BlogHer | bet '11 Technology Track: Excellent User Interface Experience

Liveblog

Welcome to the BlogHer | bet ’11 liveblog of the Excellent User Interface Experience in the Technology track. What follows is the juiciest pieces of a lively conversation amongst our talented and visionary panelists.

Speaking on this panel are:

Moderator Marnie Webb, Co-CEO at TechSoup Global
Nicole Lazzaro, Founder of XEO Design, makers of the iOS game, Tilt
Wendy Lea, CEO of Get Satisfaction
Megan Gaiser, CEO/CSCO of Her Interactive, the makers of the Nancy Drew franchise games

Marnie:
How do you connect with your users before you launch your product?

Megan:
We started the Nancy Drew game in 1997. Didn't have a lot of money but we were committed to quality. The only games that were available at that time were geared toward guys and were shoot-em up games...So we asked girls
what they thought of Nancy Drew, and they said she was too perfect
and they wanted her to be a little more like them. She's gutsy and smart and she gets the job done but she's self-deprecating. We did usability testing in my apartment to get that initial feedback. It is important to us to make sure the brand is intact and has integrity, which takes a lot of time to get it right.

Marnie:
Did you have any assumptions, and did you find that those were wrong, or did you get affirmation?

Megan:
Both. Sometimes they didn't like the UI, and there were a lot of iterations along the way. There is a lot of creative chaos in the beginning, but the trick is to have a clear vision and stay committed as a team. We do a vision brief that includes the concept and the brand. The team has to be aligned.

Nicole:
Tilt is the first game to use the [iOS] tiltometer. We looked at how we could inspire human engagement. We watched what people really enjoyed using the iPhone. Apple has baked in social emotions with the tactile interface. In our projects we create a game plan: Goal, Action, Motivation, Emotions (GAME). We can even use this orientation for any type of design project, not just games. [Nicole has white papers about this on her
website here: http://www.xeodesign.com/whyweplaygames.html]

Game design is the future of interaction design. Games have always influenced interaction design, and now the emotional quality is introduced with things like Facebook's "like" for example. You can tell people what you feel about them and what they do with through the interface and interaction of the site.

Marnie:
What happens when you start getting feedback in the real world?

Wendy:
One of the things our founders instilled in the site is to make sure you can drive to good,productive outcomes. For us, those are very important because we didn't want to be a rant site. We are trying to bring folks together in an open, trusting, environment, exchange conversation that
is relevant for the business. [For our own business] what we try to do internally is to gather feedback from our community and part of their daily scrum and find ways to solve problems.

Megan:
[We learned] you're not always right. We have an advisory board of 50 - 75 girls and women [who] come in and tell us if the experience is working with them. They are blunt and give great feedback.

Nicole:
We watch people play the game, watch them go through the journey and experience. We see what they go for and what they do. Usability is an awesome discipline, but it's also broken in a fundamental way in that
it's only focused on frustration, and not on the great feelings. What we do is player-experience design.

Marnie:
It sounds like it's really important to have clear goals, and have them written down. And to close loops in the experience and make decisions about what you want people to be thinking and feeling.

Wendy:
We are playing to two really different audiences [people giving feedback, and the companies receiving that feedback]. This makes our job complex. Our success is dependent on a customer having a compelling, positive experience. How this new "message board" feels is key to its success. And then I have to make sure my large companies who are paying for this product are getting what they need.

Nicole:
When we're listening to customers, we still don't relegate the design to them. We, the designers, have to figure out which are the actual problems, not just the symptoms we are seeing. After user testing you'll have 100 or 1000 issues, and you won't address each one. But what you do is look deeper and solve the cause of those issues. [With one change] you may take care of 20 symptoms at once.

Marnie:
You don't want to outsource your design decisions to customers. You have to have faith in [your]idea even in the face of customer criticism.

Audience question:
That last comment: You don't give people what they want you give them what they need. If Henry Ford had listened to his customers he would have made a faster pony.

Nicole:
Yes, he called it the horseless carriage [in order to gain acceptance of this new product].

Marnie:
Innovation comes in times of constraint, and invention is something completely new.

Audience question:
For those of us who are not gamers, but just have websites, how can we fold in these addictive, appealing qualities?

Marnie:
We used to joke that there was someone in a board room [of companies] who asked for "Web 2.0 - STAT!" and they rounded the corners [of the design]. And now we think that people are asking for games and just putting badges on their sites.

Megan:
There is a lot of talk about gamification, some people call it dumbification. Gaming mechanics are everywhere, and I think there is opportunity in education. For us, we wanted the site to be elegant, and we work to inspire with our games, to create delightful experiences. They key is that it has to be organic to what the site is or the customer will know that you're deceiving them.

Marnie:
Take the idea of a user progressing toward a goal. And think about what a power user looks like. What does their progress look like and how that will look to other people?

Nicole:
I saw a board game at the top of a temple in Egypt. I realized people had stood here 2000 years ago and played this game. We're trying to get away from the word addictive, because it has an established psychological definition. We look at the simple things that the players can do in support of a social cause. With Tilt, the action of tilting the game tells a story. Remove one oil drop, and the world gets better. When the user plays the game trees get planted, through a non profit.

Audience question:
For Wendy: As the CEO and chief strategy, when I add new features I notice that I lose international customers. They're [the features] neat to me but they make it difficult for people to use the blog. Also, I try to do
testing but my friends don't want to give me blunt feedback.

Wendy:
In terms of international customers: 30% of our customers are from non-US countries. So we have to be very careful. We do a lot of testing, get a lot of feedback from non-US environments to make sure it's easy and clean. Our tendency is to overcomplicate things, and think too much. Our time to market is the biggest issue we face.

Marnie:
That initial point you all made, about making sure your goals intersect with you audience...

Nicole:
We're paid to create a pattern, not anti-pattern and not chaos. Sometimes you just have to prioritize.

Wendy:
There are a lot of free and inexpensive tools out there that are available [to get user feedback]. I would never start a business now without the ability to get feedback.

Nicole:
Keep things simple, accessible, streamlined. Make sure they have an exceptional first 5 minutes and want to come back. And then people may get tired, so you want to have new things for them to experience.

Megan:
How to get real feedback: Establish trust with people so they're not afraid to give feedback. Our first users were shy, they had never played games before, and they didn't think we took them seriously. We were receptive to their feedback and now we can't shut them up.

Nicole:
We all have those friends who are too blunt. Use them. Or, use this "Jedi Mind Trick:" Ask them three things they like [about the site/game/project]. And then start to get them to tell you what they would change. Give them language and permission to give you feedback.

Megan:
Position them [your users] as the experts. Tell them that you need their feedback.

Audience question:
I work for Education.com. There is a lot of research on how adults use the iPhone. Is there research for how kids use the iPhone?

Nicole:
Kids, in our game, talk to us about what they like about the game, [and they like it because] it's saving the environment. For our audience, this is important. Also look at how people use the device. For a preschooler, the iPad is the same size as their lap and they have tiny hands. I watch how they use it. Don't hit them over the head with the message. If I was to give you a game that was a nuclear power plant how many of you would try to blow [the power plant] up? In a game you are allowed to do things that you wouldn't do in the real world.

There was a zookeeper game (Zoo Tycoon) that was meant to be educational about animals but people kept putting the
lion in the antelope's cage. You need to give people a way to play out things.

Megan:
We don't put the learning information on the packaging of the game.

Nicole:
How many people have played Angry Birds? What happens if you use the slingshot wrong? It's a letdown, they didn't make failure fun.

Audience question:
Measurement and analytics: It's key to understanding if people are completing tasks, if they're engaging and sharing. What is your perspective?

Wendy:
The most important category in our business is analytics. If we don't provide our customers with a real understanding of what their customers are doing in our network we don't have a business. It's not the data visualization, it's what action needs to be taken on what the data tells us. I work with Zynga and all they want to do is talk about analytics.

Nicole:
About A/B testing: You see what happens when you use version A compared to version B, and then you compare the best one to version C, etc. In measurement you need to figure out which questions you want to answer, and then set up metrics to uncover those answers. What we did with Tilt, when we first released it as an iPhone web app, we looked at how many people would visit. A quarter of a million people checked us out. So we looked
at where they came form. When we launched our alpha version on the iPad we used scores to answer our questions.

Audience question:
I'm [with] Wingtips, an online closet. My question [is about] engagement and videos. We have a differing opinion about videos, some people think it's distracting.

Wendy:
We use video as much as we can. Everything I measure as a CEO is impacted positively by video, as long as it's short.

Megan:
The placement of the video, you want to take them down a path. It may be too long, not engaging. Video when done well is powerful.

Thank you for reading this liveblog!

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