Design Matters

file6691334414281For a dozen years or more, I have used Associated Bank’s ATM machines. After selecting “English,” the screen says “retrieving preferences.” What a strange message. I don’t recall ever setting preferences, and if I did, wouldn’t language have been a preference rather than a separate selection? And If I hadn’t set preferences in the past, it certainly wasn’t intuitive how to set them now.

This bothered me. It was inefficient that I always had to answer the same questions. Every. Single. Time. What language? What account? Receipt or no receipt?

Lo and behold, my wife enlightened me just a few weeks ago. Apparently, you have to select “next screen” and after pushing a few more buttons, you’ll find a place to set preferences. I finally set my preferences, only a decade or so too late! Some may disagree, but I don’t think I’m that oblivious that I couldn’t have figured it out at some point. The only logical explanation is that it is poor design.

If a reasonably intelligent, high volume user is struggling, there’s got to be a better way. Couldn’t the machine learn customer preferences? My behavior makes it really easy—I always answer the questions the same way. What about a simple prompt that asks if you would like to set preferences, and then gives the choices of “yes,” “no,” or “don’t ask again?” Could it ask if I would like to save this transaction as a favorite or default?

I wonder if anyone has ever checked what percentage of ATM users have set preferences. I’m guessing it’s very small, putting me in the majority who repeatedly go through the same questions each time that don’t add any value to the transaction. It’s not like ATMs have changed much over time—they do the same basic withdrawals, deposits, transfers and balance inquiries they’ve always done.

Understanding the customer experience and how to design an interface that is simple, understandable, and without extraneous required inputs doesn’t have to be that hard. Saving your customers years of frustration is worth it.

Providing Quick Meaning to Data

abraham-lincoln-60558_640According to The New Yorker, Abe Lincoln liked infographics*, putting me in good company.  I was exposed to Edward Tufte (an American statistician and expert in informational graphics) and his series of books more than a dozen years ago. His representations of data, and the stories that came from their effective display, were elegant and powerful. My fascination continues today.

I recently purchased The Best American Infographics 2014, a self-explanatory compilation by Gareth Cook. It is a beautiful collection of examples and the insights they reveal. It will join other my other treasures that include:

Despite all of our technology advances, it still takes a creative mind to determine how to craft a story from the data. Or, perhaps it’s the reverse: representing the data differently creates learning and then knowledge. It’s all in how you ask questions of the data and interpret the answers. Regardless, I can’t get enough.

*From Mashable: “Information graphics or infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge. These graphics present complex information quickly and clearly, such as in signs, maps, journalism, technical writing, and education.”

Un-Unified Communication

My recent post demonstrated a difficult method to share notes. I want to contrast that experience with a very different one.

Several weeks ago, I connected with a regional sales leader for a national technology company that I’ve worked with. We spoke about how we are working differently and collaborating across companies in new and different ways. He was going to be attending an enterprise communications and collaboration conference the following week, and offered to share what he learned and subsequently get together to discuss.

To facilitate sharing, he launched a Cisco Spark collaboration room. My first reaction was a sarcastic groan, “Perfect, just what I need, another application.” But, in the spirit of embracing new approaches, I gave it a try.

Photo by Mark Baker

Photo by Mark Baker

Surprisingly, this proved to be an easy way to share content, links, and even coordinate our meeting over coffee. The reason why became clear when we spoke. While I, like many others, have always have a quest for “one”—one thing, one place, one neatly organized inbox or to-do list—I realized that the definition of “one” has shifted. Instead of using one application, the new standard is one mobile/tablet device filled with notifications. A speaker at the aforementioned conference labeled it “Un-Unified Communications.” Instead of one phone number, one voice mail system, and one email address, we now have multiple tools for communication and collaboration. Our inbox is a set of tiles with various notifications. Aha! This made total sense. While “fewer” may be easier to manage, the quest for “one” does not have to be the Holy Grail.

Beyond Spark, there are many other providers in this category, including Slack, Asana, Verse (coming soon from IBM), Quip, and HipChat. You may have seen the HipChat commercials during the NCAA basketball tournament, starring boss Bill Lumbergh from the classic business comedy, Office Space. These ads are so humorous because, unfortunately, they reflect the daily reality in a lot of companies. My fervent goal, as I test and try new ways to work and collaborate, is to avoid becoming a Lumbergh.