

 

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