Who is this sign for?

(not the Grey Street one!)

Announcing Meld Studios (day 50)

I have been a bit tardy in making this announcement public (read too busy), but it is with great pleasure that I’d like to announce that I’ve teamed up with Steve Baty and Janna DeVylder to form Meld Studios.

I fully intended to start blogging about the experience of setting up a new company (a la Berg’s blog), but  as with previous best intentions, I won’t be placing bets on me actually doing this!

My summary of the first 50 days is as follows:

It is great to be part of a team

It is great to be working with other people. I have spent the past four years working as a freelancer/contractor. Although I’ve had some long-term gigs, it can be a lonely business. The ability to discuss things with people who have an equal vested interest in a successful outcome is wonderful.

I am also finding that the discipline of planning and strategising, that working with others forces upon you, is fascinating. So often we muddle through, but I’m finding myself question, challenge and think far more about decisions that previously I would have ducked.

You need to compartmentalise

Balancing the roles of owner, boss, practitioner, father and husband is tough. I feel I am cheating the edges at times.

Even the good times can be stressful

We are inundated with work (if you’re a potential client please don’t let this put you off!). We are finding we’re having to turn down projects that previously I’d have torn my right arm off for. The power of a team eh!

Where did all the hours go?

I can’t believe we’re 50 days into this. The time has just flown by. I am finding I’m working more hours, but I am really enjoying it. As Janna has said “we are so in start-up mode!”.

You need to take a step before I can tell you if you’re going in the right direction

In itself the involvement of users in the design process is no guarantee of a successful product or service. Reliance on users alone to guide you to the “right answer”, means you could be in for a long and winding design journey.

Designers must be prepared to develop and test paradigms. Failure to do this means you’ll yo-yo for an elongated period of time, and have little of any substance with which to get any meaningful user feedback.

I have been in a number of infuriating situations recently (generally design committee situations) where the team has shrunk from taking any responsibility for making a decision and instead asked to get the users help in making the decision.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying don’t involve users. Nor am I saying make firm decisions before you involve users. But I am saying that if you are singularly incapable of making a step in any direction until you get confirmation from a user that you’re going in the right direction, you might consider a new profession!

You need to take a step before I can tell you if you’re going in the right direction!

Users guide and inform decisions, but it is the responsibility of the designer and/or business to actually make the decisions. Yes they can be tough, but with user involvement you’ll get their pretty quickly provided you are prepared to ask the tough questions and create materials that enable users to inform the decision. After all you are getting paid for it, the user isn’t.

</rant>

101 advice for websites promoting physical outlets

It has been a very wet few days in Sydney. Being a new(ish) parent I’ve been online trying to find inspiration for ways to entertain my toddler.

I have been amazed by how poor many of these sites are. As I browser I have 4 basic questions:

  • What do you offer?
  • Where are you?
  • When are you open?
  • What does it cost?

Most of the sites I’ve encountered do a reasonable job of the first and last of these points, but boy oh boy the middle two.

Have a go. Go and have a look at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo website (http://www.taronga.org.au/taronga-zoo.aspx) and see how long it takes to find out when they are open. Surely this would be a prominent feature on their homepage? No!

Here’s another. I was recommended this play centre for kids, Lollipops Playland (http://www.lollipopsplayland.com.au/). Just try to find out how to get to the Frenchs Forest outlet.

Difficult isn’t it. Why doesn’t it include a map of the location rather than after spending 5 minutes of so looking around the site finally having to go to Google Maps to find out where it is.

The 101 advice when creating a website for a physical location that people will have to visit is to include the following prominently in your site:

  • A map of where you are with directions and information about parking
  • Information about when you are open
  • Pricing

Yours is a highly competitive market, if I can’t find this information in an instant I’m off to one of your competitors!

The rise and rise of Balsamiq

Interesting post from Peldi Guilizzon, the CEO and founder of Balsamiq, reflecting back upon 2010 for Balsamiq (A look back at 2009).

One of the most noticeable things is that they exceeded their profit targets by 4 times their goal and had a 70% profit margin turning over $1,626,528 with 3 full-time staff.

Their transactions do seem to have tailed off in December.

I wonder if this is just a reflection of the season, or whether the overwhelming number of free and paid for competitors with eat into their market share.

Those nice guy Eddie moments

The dynamic between a traditional design agency (i.e. one that has “fantastic” designers that win design awards, but have no clue about UCD) and a UX agency or consultant can be a tense one. It can reach boiling point when you throw a client into the mix.

Over the years I’ve been in a number of complex situations where my diplomacy and UCD ethics have been tested to the full.

Consider this scenario, you are running a debrief workshop off the back of some usability testing. The usability testing clearly showed that the product had significant issues in a number of areas to do with the interface design. The design agency who called you in to the project, and who only did so because their client insisted on it, is giving you daggers as with each new issue you challenge the quality of their design work. Meanwhile their client is smiling at you and giving them daggers wondering why they produced such rubbish.

It can become a stand-off of almost Pulp Fiction like proportions.

Who blinks first?

What do you remain loyal to “the truth” (i.e. what you observed during the research) or the business dynamic (i.e. I get paid by “them” so I have to make sure they don’t look stupid)?

When presented with these options I’ll always go with the truth and suffer the financial repercussions. But here are some other things you can consider.

1. Do unto others as you want to be done to

Remember what it felt like before you discovered UCD, or worked in an enlightened company. Would you really want someone rubbing your nose it in? They are likely to become defensive, which isn’t a good, collaborative dynamic from which to design from.

Choose your words carefully. Expressing the problem and recognising the fact that without user insight it was an understandable solution to come to, will go a long way towards getting everyone thinking in the right way.

2. Craft your message

Tell them how enlightened they are to have embraced usability testing and user-centred design (even if it wasn’t actually their idea, but their clients).  Tell them that by recognising that they needed to get user involvement, they will quickly get to a much better solution.

3. Focus forward

Surely it would be worse to be oblivious about these things than to know about them now and do something about it. Set the emphasis on moving forward and refining the designs based upon what we’ve learnt.

4. Acknowledge the constraints

If things are still uncomfortable in the room, a brief discussion about the timescales, business requirements and technical constraints can often help deflect attention from the poor designer who is either shrinking in his chair, or become red-faced in defence of his work.

“It wasn’t Hank’s fault we asked him to pull a rabbit out of a hat while sky-diving to earth on a ironing board.”

Alternate approach – avoid the discussion

An alternate approach is to avoid the three way dynamic entirely. Instead arrange two separate one-on-one meetings. This enables you to give the message as honestly as you need to without fearing the sensibilities of others.

In reality this means your work can be pushed under the carpet by the design firm – “the research didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know”.

The purest in me strongly recommends against this approach. The uncomfortable tension that comes from getting “the truth” out in the open often leads to a successful working dynamic. The freshness after the storm. If you avoid it, as this alternate approach suggests, you run the very real risk that history will simply repeat itself.

Unlimited company

Taking ownership from the directors and giving it to the people that work for them. Very stimulating program on the BBC World Service – particularly for anyone who runs a business, or is thinking about starting one up!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p005sxyd