Two types of product quality; are they both necessary?

Edited excerpt from The Tyranny of the Minimum Viable Product by Jon H. Pittman:

In his 1974 classic of philosophical fiction, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig describes two kinds of quality:

1. Classic quality — based on rational analysis, decomposition into parts and their relationships, concerned with details, inner workings, and mechanics.

2. Romantic quality — understanding the overall gestalt or feel, looking at the whole rather than the parts, relating to context, emotion, and being in the moment.

Although this is a gross over-generalization, engineers and business people tend to be educated to think about classic quality and classic quality is the mental model they apply to their work. Designers and artists tend to live more in the realm of romantic quality and that is the mental model they apply to their work.

What we often refer to as the “user experience” is the intersection of classic and romantic quality. If we overweight classic quality at the expense of romantic quality, we end up with a poor user experience.

Notes:
(1) As a devotee of the Job To Be Done framework, I’m not sure how to think about this. The best product is the one which enables me to get my “job” done most efficiently and pleasurably. Perhaps “classic quality” = efficiently, and “romantic quality” = pleasurably?
(2) Enabling people to get their job done efficiently is usually enough. (Think Craig’s List.) However, if you want your customers to love your product, is “romantic quality” necessary?
(3) Cf. (i) Don’t be satisfied with sales, seek love, and (ii) Is your product liked or loved? Here’s how to tell.

How tech products misframe our choices, and product managers should do better

Edited excerpt from How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist by Tristan Harris:

If you control the menu, you control the choices. Magicians give people the illusion of free choice while architecting the menu so that they win, no matter what you choose. And this is exactly what product designers do to your mind.

When people are given a menu of choices, they rarely ask: “What’s not on the menu?”, “Why am I being given these options and not others?”, “Do I know the menu provider’s goals?”, and “Is this menu empowering for my original need, or are the choices actually a distraction?”.

The most empowering menu is different than the menu that has the most choices. But when we blindly surrender to the menus we’re given, it’s easy to lose track of the difference.

When we wake up in the morning and turn our phone over to see a list of notifications — it frames the experience of “waking up in the morning” around a menu of “all the things I’ve missed since yesterday.” By shaping the menus we pick from, technology hijacks the way we perceive our choices and replaces them with new ones.

But the closer we pay attention to the options we’re given, the more we’ll notice when they don’t actually align with our true needs.

Notes:
(1) Perhaps the Job To Be Done framework is the antidote to this, because it insists that products should be driven by genuine user needs. If a product manager asked “When I wake up in the morning, what do I most want to do? What is most important to me? What is most life enriching?”, we’d probably have a different phone experience.
(2) Are tech products becoming a growing obstacle to productivity, relationships, meaning and fulfillment? See: (i) Can you achieve great things if you’re a regular Facebook or Twitter user?, (ii) Is group chat a constant distraction for your employees? and (iii) If you want to get more done, stop doing these things.

Why product managers should optimize design for older users

Edited excerpt from The Problem With Flat Design, According To A UX Expert by Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan:

Kate Meyer, a user experience expert at Nielsen Norman Group, examined how different users approach flat interfaces. Younger users liked flat websites a lot more than their older counterparts. Older users said the flattest website designs were “boring,” while younger subjects described them as “professional.”

However, while young people seemed faster at navigating the designs, they also indicated they didn’t really understand the UI intuitively. For the most part they seemed to have pretty much no idea what they were doing. “It’s hard when you think something’s a link and it’s not. And you have to figure out how to get it another way,” one user said. Young people didn’t necessarily “get” flat designs. They were just better at quickly testing where and how to get what they wanted in the face of click uncertainty.

Paying attention to the older users might help to solve flat design’s usability issues sooner. Some technology companies are moving to “inclusive design”, the notion that by designing for ignored or underserved users—including the elderly or disabled—products will become better for all. It has quietly spurred some of the biggest technological leaps of our time. The typewriter, email, and even the telephone evolved out of designs for the blind and deaf.

Notes:
(1) Kate Meyer argues here that focusing on older users improves user experience for everybody. Perhaps that’s because older users are less able to tolerate “click uncertainty” and other user interface failures.
(2) Older users are also becoming more important in their own right, as demographic changes raise the percentage of older people in the population. And some services — such as investing sites like Seeking Alpha — appeal disproportionately to older users.
(3) The most obvious way to reduce “click uncertainty” is to ensure that what is clickable is obvious and differentiated from what isn’t clickable. (The most common error is to present links in the same color as non-clickable text.)
(4) See also Web design for seniors.

Better alternatives to “Learn more” links

Edited excerpt from “Learn More” Links: You Can Do Better by Katie Sherwin:

“Learn More” is dangerous because of its ambiguity and poor information scent. Here are three alternatives:

Option 1. Use keywords that describe the link’s destination. This is the most common and, typically, the best approach. Look at the destination page and see what it’s about. Front-load the link text by putting the most relevant keywords at the beginning of the text. For example, instead of “Learn How Professional Chefs Cook Squash”, try “Cook Squash Like The Pros.”

Option 2. Retain the “Learn More” format and add descriptive keywords. There are times when it is acceptable to retain “Learn more”, if you qualify it with information about what is to be learned (e.g., “Learn more about our services”). The downsides to this approach are space constraints for the longer label, and reduced scannability because the relevant keywords appear at the end instead of the beginning of the phrase. Nevertheless, a long link does create a larger target, which is faster for users to click and tap than a small target.

Option 3. Convert the preceding-paragraph heading into the only link. If the heading of the preceding paragraph is obviously styled to look like a link and the copy clearly describes what the link points to, then a Learn More link is probably redundant.

The 4 characteristics of the most addictive products

Edited excerpt from Addictive Consumer Products by Austen Allred:

As I tried to drill down into why so many people, including myself, love and use certain sites/apps/services, I’ve found common threads that tie addictive Internet products together:

Rapid Cadence. Cadence is the rate at which the content flows or changes. How often you can find something new determines, to a large extent, how often we check in on a product. Among the most popular layouts on the Internet and mobile is the “waterfall” design. Newest stuff goes to the top and slowly falls down over time. The design is incredibly simple – one column of content, with all of the external stuff thrown around the outside. Basically a big list. The tricky part from a product perspective is how to get the list just right.

Signs of User Activity. Social proof is a very real thing. Every successful consumer product that I can think of has user interactions front and center. They have numbers of upvotes, points, comments, likes, retweets, favorites, repins, etc. on every piece of content, and on the home page.

One-Click Interaction. Every product I can think of consists of serving up a list of content that people can react to with little to no effort. Almost all consumer products are driving you to do one thing. They put that one thing front and center. That thing is usually typed out, also — you can either click a thumbs up on Facebook or you can click “like.”

Notification of Interactions. I’ll go back to a product every now and then if I think there’s going to be interesting stuff happening there. But if there’s going to be something that involves me? I’ll hit that site all the time. The quickest way for any new user to reach the “aha” moment is to have a solid, positive interaction on your product. Sometimes that just means somebody paid attention to them enough to respond to a comment. Sometimes that means “karma.”

Notes:
(1) “How often you can find something new determines, to a large extent, how often we check in on a product… The tricky part from a product perspective is how to get the list just right.” Another way of putting this: You must achieve high content liquidity and high relevance (signal-to-noise ratio) for the user.
(2) Cf. Addictive product = high content liquidity + high signal-to-noise ratio.

If your product relies on user data, there are two keys to winning

Edited excerpt (with italics added) from Why Wesabe Lost to Mint by Marc Hedlund:

A number of people have asked and speculated about why Mint won and Wesabe lost. Mint used Yodlee [a third party data aggregator] to automatically get user’s data from bank sites and import them into Mint, and as a result had a much easier user experience getting users’ data imported. Wesabe built our own data acquisition system, but it didn’t launch until six months after Mint went live, and even then didn’t really work for some time after. That one mistake was probably enough to kill Wesabe alone.

Second, Mint focused on making the user do almost no work at all, by automatically editing and categorizing their data, reducing the number of fields in their signup form, and giving them immediate gratification as soon as they possibly could; we completely sucked at all of that. I was focused on trying to make the usability of editing data as easy and functional as it could be; Mint was focused on making it so you never had to do that at all. Their approach completely kicked our approach’s ass.

Between the worse data aggregation [=import] method and the much higher amount of work Wesabe made you do, it was far easier to have a good experience on Mint, and that good experience came far more quickly. Not being dependent on a single source provider, preserving users’ privacy, helping users actually make positive change in their financial lives – all of those things are great, rational reasons to pursue what we pursued. But none of them matter if the product is harder to use.

Sign-up page best practices

From Account Sign-up Page Best Practices by David Cummings:

— Remove all unnecessary links, which are usually 90% of the ones of the page.
— Minimize the header and text as much as possible. Then, cut it down even further.
— Reduce the number of fields, especially required fields, to the bare minimum. Once you have someone’s email address you can always market to them later to fill out more fields.
— Keep all the fields in the form above the fold so that the user doesn’t have to scroll down at all. Test and enforce this on monitors with a 1024×768 resolution.
— State clearly that you value the person’s privacy and won’t sell or share their information.

With these best practices in place, conversions typically increase 10%-50% over a normal sign-up page.

Notes:
(1) Cf. Seth Godin’s The first rule of web design.
(2) It’s amazing how hard it is to get simple things right, but so easy to see others’ errors.

Should you follow the latest web trend of big photo headers on article pages?

From Why article pages are going big on photos by Rich Bilton:

Sites like Medium, The Atlantic, Quartz and ReadWrite have all created desktop designs with large, gigantic images that largely obscure the content below them.

Part of the rationale has to do with the decline of the homepage. Large photos are often used by publishers as a way of providing texture to a homepage and making a brand impression. The article page, in a homepage-dominant construct, has a more utilitarian purpose. But with most traffic now coming to article pages, it means article pages have to do more of the heavy lifting of home pages.

Publishers like these designs because they feel more premium, and premium means bigger ad dollars. But designers say that these sorts of designs feel more tactical than strategic, particularly when publishers use the templates for stories that don’t really need them.

There’s also the reader-experience issue. Clicking around the Web nowadays can be exasperating, requiring the constant scrolling past oversized images to get to what you want.

Notes:
(1) Is this a case of publishers putting advertisers over users in the short term, at long term cost to their audience? Or, as a user, do you like large photo headers?
(2) We’ve avoided large photo headers on articles at Seeking Alpha because we optimize for frequent users. Our frequent users want rapid access to information and fast page load times. See, for example, our tech news dashboard.

Why you shouldn’t use infinite scroll on your website

Reproduced (with permission) from Bizzabo chief product officer Boaz Katz:

Endless scrolling emerged from social sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn in order to skip the need to click when moving between pages (pagination). If you are considering using infinite scrolling for your website here are 10 reasons why not to use it:

1. Users will lose the page length orientation – the browser scrollbar become useless.
2. There’s no ability to jump to the end of the list.
3. Your users will not be able to get back to the same in-page position in 1 click.
4. There’s no visible footer until your users come to the end of the list/content.
5. Slow Experience – You are using a lot of browser memory as the page scrolls down.
6. If you switch away from the page by following a link there’s no way of getting back to where you left off.
7. Lack of sense of completion- no closure for users.
8. There’s no SEO opportunities for content located below the first scroll.
9. You lose the ability to bookmark a dedicated point of interest.
10. Distraction – The fear of missing out on data or other options will deter your users from completing an action.

Thank you Eli Hoffmann for the tip.

Web design: Fat footers and obese footers

From Jakob Nielsen:

Fat footers can greatly increase usability for people who arrive at the end of a page without finding what they want. Fat footers also strengthen structural SEO by guiding link juice to the site’s best pages about each key topic…

Sadly, some people can’t let a good thing alone, and we’ve started seeing obese footers that stuff every link known to humankind into the page bottoms. The theory? It’s good for SEO to feed the search engines an abundance of keyword-rich links. The reality? It’s bad for users when you offer a link collection so big that it’s impossible to scan quickly.

What do the best home pages have in common?

Excerpted from Mattan Griffel:

What do you notice about the homepages of the fastest growing companies in the world?

  • No access without signup.
  • Navigation and hyperlinks are almost always absent.
  • Focus on a single, clear value proposition.
  • Your product is not about sharing.
  • Big images.
  • Embedded signup forms.

On No access without signup he writes:

Most startups make the mistake of giving people who visit their site free access to content, whether it’s apartment booking or daily deals. This is often a bad idea. Contrary to popular belief, the more things a visitor can interact with on your site before they’re prompted to sign up, the lower your signup rate will be.

Product brilliance from Amazon — Mayday

From David Pogue‘s review of the Kindle Fire HDX:

Boldest and most stunning of all, though, is Mayday: a button that places an instant, free video call to a 24-hour help technician. The agents can see your screen, but can’t see you. You can see the agents (in a tiny, 1-inch movable window), and accept their invitation to take control of your Kindle or draw with virtual highlighter pens around elements of the screen.

Mayday is amazing and truly practical.

Product brilliance at TripIt

From Bruce Tognazzini:

TripIt has the most clever registration system I’ve encountered. Here are the two steps:

1) Take any confirmation e-mail for your next trip—airline, hotel, car rental, whatever—and forward it to plans@tripit.com. (Best is something like your round-trip plane reservation as it has the start and finish dates of your trip.)

2) Go to http://www.tripit.com, enter the e-mail address you just sent the forward from, the password of your choice, and click “Sign up – It’s Free!”

TripIt will display your trip information that it has already drawn from the e-mail you just forwarded. What’s more, you have just completed the full registration process, and by “full,” I mean full. TripIt gleans from your forwarded e-mail all the pain-in-the-nether-region stuff like name, address, airline frequent-flyer number, etc., etc., etc. You are good to go.

What TripIt has done is to make not only registration, but data-entry itself, simply disappear, but they haven’t done so by denying themselves any information. They have only relieved the user of having to do all that typing.

The march to atomized content and single-function services

From Chris Dixon:

Web products have followed a steady evolutionary path from the compound to the atomic. Today’s popular social sites are spin outs of behaviors that emerged from blogs and forums, the primordial soup of the early social web. Before there was Twitter, people were doing something similar to tweeting on so-called link blogs or micro blogs. Tumblr was a direct descendent of a particular strain of blogs known as tumble blogs.

The successful products took big meals and converted them to snacks. The Internet likes snacks – simple, focused products that capture an atomic behavior and become compound only by linking in and out to other services. This has become even more so with the shift to mobile. People check their phones frequently, in short bursts, looking for nuggets of information.

Web design for seniors

From Jakob Nielsen:

Reduced visual acuity is probably the best-known aging problem, and yet websites with tiny type are legion. Sites that target seniors should use at least 12-point fonts as the default. And all sites, whether or not they specifically target seniors, should let users increase text size as desired—especially if the site’s default is a small font size.

Hypertext links are essential design components; using large text for them is especially important for two reasons: 1) to ensure readability, and 2) to make them more prominent targets for clicking. Also, you should avoid tightly clustered links; using white space to separate links decreases erroneous clicks and increases the speed at which users hit the correct link. This rule also applies to command buttons and other interaction objects, all of which should be reasonably large to facilitate easy clicking.

Pull-down menus, hierarchically walking menus, and other moving interface elements are problematic for seniors who are not always steady with the mouse. Better to use static user interface widgets and designs that don’t require pixel-perfect pointing.

Five simple rules for better design

For people who work in product or design, Matthew Butterick‘s Typography in ten minutes is a must-read.

It’s part of his online book Practical Typography. One caveat: it’s not written for mobile designers. For example, on line width, he writes “Aim for an av­er­age line length of 45–90 char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing spaces.” But for smartphone design, line widths are shorter. And perhaps there are also different rules for mobile about font sizes, determined by readability issues that are unique to mobile. I wonder if there’s an equivalent of Matthew’s book for mobile…