What makes a product good

Sit up straight, I’m about to explain the secret sauce behind exceptional products.
There is a difference between products that perform poorly and products that perform well that is hard to put your finger on. Designers have been struggling to tell you about it for years. But it turns out it’s not the answer that is the problem, it’s the question.
The question is: Is it enjoyable? It’s the difference between functional and great.

Continue reading “What makes a product good”

The mobile revolution at sime

The first day of SIME, the European tech/startup conference, was a vivid circus of great speakers with great production values. This time in Stockholm.
Sime is a special sort of conference because it is focused on marketing entrepreneurship and creating a forum for entrepreneurs and investors. While similar conferences might slog through technical details while zombie hordes of coffee ingesting listeners try to stay awake, SIME is more about showmanship. Almost every session is 20 minutes or less, even for the big players, and our host, Ola Ahlvarsson, is always on stage pushing things along.

Continue reading “The mobile revolution at sime”

An example of interactive UI design, the future of web design

HTML5 is a name we give the next level of web technology, it’s just simpler to remember. All the web is built using HTML, CSS and Javascript and with HTML5 new and better ways of using these languages are being made available everywhere.

The revolution started with the iPhone.

With the launch of their breakthrough device they didn’t intend for developers to be making Apps. Apple instead believed that developers would make web apps using HTML5 and save the web app as an icon of their phone. Surprisingly open by Apple’s standards the strategy soon changed to native apps because web apps simply didn’t feel quick enough.

Web technology is getting better

However, as HTML5 becomes a standard on PCs everywhere web apps are approaching the same sophistication as native applications. The hardest step now is for developers to take the plunge and create these great new interfaces and not get stuck in the old way of thinking and just pushing out another blog.

One of my favorite designers, Dustin Curtis, is leading the way with this new UI element on his site; the Kudos button.

It looks great. It’s fun to use and it’s a really simple way to add some life to a site. It doesn’t work on touch interfaces for obvious reasons. Sadly Dustin hasn’t made the code available yet, but most programmers could probably copy the concept. It’s that easy. We just have to make sure we starting thinking less about static web and more about user interaction.

Defining A Principle of Quality that works

Quality was what set the good craftsmen apart form the bad ones. It was why some brands became more revered than others. The illusive idea is why Apple sells so well, why some artists are better than others. But what the hell is quality? Does it change from artist to artist? Does it mean something different for cars than for software? No. I don’t think so. I think there’s a common feature for all types of good quality.

Using Cognitive Psychology to reveal quality

In academic circles scholars of cognitive psychology  have been debating and hacking the human perception for a very long time. One of my favorite tidbits of knowledge from my student days is that negatives are worth twice as much as positives. That means if I give you $100 and then take it back, you’ll feel as if you’ve lost more money than you felt you gained in at first. Put another way: if you spend $50 and earn $100 dollars you’ll feel you made about even. Losing something is negative, and is therefore twice as important to you perception.

This gives us valuable clue to Quality. Let’s see how far that can bring us.

If negative values, and negative experiences, create stronger reactions in users we should look at minimizing these as much as possible. If we get close to no negative values we’ll have a  really solid product experience regardless of the products positive values.

For example, if you create an app where every action gives clear feedback it will feel great. Even if the UX design isn’t all that great from the start.

Getting the values right

But wait, let’s back up a bit. What is a negative value? And what is a positive value? We’re talking about products here! What is a negative in a web app?

Happily, another branch of cognitive psychology has dealt with what value is. This is the theory: there is no “real” value. Only subjective, or perceived,  value. That is to say: water to a man dying of thirst has a lot of value, while water to a man at a cocktail bar in NY is worth very little. This sounds really basic right? But if all value is relative to experience that also means that we determine reasonable prices from prices around us. We distinguish beauty not by their own beauty but by how much less beautiful the other people around us are. Dan Ariely has some great examples of this in his book Predictably Irrational.

The good part starts 12 minutes in.

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

So all value is interpreted relative to similar experiences by each individual. How does that help us? That means every experience is valued compared to other, similar, experiences.

So?

Well if people experience negative values much stronger than positive ones, we need to focus harder on making our apps perform at least as well as other apps the users are using instead of trying to one-up our competitors. This will make out UX more positive than focusing on making the positive experiences better. Most Human Computer Interaction studies are actually based on this. They’re often studies to define how consistency works. And consistency is exactly what I’m talking about here. But not internal consistency, while that to is extremely important, but experience consistance for the user. No matter what that use might look like, spanning over machines, apps, platforms and use cases.

Summing up

A principle of quality, a rule of thumb that works for all products and services, is not making something really well. It’s minimizing the negative impact of shortcomings.

So how do we use this principle?

  • Don’t show the user experiences that aren’t finished. Release early release often as much as you want, but don’t release half baked.
  • Polish one feature instead of making two features.
  • Make sure other apps aren’t making your experience feel broken by creating an experience gap that will feel negative for example the pull-down-to-refresh UI of iPhone apps.
  • Look at the platform. Look at the most popular uses. Look at the environment it will be used in. Then try to be consistent.
  • Make your marketing consistant with your experience, or you might end up making your product feel worse than it is

The perfect example of not understanding quality is the Nokia N97, enjoy!

Another great example of achieving quality, not by adding features, but by managing your negatives is the iPhone and iPad operating system. Just compare these transition effects from iOS to the Android counter parts:


Facebook Messenger for iPhone and poor user experience

facebook messenger logoSome time ago Facebook launched it’s cross platform messaging app: Facebook Messenger; the mobile stand alone app that fully integrates Facebook messaging with your cell phone. Sounds awesome right? Sadly, it’s badly broken.
I recently tweeted a designer at Facebook to ask why the UX of the app is so bad, in turn he asked me to describe what’s wrong so they can fix it. So are you listening Facebook? Great. Here’s what’s wrong with the iOS version:

Starting the app
Takes time. A lot of time. Why? There is no large graphics in use. Why does it start slower than some third party messaging or twitter apps? Short messaging on mobile devices is supposed to be fast. Loading the app for over a full second is bad user experience.

If I’d have to guess what’s wrong I’d say Facebook Messenger is loading the entire message database at startup when all the user really needs is something like the last 5 messages.

Loading and responsiveness
So the app is now loaded. Let’s start messaging! No? Unresponsive?! But why? Why is there a second load time?

This second load becomes even weirder when I start the app from a notification. The app should be loading the message I was notified about but instead it seems to load for several full seconds. Even on WiFi.

If I’d have to guess what’s wrong I’d say you’re syncing ALL the messaging data with the server…

Don’t, do, that. Ever.

Always smart load, download only the essential information to start using the app. Then download the rest in the background while the user is happily messaging away. This is critical on mobile devices.

Feedback
If even Apple, that clearly doesn’t get social at all, get’s the importance of user feedback in short messaging. And the Facebook web interface clearly shows when the other party is writing something to you… Why do you not show this information in the Messenger app? If someone starts typing, send that information. Show an indication of this in the app.

And please, don’t make my phone vibrate with every new messages when the thread is open on the screen.

Notifications 
Notifications on iOS  are a bit strange. They don’t sync between iPhone and iPad and the app can’t receive any data from the notification. So some odd behavior is simply inescapable. However, most of the odd behavior with notifications from Facebook’s Messenger app have nothing to do with that.

The main problem is that notifications aren’t consistent between mobile app and web. As a matter of fact I haven’t even been able to understand what triggers mobile notifications. In my tests some messenges have triggered notifications on both web and mobile while other, identical tests, have triggered only one of them. Once I even received a mobile notification while typing a response in that very thread on the web.

Notifications are hard. Really hard. But a few simple basics should at least get you of out this mess:

  • If the thread open on web and the page is active (focused some time the last minute or so) – don’t send a notification at all.
  • If the thread not open and the page is not active – send a notification.
  • If the thread minimized in the web browser but the page is active – send only a web notification.

Facebook Messenger

Do I realize that these features are more complex than I have described them here? Yes. But they’re not very complex for a product team such as the one behind Facebook.

Do I realize that Facebook usually releases features and then iterates on them to improve the user experience? Yes. But this is a web strategy. A mobile app is often, like in this case, just a good interface on top of a web service. If the interface is bad, the service is bad.
Iterate all you want on the service. But “release early, release often”  is not a viable strategy for a mobile interface.

So why am I taking time to complain write all this? Because Facebook Messages, and Facebook Messenger, is a great product. It will help me organize my communication even better and have faster communications with my friends. No longer will discussions be spread through WhatsApp, iMessages, SMS, Email etc etc.

And the reason I can’t do that today is the Facebook Messenger interface. With god damn enourmous amounts of some luck this post might help Facebook create a really good Messenger app faster. Fingers crossed. Also, I’m available for hire.

Thanks to @MagnusEngdal and Sara Öhman for helping me with the testing.

Update:
Ben from the Facebook Messenger team replies with some information about the upcoming version 1.5 of the app. Early the next morning I had it and started using it. And I must say it’s a big improvement. I’ll write a follow up shortly about this new version.

Twitter is the Twitter-killer

Twitter, the micro blogging service, has taken the world by storm. While there are only a few hundred million users compared to Facebook’s massive near Billion, the service has become the place to share real time updates and is often used to gauge peoples reactions by news and analytic firms because the platform is open.
But Twitter is about to face it’s doom
While Google struggle to reproduce the viral effect of micro blogging services Facebook’s grab for the real time feed was hampered by the need to privacy. Twitter has already gained wide acceptance and was never intended for private information in the first place. But a series of ominous events are slowly hollowing out the foundations of Twitter.

Twitter is being killed by…
Twitter has never been the most stable of tech startups. The service used to be plagued by downtime which became so frequent the Fail Whale error page became as famous as the service. The company itself is also changing management again, and again. Not a great trend this early in a one product company. The lack of leadership is clear to see.

Twitter UX
Twitter (the company) is constantly changing and evolving it’s product. Which is a great way to organically fit the needs of their users. But Twitter (the company) is doing this in a somewhat odd way. It started when Retweeting (passing on another users tweet as a sign of encouragement while marking it with their name and RT) was made a part of the product, after it’s wide adoption by users, Twitter (the company) decided to implement it differently than the usual Retweets. This lead to better statistics, but also a fractured UX as apps now had to implement both ways to RT because users didn’t like the new one. Eventually Twitter (the company) incorporated the old style Retweets but called the function Quote Tweet instead. And the problems were just getting started.

Twitter app insanity
Twitter apps were almost a category on their own in the beginning of the Appstore. Twitter has become so important to mobile phone manufacturers they always showcase a twitter app with their new flagship phones. But Twitter wanted to control the experience, like Apple. Maybe a good idea. But really bad execution. They bought Atebits, the developers behind the most popular Twitter apps for iOS and Mac. Have you ever pulled down a list to refresh? Atebits invented that. So why was this a problem? Sounds great, right?

Tweetie and Twitter

After being purchased by Twitter (the company), the newly renamed Twitter for Mac and Twitter for iPhone started being updated less frequently… Let me make that clear, having the developer of the apps work closer with the Twitter development team made them update the apps less often.

Then shit really hit the fan. Twitter (the company) redesigned all their interfaces to be similar across platforms. Starting with a roll out on iPad, then web then the rest, Twitter (the company) streamlined their interface development.. in theory.
What really happened? The interfaces now looked the same, but they didn’t work the same. In fact, certain features only exist on certain platforms even though the interfaces look the same. Which makes it really hard as a user to remember what you can do where.

Later on the developers behind Atebits have left Twitter (the company), possibly in raging despair. And Twitter (the service) is fracturing into a mess. Not just between interfaces but functions as well. For example with the roll out of the activity tab you can follow some of the things people are doing through Twitter, following, unfollowing, making lists and so on. These features, which btw totally contradict the extreme simplicity of the core product, are weirdly integrated into the web interface as the afterthought they are. And it’s only available on the web.

Summery
Twitter (the company) is destroying Twitter (the services) with some sort of odd design-by-committee culture.  No matter if you like or dislike these new features, the case is clear that teams behind Twitter (the service) definitely aren’t working towards the same goal.

This is sad. Because I love Twitter (the service). And I don’t like that it’s being killed by Twitter (the company). Please RT this if you agree.

Update:

Apparently the sentiment is echoed by people leaving Twitter (the company).

Update 2:

In December 2011 Twitter updated their entire line of interfaces. The design changes were clearly aimed at making Twitter a lot more interesting for new users.

Twitter divided itself into different parts, seemingly with different uses:

Twitter areas of interest

Sounds great right? What could possibly be the problem!

Twitter didn’t actually change. And Twitter (the service) does not actually have these different areas of interest. So any user checking them out will quickly get confounded. What is the difference between “Home” and “Me”? I have no idea. But to make this obvious, Twitter (the company) has removed Me and Tweet from the web interface which basically means they have these left: Home (My feed), Connect (replies, RTs and follows) and Discover (search damnit, it’s just search!).

To make things better worse, the UI is even more fragmented. Twitter no longer has updated clients for iPad and Mac. Apparently the job previously done by one single guy is just to much for an organization of 300 or so.

But it get’s even better worse. The UI of the web and iPhone version, while both being updated simultaneously for this new paradigm, still do not follow the same UI standards and are structured differently. Don’t ask about Android. Twitter (the company) must really, really, hate Android.

Anyone want to build a Twitter killer, possibly built upon the API of Twitter to simplify the transfer of users? I’m available right now.

Google+ review: Why Google+ will fail

Google+ is the new social network launched by Google. Despite having a track record of broken dreams and train wrecks in the social space, Google has actually managed to put together a quite compelling product.
A lot of the tech industry is claiming it really is a Facebook killer.

Here’s why it’s not

Google+ is basically a clone of Facebook. So much of the service is nearly identical that it would be silly to claim otherwise. Now this might be because Google is lazy, or it might be that Facebook has found a good way to view social information. I’m more inclined to the latter.

But similarity won’t get new users, they’ll understand Google+ easier (an important argument) but they won’t stay for that. So what stands out?

Circles, Sparks, Huddles and Hangouts

Circles are central to the Google+ experience. To share or follow anyone you have to assign them to a circle or group. The idea is that if all your friends are in groups from the start, having more control of what you share to whom is a lot simpler.

Google Plus Circles

That’s a great idea. Sadly it’s really annoying and adds work for the users. Every time you post something you have to choose which circles to share with. The ones you shared with last are offered as a default. I’ll bet that most people will add most if not all their circles and then never change. The reason for this is that we don’t share if sharing is to much work. That’s why social networking took off in the first place, they made it easier to share stuff we liked. Google+ is making it harder than on Facebook. Not a compelling argument for most people.

Sparks

Sparks are topics of interest that you can follow and get all the new information on right inside Google+. This is a great idea. Having content in the social network, ready to be shared.

Google+ Sparks

There is a problem. It’s basically just a Google search. So there’s very little filtration of content and hardly ever anything new. Google+ is still a beta so this could evolve to a killer feature. But for Google to invent a new type of search just for content in Google+… I don’t think that’ll happen.

Huddles

Huddles are group messaging. Yeah. Another one… And for some reason it only works on mobile devices, they don’t show up in the web interface. So basically a bit less useable than Facebook chat.

Google+ Huddle

Hangout

Hangouts are amazing. Hangouts are video chatroom that you can start at any time and than jump in and out of and just talk to people. Amazing tech.

Google+ Hangout

But a stupid idea. Why?
I don’t understand why companies keep dragging the video-calling, video-chatting ideas out every time they get more tech. The trend in general is moving from voice to text because it is less intrusive.

Intrusive is basically the definition of having friends looking at you while you work.

“But chat roulette was a hit!?”  I hear you desperately cry. Yes it was. Because it’s for fun it was quick to just spend a half hour jumping in and out of conversations or charades with dicks random people. But do you want to do that with just your friends? Probably not.

It is however an even simpler way to have video conferencing, which inside Google must seem like the thing everyone wants to do. I’ve never met someone who would like that. But I’m sure those people will be thrilled. I’ll use it to have drinking nights with my buddies in the UK no doubt.

Summing up

So far Google+ looks like a great, clean, new social network. With absolutely nothing to make it more useable than Facebook.

The only reason people loves this product is because it says Google right there on the logo.

But we should give it the benefit of a doubt, it’s still just a beta, it might be missing features or showing us features that are far from finished.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still be on it. It’s just that I don’t use it at all.

How to change scrolling direction in Lion; and why you shouldn’t

Trackpad Settings from Lion
To change back from Lion’s default natural scrolling open Settings -> Trackpad -> Scroll & Zoom and uncheck the natural scrolling checkbox. All done.

Why shouldn’t you?

It’s annoying right? Why should you have to relearn how scrolling works?

Because it makes no sense in Lion, and I’ll bet you anything it’ll make less and less sense going forward. This is the new paradigm, learn it now or later.

But why?

In the beginning of Graphic User Interfaces scrolling was done by clicking the scrollbars on the side of an application window.

Scrollbars

Since this wasn’t a very efficient way to do it many weird solutions for simpler scrolling popped up here and there. It soon became standard for Mice to have scroll wheels on them. Making the entire representation of scroll bars a bit redundant. They take up a lot of screen real estate just to show you where in a window you are looking at any one time. It’s not like you didn’t scroll there in the first place right?

A Mouse with a Scroll Wheel

When touch pads started becoming standard, this design thought was transplanted over from mice and scroll bars. Nothing wrong with that, reinventing the wheel isn’t always a good thing.

Except when it is.

In this case it made no sense. The mouse and it’s scroll wheel use two different controls to achieve two different things. You move the mouse to point. And you scroll the wheel to.. eh.. scroll.

But on a touch pad you use the same control. Your poking the touchpad to move the pointer and then poking the touchpad in the opposite direction to scroll. The only reason this feels “natural” is because we, as the ingrained PC users we are, are so used to scrollbars. We know that what we’re scrolling isn’t the content but the scrollbar. Which in turn scrolls the content…

See where the design falls apart?

The metaphor is broken. The scrollbar no longer makes sense when you scroll using the pointing device to move the content, instead of the scrollbar.

Alright. That makes sense, but why relearn? Why fix what ain’t broken?

In two words: Cognitive load.

Lion’s natural scrolling (directly scrolling the content instead of the scroll bar) will become the standard, like it or not, because the average PC user doesn’t change default settings and certainly don’t understand why scrolling should be inverse to the screen. The cognitive load of thinking about how to scroll will simply become to much as more computers are delivered with touch pads and more of our PCs become touch based (as tablets become more widely spread).

To clarify; on a mouse the scrolling direction won’t change. Because the scroll wheel isn’t directly linked to the content anyway. But a touch pad is directly linked.
Update: For some reason, Apple has changed the scrolling direction on the mouse wheel for non-apple mice. This is weird. Thanks to Dan in the comments for reporting!

It takes a little time to get used to, though less than you might think, but it will be worth it. And you won’t have to relearn later on which will get increasingly frustrating.

Not convinced? Check out MG Siegler’s excellent pre-lion post The iPad Has Broken My Brain; OS X Lion Will Help Fix It.

The future of the Internet: The Internet of Things

It’s easy to make thousands of predictions about what will happen with the internet over the next few years. But some predictions can be made with a degree of certainty. None are so certain as the arrival of the Internet of things.

In the 90’s tech evangelists started selling us this idea when they touted the imminent arrival of fridges that know when you’re out of milk and automatically add it to your grocery list. This was just before the bubble burst and they all went away to eventually become social media strategists.

Today though the tables have turned. We might be entering a second internet bubble but no one debates whether the internet is important or financially sound anymore. With the recent arrival of mobile devices that people really want to use, the iPhone and iPad still forerunners in the field, we’re seeing the beginnings of the internet of things.

Things that just a few years ago only made calls now measure how many steps we take, what route we walk and how close to the screen we are. Sensors are invading our lives at an ever increasing pace to fill our information hunger. So far this is happening to our high tech gear. But since tech is still improving exponentially, according to Moore’s law, in just a few years there will be no point in having electronics that don’t have processors, sensors and wifi connections. With budding technologies waiting to take over such as IPv6 and NFC all these devices will be able to come online and stay online for basically no cost.

And that is just the start. When every lamp, machine and key in your house has sensors the prices will drop even further. Making sensors even more ubiquitous. There’s a tag on the apples you buy, why not add a sensor and check how ripe it is? There’s a stamp on that envelope, the sensors on it can make sure it hasn’t been shaken about to much.

Of course there will be issues with who controls all this data and not least what to do with it. But like all new technology the positive effects outweigh the negative as soon as we get over the fart-app stage.

The possibilities of this vast network of smart sensors are endless.

Left the door unlocked? Lock it from your phone. Did your son eat the last of the cheese? You will always know. The lamps will turn off when you step away from them to save electricity and you’ll never forget your keys again. Ever.

But all these are only just from the tip of the iceberg, the real magic happens when these everyday objects start communicating with each other. We’re not talking about intelligent conversation here, just mere cooperation between systems. No risk of sentient toasters attacking us just yet.

Let’s say you’re at work planning a dinner with your spouse. You agree on a certain meal over the phone, video call, messaging service or whatever. Immediately your things at home spring into action. Your house butler service, a server the size of a doorbell, sees your conversation and finds the recipe. The fridge checks what you have at home and orders the missing ingredients. The ingredients arrive and your cleaning robot, vacuum and arm for moving things, lays out the ingredients on your kitchen counter. The oven heats itself.
As you open the door the butler starts playing the appropriate music based on your preferences and earlier conversation. The bottle of wine is open. You only need to wash your hands and cut those cheeseburgers in half.

Every single one of these services exist today. Some are expensive. Some still a bit rudimentary. But the essential differences today is that they lack information from sensors and the processing power to do something with it. And they can’t communicate without you acting as a translator.

The internet of things is almost upon us, and while we can’t say exactly what it will be like. Two things are certain: it will truly change everything forever, much like the internet already has. And it will be awesome!

Orginially guest blogged for www.saraohman.com

Engineers not smart enough to make decisions at Nokia

Directly quoted from Daring Fireball:
Adam Greenfield on his tenure at Nokia:

As it happens, the value-engineering mindset that’s so crucial to profitability as a commodity trader is fatal as a purveyor of experiences. Of course you still want to produce your offering for the lowest achievable cost — but that cost is bound up in intangible, nondeterministic dimensions of design, in ways that are only partially-at-best quantifiable. It’s just not particularly wise to allow engineers to make decisions about things like product and service nomenclature, interface typography and the graphic design of icons: they’re, I daresay, not even neurocognitively equipped to do so. And yet this is what happened when I was at Nokia and, I would imagine, is happening still.

This is really interesting, not neurocognitively equipped? This is of course a bold and non-scientific statement but basically this would mean that engineers aren’t biologically capable of understanding a users experience.

That would explain a lot. 😉