Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Early to adopt doesnt make a man wealthy

Recently I was asking my friend who mails me from her iphone about how much she finds the phone usable especially when it comes to typing mails etc. Her mails were considerably longer than a mere one/two liner which also made me ask her if she is using thumbs to type as opposed to me using index finger. It seems she was also using index finger to type all that. Towards the end of our gmail conversation she said

Friend: I'll bet you're kicking yourself over the $199 price drop for the new iPhone 3G. I know I am :(

Me: Well I’m not. I don’t own an iphone. I use one at work; we have one to test our designs etc. I knew all this would happen so I had decided to wait. I also asked my friends to wait for the new version to be out. So they are thanking me.

Friend: Awesome. I think I will use you as my gadget consultant from now on. I am stuck with my iPhone until my 2 year contract with AT&T expires so I can't change phones even if I wanted to.

Me: As a thumb rule it’s not good to jump on anything absolutely new in the market especially cars, phones etc. It’s always good to wait till the product mature a bit after two or three iterations. And of course the price also comes down.

Friend: Yeah, your observation is correct ... But have you ever read "Diffusion of Innovations" by Rogers?

In that he talks about "Innovators" who have to have the newest coolest, but not perfected gizmos and who will buy a product despite the high sticker price and technological issues. Innovators are rabid fan-boys and girls who love to spread the word about the coolest gizmos in their blogs, to their co-workers, etc. And after the innovators try a product, they spread the "idea virus" to the early adopters who are the influential thought leaders whose opinions are respected by the masses. Think of folks like Mossberg. The early adopters are a lot more cautious about new products but will try new ideas if they see the appeal. They are also excellent communicators and their actions are emulated by folks who follow them.

And once the Early Adopters give their approval, your "Early Majority" jumps in and accepts the new product. These people are more cautious than the early adopters but are willing to try a second iteration of a new product and/or idea. These folks are the ones that are ultimately responsible for getting the Late Majority (aka the masses) to try the product (usually the second or third iteration of the product). The product goes mainstream with the Late Majority but its pretty much a death sentence for that product and the company needs to think of something new.

So, if you follow Moore's law, the second or third iteration of the product will be half the price of the previous iteration and have double the computing power but if you're a savvy marketer, you will do what Apple does and stage your products in a way where you charge the Innovators and Early Adopters a whole lot more than you would the masses (greater volume of users * lower price = fat moolah for Apple). That's price skimming and Apple is the master at every genius marketing ploy in the book.

So, while I hear you about not jumping into something new, I think psychology and personality traits play an important part in the buying decision as does the price. You could find yourself on different ends of the spectrum of the adoption curve depending on the price tag of the stuff you're buying. For instance, in terms of smaller, technological gadgets, I find myself on the Innovator or Early Adopter end of the spectrum but when it comes to hybrid cars, I'm in the Early Majority. So while I won't be trading in my 2007 Prius for the newer plug in electric-hybrid Prius that releases next year, I might wait a couple more years for other folks to test it out before plunking down money for a second car.

This was probably a long-winded explanation but I wanted to qualify your "rule of thumb" with just a couple of observations.

Me: thanks for all that. Its certainly something which I can talk about in my next interview with a potential employer :P

Also it’s not something which I didn’t know as an idea but you just enlightened me with a detailed observation. As a product designer you the early adopter is my dream user who would selflessly opt to use my product to get input for my next set of iterations. I’m an early adopter of technologies myself but only when it comes to a fairly cheaper web. May be I’m not that rich to splurge on gadgets. So there I become a little more cautious, I wait to be a part of the early majority. As u said rightly I think its the passion for trying out new ideas or technology and very importantly the price tag which decides that in which end of the spectrum one should be in.

I gave you the thumb rule gyan coz I thought you just fell in love with the gadget and jumped on to get one as you said you are kicking yourself now coz of the new version and cheaper price. As an early adopter you should have foreseen this happening.

Oh btw I also notice that the last mail you chose to not reply from your iphone :-)
So on which end of the spectrum are you?


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tagging blues

Recently I asked a non techie friend of mine for his email id and I was surprised to know that he used Rediffmail as opposed to Gmail which I thought had become ubiquitous in today’s times. I asked him

Me: Why don’t you use Gmail. It’s superior to any other email

Friend: I do have a Gmail id but I don’t find it useful.

Me: Huh? What do you mean? I thought it was the most useful of the lot

Friend: There are things which I can do in Rediffmail but not possible in Gmail

Me: Like what?

Friend: I organize mails by putting them into folders in Rediffmail but it’s not possible in Gmail
I understood his problem. I later on explained in detail the funda of labeling in Gmail and how he can use it to organize his mails in better ways than Rediffmail. In the end of the discussion he was like

So all this while I didn’t know how to use Gmail?
I just smiled at his question. But this is a genuine problem faced by users not only by non tech users but also to an extent people who are power users of internet. I remember once when I was interviewing a candidate for our product design team, when asked about Gmail (Yes it’s my favorite product design topic) she mentioned that she found labels in Gmail useless. It seemed that she had always labeled her mails with keywords hoping that it would help her to search for them later just to be ended up with a huge list of labels which she never looked at or searched after that.

I think Labels in Gmail is one of the best features of it but at the same time the worst designed feature. Of course it’s a breeze to use the feature once you get to know how to make use of it but the UI does nothing for you to understand how well you can do it to organize your mails.

There is a very important aspect of interaction design which says

The computer, the interface, and the task environment all "belong" to the user, but user-autonomy doesn’t mean we abandon rules.

Give users some breathing room. Users learn quickly and gain a fast sense of mastery when they are placed "in charge." Paradoxically, however, people do not feel free in the absence of all boundaries (Yallum, 1980). A little child will cry equally when held too tight or left to wander in a large and empty warehouse. Adults, too, feel most comfortable in an environment that is neither confining nor infinite, an environment explorable, but not hazardous.
As labelling was a new concept in Gmail, they should have tried to make the use case simple enough for the users to understand. Applying labels not only made the mails stay in the inbox but also gave the idea of applying keywords visually by showing small text on the inbox UI. They should have stuck to the tried and tested folder metaphor and could have introduced a new funda that you can put the same mail to multiple folders. Like that they could have introduced a new idea but also define a premise for the users to play around with the feature in the right context.

They have actually tried this funda on the UI level in Google Reader. The reader items actually appear as if they have been shown out of a folder. And every feed can be a part of multiple folders. But I don’t know why in the management screens they are still called labels. May be they just wanted to convey that the folders you see in the front end is actually labels in the backend. :-)

The recent move of Gmail making the labels show up in color coded boxes shows that they are actually going in the folder direction keeping some kind of a balance between the label and folder. It’s just a smart way of making people reuse the existing labels and also discouraging them to go berserk by applying multiple search keywords to mails.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

I killed Twitter?

I'm frequenting bars now a days

Friend: Is someone dead? Why all that sad face?

Me: Yes, twitter.

Friend: Ah, well… have a drink.

Me: I wish there exists a world where no one dies. At least twitter can live in that world.

Friend: You killed it and you are crying about it.

Killer: What? What are you talking about?

Friend: Do you know why I do not use twitter?

Me: No? May be you can explain without calling me the killer.

Friend: Ok, when I started following people, I realized it was more trivia.

Killer: I do not get it.

Friend: I stopped twitter because you were updating that you went to pee, and you were falling asleep on desk at work and what nots…..

Killer: So what it has got anything to do with twitter's frequent death.

Friend: Now imagine all the people in this bar drinking beer have to pee and have the urge to twitter that they peed even before they wash their hands.

Killer: So you are saying all of us in here killed twitter.

Friend: Not exactly, all of those trivia are killing it.

Killer: Isn't Ruby on Rails which is slow then?

Friend: Do not get me started on it; I may have to kill you.

I know I have contributed to the murder but just to say, I have stopped tweeting using GTalk

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Happy to help? Dont think so

My friend finds some or the other reason to go boozing i guess...

Me: You again in the bar? Is everything alright?

Friend: No. This time I'm not happy with the vodafone advertisements.

Me: You mean the Happy to help campaign? you are pissed with vodafone for some reason?

Friend: You know I pay 2 rupees per minute as per my prepaid lifetime scheme.

Me: Yea, you chose to pay that anyway. So whats wrong?

Friend: Totally wrong for the old customer and totally good for the new customer.

Me: How come?

Friend: Apparently the new customers of lifetime prepaid will be charged Rupee 1 per minute.

Me: So you the old customer of same plan, pay more?

Friend: Yep, loyalty means nothing to these companies.

Me: I am beginning to worry about you man.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sliding Budgets

This time the doubt was mine

Me: Can I ask you something to validate a point in my mind?

Friend: Sure

Me: If you want to buy something, say an air ticket to Delhi will you say I’m ready to pay any amount between 5k and 10k for it or just say any amount below 10k? I.e. you are happy if it comes for 7k

Friend: neither, if I want to go to Delhi at any cost, I would just sort options with total price in ascending order and pick the best rate with best experience that I may get with the least trouble

Me: Fair enough. But here it’s not at any cost. You have a budget. My question is will you fix your budget as a range between amounts or only the max amount you are willing to pay

Friend: Not range will use max. I know why you are asking me this. It’s the slider right?

Me: Yes

Friend: That is nothing but bull shit, it has no use at all. I will never say I’m willing to pay an amount between 5k and 10k for my ticket. Why should I be ever worried about my min price?

Me: Well I can always ignore the left slider and always use the right slider but again there is a problem. I will never have my budget set for amounts like 11200, 9900 and 7600. Sliders make sense when you have to gradually increase or decrease something (volume control, brightness) or to block a specific time period (10.20am to 12.15pm) etc.

Friend: I’m happy to see the top of the range options. I am smart enough to choose the best within my budget. That slider proves nothing at all especially in a travel site

Me: I personally have never used it. I always sorted

Friend: The first time it was done was (I think) by the travel search engine way back in 2005. They were new and were trying to break into the market and were adding all sorts of gizmos to the search form and came up with the stupid slider and now it proliferated into as many sites as I can see. I don’t think I have seen that in Amazon.

Sliders may be useful when you don’t know what you are looking for. E.g. you are going to buy an external hard drive and you wonder for your budget what amount of memory you will get. You put the range filter in the memory size and sort the price then you get a real good user experience because you know you have a need to have 10GB minimum and for future purposes you want to have room for up to 50GB. So you would look for a list of vendors/devices that sells something on 10GB and you wish to settle anything in between 30 or 40 GB range for the best price so you may have a good shopping experience. But to put a range filter on price is useless. Nobody would set a minimum budget

Me: Yes. It’s just the need of having a range to filter results and if yes whether a slider interaction makes sense. But I think we can’t say that a min budget is useless in all cases

Friend: which case do you think it will be useful?

Me: I have had budget ranges when I looked for buying gifts. I.e. a minimum amount I’m willing to shell out and a max amount cap

Friend: hmm fair enough
As I always say no feature is completely useless. It all depends on the use case

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Power users are supposed to be intelligent

My friend had a doubt in Gmail

Friend: In Gmail how do you see only the emails that are starred and also tagged with something specific?

Me: Go to show search options put label:yourlabel in has the words box and select starred in search in drop box. Not very intuitive but you can do it. Its a power user feature

Friend: oh ok

Me: Basically you see all the mails labeled with YourLabelName if you search for Label:YourLabelName

Friend: ok

Me: So in advanced search we just say search in starred

Friend: I looked at this screen but then i did not use it

Me: k

Friend: I did not know the has words as labels

Me: It need not be labels

Friend: Actually does not work quite right when i search label:Umesh

Me: If u say label:umesh then it searches for mails with label Umesh. If you want to search mail from me the operator is from:umesh

Me: You can also do your query using only search operators in the simple search box. in: is for searching in a particular group/box. By group I mean inbox, starred, chats, spam etc. So your query could be in:starred from:umesh label:usability to see all mails from Umesh, labeled usability and were starred

Friend: ah cool it works

Me: There are lots of such advanced features in Gmail which are not out right straight forward. The UI is for simple usage and advanced things like this people like us will figure out; thats the idea. They give tips and tricks on their blog

Friend: But then how did you figure it out in the first place?

Me: If you are "powerful" enough to do such kind of mail searches using the UI you can notice the subtle hints Gmail provides using which you can explore further.

eg As a normal user when you click on a label to view all mails in that label just notice the search box. Gmail gives you the hint that its actually doing a search with the operator label:LabelName. Similarly when you click on trash the search box says in:trash, and when you click on a name in your contacts to see all the conversations you had with that person the search box shows from:ContactName. Actually I first noticed the label hint and then explored more out of curiosity to discover others.

Friend: Fair enough

You can have advanced features in your application which will make your power users happy and expose them like something as simple as a tips and tricks list. But the UI should be always targetted for simple usage.

May 16: Updated with the discoverability point. Thanks to Vinodh for bringing up the point


Monday, May 12, 2008

How good is a camera phone?

I posses a point and shoot Sony Cybershot DSC-P72 camera using which I have been taking photographs for the past 5 years. Not that I’m absolutely happy with the outcome of the camera but as I don’t have a budget set apart for buying a better camera I’m forced to be content with what I shoot as of now. The camera has a very basic set of features which I can play with and the lens is only good enough for a point and shoot. To keep myself happy I concentrate more on interesting compositions, lighting and of course the subject and I think I have been quite successful with that.

As a person who is not even that happy with a cybershot I have never understood the need of a camera on my mobile phone which comes with even lesser features. When I recently bought a phone a camera hadn’t even featured in the priority features I was looking for. But the other day I happened to look out of the window of my office building and saw an interesting sight on the parking lot below. A tiny Reva sandwiched in between two giants; A Tata Safari and a Toyota Innova. The symmetry in which they were parked and also the giants in black color made it look so interesting and unaffordable to miss out uncaptured. For a minute I felt so bad that I didn’t have my camera with me but I quickly remembered my newly acquired E51, pulled it out and shot the sight. Of course the quality of the picture was low but I was happy that I didn’t let the interesting sight go uncaptured. And now I know what’s the true use case of a mobile phone camera.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Annoying Stickies

My friend says

I think it is easy to think of an idea for a product, but harder to materialise it. The hardest bit is to have great idea and come up with a product design that is usable. But usability does not stop just there. Even the tiniest of the problem could annoy your user. Take for e.g. I get really annoyed at the stickies that come with my new purchases.

I bought a fridge recently. An expensive, top quality, super cool (really), which comes with a mini manual stuck on its door. After a month or so, you get used to it and it is the time to unwrap the protective cellophane and get rid of the ugly stickers. Who would want to drive with an L board after they get the license. Anyway, some of them come off clean, but others wont. That becomes a problem to clean. I tried cleaning with all sorts of cleaning agents, but no luck. I realised I should have let the sticker be there, but its too late now.

Not just the manufacturers, even the sellers add to the problem. I bought a water bottle, nothing fancy, but the super market have to have its mark on it, guess what Buy 1 Get 1 Free sticker. I tried to remove it, it does not come off clean. Now it looks horrible. I just wish all stickers are made to be easily peeled off.

I also experience stickies on my satellite fed TV shows. TATA Sky, to protect from piracy adds an 8 digit number on the screen at random positions at random times. Really annoying.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Shower of Blessings

How many times you have opened the bath shower mixer tap not realizing that the mixer is set to the shower and accidentally got wet? Many a times I guess. But have you ever realized that it’s the bad design of the tap which has made you wet and not coz of someone’s mistake of forgetting to reset the mixer?

Design is problem solving. Tools were invented to solve some basic problems in life but later on the tools introduced another set of problems coz of the way it was made and used. So even though the primary problem was solved the secondary problems remained and most of the time was taken for granted by the users. The great example for this is computers. Computers were made to make many of the human tasks easy but it created a new problem for the humans to figure out how to use it. A good product design should not only solve the basic problem but also make sure the product doesn’t introduce any secondary problem. In the mixer tap case, the basic problem was solved by a single tap which took care of water supply to both the filler and the shower. But it created a new problem of people forgetting to reset the diverter to the filler after the shower usage which accidentally made other people wet.

The second generation mixer taps took care of this problem by separating the two functions. The water supply to the filler became the primary function of the tap and the shower was initiated by introducing a separate valve when pulled diverted water to the shower. On closing the main valves the shower valve got reset automatically. This was a gradual improvement from the classic design and it solved the problem to an extent. But the possibility of the shower valve being initiated before opening the main valves still had its purpose lost.

I recently came across this smart and minimalistic designed shower mixer which has a push button diverter which actually solves the “accidentally wet” problem. When the tap is opened, it’s always the filler which is initiated first and the push button acts as a diverter which switches from filler to shower and back on every push. When the tap is closed the button has no function i.e. when the tap is closed, you push the button and then open the tap it’s the filler which is initiated and not the shower.

The only issue I found with this kind of behavior is that the user might not figure out how the tap functions the very first time; it’s not intuitive enough. He might push the button and then open the tap and wonder why it’s always the filler and not the shower which is initiated. He might end up asking someone about it and feel silly after getting to know how it works. No product should ever make a user feel silly by making it tough for him find out the very basic function; however smart the design is. It’s ok if he doesn’t find out the advanced features; he wouldn’t mind taking help to figure them out.


Friday, April 11, 2008

Mark as what?

Google Reader is my favorite rss reader coz its easy and fun to use and of course the sharing feature. It has a a very original and smart UI which shows the feed items as a stream of stories and I can navigate through them using J & K keys. I love it. However there is a small glitch.

The interaction of the UI is such a way that a story is marked read as soon as you mouse over on it in the Expanded view and when you click on a title in the List view. And now if you want to mark a story as unread, finding the option option is not all that easy… Well let me say you will never find it.

The interaction here is a little tricky. As soon as the story is marked read it shows the status as a check box way below the story item.

Robert Scoble on Google Reader. Highlighted is the Mark as Read option

Most probably you would want to mark a story as unread when you are half way through it and so you would not scroll down to the end of the item. Now even if you find it at the end of the article, its not straight forward. It says “Mark as read” which leaves the user confused. The user wont get the check box funda right at this point. Also if you look at the other options on the same bottom bar “Add Star” and “Share” have straight forward call to action, a prominent way of displaying the status by changing colors of the icons when they toggle. The “Mark as Read” is also meant to work in the same fashion, just to keep a consistent interaction, but it doesn’t work well.

Robert Scoble on Google Reader. Highlighted is the Mark as UnRead option

I would say the best way to show the option should be way on top next to the story title and the button should toggle and the label should change according to the read status of the story.

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