Information Design Watch
July 28, 2006, 1:01 pm
By Lisa Agustin
Earlier this month we shared a story on “experience immersion,” a holistic approach to evaluating the customer experience. Continuing in this vein, MarketingSherpa recently posted the results of a panel discussion on customer experience, in which senior executives from Cingular, Avaya, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts offered their insights on the role of customer experience in reinforcing brand. According to Renee Rodgers, VP of Avaya.com:
“We look at it from a marketing perspective: How do end users see our brand online, offline, in the technicians who come to their site, in the items they discover through search? Are they getting the same messaging and communication across their entire lifecycle?…We can’t let internal company factors influence the fact that it really is the customer who has final say over whether they leave our Web site or continue the experience. We’re selling technology, so it’s important for us to show innovation on our own site and provide an experiential aspect to that.”
From an internal perspective, it’s not enough to aim for customer satisfaction through specific endeavors, such as the redesign of a web site. According to the panel, organizations need to not only understand what customers need and want, but also foster a company culture that focuses on the customer experience at all levels, while providing appropriate tools that help staff collaborate and manage content that customers will come in contact with globally.
Note: Panel notes will be freely available from the MarketingSherpa site for about ten days and then for a nominal fee in the web site’s library.
July 28, 2006, 12:24 pm
By Lisa Agustin
New York Times technology columnist David Pogue recently posted his interview with (in)famous blogger Ana Marie Cox, the original editor behind Wonkette, a behind-the-scenes look at political happenings and gossip in Washington, D.C.
Now the Washington editor for Time.com, Cox offered her take on the popularity of blogging and why the number of blogs continues to skyrocket:
[It] has a very low bar to entry. But the reason why anyone does it, I think, has to do with, like, having an opinion you believe is worth other people hearing, and having something to say beyond to the three or four people you talk to every day. And I think that’s why people get into journalism. And so it sort of would be a little odd if, given a chance to talk to a couple million people, rather than a couple hundred thousand people, you said no.
As for how to be successful, Cox suggests that would be bloggers have a “strong, defined personality with a sense of humor about themselves. An ability to filter news quickly and to recognize…what is interesting to other people as well as interesting to themselves, and finding the balance between those things.”
July 28, 2006, 11:33 am
By Lisa Agustin
New research at MIT indicates that there may be a better way of evaluating anti-cancer therapeutics. Currently, pharmaceutical companies use simplistic two-dimensional assays, or tests, to measure success in stopping metastasis, the process by which cancer cells break away from the primary tumor, settle in a new location, and divide. Researcher Muhammad Zaman discovered the cells move differently in three dimensions:
“Two-dimensional assays ignore the obstacles that cells face in their natural contexts,” said Zaman. “In 3-D, cells move through a thick jungle of fibers, or ‘vines,’ that hinder forward progress.”
Cells need at least some vines to move, as they latch onto the “branches” with claw-like proteins called integrins and pull themselves forward. When Zaman disabled some of these claws, in a manner analogous to the workings of certain anti-cancer drugs, the cells moving across the top of the jungle canopy (in two dimensions) needed a greater number of vines to keep up their pace, while cells plowing through the jungle instead needed fewer vines to maintain the same speed.
For his 3-D study, Zaman worked with one sample at a time, using a special confocal microscope at the Whitehead-MIT BioImaging Center to divide each specimen into virtual slices, generating a new stack of images every 15 minutes. According to MIT Professor Paul Matsudaira:
“[Zaman's] computational model predicted what would happen in virtual experiments and then he was able to go straight to test the predictions with these complicated 3-D experiments. As a result, the sophisticated models of cell movement enhance our understanding of key biological processes, including metastasis.”
July 21, 2006, 4:04 pm
By Henry Woodbury
It’s like the early days of Web design, but more so. This Design Interact article describes how Yahoo planned and delivered its mobile device site for the 2006 World Cup. The goal was to make a site that could work on as many browser-enabled phones as possible. The problem was the baffling idiosyncrasies of those devices:
“The Web browsers on phones vary from basic to super basic,” explains Keith Saft, senior interaction designer at Yahoo! Mobile. “They also have these eccentric bits of HTML and CSS that they don‘t support, and there aren‘t really any standards or consistency across phones.“
As they catalogued the technical limitations of mobile browsers, the Yahoo team created a design strategy that prioritized usability:
With production also came usability testing. And here, surprisingly enough, the team did not try to achieve perfect layout and content consistency on every phone. Instead, it wanted to make sure that users understood something it called “design intent.“
Do users navigate efficiently through the site? Do they understand how items are grouped on a screen? Can they retrieve the information they want? “Design intent” is design by information architecture.
July 20, 2006, 12:54 pm
By Lisa Agustin
In the context of web sites, the term “user experience” applies to those elements that collectively have an impact on the user’s (or customer’s) visit to the site–for example, site organization, visual design, and ease of use, to name just a few.
Usability testing represents one of the activities used by firms (including Dynamic Diagrams) to determine whether a site’s user experience is positive (e.g., translates into an online purchase or a repeat visit) or negative (e.g., drives the user to the site of a competitor).
Some organizations are taking the analysis of customer experience to a higher level with “experience immersion.” This process involves more than just surveying customers or running a focus group. Experience immersion is about making company executives literally putting themselves in their customers shoes, using a variety of real-life scenarios. Take Swiss banking institution, Credit Suisse, for example:
The two-hour exercise begins with a visit to three local bank branches. At the first branch…execs watch customers; at the second, they complete a typical customer task, such as exchanging foreign currency; and at the third branch, they’re given a few questions to ask actual customers–by far the most intimidating task. [At the] office, the executives visit the bank’s Web site and attempt to check the interest rate for a mortgage or find out which bank cards can be used abroad. And they try to fill out credit-card application forms.
Each session yields results. Two of the branches visited during immersions are now being redesigned at the request of participating execs. Another manager, who was forced to cool his heels in a long line, kicked off a project to reduce waiting time. Christoph Brunner, COO of Credit Suisse’s private-banking unit, realized that “in some cases, we actually make it hard for customers to do business with us. [I saw] that little things make a big difference. For example, just having signage that people understand. Having friendly and helpful employees. As a bank, we often think that only the financial products themselves matter–but there is so much more that goes around that.
Experience immersion illustrates a point that is basic yet often ignored (often unintentionally) by executives: that a service or product is successful only when it’s viewed through the lens that matters most: that of the customer.
July 12, 2006, 1:11 pm
By Lisa Agustin
More interesting use of visualizations from the 2006 TED meeting: architect Joshua Prince-Ramus elaborates on the “hyper-rational” process he uses for developing architecture projects. In the case of the Seattle Public Library, the visualizations of client priorities that were literally translated into the Central Library’s physical space are particularly interesting. From the site:
Joshua Prince-Ramus is architect of the Seattle Public Library and principle of REX (Ramus-Ella Architects). Previously, he was U.S. Director of Rem Koolhaas’s Office of Metropolitan Architecture. Through a series of beautiful visualizations, he deconstructs the collaborative process of building the Seattle Public Library, and also offers a sneak preview of his works in progress (The Wyly Theater in Dallas, Texas and Museum Plaza in Louisville, Kentucky).
A “concept book” for the SPL Central Library (which includes details of the visualizations discussed in the Prince-Ramus talk) is located here.
“Ego trip” or accurate rendering? You decide.
July 11, 2006, 2:24 pm
By Lisa Agustin
Considered primarily an approach to programming, the “open source” method is now being applied to the unlikely area of font design, specifically for Linux.
Open source type design is not a completely new idea. In 2003, a font family called Vera was developed for open-source use. Under the license terms, anyone was permitted to make new fonts based on Vera, as long as the derivatives were given a different name. The latest effort in this movement is tied to DejaVu, a Vera derivative that has sparked the interest of different Linux players:
DejaVu has caught on widely enough for it to be the default font for Dapper Drake, the latest update to Ubuntu Linux. It may also become the default font for Red Hat’s Fedora version of Linux.
“DejaVu, from purely a user perspective, seems to be the one that has the momentum and benefits behind it,” said Rahul Sundaram, one of nine board members for the Fedora Project, which governs the Linux version.
Taking a collaborative approach to type design has been particularly helpful in addressing practical concerns for making fonts, such as the creation of special characters or glyphs for other languages:
In the software world, creating a new offshoot is called “forking.” The freedom to do so is one hallmark of an open-source project. Several designers launched their own Vera forks… The designers had initially created limited extensions to include Western languages such as Welsh or Catalan, then later took on larger and more ambitious extensions, such as Greek and Cyrillic.
The renewed interest in improving this aspect of Linux goes beyond improving typeface presentation for its own sake–it demonstrates that elements of the user interface are just as important as performance factors in offering Linux as an alternative to the Windows operating system.
July 11, 2006, 10:14 am
By Henry Woodbury
Experienced managers, and technologists trust their instincts. While this helps them make quick decisions in rapidly changing environments, it can also blind them to new ideas. When businesses try to change, the problem is magnified:
Business instincts are never more likely to get in the way than when established and successful organizations launch high-risk, high growth-potential new ventures
Instincts are rooted in the success stories in your own past. What happens when an entire organization shares the same success history? Instincts become almost unbreakable. Through every conversation, every meeting, and every major decision, shared instincts are reinforced….
It is one thing to state a new direction, quite another to actually break momentum.
July 8, 2006, 8:31 am
By Henry Woodbury
Flash has soared from zero to No. 2 in its market in just two years, according to Paul Palumbo, research director for Accustream iMedia Research. Microsoft’s Windows Media format is the leader, handling 60 percent of all streaming video in 2005; Flash has 19 percent of the market, jumping ahead of RealNetworks at about 10 percent and Apple’s QuickTime, with about 8 percent.
“Flash is going to be dominant,” Palumbo said. “You can embed this into the Web page and it’s instantly ‘on.’ It’s a seamless process.”
The fact that Flash is embedded in the browser also means that it “plays nice” with other programs. It does not attempt to establish itself as the default video application on your system. Nor does it relentlessly bug you to upgrade to a “pro” version.
Seamlessness is a marketing decision, not just a design decision.
(hat tip: Paid Content)