The new way of working is broken

The “new way of working” where we are all interconnected and all available all of the time doesn’t work.

Companies are adding tools to their ecosystem every year to solve specific problems, and each tool seems to have its own notification and chat system.  Most of these tools are driving towards “real time communication” and this idea has been sold as a great feature, driving faster innovation and greater collaboration.

We already know that multitasking doesn’t work, it may even cause permanent brain damage. But we don’t need to neuroscientists to know that it’s hard to concentrate and deliver quality work when we are interrupted, and most of the tools supposedly delivering the “new way of working” are highly interruptive.

The default setting for our email system includes an icon notification, a pop up and a sound as the default notification. It’s easy enough to change but every so often a reboot will reset it to default. Imagine anyone thinking that a sound notification would be a good idea in an open plan office.

But is “real-time communication” a good idea? In a crisis it might be necessary, but most of the time we’re not working in crisis mode. In a recent Recode Decode interview Jason Fried said

…as a primary method of communication, real-time communication is a bad idea in most workplaces most of the time…People cannot get their work done at work anymore because they’re being constantly interrupted by all these real-time tools.

The constant interruptions break our focus, and it can take more than 20 minutes to recover our concentration. This cannot be good for productivity, every person I know has developed strategies to reduce the interruptions, including;

  • no sound or vibration notifications
  • removing apps with high notification rates from the desktop/homescreen
  • turn off notifications on apps (weirdly this isn’t always possible – even temporarily)
  • close email and any social media tools to allow focus
  • use airplane mode to appear unavailable
  • book appointments in outlook to do focused work – which triggers a “busy status” on skype

But could we also call on tool designers to rethink their notification systems from “push” to “pull”, perhaps they could allow us to schedule mini-breaks from notifications. Could system designers set up notification hubs where we collect the notifications for new work? Or could notifications get really smart and only appear when we’re working on the relevant project?

Imagine how much we would get done in a day without interruptions.

image via pixabay 

Usability Design

I am such a big fan of usability, my tie-break question when I am working on digital projects is always “what does the user think?”. I am also a big fan of usability testing, although watching it can be painful. I know I’m not the only digital expert to have been shouting at the person taking the test in another room “click on it”.

Put simply usability makes things better. When your site is usable time to learn how to use it decreases, people can recover from an error faster, the logic of the information and use is apparent. In short, from the user perspective the technology fades into the background

Usability also matters in real life.

In the Amsterdam metro the carriage doors include lights with the colour coding – white showing which door will open turning green to show it’s safe to go through the door, and then red to show it’s not. There are also announcements telling you which side of the carriage will open. These steps were taken to improve the usability of the metro network for people with vision impairment or poor hearing, but they work for the rest of us too.

Usability thinking also extends to how information is organised. I find Dutch train timetables easier to read than the Belgian counterparts. The Dutch include a schematic above the timetable to tell you which stations you can reach using the timetable below it, it’s a form of structured navigation. The Belgian timetables are organised by time only – it’s an endless scroll.

Bad design is not just time consuming, it increases the risk of error.

In January the citizens of Hawaii heard or received an alert stating:

BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

It turned out to be a false alarm. There were a number of contributing errors and when you see the menu used to select the drill you can see how easy it was to confuse the options.

If you’re designing anything, use experts, it really makes a difference. If you’re creating content for online there are some simple rules to follow.

And if you get some entertainment value out of seeing other people’s UX mistakes, I recommend the Bad bad UX instagram account.

 

Cookie Nightmare

CM2016_09_cookie.png

Do you know how many cookies are placed on your computer? Does it matter?

The EU directive from 2011 had companies scrambling to find good ways of notifying visitors about the cookies being placed on their computer and giving opt-out measures. There weren’t good tools around and translating the law into technical requirements was a bit of a nightmare. Ironically it led to the company I worked for collecting more information, as we needed to be able show that we’d responded to people’s cookie preferences.

There are three common approaches;

  1. Implicit agreement
    a warning is placed on a website saying that if you proceed with viewing the website you accept cookies from the publisher, this is most common on information or news sites, it seems to be more common on UK sites than Dutch sites, here’s how the Guardian presents their cookie notification, they also offer a detailed explanation of cookies.
    Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 09.04.38
  2. Forced agreement the site is blurred out or obscured and an overlay forces you to click ‘agree’ to proceed, this is commonly used on Dutch sites, here’s the Dutch newspaper Het Parool, you only have the option to accept.Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 09.00.53
  3. Pop-up with cookie options
    This is rarer, but some sites give you the option to choose which cookies you would like to install, usually giving you a choice of three levels of cookies. The lowest level is those required for website function, the next level relates to site measurement or personalisation, and the third level is often the advertising cookies. It’s this third level that mean you’ll see ads from the same company every time you open the internet for 30 days, no matter which page you’re on. The advertiser is collecting significant information about your site visits.

I’ve heard from web experts that the number of people adjusting the level of cookies they accept is low, less than 1%, which makes it seem a lot of work to manage cookies for a very small group of people.

However Many people manage their cookies though browser settings, it’s fairly easy to do in Chrome and Firefox,  and I suspect people really concerned about cookies and privacy take such measures.

When the ‘pop up with cookie options’ is used it’s not always clear how to find the cookie options. One of the most common tools used by companies (who often outsource the cookie management) is TRUSTe, which does give visitors control of their cookies but it’s not easy to see how.

When opening a website using TRUSTe you are presented with a pop-up that talks about “Your Choices” but is designed to push you to clicking on “agree and proceed”.  The little link to the right, that doesn’t look like it does anything is actually where you find the choices.

cookies1Here are the three choices you’ll get.

cookies2Required cookies just let the site function in a sensible way, it means the site will “remember” your language preference for example, sometimes the cookie only lasts for the duration of your visit. Functional cookies provide data on your visit and advertising cookies mean your data is going to an advertiser or media buyer – these are the cookies about which there should be the most privacy concerns.

In all the cases I’ve checked the default setting is for advertising cookies.

I changed the setting to allow only required cookies, and got a warning that the submission would take up to a few minutes.

cookies3

In fact it took less than a minute – this time.

I think some cookies, like those retaining a language preference, on-site tracking or login details, do not cause any significant privacy issues. Others, the advertising cookies, the tracking cookies, are a potential issue. Yet, despite all the good intentions of the EU directive, only one of the cookie options implemented allows you to opt out of those cookies and that’s not always easy to find.

How do you manage cookies as a visitor? I’ve put a poll up on twitter, let me know on the poll, on twitter, or here in the comments.

 

 

Header Image; Halloween Sugar Cookies  |  Annie  |  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Easter Egg Pheneomenon

The ones found in media, the chocolate ones are for the weekend.

An Easter Egg is a surprise addition, something unexpected and usually humorous, included on a DVD, movie, music compilation or software. They usually have an “inside joke” quality to them, and some range into rather esoteric geek territory.

Online Easter Eggs

Google leads the way in producing browser-based Easter eggs with easy to get jokes. They’re your standard hollow chocolate Easter egg. Easy enough to consume, and leave you wanting more. Here are some of my favourites;

Search for ‘anagram’, ‘recursion’, ‘askew’ or ‘do a barrel roll’ and watch what happens.

If you use google maps, pay attention to what happens to the pegman, he changes in various locations or to celebrate specific occasions. He’s been a penguin, a witch, a leprechaun a rainbow, a skier and an astronaut. There are two locations I found that still have adapted pegmen.

 

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There are also some hidden subpages from Google, a virtual teapot for example, or a bonus puppy shot in the app store.

Easter Eggs In Films and TV

Disney is famous for “cameo” appearances of one character into another movie, so Goofy turns up in the Little Mermaid, and Mickey Mouse makes a brief appearance in Frozen.

The geek TV sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” has a final shot that’s a “card” from Chuck Lorre, the series creator. These are usually on the screen for a matter of seconds meaning it takes some dedication to get to read them. Card #221 is a philosophical rambling on politics and horses.

Easter Eggs In Advertising

Ever wondered why phone numbers in (US made) movies begin with “555”? It’s a range of fictitious phone numbers so that the movie doesn’t accidentally use a working phone number. Except when it does. In 2014 Old Spice included a real phone number in their ad and gave away free super bowl tickets to the first person who called the number.

More delightfully, Innocent, the UK health drink company, included a help line phone number on their bottles. They invited you to call them even if  you did not have a problem and promised to sing you a song if you did. We called and they did indeed sing.

Easter Eggs In Geekdom

I’ll stay out of the seriously geek territory, but will point out that if you open a firefox browswer and type ‘about:mozilla’ into the URL bar, you will get to read a verse from the Book of Mozilla. The verses are written in an eerily apocalyptic style, but do contain references to events that are history for Mozilla. With some historic knowledge you can decode them.

I think companies, such as Google and Disney, which create Easter eggs in their products are displaying a sense of fun – sometimes to the surprise of unsuspecting viewers. They’re also inviting us in, teasing us to become part of the inner circle. Not every company has the platform to do this, nor the company culture to support it, however when it works it’s genius branding.

Still looking for the perfect chocolate Easter egg?  Michel Roux jr reviewed various flavours, and then there’s this, a Game of Thrones inspired dragon’s egg.

Dragon's egg

 

Image: Easter eggs  |  Dan Zen  |  CC BY 2.0

 

Just Stop It: Website Overlays

Just Stop it

I hadn’t even  seen the article and the site wants me to sign up and to contact them. If this were a date I’d be sneaking out the back door, escaping the overbearing demands of my date. On this site it wasn’t clear how to get rid of the overlay, it took some random clicking to find that it’s removed by a click on the far left of the screen.

I’ve also seen overlays that whoosh into the middle of the screen if you move the mouse towards the upper tool bar, where the book-mark function is, the overlay attempts to entice you back to read more. But it often comes of as begging for your attention, in dating terms it’s the clingy boyfriend/girlfriend of the internet.

Have these been tested for usability? Am I the only person in the world that resents the interference with my reading time?

Please internet; just stop it.

 

Just Stop it

Just Stop it

 

 

 

Some things are really annoying me in my digital life, here’s a short list of the most annoying.

Please add yours in the comments.

1; Facebook, stop giving me a pointless warning page when I click a link

It’s a link to the New York Times and there isn’t a problem. If this is supposed to be preventing us from opening dodgy websites it fails since it happens on every link so the user (ie; me) learns to click past it very quickly.

Stop it.

2 Content Publishers, don’t make me download an app to read your content.

Given that they could use responsive design I don’t care about one piece of your content enough to use my data limit to download your app.

Stop it…. (cute turtles though).

3; Website designers, stop assuming I want Dutch content

I type in domainname.com and am flipped into the Dutch site, based on my IP address. Lots of guilty sites; google, expedia, msn to name three. I do understand the reason behind this, but make it easy for me to switch languages. Do not do what Kobo does – lets me change the platform language but still delivers content in Dutch (even with a login, it go so annoying that I deleted my account).

Just stop it.

 

Thanks I feel better for letting that out. So much better that this might become a series.

What are your digital “stop it” messages?

Orp Excitement

Almost a  year and a half ago I backed a little kickstarter project that was re-inventing bicycle lights and bells. It was named the Orp and labelled as the world’s first smart horn. I live in Amsterdam, and my only mode of transport is a bicycle with a beat up basket on the front and a chain guard held together with masking tape. Obviously what it needed was a smart horn. I signed up as a backer and waited.

Since then the guys at Orp have been spending a lot of time refining the design and the packaging, I’ve been getting regular updates, and in April they started shipping. I think you know where this is going.

MY ORP ARRIVED TODAY!

I choose orange as a nod to my adopted country, it seems to be easy to put on and take off the bike handlebars, it is rechargeable (via USB), the light is bright and has a flashing option. The design seems weather proof enough for the rigours of Dutch weather, but it’s the sound effects that won me over.

Here’s the on off switch;

 

 

And here’s the bike horn with the happy and scary noise effects;

 

That’s going to be a whole lot more noise than the usual mild Dutch bells, I’m very curious to see people’s reaction. If you want your own Orp Smart Horn, you can order it at Orpland.

Image: bike night via pixabay