Monday, October 02, 2006

Designing for lifestyle

Getting inside the minds of customers is essential for achieving the "aha" effect. More importantly, don't listen to what your customers say! Observe what they do!

When there are people and machines we get four different types of communication:

  • human to human: touch, words, voice;
  • human to machine: input devices, touch (mouse, keyboard);
  • machine to machine: binary communication, exchange of XML documents;
  • machine to human: GUI communication.

When it comes to machine to human communication, is it important that we pay attention? There could be messages such as an engine light turns on in the car. It is our role, the role of software developers, to make these messages user-friendly. Otherwise the messages will be ignored or overlooked.

We have seen that AJAX can fail in keeping the user informed - the message does not make it through. It could be a case when a user votes on something, the request is made but the page does not get reloaded, so we need to highlight the fact that the vote was processed. The question is how to do it so the user sees it without affecting other "more important" things that the user is currently doing on the (same) page.

There has been a lot of work done in improving the user experience. Starting from Eliza chat bot and the subservient chicken in 2004 to today's websites that are very user-friendly: JetBlue, TiVo, Google, Apple.

It is all about designing an appropriate user experience. It's also about finding the fine line between practical and emotional (are you emotionally attached to this, do you find this useful, etc.)


  • learnable
  • cost effective
  • functional
  • meets the needs
  • trustworthy


  • customizable
  • unique
  • aesthetic
  • meets desires
  • compelling

The real deal is that one you are able to break into people's habits and make them to use your application as a part of their daily rituals (not really an addiction), you will be successful.

Some of the interesting statistics mentioned were how the usage of mobile phones changed people's rituals and how these technologies saturated the market (Japan 90%, Korea 83%, Europe 68%, US 48%, world-wide 28%). I can see a great potential for growth here in Australia too. And there are some serious money too. In the US, 12-18 year-old kids spend around $4900 a year, which 48% of that is on mobiles (in China it is less than $100 a year). It was also interesting how people use their phones/devices. In US they are called cell phones (amongst popular ones are Palm and Blackberry). In EU and Australia they are called mobile phones and other brands and models are more popular (Nokia, Ericsson). In Singapore however, people may even have two of them. One that is more of a fashion statement and may not even look like a phone.

There is also a gap between what people think and how people live. As an example, you think that all people would wash their hands after using the toilet, but not all people do. We know that we develop applications and we can think of the ways people will use them. But people are very creative and they use our applications even in unimaginable ways. It's about going through the stages:

"I'm ready to try this out" -> PERCEPTION -> INTERACTION -> INTEGRATION -> "This works for me!"

And what is next? Web 3.0. Global brain = something like a combination of shared data and a search engine aggregating the knowledge spread all over the web.

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