Friday, July 30, 2010

Thinking like a customer

A request. If you are a business owner and you own a website, and you sell products or services directly to consumers through a physical place (a store, a garage, a car wash, etc.):

Please post your hours of operation.

I am your customer. I like your service. In fact, I like it so much I will travel out of my way to patronize you (maybe a long way out of my way). You have done all the right things: you have enthusiastic employees, you fulfill you brand promise every time I interact with you, your service is outstanding, you have earned my trust and I am an advocate for your business among my friends and social network.

But here’s the thing, your website doesn’t tell me when you’re open. I will drive 20 minutes out of my way to take advantage of your service, but I need to know if you close at 5 or 6 or 6:30 – it makes a difference.

Challenging one’s assumptions is hard. The more you “know” something, the harder it is to imagine that other people (like your customers) don’t. But it’s important, because even the best businesses (like a great car wash I go that’s 20 minutes away) need to continually look at themselves through their customers’ eyes.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Why corporate templates don’t work

An interesting thing, corporate templates.

The majority of Word or Powerpoint templates I encounter from our clients fall into two broad classes:
  • Those designed by administrative or IT staff, so they’re designed to be easy to use (sort of), but they don’t look good and they rarely reflect the way real people actually work. Or…
  • Those designed by designers or ad agencies, so the templates look great, but ordinary people can’t duplicate the examples because they’re not designers, so results based on these templates are usually disappointing (or worse).
Ok, so let’s forget about the first group altogether – well-meaning IT or administrative staff are not who you should be trusting your message to. They have other gifts.

The problem with the second group – templates-by-designers – is that (most) designers will create templates and related guidance for use by other designers, not for ordinary people. Compounding the problem is the curse of knowledge: designers creating the templates know a lot more about creating good-looking slides (for instance) than the people who will be using the templates.

Embed more knowledge.

One solution to this problem is to create richer templates that include much more detailed examples that people can use as-is, instead of abstract guidance.

If you are a designer creating templates for other people to use, include as many examples as you can where people can literally plug in their content (words, numbers, movies, etc.). Instead of just a single generic chart on a PP slide, include one page each for a column, stacked column, bar, stacked bar, line, area, doughnut, pie, etc. Not only a bullet slide (if you must), but also a two-column layout, a title, a few image-only slides with real images people could use, a table, maybe a few different table examples, a photo with a caption, a movie, an animation, etc. And don’t be satisfied with the Powerpoint default layouts – is that really what you would do? Get rid of the layouts that don’t make sense for your situation. You know your users, if they’re not going to use a vertical slide master, then delete it from the template.

If you are hiring someone to create a template(s) for you, be an advocate for your users and test things until they break. Use the tools yourself: if you receive a template that is difficult to use or doesn’t make sense, push back and keep pushing back until you get something that you can actually use in many different situations. Good designers will relish this challenge (no, really), they will see a committed client who cares about getting it right, about solving the real problem. And you’ll get a better result.

There are companies that get this. I’ve seen examples of well-done corporate PP templates that had over 30 slides, where people could literally copy their information into a template’s slide layout. And don’t confuse this with those idiotic presenting bad news templates that come bundled with PP, I mean files that have many different format examples for thinking people to duplicate and use to better illustrate their own well-considered presentation.

Of course, there is another approach: just turn the projector off.

May 2012 Update:

Since I published this in July 2010, I’ve had additional thoughts and revised some of my recommendations. See my newer post.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Google News: design for democracy

Bruce Tognazzini has a great post on the bad redesign of Google News. He raises lots of good points on both the interface (which has gone very much backward) and the process (which seems to have ignored all sorts of user feedback and UI design theory), but his number one reason that the new Google News sucks is the one I find most interesting: political drift introduced.

He suggests that Google News has (prior to the redesign) helped Americans find the political center of any story because it has presented so many different sources in a reasonably un-biased way. He also points out something I have long believed: that while customizing news is seductive, it ultimately hurts one’s perspective by presenting narrower and narrower viewpoints.

It is disappointing that a company that has gotten so many design things right over the years got this one so, so wrong.