Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Do you like it? Part 3

After reading posts one and two, you already know that short term feedback easily discourages change. It's very unforgiving to anything that's different in general. But - the longer you've been working on your new product concept, the more you actually need short term feedback to move forward.

When you choose to expose people to your mind-bending innovation for the first time, you're obviously interested in problems they face. Those reasons are the real roadblocks between you and a succesfull consumer product - not the fact that it's different. The reason these roadblocks are hard to spot by designers and engineers building the product, is because the first impression is hard to simulate.

The work that has gone into your product, is founded on top of technologies, conventions and patterns introduced by products that came before it. This means that your user interface will send messages that work against your new ideas. Those messages are causing test subject's brain to spit out incorrect suggestions how to interact with it, making the product appear 'unintuitive'. The point of these quick feedback sessions is to identify and fix those characteristics sending bad signals, not to validate the design itself. The long term feedback is used for that.

Simply kicking out unwanted messages saves a boatload of time and money, because you're not adjusting the product concept to match those unwanted messages (that weren't supposed to be there in the first place). This protects the core breakthroughs and principles that originally encouraged people to turn it into reality, as well as invited others to buy it. Without the need to do large architectural changes, more effort can be invested to stability and feature completeness. Everyone wins.

Building products with entirely new qualities, that bring real value to end users (and force the competition to do the same), requires a lot of cage rattling. Great products will not happen on their own. It requires a lot of passion, courage and determination to help people transcend their previous experiences. You're building them a friendly and motivating passage through the fear of change.

And when you take people to places they didn't know existed, their emotional response to that will be beyond 'liking'.

Thanks for reading and see you in the next post. In the meantime, agree or disagree, debate or shout. Bring it on and spread the word.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Do you like it? Part 2

The previous part introduced the problem of asking around for quick 'likes'. This post dives deeper into what makes the short term feedback so dangerous for new product development process.

The biggest challenge with short term feedback is how it forms. When people see or experience something for the first time (like your groundbreaking new product in this case), their brain is unconsciously trying to match that with any prior experience.

Time for a painfully accurate comparison: the human brain is like Microsoft's Office Assistant. It will suggest you things based on the information available to it. Irrelevant information will return irrelevant suggestion

Short test situations will give you plenty of data about dominant products that have been succesfully launched, but absolutely nothing to complete something that hasn't existed before. End users don't have the same vision that you have, nor have they used the product long enough for that vision to materialize.

Because people can't predict the future for you, they will be more than  happy  to  tell  you  about  their  color  preferences . Or about their hobbies, funny relatives and cute pets. You will hear why they like a certain font or type of food. Anything that comes to mind, really. Obviously, it's not their fault but yours. You're expecting answers they don't have; for problems they don't know. You might as well be interviewing lobsters. Or Clippy.

More tragically, you've just offloaded part of your product development responsibilities onto people paying your salary. Bravo, such a genious plan to escape later responsibility if things go sideways.

If you still think that one hour casual chat sessions with test subjects is all that it takes to validate new ideas and concepts, you leave me no other choice but to question your ability to read. Because this topic is not that hard to comprehend.

Everyone remotely familiar with studying user behavior are probably furious by now, and wish to point out that short term feedback can give useful insight, if you know how. That's why I saved it for the final part (when I get around to write it).

Thanks for reading and see you in the next post. In the meantime, agree or disagree, debate or shout. Bring it on and spread the word.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Do you like it? Part 1

It's a well known wisdom, that asking early whether people like the groundbreaking product you're working on or not, has a tremendous potential.

Potential to destroy that said product, damage your brand, or even kill off your company; depending of its size.

Did that get your attention?

Good, because it should. The critical feedback in building new products (vs. copied), is the long term one. As the name implies, it takes longer to form compared to the short term one. People have to use your product for months instead of hours. There's no shortcuts, no silver bullets.

Quickly dashing around for likes, opinions, ideas and suggestions is an open invitation for a disaster. You're only chasing popularity and trends. Meanwhile, important values and product opportunities are drifting away - never to be seen or achieved again. It's a great way to inflict potentially irreversible damage to everyone in the value chain.

Alright, let's give that some time to sink in.

In the next part, I'll explain why short term feedback sucks.

Thanks for reading and see you in the next post. In the meantime, agree or disagree, debate or shout. Bring it on and spread the word.


Friday, July 31, 2015

Man and its computer, part 2

In part 1, I shared my conclusions about how similar today's computers are. They all run different applications, ranging from entertainment to productivity, from simple to complex. This post will compare in closer detail how graphical user interfaces (GUIs) of said computers help people to get the best out of their investment in these devices.

Desktop and laptop computers

When you use one for the first time, you see en empty desktop. The apps that you bought the computer for, are hidden somewhere else. A few app shortcuts might be visible by default, and the rest are tucked away below multiple steps for user to configure and manage.

Indication of an application that has been sent to background, ranges from subtle to quesswork. The desktop wallpaper, as seen in examples 1, 2 and 3, has clearly the biggest emphasis. It's however not exactly why these computers exists.

Phone and tablet computers

Upon starting one of these devices, user sees that applications are also divided between multiple locations, with iOS being the only exception here (example 1). It shows everything on a single location. Android (2) has multiple home screens, with all but few installed apps hidden in yet another place. Windows phone (3) is a mixture, while Ubuntu Phone (4) has much bigger plans than apps.

For an unknown reason, all applications that have been started, are demoted and hidden to a task switcher view. A design that looks and works like an afterthought. Windowed apps are slowly starting to appear, but still feel clunky and bolted-on solutions. The experience doesn't change when the device is connected to a larger screen. Only WP and Ubuntu phone are pursuing scenarios beyond the traditional desktop and mobile divide. Kudos for both for focusing on the future.

Console computers

The same pattern is sadly repeated. The software that user benefits from, is divided and scattered around the main user interface. The current game/app is prominently shown, but when it comes to seeing what else is installed, or running in the background for that matter, it's not what these interfaces are intended for. And consoles are usually connected to over 40" screens, so it's not that they wouldn't have space to put it in.

There's no support for multiple screens, and these computers are sometimes even more limited than mobile ones, due to shortcomings of gamepad input. Xbox OS has an edge over its competition in doing several things at the same time by allowing windowed operation of some of its core features, without breaking the context user was in.

  The verdict

Even though all computers and their operating systems are near identical in terms of what they do; companies developing them have chosen very different graphical user interfaces for them to do it. It means, that:
  • users have to memorize different interface conventions between different computers
  • multiple OS'es (or variants of them) are needed to support different devices
  • only big companies have resources to develop multiple products from different categories
  • massive overlap in required effort when developing software for multiple devices and/or operating systems

Back in the days, with just few computers around, there was no need for a common approach to GUIs. Instead, there was plenty of time, ignorance, workforce and money. As a result, we have several user interface paradigms, that all fail with various degrees. The shared mistake is focusing on building physical products with 'art directed' interfaces. A direction based on a personal perception how a particular device should be used, easily masks any digital similarities underneath the glamorous surface, abstracting important qualities all operating systems commonly share.

To sum it up..

Every 'signature charasteristics' that desktop, mobile and other interface paradigms have managed to pile up over these years, are merely distractions. They occupy minds of designers, developers and and end users alike. Our digital world is a hot mess - partly because of our obsession over the current categorization of computer GUIs and OS'es.

If something is certain, it's that software has never needed such arbitrary categorization - and neither do people using them. Future user interfaces will leverage different screen sizes and input types when they become available; instead stubbornly serving a single form factor, like they do today.

How can we help people to see beyond their lust for yesterday? How can future user interfaces better focus on increasing our human potential, if our preferences and behavior explicitly tells them otherwise?

Thanks for reading and see you in the next post. In the meantime, agree or disagree, debate or shout. Bring it on and spread the word.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Man and its computer, part 1

Our world is loaded with different computers that we use for a variety of things, ranging from good to bad, from luxury to necessity. And at their very nature, they're essentially the same. This and the following post emphasizes how similar they are (post 1), and how different user interface designs they ended up with (post 2).

Most importantly, it doesn't matter what computer we're talking about. Value is always generated through some type of application. Gaming, content creation & consumption, communication, and many other domains depend on using applications. Web browsers are eating away that pie all the time, but they as well are applications. Just hugely complex ones.

Depending of what we're doing with a computer, and where that happens, we use different input devices to help us. Keyboards, mice, trackpads, styli, cameras, game controllers and microphones, just to name a few. The line between computer specific input devices is blurring, as devices increasingly support a wider range of peripherals.

A displays is the dominant output device when it comes to computing. With a larger screen, you can see more without scrolling. Smaller screens are more portable, but the screen content needs to be scaled and restructured to make up for the reduced screen area. The more different display sizes a computer can support, the less limiting it is for the user.

To sum it up..

The way most common computers generates value for the end user, is identical. The way we control them is too, as well as the way they respond back. In the next post, we'll have a look at some of the most common computer categories and their graphical user interfaces. Stay tuned for the next post.

Thanks for reading and see you in the next post. In the meantime, agree or disagree, debate or shout. Bring it on and spread the word.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Breaking free from my invisible prison

Everything that we know today is based on our past experiences. Our knowledge is limiting what we can create tomorrow.

When we solve a problem, we tend to stick with that solution and keep improving it. That affection prevents alternative discoveries from happening. Alternatives, that weren't possible at the time of our original idea. Alternatives, that have much higher potential in the long run.

Various limitations that are affecting our past tools, will silently keep limiting the potential of our future ones. It's not natural for us to consider our proven solutions as restraints. Well, this isn't a prison made of concrete and steel, but obsolete or incorrect knowledge that we fail to see. And what you can't see, you can't escape.

I joined Jolla in 2012. It took me almost three years to discover my self-imprisonment. Back then I could only work with knowledge withing those walls of mine. I was happy to repeat what had been done before. It didn't use to matter, as anything was always possible before. I was either creating concepts or working without time pressure. It all changed when I started working with Sailfish OS.

I guess it was the immense pressure that finally pitted me against my own knowledge. During these three years, I have questioned majority of what I know. Life of uncertainty and constant doubt has been hard, but at least those walls gave in before I did - ironically only to be replaced by tiredness and loneliness. Abandoning things I've held as facts for many years was a cruel journey. Mainly because I just traded one solitude for another.

Our existing knowledge is our happy place, and it's perfectly understandable to fight for that happiness. They say that ignorance can be a wonderful thing. It's only human to seek comfort through stability and order - until one dies. To me, that's a horrible waste. Loneliness I can deal with.

So remember. The knowledge you have gathered doesn't update itself. If there's something you really care about, you should question everything you know about it. Sure, it might get lonely for a while, but it's imperative that you do.

Because tomorrow will be just like yesterday if you don't.

Thanks for reading and see you in the next post. In the meantime, agree or disagree, debate or shout. Bring it on and spread the word.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Tailoring graphical user interfaces for everyday life

When developing a graphical user interface for a product, it's easy to forget the outside world; the reality that your product will ultimately face.
It's tempting to downplay the importance of various everyday situations. Mundane, boring and even stupid situations, that have nothing to do with your amazing new product; yet everything to do with how much user attention they require. This common and critical mistake results in a struggle between the product and the environment it's being used in. Below is a simplified example of this conflict (click to enlarge).

The image shows how the environment affects our ability to focus and handle information. The more control we have over the environment we're in, the more demanding interfaces we can cope with.

Mobile and portable devices are widely adopeted because they conform to dynamic and unpredictable qualities of human life. We naturally have a lower barrier toward carrying small devices with us. Therefore a smartphone is more likely to be used inside a taxing situation than a desktop computer.

On the opposite ends of that scale, we can either be fully engaged with the environment, or with the graphical user interface. Even a familiar and simple interface will be problematic in a demanding situation. Like composing an email while outrunning a bear. Similarly, any smartwatch interface feels lethally boring and restrictive, while waiting for another meeting to end (you'd rather tussle a bear). For reference, see the following image (click to enlarge).

Our available time, at any given moment, affects what we consider important. When a situation requires any attention, completing another task will costs you situational control and awareness. The expense amount depending on both interface needs and the task complexity in question. In short, if you text and drive, you'll suck at both. Human multitasking in all its glory.

Therefore it's important for interfaces input requirements to scale accordingly. The problem is that many interfaces today, like Android, iOS and WP, are already beyond their capability to do so, forcing the user to give in. The reason is a devious one. Even if people don't like to carry around tower PCs, they still love the familiar interface logic derived from them. Even though many human interaction methods, that were developed for desktop computing, are far too demanding for the life outside those cubicles they were never meant to leave.

The smaller your product is, the more focused, effortless and fault tolerant the interface needs to be. I know that our work on Sailfish OS is not there yet either, but it's still easier to keep on building it on top of thoughts like these.

A mobile device that fits your life, is valuable. One preventing you from living yours to the fullest, is not.

Thanks for reading and see you in the next post. In the meantime, agree or disagree, debate or shout. Bring it on and spread the word.