Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Talk at Zürich WUD 2010: “UX as ‘project glue'”


I'll give a talk on the role of "UX as 'project glue' in product development" at the World Usability Day in Zürich on Wednesday, Nov 10, 2010 (in German). I'll cover how UX contributes critically to the project's success through process and structure and through deliverables.

Please follow this link to sign up for this year's Zürich WUD:

Looking forward to seeing you guys there!

World Usability Day 2008!

World Usability Day 2008

 It's World Usability Day today, and the UPA asks you to take the Global Transport Challenge to 

  • Measure your everyday transportation usage
  • Monitor your personal carbon travel footprint and compare
    yourself to others around the world
  • Minimize your energy usage through alternative transportation choices, carbon offsets, and simple travel changes thereby maximizing the impact on our world.

Go visit the WUD 2008 page and take the challenge today!

A Country-Wide Exercise in Marketing

Switzerland is very beautiful. You've got the tremendous landscape – the distant Alps, the blue lakes, green meadows. And Switzerland is very prosperous. I've stopped counting the number of extremely expensive cars I've seen these last weeks (Aston-Martins, Rolls Royces, Ferraris, Lamborghinis). Zürich especially "breathes" money and stability. The quality of service is impressive – people are very conscientious, and especially the civil servants so far have struck me as very friendly. Plus, the quality of the edibles and ingredients you can buy even in the supermarkets is so far from everything we were used to in Germany that we regularly end up buying much too much because we want to sample everything. This, together with Switzerland's well-known neutrality, is expressed best through one symbol: the famous white-on-red Swiss Cross ("Schweizerkreuz"). The Swiss are (rightfully) proud of their country, and they show their pride everywhere. You cannot walk through the city without seeing at least a dozen Swiss Crosses.

There are some stores (like the "Schweizer Heimatwerk" on Bahnhofstrasse) that seem to offer only those articles that show the Swiss Cross. And there's quite a bit of them. Likewise, you seem to be able to get about every article where at least one brand has chosen to use the Swiss Cross as part of their design and packaging. The omnipresence of the symbol and its re-affirmation through all the high-quality experiences strikes me as one of the best-concerted exercises in marketing I've come across so far. The Swiss Cross symbolizes outstanding quality. Those employing it profit from it, but it also feels as if everyone using it it has subscribed to a certain voluntary self-commitment as well.

New Job, new City, new Country

Swiss FlagStarting today, I've got a new job. I'll be working as User Experience Designer in Google's European Engineering Center in Zürich, Switzerland[GP:GoogleZRH]. Quite a change: a new job, a new city, a new country – with a somewhat similar, but also rather different language. Germans can easily be fooled into believing that things in Switzerland work just like they work in Germany because of a common cultural heritage and the language. Switzerland is not a member of the EU, for example, which means that we had to get stay and work permits etc. Lots of things had to be organized (and some still have not been dealt with properly): relocation, stay permit, health insurance, all the other insurances. Google was very supportive with these things. I'm very much looking forward to all the challenging projects that lie ahead Smile, and I sincerely hope we'll manage to "arrive" and settle down in Zürich easily.

An Apple a Day ? Apple leads American Customer Satisfaction Index for Computers

In the 2006 American Customer Satisfaction Index Apple scores highest of all computer makers. Even though overall, customers were less satisfied with their computer manufacturers than with their car dealers,

Apple Computer led the pack among computer individual vendors with a rating of 83, a 2.5 percent improvement over last year’s score. Dell, under siege all year for its customer service problems, rebounded from 2005, improving its score by 5.4 percent to 78. (taken from the C|Net report)

I take it this rating was measured before the impact of the self-inflammatory batteries surfaced (although this will hit Apple as well, I’m afraid).

So ? back to one of my favorite topics, the differences between Macs and PCs 🙂 The question is: Does Apple really offer better overall quality, or is there a mechanism at work called Reduction of Cogntive Dissonance, as some critics might say? Mac owners will have paid quite a bit of money for their machines, probably feeling the (perceived) premium price must have its reason in higher quality. (Reduction of Cognitive Dissonance means: you tend to change your perception of an event or an item after you’ve taken a decision that might be seen as supportive of the event or the item. This is done to reduce the amount of unpleasant suspense that arises when you appreciate one thing and do the other. So you start appreciating the second thing instead of the first. It’s one of the most powerful mechanisms researched in Social Psychology, first described by Leon Festinger in 1956.)

I guess it’s a bit of both: There are differences in quality, but some of what makes a Machead’s eyes shine doesn’t happen on the screen in front of him, but between his ears. What counts, in the end, is what makes people more productive and what feels less effortful. On my personal scale for Joy of Use, my Mac ranges lightyears ahead of my PC (at work ? at home, a PC is unthinkable, and the Dell laptop my wife needs for work is grudgingly admitted to our wifi network ? if it succeeds in finding a connection. D’oh.).

Following up on the Eye Tracking post

Following up on my critique of eye tracking as a technique for gathering usabilty input, I just discovered a post from Jared Spool from mid-June titled “Eyetracking: Worth the Expense?” Great to see that Jared seconds my thoughts from his wealth of experience:

But do they have diagnostic value? Can we actually learn what to change in our designs from them?

Well, after watching hundreds of eyetracking tests, I can tell you it?s still really hard to know what you can learn from them.

He says the technique has the following drawbacks:

  • The devices are too expensive, and people have to be trained to use them properly.
  • The number of participants grows because not every test participant can be used for eye tracking.
  • Calibrating the device takes up valuable time that could be used for gathering user input.
  • Interpreting the heat maps still is rather difficult ? and sometimes it’s unclear what they really tell you.

He concludes:

Eyetracking is fun to watch and produces cool output. It can serve as a good demonstration that users approach designs differently than we imagine. But can we find a useful place in our research process that is worth all the hassle and expense? I?m still not convinced.

Neither am I.

Marketing at its best: L’Or?al Men’s Expert

A couple of months ago, L’Or?al introduced its “Men’s Expert” series of products targeted exclusively at men, taking into account the typical issues with men’s facial skin. I don’t want to focus on the products themselves (which I like quite a bit), but rather on the marketing and branding used. The packaging’s technoid, mechanistic appearance with cool metallic grey and bright orange conveys an image of functionality and no-nonsense efficiency. The very clean and clear iconography reminds us rather of technical devices than of beauty products, and the instructions avoid the usual jargon to be found on women’s cosmetics products. And the products are cheaper than comparable products for the fairer half of the population.

L'Oreal Men's Expert - some products

Icon SetOn the (German) website people can download not only screen savers and wallpapers, but also an icon set ? which stresses the artwork’s importance for the success of this product line. (Funnily enough, the product has been introduced as “Men Expert” in Germany, but “Men’s Expert” in the US.) All in all, quite a nice example of creating a new marketing by addressing a so-far “underdeveloped”, non-saturated target group.

Iconography Example I

Iconography Example III

Iconography Example II

Obviously, this product line and its marketing success have found quite some acclaim ? if you google it, you’ll find a Datamonitor report on “effective cross-generational marketing”, some articles announcing the product line launch, and an interesting New York Times article (requires registration).