These are remotes in my household.

Direct TV Remote and Apple TV Remote

One of them has so many choices that I have to look down to find the button I need to make the interaction I want happen.

The other has fewer and, thus, makes it a bit harder to jump to a direct interaction. Yet, because it has less buttons, and those buttons have a simple layout and tactile differences, I’m able to stay engaged with the interface (a TV, in this case). I’m able to complete the task more easily and, usually, faster.

At any rate, the experience of using the Apple TV remote is better. Why?

It’s not better simply because I’m in the interface more, which is an easy assumption to make. If the interface wasn’t relatively well-designed, it wouldn’t be better at all. In fact, it would probably be worse.

It’s better because that combination of control and interface has an effect: it makes me think about my Apple TV less.

Less Snags for Better UX

Great user experiences are often described as simple, easy, or intuitive. They feel effortless.

You can make your interface more modern or improve the layout of your content or simplify your navigation or make everything faster—and all of those are crucial. But, the bedrock of a great experience is the ability to have that experience without thinking about it too much while it’s happening. This is what creates the sensation of effortlessness.

To get there, you have to do two things: intimately understand the user’s task at hand and get yourself out of the way.

Jobs to Be Done

The two remotes I mentioned above are simply tools I employ on my way to completing a task: watching something. I don’t consciously set out to interact with the Apple TV or the screen or the remote as an end unto itself.

To remind ourselves of this, we have to employ tactics to help us take the focus off the tool and, instead, on the job that the tool is needed for. I’ve mentioned job stories before, and the mentality of understanding circumstances and motivation is crucial in delivering a truly great experience.

Consider another way I’ve heard this put:

When someone goes to hang a picture on the wall, they’ve got to use a nail and a hammer. They’ve got no choice but to use those tools. They might purchase the nail with built-in analytics and the hammer with Bluetooth for a variety of reasons, but they’re not really buying the tools—they’re buying a picture hanging on the wall. The things they need to get there should be easy to use and effective.

Just a Tool

One of the hardest parts of the jobs-to-be-done mentality is that we have to emotionally detach from the product or service we’ve built in order to truly understand its utility.

People don’t go to work every day excited to use Excel, though they might be excited about what they do with Excel each day.

By humbling our product back into the role of being hired to get something done, it’s much easier to seek out improvements that are truly beneficial. When you need a new idea or improvement to be at least 9x better for users to accept it willingly, don’t you need all the help you can get?

The excellent byproduct of this mentality is a never-ending backlog of snags—once you gain this perspective, you won’t be able to help but see all the little ways you get in peoples’ way. You thought you were already tough on your product! Just you wait. But that’s exactly the perspective that great designers take.

Where Innovation Happens

Not only do great designers take this perspective, but great companies do. If you think about it, this is where so much “disruption” happens. Innovation peels back the layers of an interaction and streamlines it.

Think of Uber and Lyft: plugging the gaps from problem to pleasant solution.

Or, consider the example Jared Spool often gives: newspapers. Craigslist has all but killed newspaper classifieds. Why?

With a newspaper, you:

  • Buy a newspaper (or have it delivered)
  • Go to the classifieds section
  • Scan
  • Read in detail
  • Call
  • Meet
  • Exchange

But, with Craigslist, you:

  • Visit Craigslist
  • Search
  • Read in detail
  • Call or email
  • Meet
  • Exchange

Steps are either removed or made easier. Airbnb is finding new ways to streamline a particular interaction that Craigslist offers. And so it goes.

Be great. Be simple. Be innovative. Create raving customers by being all about what they’re trying to do.

September 26, 2014 — Leave a comment — In Blog, CX, UX

When was the last time you were deeply motivated to do something positive because you felt ashamed? Ashamed that you did something naive or downright silly because you didn’t know any better? Embarrassed because more experienced people mocked you instead of quietly helping?

People are not positively motivated by shame.

Sometimes guilt can be helpful, but guilt comes after knowingly doing something wrong.
Sometimes embarrassment can be helpful, because it helps us to be more cautious after an honest mistake.

But, shame? Nope. It’s different than guilt or embarrassment.

Shame, however, is born of ignorance or of not having mastered a concept…that we think we have mastered.

And public shaming smacks of a superiority complex. The shamer is dragging the shamed out into the public square, and everyone loses, because the former is displaying questionable motives while the latter learns just about nothing.

Well, not nothing. They’re probably learning that the community doing the shaming isn’t worth being a part of.

Exhibit A: WordPress

The WordPress community hasn’t always been the best at welcoming new people—in that manner, it’s really not different from any other community that revolves around a codebase. There’s been a concerted effort in the past few years to be inclusive and accessible, though, and I do believe it’s paying off. Friendly WordPressers are being more helpful than ever, and WordCamps are bastions of sharing and learning.

Even outlandish requests in Trac (WordPress core’s ticketing system) are being handled with more grace then ever.

But, in an effort to push WordPress standards to make a better community overall, we have to be mindful of our tendency to shame those who aren’t doing it “right.” Instead, back away from your Twitter account, and take the time to contact someone personally with a helpful attitude.

For instance, here are some unhelpful, shaming public statements:

  • Who does that?!
  • Someone is getting paid to do that?!
  • What a shady business. I feel bad for their customers.
  • It’s sad that people can get talked into that.

Now, here are some helpful alternatives:

  • I know your theme/plugin is successful, so can we talk about your use of best practices?
  • I have a client who’s having trouble switching from your platform to another. How can we fix this?
  • May I send you an email with some suggestions that would make your product more valuable overall?

Shame will not motivate anyone to do better, but constructive, empathetic criticism often will. By affirming that someone’s work already has value and respecting that, you’re in a much better place to offer suggestions. And, by coming from a better place, you’re far more likely to effect the change you want to see in a manner that builds everyone up.

Next time you see something being done wrongly, consider that the folks involved may not know they’re doing so. If it’s remotely possible, then public shaming is actually your least likely path to fixing the problem.

That is what you were aiming to do, right?

September 19, 2014 — Leave a comment — In Blog, Community, Development, WordPress

There’s been no shortage of articles in recent months about the millennial generation, their approach to technology, and how your business will have to reach them on their mobile devices if you want to succeed in the coming decades.

Like this recent one on Wired, most articles of this nature go a little something like this:

“Millennials are immersed in their phones and oblivious to the world around them. They demand that products and designs be bonehead-simple, because they’re too impatient to learn anything else. They have some cute, somewhat redeeming qualities in regards to their connectivity to one another and passion for social justice. Yet, overall, we will have to deal with their inability to focus and work hard. You must fear the millennial, because they are coming of age, and there appears to be nothing that anyone can do to help them mature. You’ll need to adapt.”

And, if you think that thinly-veiled condescension is exaggerated, let me assure you that it’s not off by much. From the article linked above:

You’ve seen them walking around shopping malls, college campuses and summertime social gatherings — those packs of sleepy-eyed teens with their heads down and eyes glued to their smartphones. Even though they cluster together in groups, you notice they don’t make direct eye contact or utter any sounds to each other except to share a video or Tweet, since each is immersed in his or her own text message conversation or social media exchange. One might even be sending a text to another only a few feet away. Whether we like it or not, the zombie apocalypse is upon us and unlike the movies dedicated to this popular genre, the millennial generation will prove to be the most influential, distracted and finicky demographic in history when it comes to technology use.

I use hyperbole and sarcasm with the best of them, but I’m seeing a pattern emerge: contempt for millennials.

Contempt for your target market will sink your business.

Does it not take tremendous value to look past rude customer service at a store you walk into?
Or, put another way: do you love to give your business to people who think you’re dumb, but will take your money?

That’s just the outer layer of the onion, my friend. You can’t just attempt to deal with it because you want to grow your business and a generation is coming up you don’t like. You can’t just fake a smile and friendliness. It’s deeper than that.

Grok Your Users and Their Motivations

There’s endless exploration that can be had when we talk about understanding users and where your product or service or content fits in, but the point here is that assuming Millennials are impatient, aloof, uncaring, lazy, or shallow simply because of their age is unhelpful. This is the same trap we fall into when we overextend the utility of marketing personas and use them to assume how people will act based on demographics.

You have more in common with people who have the same motivations you do than those that are just your age, your ethnicity, in your field, or who live in the same area you do.

For more on this concept, read up on job stories, which help us understand people on a deeper level. In short, job stories help us explore a users’s circumstances, motivations, and expected outcomes. Getting in touch with users on this level is what creates raving customers.

People called millennials are no different. Their circumstances, motivations, and expected outcomes are different than yours, but that doesn’t make them nonsensical. You’re going to need to understand your target audience no matter what decade they were born in.

So, if you want to reach anyone in that age group, the first step is not attributing behavioral tendencies to all of them.

The second step is finding your target market within that age group by looking for problems you can solve.

It’s no different than traditional ways to find product-market fit—unless you bring an attitude of prejudice along with you. You’ll just need to have more conversations with customers, read more of what they read, go where they go, and validate your assumptions.

Write off an entire generation at your own peril. Millennials have a nose for businesses that do.

September 12, 2014 — 1 Comment — In Blog, Entrepreneurship, UX

Last week, Martha P. Nochimson of Vox.com published a 5,000-word feature about The Sopranos. It’s a fantastic piece of writing with an interesting, somewhat visual layout. Even Nilay Patel of The Verge remarked:

It’s everything a feature on the internet should be: thoughtful, concise, exclusive, and interactive.

A positive reception from others in your field is an accomplishment in and of itself. We’ve all enjoyed reveling in a moment of affirming nods from people we respect while talking about recent work.

On top of that, the piece has all the components commonly used to get readers and have them read to end: an interesting topic, an exclusive insight, a leading question as a title, immersive design, great writing, and general obfuscation of the answer to the title.

Readers have come to find the answer, and they will get more than they could even imagine! They will experience anticipation, tension, and, finally, grand resolution! All in one excellent piece of writing.

I can almost imagine the palpable feeling of accomplishment the writer probably had as the article was published. How often can all those pieces come together so well?

(Villian enters stage left.)

Rage Guy

Exposure

Oh. So, you could choose to immerse yourself in that experience, or you could just get the answer first and then decide if the article’s worth your time?

But that’s not fair! How is anyone supposed to get readership? And, anyway, isn’t @SavedYouAClick supposed to be fighting clickbait like Upworthy?

Nilay went on to say in that same article on The Verge:

It is b******* because he didn’t save anyone a click at all — he stole an experience. That story is great. It is absolutely worth the click. Arguing that it’s not because the headline is phrased in the form of a question is reductive to the point of absurdity, just like arguing against lists or quizzes or gifs or any specific form of art is absurd. Rock music. Horror movies. A generation raised on rebellion has grown up to instead police the web pages of the larger internet from the wide-ranging terrorism of mild curiosity. We are all of us the Tipper Gore of clickbait headlines. Parental advisory: viral content.

And there’s the trap: “That story is great. It is absolutely worth the click.”

Basically: as a person, you ought to read that article because it’s great. You ought to read the whole thing because that’s what a normal person should do.

You ought to do as we intended because we know best.

No. One. Cares.

Believe me, I hear this logic. Most of the world listens to horrendous music that offends my sensibilities on every possible level. People ought to listen to music written by artists, not entertainers.

But no one cares.

The world doesn’t care like you do about certain things. They don’t see the complexities and the beauty and the effort. The world isn’t like your perspective informs you that it ought to be.

A reality check is in order. This is exactly why I’ve been giving a talk for two years now about why (not if) people care about your content the way you do. They don’t.

The sooner you come to grips with the fact that your emotional attachment to your content exists inside you alone, the sooner you can put your content to work.

Want to be helpful? You have to focus on others.
Want to be informative? You have to focus on others.
Want to drive business? You have to focus on others.
Want to get a ton of traffic? You have to focus on others.

You have to detach—at least, if you have goals for you content outside of simply writing for yourself. Once you have that moment of detached clarity, it makes sense, and informs your strategy.

After giving a presentation in Charleston this year, one gentlemen came right up to me and expressed that it had never occurred to him before that no one has the context to appreciate what he’s trying to do. And, so, instead of lamenting that and expecting it to change, he would take a new approach, understanding that it was his job to explain it to people who otherwise do not care.

One post at a time. One word at a time.

That’s the hard truth. That’s why I preach frameworks and strategies over best practices and tactics. The latter shift, whereas the former shouldn’t.

If you don’t understand that, you put yourself at risk. Take it from the man behind @SavedYouAClick:

“I’m one person with a Twitter account,” Mr. Beckman said. “It’s indicative of a much bigger problem. If I can disrupt your content distribution strategy from my iPhone, then maybe something is wrong with your content distribution strategy.” (source)

September 5, 2014 — Leave a comment — In Blog, Content, Marketing

You don’t have much time to engage someone on the other side of a website or application.

Users move quickly without fully understanding all the tools at their disposal.
Visitors make judgements in 1/20th of a second.
People do not RTFM.

How impatient! How careless! How shortsighted!

Hold on, though.

You’re a user, a visitor, a person, too. Would you describe yourself as impatient, careless, and shortsighted? Of course not!

You’re not impatient; you just had things to do that day.
You’re not careless; you were just trying to get something done for your boss.
You’re not shortsighted; you just haven’t had time to look for new features yet.

Or, put another way: that person who cut you in line the other day was rude, but when you cut people in line, it was because you needed to meet a friend. You’re not rude!

We tend to attribute others’ behavior to internal characteristics in a phenomenon called the fundamental attribution error. We have a hard time identifying and remembering situational factors with others when we think their actions were intentional, and that hard time is well-documented and heavily researched.

Not helping this at all is something called actor–observer asymmetry, in which we tend to give ourselves more of a break. We much prefer that every action we take—especially negative ones—not be considered a reflection of our inner state of being.

We’re all a work-in-progress, am I right?

And yet, as people who work on the web, we’re often required to infer causality from another person’s actions. Whether it’s looking at bounce rates in Google Analytics or performing a task-completion analysis in UX work, the goal is still to understand what’s causing a particular action.

We want to manipulate the actions of others’—let’s not avoid saying it. As long as it’s benign, and you’re not misleading anyone for your own gain, let’s admit that this is acceptable. It’s pretty much the foundation of traditional sales tactics.

So, getting past the moral implications, we’ve got to understand how we tend to attribute behavior in order to more correctly…attribute behavior.

Intentionality

In observing behavior (again, as simple as looking at your blog stats), people will distinguish between intentional and unintentional events.

For an action to be judged as intentional, it “must be based on a desire for an outcome, beliefs about the action’s relationship with this outcome, a resulting intention to perform the action, and skill and awareness when actually performing it” (source). Intention is seen as a choice and commitment to act as a result of the actor weighing beliefs and desires.

So, once we’re settled on something being intentional, we go through an interesting process of explaining the behavior—at least, according to the folk-conceptual theory. Explanations break down into three modes: reason, causal history of reason, and enabling factor.

Reasons

Reason explanations are the most common, as they’re easy to map to a desire for an outcome as well as beliefs that the action leads to the outcome.

“She wants a new pair of jeans [desire], and she thinks Amazon is the right place to buy them [belief].”

We try to reconstruct the subjective viewpoint of the actor and string together the rationality that led to the action. It’s important to remember that, in doing this, we’re mostly guessing and, often, projecting ourselves onto that viewpoint. For instance, I would tend to guess that she bought jeans from Amazon because it’s easy to find what you’re looking for and buy it there. The jeans were probably reasonably priced as well. But I don’t know.

Causal History of Reason

The causal history of reason explanation mashes the “nature vs. nurture” argument together into one clump. It’s an attempt to explain what led up to the action based on anything from personality to upbringing to circumstances.

So, using the previous example:

“She bought jeans from Amazon because she’s lazy.”

I might think there are obviously better ways to buy jeans, so I attribute her behavior to things that have happened to her previously. But, note that this assumes that she never considered those factors herself; she didn’t consciously note to herself that she was lazy, and thus decide to buy from Amazon because of it. I assume intentional action, but absent (or irrelevant) rationale.

Enabling Factor

Lastly, this rare mode of explanation assumes the actor had motives and, instead, clarifies how the action was successfully performed.

“She bought jeans from Amazon because she has a Prime account.”

Beliefs and Desires

Both beliefs and desires are necessary to something to be perceived as intentional. Sometimes one implies the other, as in assuming that a user is sending an email about an event because that users wants event attendees. However, in many cases, it’s easy to create tons of implied assumptions when a belief is presented as a reason.

Thus, even if we can get past something broad like this:

Liberals do this because they hate the rich.
Conservatives do that because they hate the poor.

We can still end up with something like this, which has most of the same assumptions:

Liberals do this because they believe the rich are above the law.
Conservatives do that because they believe the poor are lazy.

Or, expressing the same idea with a desire reason:

Liberals do this because they want to let the rich know they are not above the law.
Conservatives do that because they want the poor to know their laziness is unacceptable.

Politics makes for easy hyperbole because it’s basically satire in disguise. It helps make the point: if you identify with one of these groups, you likely reject the broad characterization I presented. But you’re much more likely to have at least approached thinking about the other group in that manner.

Observation

We tend to judge others’ actions in one light and ours in another, because we have an interest in self-presentation and have better access to our reasoning (obviously).

For instance, one interesting study looked into how people make sense of others’ self-portrayals in social media when they seem inconsistent with their impressions.

Subjects rated the inconsistencies of acquaintances as more intentionally misleading, more hypocritical, and less trustworthy relative to the inconsistencies of friends. In addition, the types of attributions people made for online behavior depended on the perspective of the person providing the explanation: People explained their own online behavior more favorably than the online behavior of both friends and acquaintances.

You see, we have great reasons to show the best side of ourselves, but all those other people are engaging in hypocritical behavior.

Further, we often base those great reasons on beliefs more than desires, which we also tend to state as fact. For instance:

“Why did she buy the jeans from Amazon?”
“She wants a new pair of jeans, and she thinks Amazon is the right place to buy them.”

“Why did you buy the jeans from Amazon?”
“Amazon is the right place to buy them.”

And that’s if you can manage to get past the assumption that she did it because she was lazy.

Acknowledging this tendency and understanding modes of explanation helps us more accurately understand the behavior of others. Biases can be counteracted with some effectiveness simply through awareness of them. You can dive into the assumptions you’re making based on your observations and make more informed judgements.

And, wouldn’t you like to make more informed judgements of people anyway? Wouldn’t you like it if others make better judgements of you?

Focus on making yourself a better observer; get the added benefit of being a better human!

August 29, 2014 — Leave a comment — In Blog, UX