"Stop Designing Products"

My regular trawling of blogs turned up this gem from Peter Merholz of Interaction Gurus, Adaptive Path. It has a huge degree of resonance for me as it deals with customer experience outside the traditional ‘sell a product and then support the service of that product’ interaction and inspires us to consider the total experience creation that Apple recently demonstrated is so successful with the iPod + iTunes + iTunes ‘Holy Trinity’. Peter cites Kodak in an inspired slide (page 6) which shows just how thinking about improving an experience results in a pioneering product. Hiding away the complexity from the end-user, sound familiar?

This is system design, looking at what the end-user finds difficult in interacting with disparate processes, technologies and so on and producing either a sealed ‘closed’ system (Apple’s integration or the Kodak roll-film camera) or an open, adaptable application (Flickr, Firefox). This leads on to examples where the integration and experience-orientated design spreads across channels. So, for example, the same interaction experience happens offline (in stores, on the phone) as it does on the web. To some extent it’s all about empowerment in both cases, you interact, we do the rest.

Some very basic online examples:

:: your online bank invites you to ‘consolidate your finances’. You click a button and the bank calculates where your money should be best organised, it suggests an amount is moved to savings, your current account is maintained at a given level and you set-up a direct debit into an ISA … you then click to confirm and it arranges it for you. Job done.

:: your train company allows you to log-in to their site via a mobile device and click ‘I’m delayed’, you tell it what train you’re on and where you want to go to and it suggests the fastest alternative route … “get off at Ipswich and continue to Norwich via Peterborough

There’s nothing worse than design that hints at this level of seamless integration and falls at the final hurdle. I recently moved house and was told about ‘
iammoving.com’. The premise was that we tell them once and my address change is taken care of by populating my information throughout my banks, credit cards, loyalty cards, the DVLA, council tax TV licensing etc. etc. The reality was considerably different. Of the 40 or so suppliers I identified I had a relationship with, only three had electronic notification set-up, so I had to manually go through adding additional information, generating a PDF, printing and posting that and invariably partaking in more correspondence once they sent me additional forms. The whole thing became a huge pain in the arse frankly and I wished I’d just used our re-direct with Royal Mail to respond to anyone who subsequently mailed us.

Contrast this with Virgin Atlantic, their adverts currently convey a
fully realised sense of experience. You don’t just buy an airline ticket, you buy a chauffeured trip to a pre-flight lounge, a simplified check-in process, a quality seat and in-flight service … they take care of you. I presume of course, I’ve not had the opportunity to try it out!

And it can be done in service industries I’m sure, I just haven’t really seen it yet. Hopefully someone reading this is responsible for customer experience in an organisation that can really benefit from this approach.


TrainBlog.co.uk - picking up the baton

Recently I announced a self-imposed amnesty on blogging about the appalling customer service I had experience on 'one'. However, I am happy to pass the baton to these guys, TrainBlog.
Produced by Norwich-based agency Soup, train blog is a centralised repository for commuters' displeasure and, I suspect, the vast majority of that will be local. Interestingly, you can (in a very 2.0 way) add your comments by texting.
(B)log-in and see what other people have to say. Over to you....

“The Sleeper Curve”, MySpace provides tangible evidence of an increasingly intelligent generation.

Last week I wrote an email to Steven Johnson, I didn’t get a reply. I don’t blame him for not responding, my email was a rambling list of questions and half-baked theories that, if I’d bothered to read pages 116 to 124 of his book I would have found the answers.

My thoughts had been centred around the use of social network sites and were building on ideas mooted in this blog about the “Noble Savages” of the web, the teens and tweens immersed in the likes of MySpace, Bebo and Faceparty. They were building too on themes discussed in the previous 115 pages of his book which talked of a rising “Sleeper Curve” of complexity in the social and cognitive functioning of recent generations. Johnson points to the scale and complexity of online gaming in virtual worlds, the multiple threading of plot lines, character complexity, reduction in signposting and chronological fracturing seen in modern popular television (Lost, 24, Sopranos) and the Emotional Quotient demands of that most-maligned genre of entertainment, ‘reality’ TV. I wanted to ask him whether he thought the mindless surfing and banal bedroom postings of teenagers in Woking really constituted evidence for an increasingly intelligent generation.

As it happens, I got to the end of the email and had started to answer my own questions anyway. Taking place within these social networks are a myriad of interactions the principle aim of which is to create more links, to find more people who are like you, who like the same music or can introduce you to new ideas, cultures, crafts and stimulation. In effect, people to whom you can relate. The manifestation of this is the buddy list, a publicly viewable incentive and tangible sign of success. Here, at work on the most ‘cutting edge’ popular technology, is that most rudimentary facet of personal development, conditional learning. The user learns with subtle, slow experimentation that adding a given song, mentioning a brand, blogging about a person, citing a celebrity or slating a school friend will encourage someone else to request to be added to their list. Over time these ‘new’ social skills are honed and polished in such a way that the most prolific of MySpace users can demonstrate a who’s-who of buddies, displaying the great and the good of their community.

Perhaps some of these kids (though by no means all of them are under 21) would have demonstrated these skills and abilities offline in a different time, but I contend that these sites have taken away some of the physical limitations of real life (time, distance, health and beauty) to allow a greater number of people to become popular in a world that previously would have excluded them.

[note: the image on this post is a Univ. Claifornia visualisation of a social network on Friendster]