Do You Want to Look Great or Actually BE Great?

I love this quote:

“Do I want to really be great or just be seen as great?”

It was from an Andy Stanley leadership podcast on the importance of inviting feedback, whether ‘constructive’ or positive, in order to make better decisions and be a better leader.

I think this is also essential for crafting killer user experiences.

We are all aware of how ego can affect design decisions, and the resulting user experience. I’ve been guilty of it myself. After all, in the corporate design world, our performance rating is really only as good as our last “hit”…our last user experience we can claim as ours. This reality triggers our instinct to want our own ideas realized solely because it has our name on it, rather than inviting input that would dilute ownership.

What this quote reminds me is that by inviting feedback, we help the design, and more importantly, help our user become truly delighted when using our product to accomplish what they need to.

I can highlight past designs that really made an impact on users, and all of them were better because of the constant feedback we requested from other design experts and users. Every few days we would review certain pieces of the design and work to improve it…see if a panel can be improved, a flow simplified, data visualized, or terms clarified. We would also have ‘design blitz tests’ that brought in experts from various disciplines around the site and just ran through the newly developed UI to test out the designs in mass. We’d then collect the findings and work to improve the product through that internal design test.

So here’s my question: Are we ready to serve our users by dropping our ego and completely focus on making our designs great by inviting feedback? Or, are we more worried about being the sole ‘artist’ so we can fill our portfolio with controlled demos and screen shots that make us merely look great?


UX Review – Musical Instrument Museum – Phoenix, AZ

How many times have you truly been surprised at a user experience? Not in the “I can’t believe they shipped this piece of junk”, but in the “I’m giddy with delight…I want to bear-hug the lead designer of this project!”?

It just happened to me at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.

As I described in my design session “How to Craft (and Measure) a Killer User Experience”, a user experience goes far deeper than just shiny objects and fancy artwork. User Experience, at least the way I’ve come to understand it, includes six themes, or doors, the user walks through (Figure 1): Presentation, Navigation, Relevant Scenarios, Trustworthy Feedback, Initial Bring-up, and Connectivity…and they are all essential to create a killer user experience.

Killer User Experience Themes

Figure 1: Killer user experience themes

 So how was the experience at MIM? Let’s dig in…

My wife and I walk into the MIM, and pay for our tickets. Unlike the Louvre, the audio guides (earphones and device) come with the ticket. A small thing, but nice!

We walk to a nearby gallery filled to the rafters with guitars…my love language. After studying my favorite (Figure 2, a Paul Reed Smith Double Dragon), we walk up stairs to the museum.

photo 1

Figure 2 – My favorite guitar

We put our headphones on, and as we walk to the first display, we suddenly start hearing what these instruments from 19th century Africa sound like. The audio connects seamlessly and synchs so we can hear, and see on the TV how they play the instruments as well.


I can’t tell you how delightful that was. No numbers or channels to figure out, no fancy touch-screen to palm and screw up, nothing. The mere act of moving closer to the TV automatically immerses us into the musical culture right in front of us (Figure 3).

Figure 3 - An awesome display

Figure 3 – An awesome display blending sight, sound, and history

Their attention to detail was impressive. For example, as I walked towards the display, the music faded in at a smooth, natural rate…reinforcing that this whole experience should be a leisurely stroll through the music of the world. As I walked away…or as the device switched between two nearby TV audio signals, it calmly faded, and once out, the next audio faded in. This reinforced that the designers knew experiencing the music was the top focus, rather than just making sure the technology worked. I actually expected an abrupt beginning and end, but instead I was gently waved goodbye by the display I was leaving and warmly greeted by the display I was approaching.

As a side note, it was almost erie to take my headphones off and hear complete silence..even though hundreds of people were strolling throughout the museum.

What the designers at MIM figured out is how to provide an effortless connection to experience musical instruments from around the world. I mean effortless…walking closer to a display activating the audio? With nothing for me to dial in? And not having to share audio with others or have 198 displays blaring its own audio for all to hear? Yes, effortless.

Was it perfect? Nope. But pretty darn close. There were a few times that I could not sync to the TV. 98% of the time the device worked flawlessly, but when it didn’t I did feel a bit at a loss. Since there were minimal controls on the device (start, stop, volume), the only thing I could try was to press stop and start in hopes it would re-synch. When that didn’t’ work, I’m sure I looked a little funny doing a little 2-step as I moved farther away then closer to the display in hopes it would synch up 🙂  I even found myself waving the device towards the TV and wondering if the ‘front’ of the device should be pointing directly at the TV or not.

Of course, as I write this, my wife asked, “didn’t you see the transmitter at the rim of the display that listed the order of artifacts?”

One other minor issue had to do with the “Relevant Scenarios” and “Navigation” user experience themes. Being a musician, I wanted to play these awesome instruments…like these from South Africa. (Figure 4).

Figure 4 - These were screaming for me to play them!

Figure 4 – These were screaming for me to play them!

The problem was, I wasn’t told about the “Touch-It” lounge downstairs until we found it later. It would have been awesome to have a little “Touch-It” logo next to the display label for that instrument…so I knew instantly I could either play it or something similar to it later on.

So, with these “Hintervision Killer UX” themes, let’s see how MIM did:

Presentation: A
Navigation: A-
Relevant Scenarios: A
Trustworthy Feedback: A
Initial Bring-up: A+
Connectivity: B+

Overall:  KILLER!

I realize that user experience is usually referring to software interfaces, but I think we all agree that more and more interaction with our environment does not have a detailed screen to look at. The designers at MIM should be awarded with their awesome, relevant, delightful, and in the end, killer user experience.

How about you? Have you visited the Musical Instrument Museum? What did you think?


Killer UX Tip #37: Love Your Awesome Developers

It’s not very often we start on a brand new product, but when it does, it gives the whole team a chance to craft a killer user experience.

While I’ve mentioned several times how I go about designing a killer user experience, but, when it comes down to it, its success truly depends on how focused our development team, executive team, and user research team are on delivering an outstanding user experience.

I am thrilled with the UX of our newest product: IBM PowerVC.

Take a peek here:


Because not only did we do our best work on the design, the entire team was driven to deliver the best user experience possible. Is it perfect? Nope. But based on the time we had and the resources we had available, I think it’s pretty great (and so do the customers who have previewed it…which is our ultimate goal).

The design team iterated over and over to polish, change, alter, restart, and finish a fantastic design that the development team could deliver.

The development team was relentless in its pursuit of outstanding UX. We had healthy debates about the best way a widget should behave, what tasks were most relevant to our users, even how the artwork should look. And lets face it, without awesome developers, even your best designs won’t benefit anyone.

The executive and product management team was the fuel that drove this relentless pursuit of great user experience. Even for us in the design community, it’s tempting to take the easy way in order to make a deadline, but this time there was a constant mantra “Focus on the UX” from the very top.

Take a peek, and let me know what you think.

Oh, and here’s a question to leave you with? How do you say thank you to your developers when they deliver your designs?


Craft A Killer UX: “Listen” To Your UX

I’m a big fan of music.

I love to compose it, play it, listen to it, and share it.

In my years of composing, I’ve used melody, harmony, tempo, and so on to craft the best music I can. In those years I’ve learned to listen, I mean really listen, to the song as it is played to see what’s missing…or what’s extra that needs to get cut. Sometimes the song is lacking energy (fixed with adding a fast guitar rhythm track) or sometimes the song is unfocused (fixed with removing entire tracks).

The result?

A better song.

Critical listening, at least for me, is key not only in crafting the best song I can, but also in crafting the best user experience I can.

Here are a few examples of what I mean:

Install and configure the product yourself. Listen to the product unfold…does it flow well? Are there hiccups that force you to pause, look something up, scratch your head? Is there some step you can remove (automate) or is there guidance you should add?

Too often I get numb and don’t notice all those irritating shards in the UX that if removed would make for a much smoother experience. Listen to that nagging little voice that moans at every dumb behavior, bad icon, or poorly worded button. If you hear yourself saying, “We will need to add help to describe that”, then you need to fix that area. By listening to that voice, you may find all kinds of things to remove!

Listen for assumptions you make as you navigate your UX. Will your users make those same assumptions? Are there gaps in your UX that you fill with your expertise that your users will trip over?

Many of our product focus on a particular area of our users work. In their world, our product is only one of many they need to use to keep their business running. Listen to how customers work. Is there additional integration, sharing, awareness that your product can add? You don’t need to solve the world’s problems, but if you show you are aware of where they need to go next, users will be much happier.

Those are just a few examples…so how do you listen to your user experience?

How To Craft (And Measure) a Killer User Experience – Virtual Conference Sept 19th

I’m always looking for ways to improve a product’s user experience. Thanks to my friends at Penton Media, I’m excited to announce I am speaking in the 11th annual iPro Developer conference, where I’ll be speaking on user experience…specifically, how to craft and measure a killer user experience!

Here’s a peek:
When you use a product with a killer user experience you just know it. But how do you create one? Even more basic, what elements make up a killer user experience? I’ve worked for years in user experience and regularly get asked that, so I will share how I describe a killer user experience, how it can be measured, and even what emotional responses are at stake. In the end, only our users can describe how they feel about a product’s user experience, and my hope is with this session you will start hearing, “Delightful”, “Awesome”, and even “Killer”.

I hope we can have a vibrant session, and follow up with some great conversations afterwards here on this site.

Check out the conference link for more details.

I look forward to the experience, and hope to see you there!

Craft a Killer UX – The Grin Metric

“If using this software doesn’t put a big ol’ grin on your face, it’s probably not worth it” *

I love this quote. How many times have we been asked to measure user experience, when all along a simple glance at our user’s face would suffice?

Regardless of the research, design iterations, analysis, tutorials, and user testing, if a product makes the user smile…ear to ear…when using it, it’s got a killer user experience.

That grin communicates that the UX surprised them, delighted them, exceeded their I’ve-got-a-crazy-idea-to-make-my-life-a-ton-easier-but-I-doubt-this-product-is-awesome-enough-to-do-it-for-me expectations, and most of all…

…that grin communicates an instinctual delight that only comes from deep emotional impact…resulting in loyalty, trust, and, in the end, a very happy user.

What better goal is there?

* Paraphrased from an awesome article on Recording Review by Brandon Drury…read it!

Craft A Killer UX: Don’t Just Fix What’s Broken

In a recent leadership podcast, one comment stood out:

“A great leader doesn’t just fix what’s broken”*

I love that quote and it made me wonder how it applies to user experience. Think about it…how often a user experience stalls because all design time is spent designing fixes to customer problems within the bounds of the current product rather than keeping focused on the overall user experience mission?

A seemingly common pattern in designing a great user experience is to have a grand vision…a mission statement…for a product’s user experience, work feverishly to make its first release as good as it can be, and ship it. However, as soon as the first release is out, customers request to fix pain points or add tweaks to improve what was shipped. Naturally, we want our customers happy so we focus our next releases on solving those pain points.

While reacting to customer feedback is important, how we react could make the difference from a ‘decent’ user experience to a ‘killer’ user experience.

If we are not careful, we can quickly narrow our design focus on how to solve the problem to be only within the bounds of our current product’s capabilities or infrastructure. We forget our user experience mission (or maybe just let it fade?) and as a result the user experience fades as well.

While patching a current UX may solve a customer’s current problem, I wonder if it actually reduces that customer’s overall satisfaction? If we keep accommodating repair requests, we may never have the chance to surprise and delight that customer with the killer UX envisioned in the original mission.

For me, creating a UX mission statement for each product is essential. That mission statement, along with our target personas, drive everything. When we do get customer requests, I find it useful to look at the request through the lens of that mission to see if it should be repaired directly, or if we can surprise and delight them by producing something much better that moves us closer to the overall vision.

What do you think? What other ways can we apply “Don’t just fix what’s broken” to keep improving our user experience?

* From Andy Stanley’s Leadership podcast

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