Very random thoughts on a variety of interactive media topics. Broadly looking at experience design, brand, digital consumer strategies, innovation and a fair dollop of user-facing technology. I'm Experience Director at EMC Consulting and you can also find me masquerading as @poleydee on Twitter.
Well, this is a tricky blog post to write, but let's cut straight to it. After May 31st 2011, I will no longer be at EMC Consulting. I've decided that after 18 years of working, and 12 years at EMC Consulting (Conchango and OS Integration) that it's time for a bit of a rest!
This company, its people and clients, have been a massive part of my life for the last 12 years, and it's difficult to leave it, but the time is right.
Warning: This is the self-indulgent bit - leave now if you hate that kind of thing.
I have a ton of very fond memories, and I'll recap just a few of the professional highlights: (I'll leave the Christmas Party highlights to the internal email! And I wont' credit all the amazing EMC people who did all the hard work on these projects as there are far too many to not forget someone really important!)
Virgin Atlantic - The first, most amazing, and most long-standing brand I've worked with since 2000. I remember sitting with Breda and Katie at Virgin Atlantic in the 'Dinner Hall' and talking about how we might help them get up and running with an entirely new online reservations and ticketing system, and from there grew great things. Not least of which, and most memorably, perhaps was when we stayed up all night and day in a high tech mission control in Kansas to direct all the web communications for the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer; an amazing experience.
Nectar - Notable because I think it was the first really big competitive pitch we ever entered, and I remember exactly where I was and the exact feeling I had when we were told we had won. For an agency that previously had the reputation of being 'just a tech company' this was our first major brand win against real industry heavyweights. Just after they went live, we went in to help them redesign and rebuild their site. A fascinating industry and a lot learned!
Forrester Wave - Best in Europe at user-centred design - I joined Conchango specifically because I believed that there was a lack of companies in the interactive sector who understood design and user experience as well as they understood technology and vice versa. I set out to fix this by building what we called our 'Interactive Media' team. The icing on my cake, when I knew finally that we had achieved not only true expertise in this area, but became true leaders, was when Forrester independently audited our work, talked to our clients and looked in detail at how we worked, and in 2006 pronounced us to be clear "Leaders" in the field of user-centred design in Europe. Truly we could claim to be genuine experts at design and technology. Possibly my proudest moment I have to say.
Tesco.com - The Tesco.com board came to our offices some time in around 2007, and we told them what we thought about 'Web 2.0' and the change in consumer behaviours. About a week later, their CEO called and asked if we could come and help redesign their website. This was especially notable for the moment when after we proposed the biggest team we'd ever put on a design project, they said "Respectfully, we think you've underestimated the scale of this" and they were right. We ended up working for over a year on what is now a £1billion online business. I personally was intensely proud to have played a role in that.
Tesco@Home - The Nick and Paul show - A couple of years ago, I was taken into Microsoft's confidence about a new product they had upcoming; Windows 7, and asked if we could help demonstrate its potential for in-home touchscreen applications. Well, fortunately, we could, and the result was a union with Tesco's famous Nick Lansley. We ran a great little project with Angela and her team at Tesco that resulted in myself and Nick presenting our work on stage at Microsoft's PDC in LA. Something like 5,000 people in the audience watched me waving my hands and coke cans at a screen whilst Nick talked ably about Tesco and our app. The app later went on to form the basis for a brand new Tesco product, that is still to enter the marketplace, so I can't talk about it!
But this was one of a number of projects I did in collaboration with Microsoft that fell in to the broad camp of 'innovation', and neatly takes me on to...
Microsoft - Since Day 1 at Conchango, Microsoft had been an important part of my life. But it was only in around 2006 when I discovered MIX, the MTC (Microsoft Technology Centre) and the DPE (Developer Platform Evangelism) group at Microsoft that this really took off. It seemed that we had the ability to bring Microsoft products to life in a way that made them relevant to the people we worked with; and fortunately built a great trust relationship with Microsoft where they would "open the kimono" (their phrase not mine!) to us on a number of things.
It was firstly truly amazing to be taken into this level of confidence, and even better to be rewarded with the opprotunity to start showing how this stuff worked in real life. Notably we did this with the FT, NEXT, Play.com, Tesco, Ordnance Survey and a variety of other great companies and brands. And to be one of the first people in the UK to take delivery of the first generation Microsoft Surface devices was equally thrilling.
Our most recent endeavour in that field was of course: http://joydefinesthefuture.com/ with BMW. Awesome project to be involved in, and intensely proud that it's one of the three sites that Microsoft suggest you just 'have to see' after installing IE9.
And of course, the chance to present at the MIX conferences. (I think next time you'll have to pay my airfare guys!) Those talks and the conversations afterwards were possibly some of the most enjoyable parts of my EMC life, and pushed me into a whole world of Conference presenting that I have since lapped up!
Conferences and conference speaking then have become one of my real loves in my professional life and something I will definitely carry on after EMC. (hint hint conference bookers)
Barclays - Can't say too much on this, as all the stuff we did was secret - but suffice to say that they've become one of my favourite clients. The only time I have ever had a standing ovation from a room full of people when presenting the work we'd done. And this against the tide of my old boss who always used to say that he believed I hated financial services! But actually, I've also variously enjoyed the likes of John Charcol, Bristol & West, Lloyds of London and even had an early introduction to the sub-prime mortgage market (not through Barclays, I hasten to add!).
I've also variously loved working with (amongst others): B&Q, ASOS, Virgin Media, New Look, Setanta, BBC Radio, BBC Worldwide, See The Difference, Pru Health, River Island, NEXT, Jordan Grand Prix, (and another current F1 team I'm not allowed to name), DHL, Guinness World Records, BP, Shell, Enron (I know!), Aer Lingus, Jaguar Grand Prix, Figleaves.com, BMI Airlines, EOS Airlines, Haymarket, Emirates Airlines, Harrods, John Lewis, Birds Eye Walls, L'Oreal, Reed Elsevier, Reed Exhibitions, Debenhams, MFI, Vodafone, O2, Virgin Mobile, and even Virgin Galactic.
It's not a bad list is it? Thank you all. You've taught me a lot.
And thanks Mike, Richard, Colin, Richard and Iyas for letting do it in the first place, and EMC for letting me carry on for so long!
You can find me from hereon at LinkedIn: http://tinyurl.com/pauldawson and on Twitter: @poleydee
I’m truly lucky to have now lived with a Windows Phone for nearly two weeks, so it’s time to write about it! This isn’t a phone review or even a UI review – it’s about what it’s actually like to live with, in the spirit of seeing if it lives up to Total Experience Design standards!
First, cards on the table. I have used an iPhone, Blackberry, Nokia E72 and most recently settled on an Android handset as being the most useful and enjoyable phone I had ever had. So that’s where my preferences have lain up until now.
I want a lot from a phone, but have been always underwhelmed by every phone I have had. They keep getting better and better, but never live up to expectations. But if you asked me to pin the missing elements down to a set of functions, I would have struggled. All of these phones had features galore, and more recently, apps that did pretty much anything you want. Of course things like battery life and the UI could have been improved, but that still wouldn’t have nailed it.
What I really wanted was not a phone, but a multi-use device, something that I could rely on in a variety of situations to connect me, to entertain me, to talk to people on (weirdly), and in all of these situations, it never… well, I guess the phrase would be that it never “flowed”. Things were always fiddly or annoying in some way, or took too much time.
I guess that like Spock on Star Trek, I wanted to whip out my multi-function communicator or tri-corder and it would immediately tell me the answer to whatever was on my mind at the time. Or the seemingly magical all-powerful ‘PDA’ used by Jack Bauer in the supposedly real time “24”, where one button press would instantly reveal everything from real-time satellite coverage of his location, to accessing the building control system of a skyscraper so he can shut down the lifts!
The reality of life with a so-called smartphone is that things aren’t that simple. Want real-time satellite coverage of your present location Jack Bauer? Well first, unlock your phone, scroll to find the Department of Defense satellite app, then realise you need to turn the GPS on because you turned it off to save battery life, fiddle around in the settings, wait for it to lock on, then your 3G connection drops because you went in a tunnel, buffering… buffering… excellent got it. Except now the bad guys are right on top of me…
So without talking about the device, or even the interface, the reliability of the connection, or the nature of the on-screen keyboard, let me try to describe what Windows Phone is ‘like’…
Windows Phone is a flowing experience. You just have to tell Windows Phone three things in order for it to start to bring your world together. Your Facebook login. Your Windows LiveID. Your work email details. From this point in, you stop thinking about it…
With other phones I have to think about which calendar my itinerary is stored in. I have to think about which phonebook my mum’s phone number is in. None of this with Windows Phone. Once your details are in, you just have to think about ‘people’ – people you know, people you work with, their phone numbers, their email addresses, their facebook status, their photos, everything is in one place… in fact, this takes a little retraining for an old smartphone user like me. You would think that for a user experience pro, ‘people first’ is an easy thing to remember, but it takes a while to sink in. The ‘people hub’ is really the place to be regardless of whether the communication is inbound or outbound, work or social, email, voice or facebook. One long list of people you know and the stuff that they’re doing.
Windows Phone is not an ‘up and down’ or an ‘in and out’ experience. It feels flowing and linear. What I mean by this is that I’m not constantly thinking about menu structures. Any combination of operating system and applications has a means of navigation, to which each of us applies their own cognitive model – “go up to the top level” is an indicator of the type of mental map someone has made of a particular system for example. With Windows Phone, I don’t have a mental model of its hierarchies. Instead, it feels like I have an anchor – the windows button that takes me to the live tiles, but after that, I have no concept of what ‘apps are open’ and it doesn’t matter. When I am doing something and go on to do something else, then want to go back to what I was doing, I hit ‘back’ and I always seem to get there. What this allows you to do is use short term actual memory rather than a mental model. “What was I doing before I went to look at the map? Oh yes… “ and before you know it you’re back trying for a new high score on Bejewelled.
When I say that the Windows Phone experience is ‘flowing’ I also mean more than just navigationally or interaction-wise. Here is a story from yesterday that totally sums up what I mean by this. First, though, let me tell you that I have never synced music to a phone. Just seemed like too much of a hassle, and I prefer to have a wider variety of music available, so I usually carry a much larger capacity music / video player with me. Anyway – bearing this in mind,.. yesterday I was in a store in London. The store sound system was playing a song. I liked it, but didn’t know who it was by.
I grabbed my Windows Phone and hit the Shazam app. Shazam listened to the song, then (much more quickly than my Android used to) told me what it was. Whilst I was thinking to myself “I must remember to go find that later” I saw a little Zune icon at the bottom of the app. I touched it. I was then in the phone’s music player, looking at the album art, a track listing and the first track on the album playing. I could have listened to the whole album for free (courtesy of my Zune pass) right there and then. Being a savvy geek though, I wanted it downloaded in my local collection rather than streaming, and one tap of the screen later it was all downloading. I never went back to the screen that showed the download progress, but next time I went to play music that album was all safely in my collection.
There were no walls in this process. There was no visibility of the fact that Shazam is an app built by a third party, no wait whilst the music player app opened, or even any acknowledgement that I had moved into the music player, or that it had to log in to Zune, or that the music was streaming, no retrying of downloads because the 3G connection dropped… none of that.
The phone simply heard the track, and gave me the whole album. That actually took three taps of the screen, although I wasn’t counting at the time.
This is just one example, but there are lots of others from sharing of stuff in to social spaces, to simple map look up of a meeting location, and so on. In fact one of the ways Microsoft justify the lack of cut and paste (at the moment anyway – I guess we’re only a software release away) is “why would you need it?” and in many respects they’re right. I no longer need to copy the postcode of a meeting and paste it into the map application. There is a host of other examples where you’re pondering how to do something, and you notice the button for it, or a link on a name or a menu option, or something that allows you to go straight to that function, or in some cases you realise that you don’t need to do it at all. For example, there’s a host of random pics on my facebook page right now because lots of people say to me “How easy is it to post photos to Facebook?”. In this instance, when you select to share to Facebook, and are prompted to write a comment on the photo – you are left wondering where the ‘upload’ button is – only to notice a discrete uploading status message that indicates that in the time it took you to think that, the phone has already gone ahead and uploaded it.
So as an experience, Windows Phone just feels really tight and integrated. There are no gaping holes between the different discrete parts of the phone’s operation that reek of the fact that different development teams worked on them. None of that stuff. It all just flows, without you ever really thinking about what apps are open, or what menu option will lead you to what.
Interestingly, one of the biggest feature of this device is something it doesn’t do and I nearly missed it, because it only just occurred to me that in the two weeks that I have had this phone, I haven’t turned it off. I’ve run music, apps, games, downloads, web stuff, email, everything.. and it has never skipped a beat. It hasn’t frozen, given ANY error messages, nothing has stopped responding, no long waits between things opening, and no need to reboot or reset it. It didn’t even drop any phone calls!
Us geeks are generally pretty forgiving of sexy bits of technology – and are understanding of the fact that memory can fill up, and sometimes things just need a bit of a reset – but we shouldn’t be, and Windows Phone obviously thinks so too, as it has been rock solid.
There’s loads more to talk about on living with Windows Phone of course that I’ll only touch on here briefly:
- The neatness and speed of the interaction with music and camera when the phone is locked. Like Spock’s tricorder; when you want it to be a camera it’s just a camera – no need to unlock it, or open an app… just turn it on and take a picture. When you want to turn up the volume, you just turn up the volume – regardless of whether the phone is locked, or the display is turned on or off.
- Gaming – I am not a massive Xbox Live kind of guy. I only just got an Xbox, so that I could get Kinect – but I’ve already connected up my Xbox live accounts, and massively got into games that give me Xbox points, and so on. I eagerly await the day a games publisher comes up with a game that has good reasons to play across both Xbox and phone, and has interaction with your Xbox Live friends because it all works so seamlessly. I’ve sat and changed my avatar on my phone, and seen it just appear on my Xbox. I’ve played more games on this Phone than I ever played on any other phone.
- The Metro UI – well, there’s a lot been said about that already, so I won’t.. but suffice to say, it ‘feels’ really good. As well as working really well, it’s the transitions and interaction design that really makes this phone feel pleasurable to use.
In summary, living with Windows Phone is quite amazing for a Microsoft version 1.0 product. it’s also a device that changes a lot of the smartphone UI paradigms. You find yourself having to think ‘how would I do this if I were 7 years old?’ And I mean this literally, so when you can’t find the camera app, and your 7 year old son picks it up, holds it like a camera and presses the shutter button which fires the camera into life, remember that way of thinking and apply it. It’s how the technology should have been designed in the first place, but we ended up with a complex way of doing things that we do not have to be stuck with…
Could it be improved on? Of course... everything can, but in its first incarnation it brings something new into the smartphone market that I feel will be seriously challenging to a number of existing marketplaces – not least of which will be the corporate email device market, where it will push back the rise of the iPhone and take the game to Blackberry.
My suggestions for improvements are pretty minor…
- Add the day of the week to the day and agenda dates i.e. Mon 8th Dec rather than just 8 December, otherwise you lose track when scanning a few days…
- Make the top status bar a shortcut to related settings – e.g. if I tap on the wi-fi status icon, I go to the wi-fi settings. Ditto for Bluetooth.
- Encourage app developers to make the behaviour of their apps consistent. Many remember their state when shut down, but many don’t… this can be annoying, especially if you accidentally hit one of the hardware buttons whilst frantically playing a game! But at least, Windows Phone apps can keep state, unlike some other devices, and I guess we’re only one software release away from multi-tasking…
- Integrate Twitter in the same way that Facebook is integrated. Ditto Flickr I guess…
- Expose more Live Tiles functionality to developers so more app tiles can be live
- Make the Zune music and video marketplace the best it can possibly be. It’s pretty good now, but they’ll need to keep on top of content deals, and the like to keep it tip top. Spotify has convinced us Brits that it’s ok to pay a small amount of money monthly for unlimited on-demand music, and you can have your Zune content on 3 computers, and 3 devices (and in your living room via your Xbox 360), so this may be the time we Brits finally buy into the monthly pass idea.
I do hope that Microsoft will take feedback on the UI, and continually improve it without complicating it. Ongoing subtle enhancement I think is the way to go.
If you want a phone that you don’t have to think about, but you’re equally proud to own or show off... then Windows Phone is for you.
Now – the only thing left is to ask the battery industry to give us all some new batteries for whatever smartphone we own that will last longer than a day! Although my HTC Trophy came with a battery charger that is so slim and sexy that my dear friend @clemency is proud to say she keeps it in her (Vivian Westwood) handbag, so if she can, so can you! it’s worth it.
(The T-Shirt art Oliver Kenton and Michael Alves from our interactive media team created for Microsoft in celebration of the Windows Phone association with this year’s BIMA awards. They didn’t run with the death of the paperclip artwork that you also see as crafted by Xan Perez-Lopez.. not sure why.)
I’ve just been to the Windows Phone (WP7) launch press event here in the UK – and found out some new stuff, seen and handled some great devices, heard from the UK’s most prestigious digerati (is the singular ‘digeratum’ ? My latin was terrible), but you’re still not going to get a review of the phones or the operating system from me.
What’s my Windows Phone press launch event report then?
Ashley Highfield who heads up the consumer bit of Microsoft did a quiet intro, but was unceremoniously bumped off stage by his boss appearing larger than life (if that’s possible) behind him on screen. The UK event was in the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in the Mall in London, and a simultaneous event was taking place in New York City, at which Steve Ballmer was keynoting. There was some delay in them starting over there, and whilst Ashley was introducing in the UK, Mr Ballmer decided to make his entrance on screen from New York. Ashley knew which side his bread was buttered and shuffled off.
What followed, for Steve, was a relatively low-key and low-energy description of what Windows Phone was. To be honest, I would rather that Microsoft had used this event to introduce Bill Buxton to the world, whose effervescence and enthusiasm for his product would have made a huge impact for sure. We had to have Steve of course, he’s the CEO after all and the world wanted to hear him, but he wasn’t as good at getting across the ‘experience’ of what it is to live with a Windows Phone as he could have been. This is a fundamental shift for Microsoft and for the industry… he should have been jumping up and down! Anyway, I’m sure he was inside! Maybe it was that they lost the CD with Eye of the Tiger on it, and refused to download it from iTunes , was the reason that he wasn’t as pumped as he should have been..?
The only ‘app’ outside of the core Windows Phone services to be demo’d as such was from our very own Tesco. I could almost see Nick and Angela’s fingerprints on it.. and it was a good example of how you keep an experience ‘branded’ yet fit in with the way WP7 works best.
When someone like Stephen Fry stands up and cries out that he “thank God that Microsoft finally get it”, then you really see how much of a fundamental difference this phone is not only from previous Windows based phones, but from other Microsoft products, and other products in the marketplace. Andy Lees – President of Microsoft’s Mobile division said that he had “pushed reset” on the entire programme some years ago, and that it was time for them to entirely re-think what the opportunity was for mobile and Microsoft.
It was no accident I don’t think, that it was Tom Alexander, CEO of Everything Everywhere (the merger of Orange and T-Mobile) who was chosen to speak on behalf of the telco’s, because the nature of the Windows Phone experience is primarily about taking away the need to think about transferring things from place to place. i.e. anything you have on your PC or mobile should just be everywhere (that you need it, that is…).
Stephen Fry was the surprise guest star of course, and it was his unscripted discourse, with no censorship from Microsoft, that reinforced the total experience nature of this phone. When I first experienced Zune, it was the interaction and the ‘feel’ of the interface that really attracted me, and then it was the entire system – the Zune software, the physical device, the interface, the interaction, the transitions, the richness of metadata about your music and video, the wireless sync, and the sheer personality of that ecosystem that made me stay away from the iPod for the last 5 years. Zune was a device that had personality. It made you feel something for it. Yes, I know people bury their iPods when they die, but I never got as attached to an iPod as I did to my Zune. And I never even got to the HD version!
Anyway – that brings me round to why I’m not reviewing these phones. I can tell you about the features of each device, the likelihood of their respective batteries lasting longer than a train journey to Manchester, and so on... but none of this will tell you what it’s like to live with one; to experience one. And given that the design ethos for this operating system is to fit into people’s lives, and to live without having to think about their phone, then.. it would be wrong to try to focus on features and devices wouldn’t it?
What I did see, is that some of the little glitches in the operation of the phone that I’d seen in developer models has long since gone. The phones seem responsive and fast, and no hang-ups… so it all bodes well.
So I’ll see you for that experience review when I’ve lived with it for a week… and no, nobody has loaned me one yet, so don’t hold your breath.
Quote of the day:
“Microsoft have done some amazing things recently; Windows Phone, X-Box Kinect, and Windows 7, which of course is so much better than Vista; although, the *** on my shoe was better than Vista” – Stephen Fry
I had the rare privilege of meeting Oded Ran (http://www.twitter.com/odedran/) the other day. He is the head of consumer marketing for Windows Phone 7 in Europe at Microsoft. He was meeting with a number of people to fill them in on the latest details of WP7 (Windows Phone 7) and what form it is likely to take for launch.
Now, Oded was unfortunate to some degree with me, in that I had seen an awful lot of the UI, the apps, and the general features of WP7. I’ve been a student of its design ethos, and generally I’m pretty familiar with it. Although he did manage to show me some things that did surprise me (pleasantly).
Consequently, the next piece of big news for me is to actually experience WP7 for real. I don’t mean try it out on a prototype phone, I don’t mean be taken through all its apps and features, what I mean is to live with it for a bit. To feel the unboxing and setup experience, to see whether or not it does grease the wheels of my digital life.
So I did two things with my time:
1 – Ask him a bunch of questions he may not have been prepared for
2 – Pester him to let us experience it for real so we can talk about it properly
I think the message got through on the latter point as he promised to let us have one when the phone launches for real. Fair enough I said, you want it to be perfect, and the last thing you need is beta phones going to reviewers. This is the new era where Microsoft take the Gordon Ramsay view, if it ain’t good enough, don’t send it! I know plenty of developers, and even some of our customers who have been working with the prototype devices of course, but they’re a very different audience – so, I’m ok with that.
Key features that did stand out were:
Deep social integration – he had most of my contacts’ phone numbers in memory before I knew what he was doing. He also managed to post a picture to my Facebook page without me realising til I got home!
Zune pass & X-Box live – Basically Zune not only offers the best software I’ve seen for browsing and listening to music, but also offers unlimited music on your devices for a monthly fee. Although the UK population have struggled with the idea of a subscription for music in the past (witness the deaths of HMV Digital and Virgin Digital several years back, and the success of the 79p download business) I think times have moved on slightly.
The biggest single contributing factor I think is Spotify. They have gradually trained us to realise that we don’t have to ‘have’ all of the music, and that there’s great joy in being able to delve into a seemingly unlimited catalogue. Then they have told us what it takes to have that without ads (their £1 a night ‘party’ subscription), and then how to get it on our devices (Premium Spotify enables the Android and iPhone apps). All this may mean we’re now ready.
The added benefit for WP7 is that for Zune pass music you get a whole load of extra metadata – artist info, photos, biogs, etc. on your device. Now add in the fact that your WP7 phone is connected to your X-Box live account, and… well I think that’s got some potential don’t you?
So what questions did I ask? Well, I thought I’d stick to some facts and leave the opinions til the phone is out.
Q: When is the phone released? (I didn’t say they were tough questions!)
A: Christmas 2010 – there are a number of mobile network operator agreements in place, and being worked on now. I couldn’t get him to be more precise than this!
Q: Who is the phone for?
A: Oded described a segment that crossed geographic and age boundaries and was more of an attitude than a job or a demographic. “Life Maximisers” is what Microsoft call them. They are essentially a group who like what technology can do for them, want it to do more, but don’t necessarily want to invest the time in the technology itself, but also love sleek lovely devices.
There wasn’t anything new to me in this, in fact, it should be the obvious segment; affluent, and appreciative of really good tech, but with high standards. The way I summarise it in plainer terms, is that the focus of WP7 is on user experience. It means hiding away unnecessary complications, and replacing them with simpler connectedness that tends to happen in the background and consequently surprises its users with how much the device can do with relatively little input or effort.
The reality is that this is the type of phone that Microsoft want anyone to be happy to buy on the high street. Later, once people ‘get it’ and they see how strong the business productivity and communications integration is, they will naturally want to use it for work as well as life. So initially, there is no focus to tell people what to do with it i.e. it’s not being “marketed as a consumer phone” specifically, and neither is it being “pushed as a business phone”. It’s a phone. Simple as that, and some people will really love it, so that’s who the focus is on.
Q: Can I review your phone’s experience?
A: Sure, you can have a phone when we launch them
Q: Yes, but I don’t want a phone. I just want to review the experience of having a WP7 phone.
So, to explain…
Here’s what I promise you dear readers of this blog, and fans of total experience;
Whilst all the phone nerds are reviewing the characteristics of the phone hardware, reverse engineering the silicone, etc. and the UI nerds are doing task analyses and running Jakob’s heuristics on the UI, I promise you a review of “What it’s like”. Not what its features are like to use, but whether or not it delivers on its promises and what experiencing and living with it means to you and me. What is the essence of a WP7 phone? Who is it really for? How can you spot a WP7 lover in a crowd? What is it about them and the way they use this phone that will make it work for them?
Bill Buxton was asked at MIX2010 what he thought of the newly released iPad. He said “I don’t think anything about it. I haven’t experienced it.” he went on to add words to the effect of “… anyone who can give you an opinion on something without having experienced something is an idiot. A computer, a phone, whatever, is not just a device it’s an experience. How can you therefore give an opinion without experiencing it?”
So although Oded and the marketing team at Microsoft were hoping we would give WP7 some big-up hype, I don’t want Bill Buxton to think I’m an idiot!
Ok, so that’s the promise. Once we’ve had that experience, we’ll bring you that review…
So – after telling us of a Christmas launch – there’s a press conference scheduled on the 11th October in London and NYC. No they didn’t tell me this in secret, it’s all over Twitter! We’ll see then what the deal is. Hopefully that’s the point at which they actually let me loose with one!
By now, you will have seen why some of us at EMC Consulting have been a bit quiet recently, it’s because we’ve been working on something that has been secret up until today – the launch of Internet Explorer 9 beta.
What does that all mean? It means that we can now do a whole bunch of stuff with websites that we could only previously do with browser plug-ins, but using just a standard web browser. It also means that we can write one set of code to work across a wide variety of browsers, that does a bunch of stuff that was previously only the domain of plug-in technologies like Silverlight and Flash.
In actual fact, rather like this – which is what we’ve been working on for a few weeks:
Go give it a try at http://joydefinesthefuture.com – but beware, you’re going to need a pretty new browser like IE9 from http://beautyoftheweb.co.uk (other browsers are available!)
What is it?
Well, we experimented with the world of the ‘car configurator’ – the online tool where you add bits to cars, and look around them in detail to see what they’ll look like. Instead of playing with a real car, we worked with BMW to create a showcase for their BMW Vision EfficientDynamics concept car. The eco future of sports cars.
What this simple proof of concept has in it, is all the things that you would need to do a modern, rich experience car configurator. It’s got it all: 3D models, a soundtrack, dynamic switching on and off of elements… and even a change from day to night to help put the car in a context familiar to the user – and amazingly, it’s ALL DONE IN HTML.
It’s easy to forget this fact when we’re so used to plug-ins, but the level of sheer craft and skill from our designers and interface developers achieves, we would argue, an even better experience than those plug-ins have offered to date.
Ok, that’s it for now as we all have to go to the launch party. Once the launch has calmed down a little we’ll blog a bit more about how we did it, and some of the more design and technical aspects, but for now, go download IE9 beta at http://www.beautyoftheweb.co.uk/ and go visit http://joydefinesthefuture.com/
Who are we?
EMC Consulting is the consulting division of EMC. We employ a wide range of skills from the datacenter, right up to the user experience, to create compelling, meaningful and useful systems and interfaces that drive businesses, but also delight consumers. As well as doing the design and technical development for a number of great brands like Virgin Atlantic, Barlcaycard and Tesco, we’ve always been a strong Microsoft partner, and therefore had great opportunities to work on the technology of the future to help establish how it makes its way into mainstream customer experiences and our clients’ architectures.
It wouldn’t be right not to thank those involved and so I’ll do that before we go on to write anything else about this project – and the first thanks absolutely have to go to BMW whose help, support and cooperation, and of course, their beautiful and amazing car has made this all possible.
Thanks also for the explicit support of Microsoft, for letting us have the opportunity to play with the future, and of course the browser itself allowing us to do more than we imagined possible in terms of performance and smoothness of experience. The spirit of partnership, openness and collaboration throughout have been the kind of Microsoft I have seen emerging over the last few years that is exemplary of how the big software players should be working with partners.
And of course to the team who crafted this thing – entirely by hand I might add – in a demonstration of craft that I haven’t seen since the early days of the web, to produce something that if you told me about it in even 2001, I would have said was impossible…
So those thanks have to go to:
- Rob Brown – Head of our '”iDev” team – the HTML and JS guru who really stretched what was possible and shaped this whole thing with his amazing skills
- Matthew Ratcliffe – Lead 3D artist at EMC Consulting – What can I say? To create such a beautiful 3D model, with amazing textures, true to life reflections and dynamic elements. Awesome.
- Rupert Jones – Art Director at EMC Consulting – genius visuals, incredible patience, and getting to grips with the unique requirements of a prestige brand like BMW in a very short space of time.
- Tom Hopkins – Managing Consultant at EMC Consulting – Without Tom this project never would have happened. Supreme dedication to the cause.
- Mark Peters – Project Manager at EMC Consulting – keeping us all on track and keeping us all honest
- Stephen Fulljames – iDev at EMC Consulting – for diving in at the last moment when Rob went on holiday to get the project over the line
- Almost finally – a massive thanks has to go to Jane at Hear No Evil (http://hearnoevil.tv) for helping out with the incredibly effective and beautiful sound track(s)
- And although we already thanked BMW – Brian and Hans-Peter you’ve been awesome!
Second in a series of however many we end up with!
Coming towards the end of the series is a look at how we are having to move beyond mere 'usability' in to Total Experience Design, and also discussion of how UCD as an underlying discipline is driving innovation. But that's all just to keep you subscribed if you think you've got a handle on the basics! On to...
Techniques: Research, in 500 words or less.
User-centred design relies on understanding users. It means you have to not only observe how they behave but you also have to understand motivations. i.e. why they behave like that.
So unsurprisingly, we start any UCD process with research. We will absorb any pre-existing research, be it market research, segmentation analysis, etc. Then we will go on to look at existing behaviours, using data analysis of websites for example.
But the real value comes from understanding them through ethnographic techniques. Common ones we use:
- ‘Depths’ – simply sitting and talking with someone one on one. Asking them the questions like ‘why’, ‘what if’ and ask them to describe the way in which they go about certain tasks or activities.
- Guerilla Ethnography – this is an observational technique and is commonly done without any explicit permission from the people being studied (unless we are video-recording them in which case we have to get permission). So, for example, when we designed check-in kiosks for BMI and Virgin Atlantic, we literally hung around the airport terminal watching and listening to how people went about the process in its current form. You have to be careful here that you don’t get arrested for stalking, or worse still if you’re in the airport!
- Contextual analysis – posh words, but broadly it means observing people in their own ‘context’. This can be mixed up with other techniques, so a depth for example could be done at someone’s desk or home rather than an interview room. It also involves elements of watching what they do rather than simply getting them to tell you.
We also do quantitative analysis, but more rarely. This involves a wider sample size, and the asking of questions, often with restricted sets of answers. This is the type of research that our clients most often commission before we get involved in projects. What this does is give us statistically significant indications of intent from consumers. This is useful, as it gives us clues as to where to start our more qualitative techniques outlined above. Usually, this involves looking at the statistically significant trends in the quant research and asking the question "Why?" i.e. trying to understand why consumers behave like this.
What this research does is allow us to make observations. Some of these will later turn out to be significant in shaping design, and others not.
What research also allows us to do is provide evidence for why we make design decisions, because we can bactrack to the point of origin at any point, it allows us to make clear, rational decisions, based on evidence rather than anecdotes or subjective opinion.
The next step is to absorb all this stuff and start making it useful for the team. i.e. to pull out the potentially useful observations. The way we do this is using Personas to crystallise the salient points of research into a realistic, challenging and recognisable profile of a target customer or user. More on this soon...
I thought it worth putting down some learnings we’ve made in the last few years about the attributes of successful innovation programmes at some of the companies we work with – and equally the attributes of some of those that are less successful; and although I hate ‘Top 10 Tips’ or ‘Rules’ of anything (as there are always good reasons to do things differently) it is useful in this context to do some basic do’s and don’ts, so here goes:
Don’t confuse innovation with ideation
Ideation is the creation of ideas. It comes in many forms: brainstorming, ideas drives (a company drive to go out and get new ideas together). Innovation is what happens when ideas are implemented. You usually need ideas to generate innovation of course, but we’ve seen many organisations that think the job is done once they’ve generated a load of ideas and had a good think about what the future could hold for them.
Don’t get wedded to a small number of ‘big ideas’, instead just be good at having lots of ideas, so when ideas fall on the sword of feasibility or viability, there’s another one waiting to take its place. Ok, so I stole that from Bill Buxton, who actually said: “Don’t be precious with your ideas, just be good at having lots of them” and he was talking about design, not innovation, but anyway, he’s my idol, so I’m going to use his thought!
The exercise of ideation is exactly that, it’s about having ideas, and becoming good at having lots of ideas, and getting good at the creative process that precedes innovation. Innovation itself is actually delivering a change, or a new product or something, that actually makes a positive difference to the business or environment you’re in.
Don’t criticise, nurture
If an idea is bad, then it’s bad. You know it, your boss knows it, I know it… but the last thing I am ever going to do in a creative environment is trash it. Because first off… who am I to judge? There literally is no such thing as a bad idea. At the heart of any idea is a kernel of a thought that is always, in some way, good. What is often bad are the things that surround the idea; the nature of the solution proposed, the execution of it, or perceived barriers of feasibility or viability. If all of these things were to come right, then it suddenly, in perception, becomes a good idea.
The art of innovation is to nurture these ideas, tweaking those things that surround it, to see if it can be made to come right in every aspect. Sometimes the answer to this process is to park the idea. Not to lose it altogether, but to park it. If the barrier was one of feasibility i.e. whether it can be built, or executed with the resources or technology at our disposal - then parking it for a period of time means that this aspect may have come right when you come to review it a year or so later.
Accept any idea for what it is, and try to understand the logic and rationale, or underlying issue that led the idea generators to come up with it in the first place. It might have been a valid observation about user behaviour, or knowledge of the capability of a particular piece of technology, or simply that they personally have a need that this idea satisifies. Try to dig out which it is and see if it’s useful elsewhere, or whether the underlying need could be satisfied in another way.
Good, implementable ideas are a collaboration of user knowledge, business knowledge, design knowledge and technical knowledge – if there’s a valid observation in any of these areas, they deserve nurture. “With the advances in nano technology, we should build a calculator that is 1mm long” is a terrible idea if you’re proposing to build that calculator, but as a piece of insight, translated by someone else with another observation it’s valuable. So don’t trash it, extract the valuable bit, and build on it; “Does that mean we could we could make the control systems in cars so light they would save fuel?”… or some other better application.
Another classic way to kill an idea is “That’s already been done” – So what? I always think that if the originator of the idea hadn’t heard about the existing solution, then there’s something wrong with it, that we could potentially do better, and so merits further investigation. if Apple had said “MP3 players have already been done” then we’d be in a very different world.
Ideas are killed too easily. We can’t pursue every one, but we must nurture ideas until they blossom into actionable pieces of innovation. Sometimes the most unlikely ideas make it and I hate to be the guy that backed the wrong horse or didn’t see the really successful bit coming!
Don’t be ruled by the business case, give ideas room to breathe
The key challenge here is that on the face of it, only a very, very small number of ideas will be well understood enough at the outset to generate the necessary data needed to make a good business case. In many organisations that might only be one idea a year; and if that idea is an expensive one to implement then it’s a big gamble to take. The pitfall of this approach isn’t that gamble, it’s that there may be dozens and dozens of ideas that float by that may turn out to be way more effective and potentially cheaper to implement.
What we recommend is that a certain amount of budget is allocated to the nurturing of ideas regardless of business case. Whether an idea will realise business benefits depends. It depends on the execution, the market readiness, the marketing, the manufacture, the environment, sometimes even the politiical landscape. What this budget does is help shape and test ideas, and formulate what conditions would be right for it to succeed, and further to quantify the benefits.
That same budget can also be used to develop ideas that on the face of it have good business benefits, but you simply can’t see how you would ever do it. i.e. they’re not currently feasible.
So this budget is used to take several of the many ideas you generated, and find ways to somehow nurture them into ideas that you know will work in implementation. This might mean researching aspects of feasibility (“can we build it cheaply enough?") or testing the concept with potential customers (“will people pay for it?”), or shaping it into a more sensible proposition (There’s something in this idea, but not in the way we're currently envisioining it).
In all these scenarios, what ideas need are a bit of time and space and resource. they just need the people with the right skills to spend a little bit of time to see if the ideas could be made to work.
Sometimes we’ve given a small team just a day to see if they can make an idea work. Sometimes they come back with examples of similar ideas working, sometimes they spend time fleshing out a story about how customers will use it, sometimes they come back with video testimonials from people on the street who say they would buy it and sometimes they come back with a technical architecture with a rough idea of cost attached to it.
As well as making sure you’re backing the right horses, this also gives you a good reason to park ideas that sometimes people are wedded to. If someone is personally vested in an idea and won’t let it go, they are much more ready to move on to the next idea if their first is given the praise and acknowledgement they think it deserves, and an opportunity to flourish; even if it has to be parked due to a feasibility barrier (because then it’s not their fault is it?).
“Nurture and see” requires budget or resource, or both. A budget that is already considered “sunk” by the business. This is often a part (but not all) of what Research & Development (R&D) teams do in many organisations, and almost never requires that an individual initiative have a proven business case in the traditional sense. This is not the budget you use for ideation by the way. The idea is to evaluate the ideas already generated as a potential good business case, and then to allocate a finite, limited amount of resource to nurturing it into life. The good news is… R&D is tax deductible!
Do build and use an evaluation framework
So if we can’t back projects on the basis of a business case, we do need a means of prioritising where we place our resources.
“Will the general public see this initiative as being in line with our brand values?” Even this is a question that is biased to an existing status quo. What Scott Jenson calls “innovation blindness” in his book The Simplicity Shift is an assumption inside an organisation that certain things will stay the way they are, and this kills proper innovation. If the answer to the “brand fit” question is no, then that’s no reason to kill an idea. What if this idea were so magnificent that it would be worth reinventing the brand around?
The frameworks that we put in at EMC Consulting are based on customers. They are user-centered, and they are Total in their coverage of the customer or brand experience in that they leave nothing out (see Total Experience Design for more on this).
The evaluation framework must be a picture of total customer experience wherein the core needs and overriding objectives of the business are met, through the satisfaction or delight of customers. If the overriding objective of the company is to be e.g. the most successful retailer in the world, then it’s feasible to consider that they might sell pigs if there was a market for it, even if they’re known for selling high fashion. What that would require to implement would be a variety of measures and tactics to protect the existing brand (or migrate it if the pig market really takes off!) and to look at all the issues and considerations of the practicalities and deal with them one by one. But if they could make it fit with brand, with operations, with logistics and in the retail environment, then why not? Apparently Amazon now sells food…
An evaluation framework must be free of constraining assumptions and focus in on establishing the ‘likely’ success of an inititative in the context of the organisation’s overriding priorities and principles of customer engagement. We often use “Experience Principles” as part of our defining success characteristics. This gives us easy tests to see if something fits. Abstracting up to a principle like “Our experience must invoke delight in customers” leaves you free to interpret that therefore leaves you open to any possibility.
Although Tata is a brand that has no real equity amongst western consumers, they are at the same time one of the world’s leading providers of IT services, and they make tractors. Although I still find it amusing when I see a Tata truck on an Indian street, it takes nothing away from my view of Tata Consulting Services (TCS) and makes me wish even more I could have bought shares in them 20 years ago as they are unbelievably successful and profitable! To do that, new product areas or services have to be related to some bigger set of organisational principles or drivers that are bigger than any individual business unit.
Do create a tight relationship between R&D or Innovation and business as usual
Microsoft R&D is in Cambridge, BT R&D is in Martlesham, BBC R&D has just moved to White City, but is in the building over the road from the rest of the BBC. Innovation teams have to be much closer, both physically and figuratively to the day to day business. An idea may get hot-housed or nurtured in isolation in an innovation team, but it has to flow into the main stream business very quickly. Very often companies move in waves of innovation – an intense ideation and nurturing period, often accompanied by a major change e.g. a new website, or a flagship store fit-out. Then nothing ‘innovative’ for years. If you have tight integration between the two streams, this doesn’t happen, and you get more in the habit of constant innovation.
There are some pre-requisites though – the people responsible for ideating and nurturing cannot also be responsible for the day to day operations. Instead they have to have the time to breathe and work whilst the business is run by someone else, but then they need to feed regularly into that business as usual stuff. If the innovation team are seen as a funnel for getting stuff ready to go into day to day, then that’s the perfect place to be.
In an agile development environment on a website for example, this means that the innovation and production streams link up at Sprint Review time – to discuss the things that have been nurtured in the innovation stream, and to see if they’re yet ready to go into the production stream to actually get built. At the same time, the innovation stream takes issues, ideas and challenges that the production team can’t solve, and takes them off for nurturing to see if they can ready them for inclusion in the next or subsequent development Sprints.
Do be happy to fail
A successful innovation team will generally:
- Have banked and helped generate tons of ideas
- Have developed the thinking in many of those ideas to a stage where the business gets it
- Nurtured some of those ideas and tried some of them out
- Pushed some of those nurtured ideas into production
- See even some of those production ideas fail
- See a small number of production ideas succeed and generate value that outweighs the cost of the process and failures that led to them
The fact that not all ideas from step 3 make it into production implies that many fail. The fact that of the ideas that did make into production, not all succeeded is another failure point. In short, way many more initiatives fail than succeed.
But the alternative to this modus operandi means one of the following statements will apply to your organisation:
- “we do nothing that our peers, staff or customers consider to be innovative”
- “In recent history we have had one massive failure”
- “In recent history we have had just one massive success”
Frankly, the odds of the one idea that you thought worth pursuing turning out to be a massive success are infinitesimally small, and if this applies to you and you don’t have that innovation funnel, then you’re incredibly lucky. So, failure is not an option, it’s absolutely mandatory if you want to guarantee your chances of succeeding in the long run.
Also, failure leads to learnings. I’m sure that when Apple came up with the iPad, someone in their team remembered the Newton, and asked some questions about what could be learned from that (retrospectively) dismal failure. But the real learnings come from a lot of small failures that hardly ever come to public attention – a prototype that was tested with customers, that universally was hated, must go through a value extraction process, to understand what the real value of it was intended to be, and to see if you can’t work out why the customer never got that value from it.
Having no fear of failure also means you are more free to test ideas in a public forum and get genuine customer response to them. This is what led to the whole “Live life in beta” attitude, the poster child for which is generally Google. A series of small experiments that are almost expected to be failures. If the public goes in with the attitude that it’s their job to evaluate them, then there’s no huge expectation set, and therefore no harm done by failure.
Getting up to scratch is not innovation, but it might be necessary
Ok, so that’s not a “Do” or a “Don’t” but don’t you find that premise gets a bit hackneyed after a while? Anyway - You have to know what the objectives of your innovation programme are. If they are generally to improve the operations and products of the company, then you have to consider anything, even if it’s not strictly speaking “innovation”. For example, “let’s put all of our products online” is not ‘innovative’ it’s what most other eccommerce companies do, but of course it may be a bigger idea that takes most of the organisations’ efforts to implement, and so should rise above other more ‘innovative’ things.
However – in many organisations, there are other programmes tasked with fixing up the basics. They take many years and there are many initiatives “on the list” from modernising the supply chain to updating the intranet, to bringing salaries up to or above the market value. In this case, often an ‘innovation team’ is set up to do something very specific. For example; enhance brand value, or build shareholder value, or simply the public perception that a company is ‘innovative’, which usually translates into equity value of course.
If this is the case, then the last thing your innovation team should be doing is helping fix up the basics.
Here’s a few examples of innovators and non-innovators:
- The many inventors who ‘invented’ the concept of the aeroplane – innovators
- The Wright Brothers – who actually made those concepts work in real life – innovators
- De Havilland – whose “Comet” aircraft made commercial passenger jet airlines viable – innovators
- Easyjet – who deconstructed some big industry assumptions to make a new airline business model – innovators
- The company who in 1990 said – hey, instead of sending our people on boats from the UK to the USA, we should send them on commercial airlines – NOT innovators…
Ok, so that last one is a stupid made-up example, but it’s indicative of what many companies are going through right now. The idea of putting people on commercial airliners isn’t innovative, but it’s something that they obviously need to do and everyone else is doing, so if the idea came up in an innovation ideation session, it should be given a chance to succeed obviously!
A company who was not selling or servicing customers online even a few years ago was not innovating when they built their ecommerce platform, they were just getting up to scratch. This was something of course they had to do and was more important to their business than ‘being innovative’. Many who were faced with this task of course also took on the ‘innovation’ mantle, knowing that being late to the market, they should take the opportunity to try to leap-frog the competition as well as just do the basics.
When we launched self-service kiosks for check-in at the airport for Virgin Atlantic back in 2003, they weren’t the first ones out there, but they were the best. They did more things (allowed check in of infants and groups that others didn’t), they were better integrated into the rest of the airport experience, and they had an interface and customer experience unlike (and better) than any others in the market. it was a catch-up move, but one where innovation also factored.
My point is that you have to decide why you want to ‘be innovative’. Is it to improve the day to day and get your company up to, and beyond where your peers are. Or, does it serve a public relations and brand purpose, aiming not only to create commercially successful initiatives, but to differentiate your company from its competitors? If it’s the latter, then it’s important to uncouple the hygiene factor ideas from the innovation process, but equally important that the organisation finds a way to deliver on those whilst your innovation team is lauding it up in the Sunday Times lapping up praise for their latest bit of gadgetry and doing their bit to enhance brand and equity value.
It could be of course, that you’re tasked with all of these objectives. In which case, the trick is not to sink all your resources into the massive change projects in the hygiene factor camp, and keep the sparky innovation bit alive at the same time.
Ok, that’s by no means comprehensive (there’s enough here for a book isn’t there? Actually, I think a few people got there ahead of me; Steve Shapiro, Ken Robinson and others!), but it does deal with a few of the things that companies we have worked with recently have struggled with, and overcome to get innovation away.
We’ve launched a little popularity contest known as the MIX Rockstar tonight. We’re still in beta, as we wait for enough votes and ‘Kudos’ to come in to make it all work, but so far it’s looking like it’s captured people’s imaginations!
What is it?
Gain Kudos by participating in MIX10 on Twitter, or having others talk about you. Then get votes from people. We add Kudos to Votes and declare the MIX Rockstars. i.e. the people who the audience love.
Vote simply by mentioning the following words in a Tweet:
vote @<name> #mixrockstar
Where the @<name> is the person you’re voting for. It doesn’t matter what order you say them in, so you could say: “I vote for @poleydee to be the #MIXRockstar” if you really wanted. So, yes you have to be on Twitter to be voted for, but there are no other restrictions on who you vote for.
The results and leaders table are updated here: http://mixrockstar.cloudapp.net/ and an auto-notifier tweets to congraulate people who played for the first time, and tells them when they get their first vote.
In a bit more detail:
Basically, we analyse the Twitter-sphere for people getting mentioned, talked about, or simply taking part in the discussion around MIX10. This builds “Kudos” for the individual Tweeps. Kudos can’t be taken away (except by the judges if we think you’re cheating too much!), and is the means by which you come to the attention of the voters.
Then, anyone can receive votes. Doesn’t actually matter if they’re at MIX or not. The MIX Rockstar could be anyone; Scott Guthrie, that bloke who always turns up with the kilt, or the latest X-Factor phenomenon. If the community playing wants them to win, they will. Is it about their ‘worth’? Or their popularity? Well, it’s a combination of both. People with a lot of Kudos won’t need too many votes to win. People with tons of votes will be hard to unseat by Kudos alone.
Although you can vote as many times as you want, only the last vote counts. So effectively you have one vote, and can move that vote at any time to anyone. I’d love to see the look on <un-named speaker>’s face when 1000 people move their vote from him to the guy in the kilt! (and yes, actually I do know the name of the guy in the kilt!)
What do they win?
Well, being the MIX Rockstar is pretty much enough we would have thought – so we thought a nice idea would be to make sure they could come back next year to defend their title. Now if it’s Bill Buxton who wins, then we’re pretty sure he won’t need our help to come back next year, so if this happens, we’ll ask the winner to nominate a deserving individual who would get the benefit of a full delegate pass to MIX11 courtesy of EMC Consulting.
The idea of this contest is simply to add an element of fun, maybe a little friendly rivalry, and even some intrigue if the dirty tricks campaigns start.
Anything goes in this contest; and that’s part of why we did it, in order to see exactly what people do! With the unique blend of designers and developers at MIX we think we’ll have some serious attempts to manipulate the results, both technical and social – and we think that’s half the fun (for this community anyway!).
The only rule is really that anything in the spirit in which the contest is run is fair game – and that spirit is simply that it must be fun. If it’s not deemed to be ‘fun’ any more by the judges, then that’s where we might start applying some handicaps or penalties. But if you did have the gall to write a script and get Twitter spamming, well that’s up to you. But of course Twitter spamming has its own consequences, so it really is up to you!
Aside from that, well obviously we will block obvious spammers and anyone deemed to be offensive.
We think we’ve got most of the bases covered in terms of making sure that the end result reflects who the audience at MIX really believe is the MIX Rockstar, but… there are such things as “unknown unknowns” and we’re open to rewarding people who are clever about how they achieve results!
Some oddities that we’re happy to leave in play in the spirit of ‘seeing what happens’ :)
- You can vote for yourself
- The way in which Kudos is calculated is formulaic, but that formula is a secret. But because it’s a straight formula, it could be reverse engineered…
- Judges can participate but can’t win
- The weighting of how Kudos adds to votes is dynamic. Because we don’t know how many people will participate, or how big Kudos scores will get, we have to have a way of ‘balancing the market’ to ensure that the balance between popular appeal (votes) and true ‘worth’ (Kudos) is right. We’re not going to reveal much more about that until after it’s all done (to avoid making manipulation too easy!), but it may give you some ideas…
Why we did it – a few reasons
We love MIX
We do, we seriously do. We’d do a lot of things to make sure that MIX itself was fun and engaging for everyone, and this is just another way of giving back something that we absolutely know will fit in with the spirit of MIX. And of course we love being at the centre of attention! But we do sincerely hope that Rockstar gives you one more thing to tell the folks at home about, even if it’s about how the whole thing fell apart when Scott Hanselman reverse engineered the Kudos formula and kicked Scott Guthrie’s ass!
Well, at EMC Consulting we’re known for creating social media strategies for well known companies, and this year we’re increasingly looking at the ways in which those clients can truly take advantage of social media. We thought this was a nice mechanic and we wanted to try it. It also shows off our social analytics capabililty in a more public way than we’ve done before. I’ve said before that there is no such thing as a ‘social media expert’ and it’s in that spirit that we see this game as another way of learning about the different ways in which people and groups interact and participate through digital media. So I guess in a lot of ways it’s a big old experiment.
A study in innovation
There’s something else we’re known for at EMC Consulting, and that’s our ability to innovate for ourselves and clients. One of our team was given the chance to realise his own ambition by using our internal teams for a study he was carrying out on how groups think creatively together. To do that, we funded a day in which he studied several teams competing to create an innovative solution for a brand.
The incentive we offered was to fund the taking forward of the idea – and MIX Rockstar is that first step for that particular idea. Although the solution the winning team came up with on the day was much more far-reaching and ambitious than Rockstar, at its heart was the concept of creating a simple set of mechanics capable of analysing social media and encouraging participation. Rockstar built on that by creating a set of mechanics and a usage scenario that allowed us to take it to the next level as an idea.
So for us, it’s about not only looking at how innovation works in the creative process, but how you use small investments to prove out ideas, test their feasibility and viability and develop them further.
Interoperability on Azure
The final reason that MIX Rockstar exists, is that we wanted to test out for real how good Windows Azure was at interoperability with Java. The vast majority of our work at EMC Consulting takes place on the Microsoft platforms, and we were amongst the first in the world to get an enterprise application up and running Azure. So we found ourselves with a set of .NET developers who were all over Azure, but then our java developers wondering how to deploy their apps. Wouldn’t it be good if we could use the same thing and leverage our platform knowledge of Azure? Well, that’s what we set out to prove. We took 4 hardened Java nuts (for ‘nuts’ read ‘talented developers’) and told them we wanted them to build on Windows Azure and SQL Server. After they picked themselves up off the floor and stopped throwing things, they actually started to get quite excited. We’ll blog more on that another day – but for now, be assured, that we’re now very happy with Windows Azure for both our end to end Microsoft based stuff, and java based stuff.
There are lots… but let’s start with the team who architected it, designed it and delivered it:
Simon Barker, Nileesha Bojjawar, Niall Pemberton, Richard Tiffin, Stephen Fulljames (who worked all in his spare time!), T.Scott Stromberg, Matt Donovan and Alex Bischoff. A team that not only worked on it together, but were also dispersed between the US and the UK, and working on the train to and from work!
Some really key people who made it happen in the first place:
Rob Grigg, Matt Bagwell, Mark Kraemer, James Saull, Simon Evans (Azure guru), Stuart King and Iyas AlQasem for paying the bill! Also, Tom Rolloff, whose investment in our “Realizing Ambitions” programme made this happen in the first place.
The team that won the innovation contest:
Stephen Fulljames, Nick Marsh, Stuart Harris, Matt Ratcliffe, Sian Armstrong & Rodney Sibanda.
And some people who stepped in from time to time, mostly in their own time, to bail us out, or help with specific bits:
Chris Gannon, Matt Ratcliffe, Cain Ullah and the resourcing team: Joanna, Rachel, Anitza, Clare & Anni.
And of course the MIX core team who were very tolerant of our nagging for advice and guidance, and ensured that we got something out that was absolutely in the spirit of MIX, and have been showing themselves today to be supporters and playerd of #MIXRockstar which is great support. Particular thanks to Tim and Thomas.
And finally, to MIX…
Now all we’ve got to do is rely on several thousand random people we’ve never met before to see if it becomes any form of success or not! That’s the nature of a social media experiment though I guess!
If you follow this link you’ll see how much we talk about Total Experience Design here at EMC Consulting (formerly Conchango) and I recently gave a talk at the Forrester Marketing Forum Europe where we also talked about it as an approach to orchestrating experiences, even marketing ones. However, after finding a few references to Total Experience Design around the web this evening, realised I’ve never really expounded the basic premise in simple, easy to digest terms. So here goes:
In summary: Total Experience Design is design without boundaries. A consideration of an overall potential customer experience, regardless of medium, or other boundaries, with the aim of drawing out what elements of experience have to coordinate or orchestrate to create a memorable, delightful, valuable experience that people want to talk about.
Which starts with:
Good experiences stimulate a number of senses. They hit a number of emotional triggers and leave people feeling great about it, and wanting to tell people about it. The best experiences are actually a large number of individual components in a variety of media that beautifully orchestrate to create a good, great or even delightful experience.
Designing experiences like this doesn’t happen accidentally. Often the individual components are surprising in themselves and cross a number of organisational or skills boundaries. Things that are not normally considered a part of an experience, but become so through creative thinking and orchestrating them beautifully with other elements.
Should a web designer be concerned with the packaging a product arrives in, or only the eCommerce site that sells it? Both have to be taken care of and orchestrated as part of the same experience.
Total Experience philosophy would expose that designer and the wider team to insight and research that looks at a big chunk of a customer’s life where it might _potentially_ touch the company we’re working with. We’d look at what motivates them to want to buy something, how they select where to buy from, the decision-making criteria they use, and what happens to that something after it’s been purchased.
What do I mean by experience?
I often talk about Virgin Atlantic as a company that thinks about experience as a multi-sensory, multi-channel thing, where many small things have to come together to make an experience memorable, delightful and something that turns people from being merely loyal to out and out advocates. Most importantly, at the heart of a designed experience is one central question “How does this make the customer feel?”. In other words, the design process is user-centred in classic UCD terms.
At MIX08 I also talked about Virgin America, whose experience is comprised of everything from lighting, to an inflight entertainment system, to their aircraft signage, their promotion and marketing and the way their staff talk to you. You can only do that if you orchestrate all aspects of an experience and design them with a very specific user in mind and have a remit to think beyond the traditional remit of someone inside a specific organisational department or discipline within that organisation.
“When you start to think wider, interesting things start to happen”
Total Experience Design is where you consider an entire customer experience regardless of organisational or disciplinary boundaries. As digital designers, we tend to think about “How can I design this website?” whereas in Total Experience Design, we look at the lives of the customers we are trying to affect, and identify a much wider bunch of opportunities to help achieve the goals we have of the overall experience.
In retail this means, the website, the marketing, the packaging your product arrives in, the service you receive, the follow-up email you get, how the company deals with issues, and on and on ad infinitum. Total Experience Design says that you have to start from a point where you consider this entire experience, before you drill down into the details of any given medium. As a company we may not execute in all these areas, but we have to think them through, and drive them out in order to create the right experience.
You can’t come up with a Virgin America experience unless you have the remit to explore everything from aircraft lighting to websites to the way the cabin crew address their passengers. Only a Total Experience Design philosophy allows for that.
When we talk Total Experience Design we also postulate the theory that as ‘digital designers’ we are perfectly placed to be at the heart of this process. Not only is digital going to be a critical part of any experience, but being a relatively new discipline, we come from a variety of backgrounds from retail to finance, from the arts to ergonomics and between us when combined with client domain expertise and insightful ethnographic research, we have many of the skills in design and engineering we need to design an entire experience.
A brief history of how we got here:
All of this builds on the work of a few key people and some experiences of our own that have influenced me and the company I work for, in the last few years. Roughly in chronological order they are:
Alan Cooper – interaction designer, CEO of Cooper Interaction Design, and author of The Inmates are Running the Asylum This taught me about user-centred design and how it can apply to a variety of ‘products’ from PC applications to Sat-Nav systems.
Working with Virgin Atlantic for 10 years, and seeing how their ground and air ‘product’ teams work, the backing they have for this approach from the very top of the organisation, and the effect their work has on the people who experience it. Just search Twitter for Virgin + Clubhouse to see what I mean.
A moment when designing a self-service check-in kiosk for the airline BMI, where we suggested that as the designers of the interface, we needed to look at the overall customer flow in the airport and the physical environment in which that interface was to exist, and consider that as part of the design process.
When Matt Bagwell joined what was then Conchango, now EMC Consulting, and introduced the discipline of Experience Planning, building not only on the planning discipline as exercised at many an ad agency, but integrating experience and measurement as part of that to formalise a previously adhoc set of skills we had.
Lou Carbone, author of Clued In and CEO of Experience Engineering. I’ve seen Lou talk in person three times now, and he’s imprinted on me a number of things about experience. Experience clues, rational versus emotional thought, and how ‘experience’ manifests itself in a huge variety of ways are the main ones. Recently, Lou has started talking about how as designers and organisations we think a lot about the medium, but that’s not how people experience companies and brands. This bumped neatly into what we used to call ‘multi-channel’ thinking or the ‘channel of choice’ observation we made about how people actually consume. i.e. behaviours of researching in stores, online and then purchasing in either, dependent on what their motivators were. This was something that for us migrated into Total Experience Design as our thinking matured, so it was good to hear Lou talking about that.
Some Experience Planning pieces of work we ran for clients like Barclays Bank, Virgin Atlantic and others, where we considered the breadth of customer’s lives. What we sought out were the bits of it that could work smoother when it related to our customer’s service and product, regardless of what medium the potential solution ended up in. This influenced in turn their strategies for digital channels and a variety of products that could help things run better for consumers, which in turn bonds customers to them. This clearly showed the benefits of Total Experience Design.
Bill Buxton – Principal Researcher at Microsoft and author of Sketching User Experiences. I’ve seen Bill present in person about 4 times now (sorry Lou), and each time he has shown how product design thinking can apply to almost anything, and again how ‘experience’ can apply, and must apply to almost anything from advertising, to service, to product. His team might be at Microsoft, a software and increasingly, hardware business, but they have the remit to follow almost any train of thought or research based on curiosity rather than to solve a specific perceived ‘problem’. When they explore a wide variety of situations and technologies, they sometimes come up in surprising places, but with products that serve users’ needs and goals well.
A couple of months ago at one of Matt’s The Fantastic Tavern events, he ran it on the topic of Total Experience Design, and we had some real leaders from a variety of digital brands and other digital designers, who spent several hours in a room above a pub in London debating and discussing exactly what this meant, but all of them unanimously offering the point of view that life and the work they produced, would generally be better with Total Experience Design. This absolutely reinforced that this philosophy was the right one and that we should operate it, evangelise it and talk about it as often as we could.
Two years in a row we’ve talked about it at MIX (and other events, but these guys have the videos!) and it’s had a great reception. This year, fingers crossed, we’ll extend the theme further to get into some of the more gritty details of how to bring a Total Experience philosophy to almost any project or organisation.
So this is also the call to action to let us know how you’d like us to expound on some of this stuff for this year’s MIX or other places we’ll talk about it this year. Get in touch on email or comments and let us know.
By the way… we’ve always referred to it as Total Experience Design, in full. We tinkered with shortening it to TED, but have too much respect for TED to do it often. I read a blog on bigthink.com where Lou Susi arrived at a similar conclusion, but dubbed it TxD (Total eXperience Design). What do you think to that abbreviation? Something we should all adopt?? What do you think?
The only downside I can see is that it’s pretty much the universal youth abbreviation for ‘texted’ just search Twitter to see…
There’s too much going around my brain right now…
New models for managing rights and copyright on digital materials: Reacting to the recent Mandelson madness. Don’t cut off our broadband, allow us to pay what’s fair for content, whilst watching or listening to it anywhere we want – after all we’ve paid for it, we deserve to be able to do at least that! However, the ‘industry’ doesn’t know how to do this because it limits its thinking to the outdated modes of rights management we have today.
Social R&D: The value of domain exploration i.e. companies and individuals following curiosity-based research with end consumers in the context of a specific domain or industry, to see what needs, and opportunities they can un-earth before then innovating around those areas; rather than focusing on trying to solve particular perceived ‘problems’.
Firms of endearment: Having re-watched a Lou Carbone talk at MIX09, I re-adjusted some of my investment strategies today. He cites “Firms of endearment” a book that asked people “what companies would you mourn the loss of?” and shows that the companies that topped this chart hugely outperform the rest of the marketplace. What if we only invested in companies that we love? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if the companies we hated shrivelled up and died a lot faster precisely because nobody loved them? Or those investment strategies actually influenced companies to change their ways to focus more on experience and getting us to love them.
Influencing Behaviour Change as a new discipline or area of study within the context of the industries I work in taking what has been learned in other areas and applying it to some of the challenges we face. Many of our society’s problems are due to fixed modes of behaviour. “If only people would… “ is a common cry levelled at problems as far ranging as climate change and anti-social behaviour. I’ve noticed a few things that give me some clues that potentially ‘community’ is quite a key influencing factor in behaviour change. However is anyone really focusing on behaviour change? Or are we split into two halves: Those who assume behaviour change won’t happen, and so change the environment or create solutions that don’t require people to change their behaviour (low carbon houses or low emission vehicles for example) – and those who assume you have to incentivise behaviour change, and limit themselves primarily to stick or carrot measures (charge people for carrier bags or pay them to recycle). Is there a trick we’re missing by not focusing at a more granular level on how people make decisions, and how over time we can influence behaviour change in a more sophisticated way in a number of areas that will make a difference to our society.
The question is… which shall I explore first??