Just Stop It: Pinterest Torture

Pinterest is the latest-greatest-fastest-growing social media platform, with a high conversion rate. Meaning that users are likely to buy something they’ve pinned, according to a small survey done Harvard Business Review 12% of pinterest users have gone on to make an online purchase of something they’ve pinned, and 16 % go on to make an offline purchase of something they’ve pinned.

Great news for businesses.

So why then do businesses pin a great image of their latest trendy product and then…

when I click on it give me this;

Requiring me to create an account in order to see the product price.

Guess what – I don’t. And I’m not alone.

Amazon, surely the standard-setter in online retail, lets you browse as long as you want, and offers you deals and discounts before asking you to log-in or create an account. Everything we know about transactions online says that the customer will only give you information when they’ve made a decision to buy – and that you shouldn’t put anything in the way of that decision. Once that decision is made then the customer is very task oriented, they’ll create accounts and do what they need to complete their purchase.

In the mean time; let me browse – who knows I may find a second pair of sunnies for the weekend.

Dutch Design; Cycling Style

Two of the things I like about living in Amsterdam; cycling everywhere, and Dutch pragmatism. Both are combined in latest bike design from VANMOOF.

VANMOOF design for urban cyclists, so their bikes are sturdy, but light and stylish. It’s dark here at 4pm in winter so the lights are built in and there’s a dynamo integrated into the bike. Bike theft is the most common crime here, so there’s a built in lock – one that comes out of the frame. I’ve noticed their distinctive design around town but didn’t know what they were until recently.

The design is so good it’s won awards.

The interesting thing about this company is they’re trying to design new products with genuine co-creation, take a look at their facebook page – they are always asking for feedback at every step of the process. They’re heading for 7,000 likes, and the community is submitting photos and stories of their VANMOOF bikes from all around the world.

Not only have I “liked” their facebook page, I want one of their bikes!

(Disclaimer – no of course they didn’t pay me to write this).

A Bite of the Apple

If you were hiding under a rock last month then you might have missed the news that Steve Jobs resigned his role as CEO of Apple, although he retains his role as Chairman.

Apple has become an iconic company, their understanding of design as integral to the way we use technology has revolutionised design across the industry. It’s also a company that attracts fans known to be, well, zealous. Which means that it attracts some pretty zealous detractors as well.

So the announcement that he was stepping down has CEO did cause a slight wobble in Apple’s shareprice – it was down at the end of the trading day – and it led to an outpouring across the internet of… admiration. He was lauded across twitter, at one point he and Ghadaffi were the trending topics. There’s a site where you can tweet your thanks to Steve Jobs directly, and of course you can rely on someone to make a joke out of it.

Every tech blog/site is rushed publish their take on the news, with personal reminiscences, or praise for Steve’s leadership, or paraphrasing him to advise others, or advice for Apple as a company. There’s already a video of his life already.

Of course there are a few detractors, but overall it was a love fest. A lot of the adulation is warranted, although part of the outpouring is surely because Steve Jobs is not a well man, one of the articles linked to above even calls itself a eulogy. However ill he is it’s clear that the commentators are here to praise Jobs, not to bury him.

I am typing this on a Mac, there’s an iPod in my bag, and I recently bought and iPad, so clearly I’m a fan but I’m not evangelical about Apple. I do resent the limits Apple builds into its products and in other industries the locked relationship such as between hardware and software would be challenged as an anti-competitive level of vertical integration.

The company is good at what it does, the sales figures, the growing market share, the profits, and the share price and point to a strong business. But what I’ve found disquieting in all this love fest is the number of commentators saying that Apple will never be the same. Not to take anything away from Steve Jobs, but there’s a team of people running Apple with a combined experience with the company of more than 100 years (plus some handy background experience at companies such as Intel).

We like the idea of a great man and a great leader, but surely a company is stronger with a leadership team.

In fact one commentator did point out that Tim Cook has been an effective (acting) CEO during Steve Job’s extended leave of absence and goes on to suggested that one reason behind this decision is to retain Tim Cook, since he would be a desirable hire for any number of companies.

In any case; the company is fundamentally strong, a lot of the expertise that made the company great is still there. And although the sentimental outpourings continue, the share price was up again at close of business the day after the announcement.

Now if only I could get wordpress to work on my iPad.

image apple

“Let the Data set change your Mind Set”

Another fantastic TED talk on data visualisation, and how it might help us understand the enormous amounts of complex information we’re facing.

I love working on visualisation of information, and have had mild success in simplifying problem statements or project goals into single images. I admit I get a kick out of the moment when the data/information “clicks” into place and the diagram becomes clear and simple. I get another click when someone else’s response is along the lines of “ah, now I get it”.

Brainstorming – 7 tips

I was invited to a brainstorming session a couple of weeks ago, I jumped at the chance – I love brainstorming sessions, I tend to come out of them with more ideas for my own work as well as contributing some to the session.

But this one fell flat and I’ve been thinking about what went wrong and what makes a good brainstorming session. Here’s what I’ve come up with;

Choose a time when participants have some energy to be creative; Friday last thing might not be the time of the week when people are feeling their most energetic or creative – or it might be a good opportunity if you can move them to a different environment and finish the week on a high.
Go somewhere different, or do something different to make the participants feel they’re outside the office and away from their work. One friend spent 50 euro at IKEA to buy everything needed to create a picnic environment for his brainstorm.
Choose a mixture of participants; you want a mixture of approaches, ideas, thought processes. Try to have a mixture of introvert and extroverts – but make sure the introverts get a chance to be heard. If the brainstorm is about a creative issue, for example a product name, make sure there are people in the group from the target audience – and make sure their voices are heard.
Make sure the purpose of the brainstorming is clearly defined; “re-imagining how we work” or “naming the new product”.
Be very clear on the process – even if not all steps are disclosed to the participants up front. The process should include;

  • set ground rules – everyone’s ideas are valid, no ‘black hat‘ reactions, no blocking, no evaluating of ideas
  • a briefing, outlining the purpose, the context, and how the outcomes of the brainstorm will be used
  • an exercise to switch people’s thinking out of their daily grind mindset, I’ve used masks to reinforce that we needed to look at the question through different eyes
  • an exercise to generate ideas – this should be a no holds barred free for all idea session
  • order ideas – group or order the ideas, for example if the exercise is around naming a product you might group the names into types such as “emotional”, “descriptive” and “new word”
  • discuss – it’s important to discuss how everyone arrived at their ideas, sometimes this will help convince at the next step, or help people think of new direction

I always go into a brainstorming hoping we’ll get the perfect answer, sometimes that doesn’t happen. It’s important that you drive towards the goal but don’t force it; if the right answer doesn’t come out of the brainstorm be positive about what has been offered and reinforce what the next step will be.
Do something original to make the brainstorm fun. Our meeting rooms have glass walls and after the brainstorm were I used masks I had several people ask if they could join the next session. Dare a little, it will be appreciated.

The best brainstorming session leaves everyone feeling positive about the project, and invested in the outcome – even if it wasn’t “their” idea that was chosen.

What was the best brainstorming you’ve been to?

image Brainstorms at INDEX: Views /Jacob Botter/ CC BY 2.0

Unexpected Beauty

At TedX Amsterdam I came across this unexpected beauty of a presentation, about (more or less) unexpected beauty, and titled From pretty to ugly and back again; mysterious ways of beauty in photography.

He speaks on photography’s relation to art, his own photography and his journey back go photography. Which lead to someone calling him and saying “We hear you are in possession of a camera”. He now writes about photography. His lecture is a delight; thought-provoking and humorous.

Christmas Cards; A Cautionary Tale

My company gave up sending paper Christmas cards years ago, and since then has sent various online versions. You know the sort of thing, it arrives as a link in your email and when you click on it you open a website with spinning Christmas trees, a seasonal message and the company’s name.

Last year one of our interns working in another team set up a website for us to do this in a very simple way. It worked well, and when he left in summer none of us thought about asking about the Christmas card tool.

Roll on November and I ask my new intern to look into making some cards for this year and loading them up onto the site. She makes the cards, they’re all approved. Then we go to uploading them to the site.

What is the password?

I contact the old intern via facebook to ask for the password info, which he emails me with a warning that he’ll be on a long flight to Singapore and won’t be in contact for a while. We upload the new cards.

They work, but you can’t preview them.

No-one knows why. We figure out a work-around (link to an html page of a sent card), but also ask the old intern if he knows what is the problem. He does, and we fix it. We do one last round of testing and send a message to the department.

The next day nothing works.

We’ve tested everything and know it should work. It worked yesterday. We check on the external connection, not through the company network. It doesn’t work there either. So perhaps it’s a problem with the hosting company, no, other parts of their site are working fine. We’re about to email them to ask for help when the new intern in an inspired moment checks the account information.

We haven’t paid the bill.

We didn’t pay the bill because we never got a notification, and we never got a notification because the hosting account is connected to the old intern’s email address, which hasn’t been in use for about 4 months. We pay the bill. Everything works.

But now it’s very late in the Christmas season. And although our problems stem from how it was set up last year we look pretty bad in the eyes of our clients.

Lessons learnt;

Standardisation is a good thing, using our standard content management system would have avoided all of this, although the functionality of the cards may have been limited.

Documentation is a good thing, if the old intern had prepared a one page document on how to manage the Christmas cards tool, including the password information it would have saved us a lot of time – both actual work time and total project time as we were waiting for his response on occasion.

Generic email addresses are a good thing, if the account had been set up using the department’s email address we’d have found out we needed to pay an invoice back in October.

We’ll do better next year!

image Christmas via pixabay

Usability in Action; Banks

Years ago, more than 10 years ago, I withdrew my rent money from an ATM, as my automatic payments hadn’t been set up. I got the receipt but not the money. Obviously I was a bit concerned, but the bank happened to be open so I went in to try to solve this. The teller told me that it was a Good Thing I’d kept the receipt because it helped them track my transaction, but they wouldn’t be able to do anything until they reconciled the machine’s balance at the end of the day.

Well eventually it was resolved and since then I’ve always chosen the “with receipt” option when withdrawing money.

The process of cash withdrawal at ABN Amro

That’s probably more than a thousand receipts. Think of all that paper. And the only reason I’m doing it is just in case the machine doesn’t give me my money. (Never had a problem since but I’m still cautious).

Well ABN Amro’s machines here in the Netherlands have made a very simple change to the process of withdrawing money. They now ask you whether you want a receipt AFTER you’ve taken the money. Now I choose no. No more receipts. I bet others do the same.

It’s one of those blindingly simple changes to a process that helps the customer, saves money and saves the environment.

I think we should all look at design, including process design from the user’s perspective. We should ask ourselves not just what we want the user to do, but what does the user want out of each step. In this example someone at ABN Amro has worked out that a lot of people get the receipts “just in case” the machine gives them the wrong money. So they’ve moved that step to after the cash step.

We need to take time to re-examine a lot of processes, I bet there are more smart ways to improve design of machines, objects, websites and processes.

image ATM

Postcript is…

A brief postscript to my “Design is…” post from a couple of weeks ago.

I used the design ideas from Presentation Zen to give a speech, a speech that needed to use visual aids at Toastmasters.

Toastmasters is a club that focuses on public speaking, and some members of my club are a little allergic to using powerpoint for this project. I was toying with the idea of using fabric samples to illustrate the colour wheel, but when someone in the club said that powerpoint was always awful I decided to rise to the challenge.

Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 5.26.15 PMI choose “Fear” as my subject, and gave an 8 slide presentation (the speech is 6 minutes) using images to illustrate the various fears we have and our reactions to them. I got positive feedback on the night.

Even better at the following meeting two people came up and said they’d “copied” the concept of my presentation – that is they’d gone for image heavy presentations rather than text and bullet points. I recommended the book and website of Presentation Zen – I really can’t take any credit for the concept but I’m so happy that that others are picking up on it.

Image Claustrophobia I /Laura Lewis/ CC BY 2.0

Design for Development

IDEO, the award-winning design consultancy with success across multiple industries has created a design process kit free for download.

They’ve called it a Human Centered Design Toolkit and it’s aimed at NGO’s and social enterprise, and it’s developed with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

They’re arguably the world’s experts in this having worked on design projects in energy, health, education and more recently developed the wonderfully simple kickstart pump which has helped farmers irrigate their land and earn around $37M per year.

The toolkit consists of five guides; introduction, hear, field, create, deliver. Because there can be language barriers making the field research phase the kit includes some visual aspirational cards to ease the discussion. The cards feature images of everything from farming to cities, from money to cowpats; some are shown at left.

The design kit is brilliantly simple, each guide is well set out, with tips on running brainstorm sessions, collecting the ideas and developing them into practical solutions. It helps field workers find solutions that will fit the local situation and economy in developing countries.

But the lessons and process can be applied more widely, and the guides themselves offer inspiration.