Designing experiences for multiple devices

As the use of multiple devices to research and buy products increases, we look at techniques to help you design for the total customer experience, rather than individual devices.

Research from Google last year suggests that around 14% of people use multiple devices to research a mobile phone purchase, 21% use a smartphone, desktop or tablet in parallel with the TV, and that these numbers are increasing.

Here is a typical scenario:

Ann’s oldest daughter wants her first mobile phone.   There’s so much choice… and her daughter has her own ideas about what she wants.  Ann started looking at work at her desktop computer over a sandwich.  She then checked a few of the links her daughter sent her on her phone on the way home.  And now, she’s sitting in front of the TV with her tablet trying to unpick the various contract and model options.

A responsive web design would ensure that the interface that Ann will interact with works well in each of the devices.  But what about the total impact that the use of the devices together has on her overall experience and purchase decision?

Because research projects often focus on only one channel or platform throughout the design and validation process, for example researching an on-line shop on its mobile platform, they can miss the important role of the mobile in the overall shopping process and its support for other platforms, such as its desktop counterpart.

Techniques that can help

There are techniques that can help to incorporate other platforms and channels into research.  Here are some we find particularly useful:

1. Storyboards
Storyboards are used for many purposes, from validating concepts to sparking ideas by stimulating the imagination.
As storyboards are narratives depicting the user’s experience from their point of view, they automatically integrate all the channels and platforms involved in the experience.  

In our example, it would be easy to illustrate how Ann tries to look for some information on the train to work, but has a poor connection, so finds some time at lunch to look at it, and then visits the shop in the shopping centre on Saturday, when she does the weekly shopping for the family.
Incorporating a story like this one during the testing of a responsive web design for an on-line shop will help to get not only the layout right but also the flow of the overall experience.

2. Customer journey mapping
This provides a visual description of how and when the user might access a company’s product including what their typical goals and motivations are at each stage.

3.  Video and animatics
Videos and VoxPops can be created from research to show the users’ own stories.  Relevant video clips from the research, short documentaries about the research and videos of scenarios can all be used as a starting point for discussion with users and stakeholders. 

Audiovisuals activate our imagination, and make it easier for us to relate to the users so we can discuss realistically the different aspects of the experience.

4. Role play and experiential theatre techniques
These can be used as a research technique, or to depict concepts and used as a brainstorming tool.  However, using this research technique only makes sense when exploring contextual elements of the story in multichannel experiences (e.g. mobile alerts based on location and context). There is no point on using role-play to validate a layout or the web design flow in a mobile device.

And in the future ?

As screen sizes become more complex and numerous a responsive web design approach will soon not be enough.  Wearables such as watches will need a new definition and layout design just for them.  They will also raise new challenges in terms of content. (e.g. does the user really want to check a website in his watch?, or would it play its part in the overall experience?)
Future developments where screens could be displayed anywhere and anytime mean we might be talking about ‘display spaces’ rather than screen sizes or devices, opening another world of content display and layout.
So incorporating multi device narratives in the user experience research, design and evaluation phases of a project will help us to keep an eye on our multichannel experience. It will help us see different channels not as separate parts of the experience but as complementary parts of the total customer experience.  Then we will be aiming to design a user experience that is enhanced by the value of each channel, so that the overall experience is more than the sum of its parts.

 

(This article was written for and  first time published at system-concepts.com in May 2014)

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Storytelling and Role play in UX research

Can you remember playing make believe when you were a kid? It required absolutely nothing but your imagination and you had an unlimited number of ad­­ventures for hours! The structure of make believe is so efficient in sparking our imagination that it can be used to generate technological innovation.

Role play as an innovation and ideation tool.

Make believe is a form of role play, and what makes it so special is that it is a factory of ideas.  This is because its structure is based on a very fluid scheme:  setting a basic scenario, declaring who is going to be which character and improvising stories based on these.

We can use this formula to ­bring innovation to the corporate arena.

Use open-ended stories to focus creativity on specific users’ needs.­

One way of doing this is to use Living Personas.  This is a technique which involves actors taking on the part of typical customers or users.  We often create vivid personas for clients which help focus design teams on the needs of the users and Living Personas just takes this one stage further.  We use an open-ended story to help participants (clients) to engage with the actors and invent different endings to the stories.  We set up each story to represent a UX challenge or a particular issue and can then explore how this might play out for different customer or user types.  In this way, Living Personas provide a framework to predict user behaviour.

Use storytelling as a decision-making tool when evaluating ideas.

Storytelling can really help to evaluate ideas by observing how Living Personas react to ideas thrown at them.  During a brainstorming session, this allows the team to validate and refine their ideas on the spot.  This method can also be used following on from a brainstorm to filter the ideas that emerged.

Storytelling provides the opportunity to experience concepts almost as if they were real, therefore it is especially insightful for the exploration of any multi-device, multi-platform, and multi-location experiences.

If the budget is tight use your existing personas to create stories.

Using this technique is more affordable than you may think, and the results can pay dividends, but if budget is tight storytelling can be used as a standalone method. In the same way that children use stories to bring their toys to life, using stories can bring personas to life.

To do this, you just need to identify stories that portray the UX challenges associated with the idea.  You then walk your personas through this scenario, using role play in the same manner that you would do when actors are involved in the process.    This exercise helps the team to empathise with the user and compels us to experience each of the touch points as if we were someone else.

Set up who, when, where and why based on the UX challenges you want to explore.

Firstly you need to design your story to address the UX challenge that you are interested in.  You will then need to set up:

  • the characters for the story – these will usually be your personas
  • the scenario (where and when) – for example, if you want to explore shared user experiences you may want to mock up a public place such as a café
  • the plot – this needs to be defined in a way that will lead the discussion towards your ultimate research goal for the session.

Stories create culture, culture creates change.

Finally, share your stories.  Using actors in a role play exercise has the advantage of providing powerful experiences, that the team will remember, which impacts positively on the design, development and delivery of the product.

But if you go for something more modest, communicate your story as much as possible throughout your organization by using engaging media, such as infographics, videos or other audiovisuals. Stories are powerful because they catch our attention, and are easy to remember due to the emotional impact they have.

Stories create culture and culture creates change, that’s why stories can be a very powerful tool within organisations.

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Article published at System Concepts    in June 2013

Apps and customer experience

A well designed customer experience:

  • covers every touch point of the user journey
  • is emotionally engaging.

Here we look at how on-line grocery retailers have used apps to provide a complete customer experience, and some of the psychology behind their success.

The better a company’s systems work together the more consistent and engaging the experience.

Apps can help different sales channels and their systems to work together.

By combining the different systems, the retailer allows the user to manage information in the same way the brain does: information is always available, and can be combined in multiple ways at any time.

On-line grocery apps bring together on and off line touch points to combine the physical store with on-line shopping.  Users can read physical bar codes of items with their smart phones, and store them in their on-line account.  They can edit, add or remove items on their shopping list using either their mobile or a computer.  Registration in loyalty programmes is almost automatic.

This increases the efficiency of the each channel used; they reinforce rather than compete against each other.

Productivity is engaging.

Being productive has an emotional impact because it is rewarding.  Whenever we finish a task we feel rewarded because we have achieved something.

The video game is the perfect example of a reward system.  Each time the user wins he feels rewarded and dopamine is released in the brain, affecting the pleasure centres.  The fact that video games usually don’t have a final goal makes them endlessly rewarding and therefore addictive.

So, the more an app provides a feeling of fulfilment or achievement the more engaging the customer experience will be.

In the same way, on-line grocery shopping apps not only make it much easier to complete a task that is often boring and time consuming, but also they allow us to do it more quickly, which makes it more rewarding than going to the store.

Social media and apps work well together.

The online grocery apps use social media to encourage purchase and improve communication with their customers:

  • Customer reviews, the on-line version of asking for advice, help take stress out of decision making, reinforce a user’s choice and encourage purchase.
  • Reviews naturally regulate the market, so poor performing products can be removed more quickly.
  • Social media can support customer service, providing an immediate relief for complaining customers, improving the communication between the company and its customers.
  • The company gets instant feedback about its services and customer preferences, saving time and money in research and planning.

Create and control your own customer experience.

Customer centred apps, which allow the customer to control their own experience and become a creative agent in the transaction, emotionally engage the user.

Online grocery apps exploit this by providing recipes, which adds a whole new dimension to the experience, by encouraging the user to create something, on their own, off-line, and social.

In short, the role of an app, should not be seen as an isolated part of a company’s marketing strategy, but instead, it is an instrument which can align the whole customer experience making it complete, social and engaging.

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Article originally published at Customer Experience Magazine in 2011

How technology is changing the educational system.

Why the traditional education system doesn’t fit in the new model.

The industrialization era that got started in the 18th century doesn’t adapt anymore to our current world governed by virtual worlds, ever-changing environment and the recognition of human emotions as the foundations of our decision process.  Instead technology is setting up a scene characterized by horizontal structures and collaborative thinking that is re-shaping the way we teach our children.

The adoption of computers and the Internet by the vast majority of population as the common communication system has created a new socio-economic system without precedent. This system is characterised by social interaction, collaborative thinking, multimedia content and a great deal of creativity that is demanded from the individual.  This barely fits in a system based on the individual effort, pyramidal structures and a passive role performed by the student

What challenges is Education facing.

One of the challenges educational systems are required to face is the need of individuals to discover and train the so-called ‘soft skills’.  Socialisation, communication, language, and in short, all those abilities that help individuals work in groups. Technology has generated these needs over the last 15 years.

Creativity is being a highly appreciated skill that doesn’t belong to artists anymore, but instead is recognized in every individual’s ability to think ‘out of the box’ and to provide solutions to any kind of problem. Computers are able to simulate thousands of situations, and to do calculations in much less time than a human being, but what they can’t do until now, is being creative, and so far, they they can’t make decisions either. This is gap currently experimented by traditional systems.

This means that educational systems would likely evolve in a way that teach these new skills to children. They will teach skills as the ability to visualise, and the ability to represent complex concepts into visual diagrams that facilitates memorisation and communication to others.

The role of  new media in the educational process

Technology is not only affecting the content of the education that children receive, but also the quality of it. Traditionally education materials were basically books, notepads and pencils. Today we need to provide children with computers, software, visuals; interactive devices that adapt to the real work kids will face tomorrow.

It’s been proven that we learn better with content that incorporates some kind of emotional content. That’s why any audiovisual material has more possibilities to be memorable.  Creating  educational content that makes children create something out of it would be much more efficient way of learning than memorising through repetition.

One example of this process has been enclosed in an App released by the artist Bjork. The App depicts a galaxy. Each song is a stars’ system that is part of this  ‘mother-galaxy’.


Each song is an app itself and it is interactive. They can contain games, recording and manipulating song features, and even more, one of the songs, is actually a musical instrument.
But what makes this work excel is the fact that the artist is calling the user’s creativity. Her songs no longer belong to her; each user can make a version of them, and of course, can share them with others.
The difference is that the artist is offering not music, but an experience.  And actually the aim of this work was to be an educational tool for children to learn music. This could be a very accurate antecedent of what education might evolve to.

The new model provided by Technology

This example depicts very well a process we are witnessing nowadays. We are no longer passive spectators that swallow information, but we are the creators of the information we receive.
We could make a guess and visualise where the education system would evolve quite soon: into an audiovisual, emotional and creative content, where maybe children will no longer be grouped by ages, but skills, and they will not need to memorised senseless concepts but create ways of understanding knowledge and communicate their own concepts to others.

Collaborative thinking can’t be associated with tests (and don’t cheat) systems, but instead, with a truly utilisation of knowledge, which encloses not only understanding and learning information, but also the ability to engage others to create something new out of that information.

How to identify and analyse engagement in a system.

The principal challenge when designing a system is to create engagement. By engagement is meant,  the user not only spends a reasonable amount of time on your site, but also performs those actions that you want she to perform, for example, buying something, registering, or doing something off-line.

It’s no longer enough that the site attracts visitors, but it has to match a user’s needs, and this entails attracting the right kind of visitors and engaging them.

It could be said that the ideal site we want to create is one, which attracts a lot of users, which is efficient in engaging them and which encourages them to perform whatever we want. What follows is an approach, which can be used to analyse a system in order to assess what can be done to optimise engagement. It’s called the 2×2 engagement matrix.

The approach sets up a model with two variables: visitors and engagement, and the resulting basic  2 by 2 matrix contains four web-page types.

These four page types are characterised by how many visitors are attracted to them and the degree to which the visitors become engaged. They are labelled: bulls, sexy dolls, hooks and zombies.

Engagement matrix (by Rebeca Miranda)Bulls

These pages are completely optimised towards the user. They bring traffic to the site and they also foster engagement and lead to completion of interactive transactions.  They are characterised by the following:

  • High level of visits
  • High click through
  • Longer time spent on them
  • High bounce rate
  • High number o page views.
  • Low percentage of exits.

In general, the aim of an improvement strategy, will be focused on pages that are either sexy dolls or hooks.

Sexy dolls.

These are pages that receive lots of visits, but they are barely engaging.  They represent a good opportunity to improve the level of engagement because an audience is already in place. Basically the problem here lies in the content. Sexy dolls pages will likely show:

  • High levels of visits
  • Low CTR (Click through rate),
  • Lower number of pageviews
  • Higher percentage of exits

Solutions:

Writing relevant content. Perhaps the research and audience are not understood. Good research may be needed, as well as a proper segmentation of the audience.
Displaying other kinds of media such as videos, might also improve the level of engagement, but of course the media need to be designed to be ‘engaging’ for the specific audience.

Relating content with other parts of the website. This involves engaging the user more.  If the user is interested in a certain topic, then more content about it should be displayed.  Other example might be the use of contextual links

Making sure structural elements such as navigation menus are clear, intuitive, and simple.

Creating only a few elements to choose from. Navigation is more effective when there are not too many elements to choose from, and where the elements present are related to what the user is already familiar with.

Hooks.

These are pages for which there are few visitors but on which the user spends a great deal of time.  Users of these pages keep navigating indicating that their interests have been perfectly matched. However they represent a minority of the user base.

These pages are characterised by:

  • Low level of visits
  • High percentage of CTR
  • High number of pageviews
  • Longer times spent on these pages
  • High bounce rate
  • Low percentage of exits.

In addiction, the presence of such pages may indicate that:

A-    The audience has not been segmented correctly,

B-    The audience represents a different subset of the population than was assumed

In either case the starting point is a positive one: you already know that the content is relevant.

So what can one do to move these loyal geeks to became bulls?.

Solutions:

Improve the research and work on the SEO strategy – The content may not be sufficiently engrossing.

Place the calls to action in these pages

Try to understand why these pages are engaging in order to either:

–       Apply it to rest of the site, these pages may have elements that are absent in other pages, like contextual navigation, etc.

–       Promote this content across the site, it may be hidden, which may explain why it doesn’t have as many visitors. (e.g. users on these pages get specific information about certain services, and while trying to decide whether to buy those services, they may spend more time on the pages just to make sure, they’re making the right decision. Another reason may be they might be learning something through these pages and so spend more time on them.)

Zombies.

These pages are attracting neither visits nor loyalty. They are usually useful as a way of indicating errors: from 404 to just pointing out pages that need a review in order to establish:

1. If they are worthy to improve

2. What makes them so bad, in order to get clues to improve the rest of the site.

These can be recognized because they are characterised by:

  • Low level of visits
  • Low rate of click through
  • Short time spent on them
  • Low number of page views
  • High level of exits

Once one has identified which pages are problematic, it becomes easier to create specific remedies for improvement, as well as deriving valuable information about the overall performance of the site. Also by analysing the pages belonging to each of the defined categories across a system, we could obtain a ‘big picture’ of overall site performance, which could lead us to rethink how it should be developed.

5 take aways from LinkedIn group strategies.

Lately we’ve been doing some experimental work within LinkedIn, without getting very much into detail, 5 things have set clear:

1. Plan and design

It is crucial to set up the group deliberately. With a purpose in mind, and based on this build up the contents, approach and selection of the people in-house  who is going to participate in and how they’re going to do it.

2. Setting up a hook. Engagement.

People involved need  to be compromised, this starts in-house and extends to the audience.

For doing that is important to set up what going to be the wins of people. From our experience one of the things that was clear was  that is when the have something of value up there, that as well, they can not get anywhere else, the response is massive. This may be obvious, but actually nobody thinks about it.

3. Training session.

Out of 20 people had effectively go through a group in our case.  100% of them had LinkedIn accounts, but almost nobody had a clear idea of what to do with it. This means, that people need training. This training session doesn’t need to be hard-to-shallow technical session, who nobody is going to remember, but something more interacting and engaging. Through which you can learn how to use the tool.

It doesn’t need to be presentation neither, but I’d recommend to do it off-line, so people put a face and some emotion on the learning process. As well, ideally they would be able to be with their computers on the session so they could be practising it while learning.

4. Give life to it. Network your network

Members need to participate, contribute actively and consistently. As anything else in the web it take time to build a community, it doesn’t happen from today to tomorrow, and needs the support of the WOM, as well as the off-line efforts, so any opportunity to spread it out will be good, as well as linking it in every communication: blogs, emails, web, etc.

5. Make their live easier. Works better the pulling rather than the pushing.

People likely come in and participate when you offer something that is of their interest than when you make them questions, and basically make them work. If you offer something to them that help them to do a better job, or is time saving…you got them!.  That’s why if your platform is a place were they can agilize complaints, or contact directly with the person of their interest, they will even doing a effort to get there.

Human socialization basics that you can observe in Facebook

How easy Basic human socialization basics that you can observe in Facebook!, just to start with something:
Mimic. Whichever mood you´ve is likely you transmit to others, because we are continuously sending a receiving feed back from others: smiles create more smiles, violence creates more violence and so on.
In the same way we watch a movie and we can cry because we can “feel” what the character is feeling, actually we are mimicking , and in the same way we do it off-line.
For example, those profiles that shows more pictures of people, and people smiling, are more successful doing new friends.
Certainly people that are approached by an unknown person, look at his/her profile before accepting him/her. Here as in any other off-line process of socialization, good looking is important, but also the feeling, the more friends that person seems to have, more probabilities to be accepted.
This happens in off-line life as well, and the fact is that when we know a person has friends looks more attractive, as well as when someone is attractive to other people we see that persona more attractive. This phenomenon happens also with movie-stars, and any other fan-personality.

There is a book (The tipping point) that talks about “connectors”, those people how know a lot of people, and actually the introduce this people among them. They are network builders. In on-line media socialization, we could talk also about connectors, but in the sense of those kind of profiles that are successful spreading ideas.

Lets talk about the “spreaders”. People who easily spread ideas through internet. this profiles have certain characteristics:
They have a lot of friends, and friends that have friends.
They have credit, because they are read and followed
They are magnetic for whatever reason: from the picture, the contents they talk about, their sense of humor.
They are useful!….yes!, in whatever sense, perhaps they write by themselves something useful, or perhaps they twit useful links,….and of course, whatever is fun, is useful!!!.
Likely they awake feelings in the other users.

About feelings and their relationship with spreading ideas efficiently.

Is obvious that whatever provoke feelings in us works. Because we are emotional animals desperate for socialization. Emotions are links in our socialization process, without them socialization just didn´t exist.
Paradoxically we are aiming a world where getting emotional is each time less practical, and self-control is part of a healthy way of life. So my next question shall be: so, it is social media going to help us to develop a real ’emotional intelligence’, which means use emotions, without being driven by them.