Tags: fowd

10

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America

I’ve just come back from a multi-hop trip to the States, spanning three cities in just over two weeks.

It started with an all-too-brief trip to San Francisco for Science Hack Day, which—as I’ve already described—was excellent. It was a shame that it was such a flying visit and I didn’t get to see many people. But then again, I’ll be back in December for An Event Apart San Francisco.

It was An Event Apart that took me to my second destination: Austin, Texas. The conference was great, as always. But was really nice was having some time afterwards to explore the town. Being in Austin when it’s not South by Southwest is an enjoyable experience that I can heartily recommend.

Christopher and Ari took me out to Lockhart to experience Smitty’s barbecue—a place with a convoluted family drama and really, really excellent smoked meat. I never really “got” Texas BBQ until now. I always thought I liked the sauced-based variety, but now I understand: if the BBQ is good enough, you don’t need the sauce.

For the rest of my stay, Sam was an excellent host, showing me around her town until it was time for me to take off for New York city.

To start with, I was in Manhattan. I was going to be speaking at Future Of Web Design right downtown on 42nd street, and I showed up a few days early to rendezvous with Jessica and do some touristing.

We perfected the cheapskate’s guide to Manhattan, exploring the New York Public Library, having Tiff show us around the New York Times, and wrangling a tour of the MoMA from Ben Fino-Radin, who’s doing some fascinating work with the digital collection.

I gave my FOWD talk, which went fine once the technical glitches were sorted out (I went through three microphones in five minutes). The conference was in a cinema, which meant my slides were giganormous. That was nice, but the event had an odd kind of vibe. Maybe it was the venue, or maybe it was the two-track format …I really don’t like two-track conferences; I constantly feel like I’m missing out on something.

I skipped out on the second day of the conference to make my way over the bridge to Brooklyn in time for my third trip to Brooklyn Beta.

This year, they tried something quite different. For the first two days, there was a regular Brooklyn Beta: 300 lovely people gathered together at the Invisible Dog, ostensibly to listen to talks but in reality to hang out and chat. It was joyous.

Then on the third and final day, those 300 people decamped to Brooklyn’s Navy Yard to join a further 1000 people. There we heard more talks and had more chats.

Alas, the acoustics in the hangar-like space battled against the speakers. That’s why I made sure to grab a seat near the front for the afternoon talks. I found myself with a front-row seat for a series of startup stories and app tales. Then, without warning, the tech talks were replaced with stand-up comics. The comedians were very, very good (Reggie Watts!) …but I found it hard to pay attention because I realised I was in a living nightmare: somehow I was in the front-row seat of a stand-up comedy show. I spent the entire time thinking “Please don’t pick on me, please don’t pick on me, please don’t…” I couldn’t sneak out either, because that would’ve only drawn attention to myself.

But apart from confronting me with my worst fears, Brooklyn Beta was great …I’m just not sure it scales well from 300 to 1300.

And with that, my American sojourn came to an end. I’m glad that the stars aligned in such a way that I was able to hit up four events in my 16 day trip:

Wrapping up The Future of Web Design

The Future of Web Design is all over bar the workshops. All in all, it was a good day with a well-planned schedule (apart from the yucky product pitches).

I think I did a pretty good job of liveblogging. I neglected to blog two of the presentations; sorry chaps. To recap in chronological order:

  1. Finding Inspiration for Design by Patrick McNeil.
  2. User Experience vs. Brand Experience by Andy Clarke and Steve Pearce.
  3. The User Experience Curve by Andy Budd.
  4. Demo hell courtesy of Microsoft.
  5. Getting Your Designs Approved by Larissa Meek.
  6. Photoshop Battle pitting Jina Bolton and Hannah Donovan against Jon Hicks and Elliot Jay Stocks, umpired by Andy Clarke.
  7. Print is the New Web by Elliot Jay Stocks.
  8. From Design to Deployment by Jon Hicks.
  9. Slightly less hellish demo courtesy of Adobe.
  10. Unconventional Ways to Promote Your Site by Paul Farnell.
  11. Iteration and You by Daniel Burka.

When all the talks were done, a group of my fellow geeks gathered together for dinner. Over a bowl of noodles, I enjoyed a great chat about community management tactics with Denise, Hannah and Daniel. Now that would be a great talk for a conference.

Suitably nourished, we moved on to the official after-party. It was good while the free booze lasted. But the glamour wore off once we were paying £5 for a small bottle of beer and the music got incrementally louder, making it harder and harder to socialise.

Alun led the escape committee in charge of making a break for Pub Standards. Together with Paul, Larissa and Daniel, we hopped in a taxi and sought asylum at The Bricklayer’s Arms. We refugees were greeted with open arms by the geeks gathered there.

Why has it taken me this long to make it to a Pub Standards? It was entirely filled with WIN!

Oh wait. I remember. It’s because of the tortuous journey required to get back to Brighton. In this case it involved an unforeseen change of tube, a sprint through the train station to make it onto the last fast train to Brighton only to be kicked off at East Croyden (something about a “door failure”) where I had to wait for half an hour for the next train to Brighton; a slow one.

That was quite a day. Despite the protracted travel at the end of it, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Iteration and You

Daniel gets off to a great start by plugging my blog. Oh, yeah! The excellence continues with his first slide which features the looming head of Trammell.

Daniel asks for a show of hands. Who works on one website? Who works on many different client websites? A good mix, it seems.

We’ll be hearing lots from Stewart Brand’s book, How Buildings Learn. Buildings don’t change much (on the outside at least …but let’s not go into right now). That’s certainly true of High Road architecture. But there’s also Low Road architecture which is much more modular. A lot of websites are like that. Frameworks like Django help there, as do Web Standards. With Low Road architecture you can easily build a castle as someone has actually done with mobile homes. White trash nirvana!

Establish a visual vocabulary to avoid building a . That worked with Pownce. Notched rectangles are used throughout, right through to the branding. On Digg, a lot of the visual language stems from the Digg button. It was initially inspired by a design element by Dave, used on Mozilla and refined on Digg where it influenced the overall design. Facebook also has a visual vocabulary based around blue rectangles and single-pixel lines. App developers can take this visual language and work with it to ensure their products fit in with the Facebook look and feel.

Design paths. That’s paving the cowpaths to you and me. Launch your website with the base set of features; don’t try to anticipate everything everyone will want to do. Instead, watch what people do and build on that. That’s how images came to Digg—emergence through user behaviour. Threaded comments also emerged from watching how people used a basic single-thread comment.

Adapt to scale. It’s a great problem to have. The original Digg button couldn’t handle figures with more than three digits.

Subtraction is iteration too (so true! I witnessed a great example of this in action just the other day in the Clearleft office). Remove clutter. You can add functionality and reduce complexity at the same time.

Realign, don’t redesign. That’s a direct quote from Cameron. You don’t have to rip everything out and start from scratch. When the Martha Stewart site redesigned, it really confused long-time users (like Daniel’s sister and the girl who sat next to Daniel on the flight to the UK). Unless there’s a really good reason to raze something to the ground, try instead to adapt what’s already there.

Now for the Stewart Butterfield quote:

Every time I hear a designer say the word innovation, I reach for my revolver… I want to shoot them in the face.

It’s okay to reuse something if it’s what works.

Make time for iteration (oh man, I hear ya!) — don’t overbook yourself on the new stuff. Release early, release often. Get it out the door even if it’s not perfect. Daniel illustrates this point with one of my Flickr pics.

But at the same time, don’t panic! You’re going to get an avalanche of feedback. Stop. Listen. Learn. Don’t overreact.

So to sum up:

  • Low road design is easier to adapt.
  • Realign, don’t redesign.
  • Create a visual language.
  • Remove as much as you add.
  • Don’t be over reactive.
  • Make time for iteration.

That’s it. Great advice! Any questions?

  • How do you sell iteration time to clients? That’s always tough—the politics. Choose your clients well.
  • How about using A/B testing to test features? It’s a great idea but Daniel hasn’t had a chance to implement it himself. If you can do it, it’s awesome but it requires the right infrastructure.
  • As an in-house designer, how to you get your bosses and management to buy into iteration? Didn’t we already have this question?
  • On the point of visual language, how much do you use a style guide? Daniel’s never used an official style guide, it’s more of a de-facto thing. At Mozilla they had some dos and don’ts but nothing hardcore.
  • Last question: You know when talked about the visual language? At what point do you decide that it’s too much to deploy everywhere? You can shake it up a bit. If it doesn’t fit, don’t use it. Variations are fine.

Bravo, Daniel! And indeed, Delta Tango!

From Design to Deployment

Jon begins by apologising if what he is about to say is old hat to everyone. No, Jon, never apologise!

He moves on to a much better subject: cheese. He loves cheese (no! really?) but there are no good cheese sites out there on the Web. Jon has bought the domain Cheesophile.com — what a friend we have in cheeses! He makes an excellent dig at the crappy Silverlight demo: there is no giant interactive cheese for you to spin around. That gets a round of applause.

Jon bears his file system to us and shows how he sets up his folder. Then he sets up a local server on Apache using MAMP or Headdress.

Jon takes the design and the content and in Fireworks he overlays what elements are the best semantic fit. Which pieces of content are headers? What should be in a list? Now he begins to create the markup but he begins without structural divs: just paragraphs, list items, headings and meaty elements.

Starting at the top of the document, choose a DOCTYPE—whatever floats your boat. Then think about the content of your TITLE element. For navigation, do you need a “skip navigation” link?

Now let’s look at that document with the default browser styles.

Uh-oh. Here comes a flame war: fluid vs. fixed, ems vs. picels, HTML vs. Flash. It all depends on the content.

Now what browsers will you support? What would Yahoo do? Graded Browser Support FTW! But for a personal site like the Rissington Podcast, Jon didn’t think it was worth bending over for IE6.

For CSS, Jon begins with a basic file that tidies up fonts and spacing but doesn’t do any layout. Now he @imports a reset stylesheet and a typography stylesheet and a layout stylesheet. Using conditional comments, an IE-only stylesheet is called in for everyone’s favourite browser.

For the reset stylesheet, use what Eric has done.

For the typography stylesheet, stop and think about the typeface choice. Jon thinks we should scrap the idea of web-safe fonts in the same way we scrapped web-safe colours. It’s like specifying “Roquefort, Stilton, Cheddar, any generic cheese.” Instead we should specify “A very specific Roquefort, any Roquefort, Stilton, any blue cheese.” So substitute specific fonts but not generic fonts. Use the metadata in your font management software to figure out the right order. Jon recommends stealing sheep by using negative letter-spacing on headers.

On to backgrounds. Wooden backgrounds are passé. Cheese backgrounds are the next big thing. For a large background image, you can afford to bring down the quality. Fireworks kicks Photoshop’s ass when it comes to small file sizes when saving images.

Hide your skip navigation link but make it visible on :focus.

Have a cup of tea.

Time to figure out your grid (Jon is taking the easy way out and using a fixed width layout—he is forgiven because of the lovely liquidy goodness he has given us in the past). A JavaScript bookmarklet helps toggle a grid overlay on and off.

Frameworks. Do what you want but Jon prefers to use his own framework: tried and tested bits of CSS.

Once the grid sizes are set, you can start resizing images. Play around with sharpening in Photoshop after resizing.

Now the site is looking good. It’s bughunting time! Firebug is your friend. Then comes the horrible moment when we look at the site in IE6. It’s probably the fault of hasLayout. Father Ted explains it best. Sister Asumpta is the div. Father Dougal is IE6. How do we get Dougal to recognise Sister Asumpta? We use the “blue jumper” of hasLayout which can be zoom: 1. You might be tempted to apply this with the universal selector but it’s better to understand the problem and then fix it.

Finally, around midnight, the site gets deployed. Bravo! hicksdesign.co.uk/journal/design-to-deployment

Print is the New Web

Elliot Jay Stocks is going to tell us what Web design can learn from print design. Pshwaw! We don’t need that dirty dead tree stuff, do we?

He’s showing some very pretty pictures of book covers. A lot of them are from George Orwell books. Elliot confesses that he’s not a huge Orwell fan. For shame! George Orwell is my hero.

Down to brass tacks. Print design gives you a lot of freedom. There’s the freedom to use large areas of whitespace, unusual layouts, bold imagery and typography as well as breaking outside of the grid.

People talk about a long-established design for print while Web is all new. But Elliot thinks that isn’t the case. Web design is built on the same history as print design. To take that further, both are built upon the history of art.

It was Flash that first got Elliot interested in the Web. It was very visual. He quotes Jeff Croft from a comment on one of Khoi’s post when he said that the appeal of Flash is that has a similar interface and vocabulary to Photoshop and other design tools.

Here’s Conclave Obscurum. It’s a Flash site that has stood the test of time well. It’s got weird shaky text and other deliberate glitches but it’s engaging. But what purpose do these deliberate glitches serve? Well, they break the mold. They create a pleasant level of tension, like watching a whodunnit.

Coba Hair is non-Flash site that does some interesting stuff. Then there’s the Seed Conference site which almost like a step back to playbills. Revyver is brave in not slapping a logo in the big space at the top.

Now comes what Elliot calls the poncey bit: narrative in Web design. He begins by quoting Khoi.

No-one Belongs Here More Than You has a great narrative structure. Shaun builds narrative by using colour and more importantly, fading older content.

The poncey narrative theory begins with Freytag’s list:

  1. Exposition
  2. Rising action
  3. Climax (turning point)
  4. Falling action
  5. Denouement

How does this translate to Web design?

  1. Structure
  2. Tension
  3. Stand-out elements
  4. Balance
  5. The overall aesthetic

Let’s talk about business cards. Elliot loves them. He’s showing his favourites. But your home page is not your business card. Neither is your navigation or your contact page. Your design is your business card.

To summarise, there are two tangents in Web design: Flash and HTML/CSS. There should be more crossover between the two. We should be embracing the freedoms of print design. Narrative is lacking in a lot of (non-Flash) websites. Bur more than anything: you impress not just with good design but with brave design. Take things that you wouldn’t normally do (often from a different medium) and apply them to the Web.

Elliot finishes by asking us to join him for a drink tonight to help him celebrate leaving Carsonified. As he says, woo-hoo!

Photoshop Battle

It’s time for one of the more, um… “interesting” slots at The Future of Web Design conference. It’s a live battle of the sexes with Photoshop as the weapon of choice. Whatever you do, don’t call it layer tennis.

Andy Clarke is the compére. He gets the show on the road by introducing the contestants one by one:

With the introductions out of the way, the game kicks off. The boys win the toss and elect to let the ladies go first.

While Jina makes strange amalgamations of Malarkey and robots, Andy sits down for a chat with Elliot and Jon. Jon is sharing insights into life at Rissington. Apparently John has taught him to swear properly.

A Twitter from the audience: Mr. Hicks, you’re rocking the pipe and beer but where are the slippers and flat cap? Did I neglect to mention that they’re all drinking some very nice Belgian beer.

30 seconds for the first round. Meanwhile Elliot explains the challenges in going freelance like getting dressed in the morning. With that, the first five minutes are up.

Second round. The boys get Photoshopping and the girls sit down for a chat. While Hannah explains the revenue model for Last.fm, the lads pull up embarrassing pictures of Andy like the one where’s he drinking out of pineapple when we visited the Tonga Room.

Andy quizzes Jina on the differences between agency work and working for a large unnamed company.

Next round. Hannah has control of the decks. Andy says he’s trying to ignore what’s been constructed on screen. Inevitably, he quizes Jon on the Firefox logo. Jon tells the tale of receiving an enquiry from Burning Monkey Software, could we get a monkey on fire wrapped around a planet? Since doing the Silverback icon, he gets asked to do more primates.

30 seconds left on the clock for this round.

Time’s up. The ladies have created a lovely montage. Now it’s time for the last volley. The boys really need to pull out all the stops.

The conversation between Jina and Andy resumes. They’re talking about creativity and other such designery things.

At this point, the alarm on Jina’s iPhone (which has been deposited somewhere near me) starts to go off. I must spend five minutes trying desperately to find it and switch it off. Just as I manage that, the Photoshop battle ends. Who won?

Getting Your Designs Approved

Larissa Meek takes to the stage to talk about getting design sign-off. She’s got 12 simple rules but remember, every client is different so these kind of cover the best-case scenario.

In the ideal scenario, the client loves your first round of comps. In reality, you get comments like I don’t like blue, make the logo bigger or something is missing. That last one is particularly frustrating as a piece of feedback.

Remember, design is subjective—everyone has a different idea about what constitutes good design. Another problem is that comps aren’t interactive. Also, it can be hard for a client to grasp new, innovative ideas. The reason why everyone has an opinion on Web design is that everyone uses the Web.

  1. Make friends with your client. Your client is not your enemy. They get as frustrated as you. Try to see things from their point of view. A lot of them are overworked; this Web thing might not be the only project they are juggling.

  2. Ask lots of questions. What are the business objectives? What does the client want to get out of the site? This might differ from what the user might want from the site. Consider the hot dog. It’s basically a piece of meat on some bread. How would you ask questions about hot dogs… what are hot dogs? why are they called hot dogs? why are they kosher? what does kosher mean? why are hot dog buns longer than the hot dogs? what’s the best way to cook a hot dog? why are hot dogs associated with baseball? hot dogs? hot dogs? hot dogs? …the hot dog entertainment is interrupted as Larissa’s Windows laptop attempts an auto-update. Whoops.

  3. Ask more questions — who will be using the site? Sometimes the client hasn’t really considered this question. User profiles help. These are often overlooked but they help in those tough spots with the client when you need ammunition to justify a design decision. You can argue that you’re doing what’s best for a user rather than just defending your own opinion.

  4. Use wireframes but don’t be tied to them. Clients can’t always make the leap to visualise how wireframes will differ from the final product. But wireframes are a great conversation starter. Together you can answer a lot of questions before getting to the design stage. This gets them to think about functionality and see things from the user’s point of view. Walk your clients through wireframes. Try to use real copy instead of greeked text. Larissa also things that wireframes should be “to scale” but to me that sounds like she means layout. (Personally, I consider that to be a design decision. Hierarchy in wireframes, yes; layout, no. Larissa says that subtle changes are okay. I guess we just draw the line in a slightly different place.)

  5. Talk about design before you even open up Photoshop. Try to nail mood and colour before you start creating comps. The client’s input is important at this stage. If the client has a style guide, you must understand it. You can give the client site examples and colour palettes. Create a quick mood board.

  6. One design direction will do. Too many options are overwhelming. The client will probably like a little bit from each design and you end up with a piecemeal design cobbled together from various bits. Really, at this stage you should be focused on one design direction. Designing should not be like a take-out menu.

  7. Present in the browser. Don’t just email it. You can send additonal documentation but you really need to walk a client through a design in a browser. Your client might have to sell the design on to the next person in the chain so they need to know how to walk through the design.

  8. Prototype as needed. Not every site needs it but for Web apps, it’s very important. Prototypes help you figure out things from a user’s point of view. Fireworks is a good tool for this.

  9. Ask for consolidated feedback and limited rounds of revisions. Try to avoid committees. You don’t want to be getting contradictory feedback in bits and pieces. You’ll probably need to educate your client in how the feedback round should work. Too much haphazard feedback leads to scope creep. Control the feedback and you can keep your project on track. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Remember, everyone has a different opinion on what constitutes good design. Help your clients focus. Ask for specific feedback.

  10. Be confident in your work. This can be difficult for new designers and also for freelancers who don’t have the support of a team. You have to be confident so you don’t go to your client asking hey, is this right? Instead, you want to explaining the informed the design decisions you made.

  11. Time will tell. A lot of clients don’t realise what goes into a site. It takes time for them to learn. It’s easier with clients you’ve worked with before. Getting sign-off is easier once a relationship has been established.

  12. Make the most of a difficult situation. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. It’s easy to get frustrated in a design project. You need to take a step back and rediscover what it is you love about the project. Try to focus on the positive and move forward in an optimistic way. Then you’ll feel like you’re working with the client instead of against them.

Those are the twelve points. As is this The Future of Web Design conference, let’s ask what’s the future of getting designs approved? What are the best practices? It’s hard to tell. Every project is different. Every designer is different. But there is a Society of Digital Agencies which is intended as a platform for designers to figure out the best processes and guidelines. It has 18 “leading” digital agencies apparently.

To wrap, remember that the 12 rules outlined here are a best-case scenario. Come to terms with the fact that no project goes exactly to plan. Larissa now reiterates the 12 points in case we missed them the first time ‘round.

Demo hell

The Future of Web Design just took a nose-dive. I’m having flashbacks to MIX08 as we are subjected to an interminable Silverlight demo.

Any conference that allows sponsors to buy speaking slots isn’t putting together a user-centred schedule. At best, these shill spots are tolerated. For most people, they engender downright hostility.

On the plus side, these pathetic little sales pitches are shorter than the real speaking slots. I can see Paul edging up on the side of the stage, ready to drag this guy off—he has definitely outstayed his welcome.

The User Experience Curve

My cohort from Clearleft, Andy Budd is up now. Let’s see how he does.

Without any faffing about, he kicks off with a story about checking into a hotel. This is better than bullet points any day. He maps this experience onto a graph. This is his user experience curve.

The start and the end of the experience are the most important so you should focus on those parts but the whole experience is important. Andy shows a different graph which maps the user experience curve of checking into a different hotel. This curve looks different because the experience was sub-par.

We need to look at examples from beyond the Web. Andy will go through seven touchpoints of user experience.

First Experience Counts

This sets the tone for the whole day. He quotes some dodgy statistics about how quick women make up their minds about blokes on that first meeting. Then there’s the doorman at a hotel. He’s your first experience of that hotel. Ostensibly he’s there to carry your bags but really he’s there to make sure you’re experience begins will. This doesn’t work in retail when those creepy people greet you as you enter a store.

People do judge books by their cover. Take those lovely Dorset Cereal boxes for example. The design helps sell the product. Apple have mastered the art of the first impression. Unboxing an iPod is like undressing your girlfriend for the first time —Andy’s words, not mine.

The games industry also craft the initial experience well. The first level of Call of Duty is a basic training level. This is a better experience than reading a manual. He shows some game footage, demonstrating how the game dripfeeds you instructions as you go along. Crucially, this happens in-game, not in some separate place.

Then of course, there’s the Web. People really do make snap decisions. 37 Signals do a really good job of introducing new features. Yahoo have also tried “in-game” walkthroughs with on-screen overlays.

Time for an example from Clearleft: Edenbee. On the “newbee” page, there are a bunch of overlays. Sidenote: they were a bitch to mark up and style, just so you know.

Attentive Service

An attentive waiter or waitress refill your glass without you noticing. That’s a nice experience. Then there’s the experience of queueing, not normally a nice experience. Whole Foods have been spending a lot of time studying this.

Again, Apple are a good example. Their retail stores are well-researched. They built an initial prototype based on the company’s business needs and when that clearly didn’t work, they redesigned it around the customer’s needs. Then they launched. Per square foot, Apple Stores are four times more profitable than Best Buy.

Personalisation and Customisation

Andy thinks that the key ingredient to the Wii’s success is not the wiimote but the wiimiis. In Starbucks, they ask for your name when they make your drink. The interaction is customised for you. And of course there’s the drinks customisation: mod your drinks.

The gaming world is also big into customisation. Take Josh’s WOW character that he’s invested a lot of time into. This customised avatar is also a status symbol.

On the Web we can do small things, like calling people by their name, that people really like. Then there’s customisation like on MySpace and to a lesser extent Twitter, that allows people to invest more into their pages (and they are therefore less likely to abandon that service).

Attention to Detail

Engineering problems are solvable. It’s the little design things that are hard.

In a hotel, putting a little chocalate on your pillow used to be a delighter. Now it’s passé. They have to do more now. One hotel puts a hand-written card in your room with the weather forecast for the next day. That has an emotional effect.

Car manufacturers spend a lot of time getting the sound of the car door slamming just right. A satisfying thunk is indicitive of the whole user experience.

Disney are the masters of this. Nothing in Disneyland or Disneyworld should break the Disney spell. So they have their own crafted bins. That’s consistency.

Here’s a fantastic little delighter from an Innocent Smoothie carton: the underside reads Stop looking at my bottom. That made Andy smile all day long. Bless.

Threadess are good at that. Moo, of course, are experts at this with the personalities of Little Moo and Big Moo. Denise is in the audience somewhere—she must be happy.

The parallax effect on the Silverback holding page is a also a delighter. Only a small percentage of people will see it but those people will be very pleased with that Easter egg.

Feedback

The gaming industry is all about feedback. Andy channels Dan Saffer as he talks about the feedback you get from a slot machine in Las Vegas.

Feedback prevents you wasting time. That little flag on American mailboxes is a handy feedback mechanism.

Feedback helps manage expectations. When you’re on hold with BT, they don’t tell you how long you’ll have to wait. The systems that tell you you are fifth in the queue are more useful and help you manage expectations.

Ultimately, feedback helps people solve their problems. Apple asked people where they had their best experiences. People said it was concierges in hotels. That’s where the idea of the Genius Bar came from: a concierge for your Mac.

On the Web, Linked In provide feedback on how much of your profile you have filled out so far. If you know you’ve only got 10% to go, you’re more likely to see it through.

Ajax is handy in adding meaningful feedback to forms. Kayak is a good example of constantly updated feedback.

Google Maps is all about feedback. You can drag, drop buttons, play around. Whatever you do, you get a reaction. Google Maps is fun.

When things go wrong, that’s an opportunity to interact with your customers. Error points are the areas where you can excell. Andy sent a snotty email to Tripit—within half an hour he got an apologetic email that turned him around from angry to happy. Error pages, of course, are the perfect place for good feedback.

Make It Fun

People like games. People like collecting. Collecting social objects brings a payoff with it. But whenever there’s a payoff in a system, that system is open to gaming. Points are useful for letting you know where you stand in a system but they also lend themselves to leaderboards. That can discourage the newbies at the bottom of the leaderboard.

Flickr is like a game based around collecting social objects—in this case, photos (thankfully Andy is using the term social object correctly here).

Digg used to display the top 100 diggers but that led to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer as the system was gamed. Digg removed the feature.

Moo is a game that sucks you in. Andy initially went along to check out the site and ended up getting drawn in. Before he knew it, he had bought a pack of business cards.

Create a Perfect Environment

Andy syas we need to look beyound the Web to places like a Starbucks, the Virigin Atlantic lounge and Las Vegas to see what constitutes a great user experience. Dear God! I hope we don’t recreate Vegas on the Web. It’s bad enough in real life.

Aaaaand… he’s spent. The boy done good.

User Experience vs. Brand Experience

I’m at the Future of Web Design in London and figured I’d pass the time with some live blogging.

Right now there’s a session somewhat in the same vein as last year’s Flash vs. CSS face-off. This time it’s brand experience vs. user experience. And just as with last year’s supposed battle, the truth comes out pretty early on that actually they should work in perfect harmony.

Steve Pearce is on first, fumbling with his Mac setup and mumbling about the importance of user experience but hammering home that brand and user should be in agreement. He’s illustrating this point with some cute cartoons.

The interactive experience is like an iceberg apparently. An experience iceberg. The visual part sits above the surface (what most people see) but the main part (that people interact with) is below the surface. We spend too long focusing on the bit above the surface. It doesn’t matter how much you polish the visible bit if it’s a wreck underneath. Basically, you can’t polish a turd …or a turdy iceberg. Instead we should work on the experience, which is the stuff under the surface. The reason we should work on this is that users will spread the word about good and bad experiences.

At this point, Steve mentions social objects, misattributing the term to Hugh instead of Jyri. I don’t quite see the connection with social objects unless he’s trying to say that any good user experience is automatically a social object because people will talk about it with their friends. That’s not quite my understanding of social objects. Can I include the term social object in every sentence I write? Possibly (social objects).

Don’t work too much on the surface: work on the experience underneath. That’s Steve’s takeaway point.

Now Andy is up to talk about the importance of brand. To demonstrate his point, he will refer to classic British comedy acts like Morecambe and Wise.

Andy makes the point that branding isn’t about what’s up on the billboards. It’s more about the experience and emotional attachment. Think Starbucks. Think Twitter.

Quoting Seth Godin, Andy says that a brand is really about getting people talking to each other. You know, the viral thing.

Now for an Eric Morecambe interlude. There is a connection though. In the past, everyone used to watch the same television shows and share the experience. There were far more people watching the Morecambe and Wise Christmas special than the most-watched TV programme today. Back then we consumed media in a very different way. These days it’s harder to reach those numbers and create something that spreads so widely. Back to the Eric Morecambe jokes now.

Andy plugs Dan’s book. Instead of thinking of systems-centred design, we can practice user-centred design. What if we make people something they love emotionally instead of asking them what they want? This is reminding me of Henry Ford’s quote that If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

Then there’s activity-centred design. Look at what people do instead of asking them.

Finally, there’s genius design. This is the Apple approach. You create something that you think is going to be fantastic and the user will then tell you if you were right. But you mustn’t fear failure otherwise you will never release anything risky. Yes, it’s the old “learn from your mistakes” lesson.

Andy likes the idea of inspired design. A usable design need not be a safe design.

Design should be more like one-liners from Eric Morecambe. That’s his takeaway point.

An awkward silence follows. Our compére, Paul Boag kicks off the Q and A by asking C’mon, it’s all good and well to say it’s okay to fail and learn from our mistakes, but I don’t think our clients would like that very much!

Steve says that a beta testing period is a good time to fail. You can then learn from your mistakes and still improve the product. It’s humbling to learn that we don’t know what users want.

Andy says this what we hired for—to create and experiment and sometimes fail. Otherwise we’re just painting by numbers.

Steve says creating great work requires a great client.

Next question: is there any way of measuring the value of user experience?

Steve says you can measure it by how much people talk about it. But there’s no magic bullet for measuring it.

The next question may or not be about inspiration. The advice from the panel is not to create Frankenstein designs by mashing up the best bits of other sites. Those bits don’t work so well out of context. That may or may not answer the question.

Now a question about roles and who should be doing what. Silos are bad, mmkay? Engineers, designers, developers …who calls the shots? Andy insists on doing his own wireframes. He also designs using HTML and CSS. He doesn’t want to get bogged down in process. Who wants to spend their answering Basecamp messages. Steve reminds us that design is about solving problems and that isn’t the exclusive domain of designers—engineers are good at that too.

And with that, Paul kicks them off the stage.