I just had an interaction with an insurance company’s website while shopping for home owner’s insurance. I experienced a very odd feeling of total frustration. I was frustrated with how the site was architected; in other words, it was difficult to get a quote in an easy manner. But what I found to be odd was that the site was no worse, from an interaction architecture perspective, than the other insurance companies I visited before it. The only difference was that this site had much better visual design. This lead me to a hypothesis that, for almost all users, a good visual design increases my expectation of the usability of the site. I expected the poorly visual designed site to be a bit awkward and clumsy. But for the great looking site, I expected it to be easier. This actually lead me to believe the better designed site was much worse.

I drew up the following graph to illustrate how I think this might play out:

Visual Design VS Interaction Design

 

For clarity, I define “visual design” as the pure aesthetics of a design. Some may argue that you can’t do good visual design work on a crappy interaction architecture. I don’t agree with that. I’ve experienced lamps, toasters, phones, computers, even automobiles that were pretty but confusing to operate. I’ve had many clients come to me to fix “apps” after their creative marketing agency designed something totally beautiful that was totally unusable. In the reverse, I’ve had many IT departments come to us and ask us to make their poorly interactive architected system “pretty” (I even had several companies specifically ask me to put “lipstick on the pig”). I can honestly say I haven’t seen a single engagement be successful under these circumstances.

If I’m correct, not only is good interaction design far more important than good visual design, but adding good visual design to a poorly architected site will actually do more damage than just leaving it alone.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – I’m considering a study to prove this out.

I honestly thought gamification has been dead for about 2 years ago, when I saw the last RFP come across my desk with a company requesting “gamification” as one of the features they wanted in their business app. But now, companies are trying resurrect the term to drum up more business. 

Gamification is an industry buzzword that some software designers use to describe the introduction of game design into apps that are business focused (instead of entertainment based.) It is a tactic provides value in very rare circumstances. The following need to be all true:

  • The people using the app are lacking motivation to complete their digital tasks and this motivational vacuum is not a systemic issue of a larger problem (like a crappy product or poor leadership)
  • There is no way to simplify the app in a way that makes it easier to use (in my experience, this is extremely rare).
  • The company using the technique has a playful culture – one that embraces “fun” as a part of their core values.
  • The primary objective of the app is either publishing or learning.

If you attempt to execute a gamification strategy to get your customers to do something that they do not want to do, you will be very disappointed in your results. In every circumstance I’ve seen a request for gamification, the primary objective was to prod people down paths they weren’t willing to naturally take. People aren’t cattle. Always keep this in mind: your job as a digital product designer is that you are here to serve your customers, not manipulate them. 

 

All great enterprises are born from a vision, and keeping that vision in focus – keeping enterprise on track – sometimes requires seeing it from a different angle. Henry Ford didn’t invent the car. He saw a better way to build it, a way which would drive down cost and increase productivity. Suddenly, the automobile was no longer an oddity; it became a defining feature of a nation. A century later, a massive infrastructure has grown up around the internal combustion engine, and while the vision may yet be intact, it has become stultified. Sometimes obstacles arise that challenge vision. And vision, however powerful in its ability to guide, eventually becomes shifty and obscure. Maintaining that vision, that direction, requires innovative thinking and tools for seeing problems from a variety of perspectives.

A Clear Vision.

Elon Musk has a powerful vision of fundamental change. Tesla Motors shook the automotive industry when they unveiled the Roadster. Electric cars were not supposed to be able to do that. How did they do it? Musk attacked a problem that experts said couldn’t be solved, and he solved it.

It was a simple question Musk asked, and it became the formative pulse for his vision: “What would the car of the future be?” First, it would be electric. The internal combustion engine is rapidly approaching the limits of its use. The new car would have to be powered by a better battery. Conventional batteries are too heavy and bulky to do the job. Second, the auto would have to be completely redesigned. Conventional cars are designed around the drive train and its weight. Third, the retail infrastructure would have to be unique to the 21st century. People should be able to buy cars online, reducing the additional costs associated with dealerships and their middleman markup. Formidable obstacles require ingenious innovation, and the strategies Musk employed to arrest these challenges speak to his acuity.

Identify the Obstacles and Approach them from Manifold Perspectives.

One does not easily shift the vision and direction of a multi-trillion dollar, century old institution. Ten years ago, the perspective was that lithium-ion batteries were not a suitable power source for cars. When they overheat, they explode. Musk believed otherwise. He identified the obstacles to converting lithium-ion batteries, researched the many companies manufacturing them, and ultimately partnered with Panasonic. They created a lithium-ion battery array encased in a cooling system. (The Model S has 7,000 AA-sized batteries powering its motor.) Was it an invention? Not quite. For years experts said it couldn’t be done, and along comes a man with a different vision, a different perspective, and the problem is solved. Great innovation can shift the vision of an industry, but industry eventually drives innovation. Imagine if the electric car had not ten but 100 years of innovation behind it. Musk had challenged the status quo and emerged with a product that would ultimately be the lifeblood of Tesla Motors.

Obstacles Sometimes Require Leaders to be Directly Involved.

Musk had calculated the price of his first car, the Roadster, to retail at $95k. The pieces were set in motion, but before he had built even one car, and internal audit revealed that the production cost would be $140k – a far cry from his initial production estimate of $65k. This was completely unacceptable, and Musk knew the gravity of this obstacle required his direct involvement. He hopped a plane to Europe and personally visited the manufacturing plants and suppliers. Woefully inefficient machinery and an outdated supply infrastructure lay at the root of these elevated production costs. So Musk ponied up the funds to update equipment and increase the efficiencies of his supply chain. He knew that sometimes you have to see for yourself in order to bring the problems into perspective. An executive submitting a report might not have had strength of character to paint an accurate picture. People have a hard time asking for more money.

Push People Outside their Comfort Zones.

Musk wanted a luxury sedan that could seat seven. A laughable concept at the outset, Musk soon partnered with a designer at Mazda, and when the designer realized that they were creating something entirely new, the wheels began turning. The passenger compartment of a conventional car is built around the drive train and its ancillary components. With those things removed, a vast amount of space became available to the designer. Also, an incredible amount of weight had been eliminated, so this car of the future could do more with less energy. Ultimately, Tesla’s Model S would deliver on its promises with surprising ease. With less vehicle weight, the additional weight of people did not affect the performance. Also, since there was no drive train tunneling down the center of the car, they designed the bottom of the car to house the battery array. An unintended effect of this design was that the Model S produced a smoother, firmer ride with substantially less noise. The concept of what defines a car had been completely rethought, and the effectiveness of the innovations surprised even the designers.

Challenge Conventional Thought.

Musk had promised the Roadster and pre-sold many of them at $92,000. In reality, the production cost was around $95k. In order to honor the quoted price and literally not have to pay people to drive his cars, he knew that the traditional marketing model had to be fundamentally changed. The days of strolling the car dealership would have to come to an end if Tesla had any hope of keeping costs down. Musk wanted to sell directly to consumers via a showroom. Consumers would go to the showroom, see the cars, and then go online to personalize the car of their choice which would then be delivered to them. The battle is still waging. The automotive retail industry has considerable political clout, and they are lobbying very extensively to prevent Tesla from selling directly to consumers. Consumer advocacy groups are heralding this change. Really, who likes to go talk to a car salesman? Musk recently vented at New Jersey Governor Christie over his decision to not allow Tesla to sell in that state, seemingly flip-flopping on a verbal promise made to Tesla just months prior. Musk’s rant on his blog (two of them to date) gave his lawyers sleepless nights and showed an uncharacteristic loss of perspective. Does that mean that Tesla will fail? Hardly. It shows that Musk has passion for his vision, and political doublespeak will not be the end of Tesla. His rants did accomplish one end. The media latched on to the story, thrusting the debate into the fore, and people began asking why can’t I buy directly from manufacturers?

Attachment to Vision can be Debilitating; Perspective is not Threatening

Is Musk the innovator who redefines an entire industry? Time will tell. Musk’s electric car may go the way of all its predecessors, but that was never Musk’s vision. His vision was to move the automotive industry into the 21st century, and it required radically new perspectives and ways of approaching problems. The innovations at Tesla Motors caused a revolution in thought. The existence of the Chevy Volt is a direct result of Musk’s achievements with the lithium-ion battery array, and the doors are now wide open. Daimler in Germany, a major investor in Tesla, is working on an electric version of the Smart car, and Toyota wants to use the lithium-ion battery array to make a plug-in hybrid.

So what is a Visionary? Does Musk have a magic ball the allows him to see into the future? A visionary is person who can grasp the entirety of a construct and deduce the only logical direction it can proceed. Nikola Tesla, the namesake of the company, emigrated to America, and when Edison met him, Edison immediately recognized Tesla’s gift. Edison and Tesla disagreed on a fundamental point; Edison believed that Direct Current was the future of electricity, and Tesla believed Alternating Current was the only form that could sustain a power grid. If not for Tesla, we would not have the massive power grids that make electric cars even remotely possible. History remembers Edison as the founder of electricity, but it was Tesla and many other innovators just like him whose perspective shaped the current vision we have today. There may come a day when the automotive world owes a debt to Musk in much the same way as the energy industry owes a debt to Nikola Tesla for developing the alternating current.

Too often, shifts in perspective and vision are seen as threatening and hostile and are thus resisted with great diligence and force. The question remains then, why not embrace these views? Why not seek them out? It might be that the corporation of the 21st century not only seeks new views but actually creates divisions whose sole purpose is to challenge the status quo – to maintain healthy perspective. Only then can the Vision of a company remain clear, relevant and intact.

I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed with Apple’s lack of any hardware announcements today. Mostly because i hold Apple stock, and “The Street” had high expectations for new products today – I’m holding my breath to see what happens short-term to their stock price.

But, if you look under the hood, Apple is making some significant investments in their foundational platform. These investments should play out very favorably over the next months and years.

iCloud – my biggest complaint with iCloud is that storage was expensive, and integration was clunky. That’s all changed. Apple announced pricing today that is 25% of the cost as dropbox, with what I would argue is better integration if you are in the Apple ecosystem. I also found it interesting that they showcased other 3rd party cloud integrations, with dropbox not showing up at all.

Health – Their new health app and health kit will enable 3rd parties to contribute to a centralized view of your individual health and wellness. Additionally, it will allow you to communicate and collaborate with your medical providers.

Home and Family – As a frustrated user of smart-things, I realize the need for a well-designed, central location of connected things in your home. Don’t under-estimate this announcement from Apple. It will slowly revolutionize how you manage your home. Apple is also being very coy about the power of their new entry into their understanding of your family. A common notion of “family” is extremely powerful. Apple will eventually give me the tools to manage my home schedule, devices, and media from a central location.

Messaging and Phone Calls – Apple has finally achieved integration with your cellular presence and your computer usage. Being able to transfer phone calls from your phone to your laptop, and back again, was a pleasant surprise for me.

Metal – Apple is quietly eliminating console gaming platforms. Metal boots 3D performance so significantly on iOS devices that you will be able to use your iPhone to play games that will rival consoles 9at least for 90% of consumers – there will be that ‘fringe’ 10% of gamers that notice the shadows are not quite as deep, or that the polygon count is a little rougher than a console game). If Apple finally pulls the AppleTV out of “Hobby” status, the combination of iOS and the AppleTV could totally eliminate the console gaming industry.

Swift – Apple is doing for their developers what they have done for most consumers – they are making the development process more approachable. By simplifying code, and abstracting many of the common, difficult coding tasks into toolkits, they are making the world of development easier to enter. I believe the new development language Apple announced today, Swift, will double their development community in the next 18 months.

But, the most intriguing thing to me about what Apple announced today, was how integrated their thinking is. The features in iOS and OSX are integrated thoughtfully. Their toolkits for developers allow those developers to take advantage of Apple’s advances extraordinary quickly. And, after many poorly designed tries, they are starting to leverage The Cloud in a way that will actually emancipate their customers from technology

 

 

 

 

Kint M:
11:02:20 PM
Welcome to the Microsoft Answer Desk!
My name is Kint and how may I help you today?
You:
11:02:26 PM
I have just purchased Windows 8.1 download edition
but, I can’t download it – the download link gives me an EXE file and not the ISO file for Windows 8.1
I don’t have a PC with windows running in order to run the exe file
Kint M:
11:03:49 PM
That’s a very tough situation to be in. Let’s work together to turn this around immediately.
May I have your full name, email address and phone number please? It is for my documentation.
You:
11:04:04 PM
Anthony Franco
xxx@gmail.com
720-xxx-xxxx
Kint M:
11:04:51 PM
Thank you Anthony.
May I know what operating system you are currently using? Is it MAC?
You:
11:05:14 PM
yes, mac
Mavericks
I want to install windows on bootcamp
Kint M:
11:05:56 PM
I see.
For you to be able to download the ISO file for Windows 8, you will really need to download it using a computer that is running Windows.
You may need to ask someone you know that are using Windows computer Anthony.
You:
11:07:13 PM
I want a refund
Kint M:
11:08:23 PM
May I know why you want a refund Anthony?
You:
11:08:53 PM
In order for me to use your product, I need to have a copy of your product to use it
do you understand the irony in that ?
I don’t want to support a company that makes it this difficult to buy from them
are you still there ?
Kint M:
11:11:07 PM
Yes I’m still here.
You:
11:11:10 PM
your website is now giving me errors that i’m not signed in anymore
Kint M:
11:12:28 PM
I understand where you are coming from Anthony.
How about this, purchasing the back up disc for Windows 8.
You:
11:13:42 PM
so, make another purchase and wait for it to arrive in the mail ?
Kint M:
11:14:19 PM
Yes Anthony. approximately for about 5 to 10 business days.
You:
11:14:48 PM
that is not an acceptable solution
Kint M:
11:15:59 PM
Alright Anthony, for the refund, It is best that you contact our Microsoft store.
I can provide you there contact information.
You:
11:16:25 PM
okay
Kint M:
11:16:30 PM
You can reach them at this number 1-877-696-7786 .
Thank you for contacting Microsoft Answer Desk. Have a good day!
Your Answer Tech has ended your chat session. Thanks for visiting Answer Desk.

 

Technologists have always pushed the boundaries of gathering and distributing information.Early in our history, we used stories, fables and myths to communicate values, lessons and historical context.

The invention of paper allowed us to record our history, and the printing press gave us the ability to distribute information to more than just the anointed few.

We declared the pen mightier than the sword and we endeavored to create faster ways of distributing the words we wrote. Napoleon’s semaphores, Morse’s telegraph, Bell’s telephone and Licklider’s Intergalactic Computer Network, were all inventions designed in the race to deliver faster, ubiquitous and affordable information.

Simultaneously, inventors sought to enhance human capabilities through mechanization.
Jacquard’s mechanical loom, Hollerith’s tabulating machine, Turing’s universal machine and the 1946 ENIAC, were all innovations designed in the race to automate human capabilities.

The arguably inevitable advances in telecommunications, storage, computing power and binary abstraction gave us the ability to commoditize delivery, infrastructure, platforms and software.

A pretentious monument of fiber, silicon and code.

I believe that we have sought only to solve problems as engineers, and not as empathetic human beings. and that we must lose our technophile bigotry before we become relegated to the ranks of tech support.

I believe our industry must abandon its desire to mechanize people by relegating them to “users”

We are now faced with innovating a new era for humanity. An era where the human condition will be transformed through the technology we design.

The infrastructure now exists for rapidly deploying advanced, scalable, and complex systems, but our legacy will be written by the interfaces we create.

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