I’ve always drawn inspiration from game design – it’s an obvious way to make interactive experiences that people enjoy.
For the inaugural Wellington Web Meetup I did a presentation on how game mechanics and the human need to play can be applied to interaction design to transform tasks that are painful and dull into experiences that are fun and addictive.
I’m putting together some hands-on workshops, focused on improving online experiences. I’ve created a new site for this little project – please head over to Skyrize.com for all the details.
The first one is Rapid Prototyping in Flash (no experience with Flash necessary). We’ll also be covering many aspects of interaction design. It’s happening on 31 July from 7-9pm. The workshop is for designers, developers, project managers, biz dev and marketing people.
It should be a lot of fun. Be sure to register early, because registration is limited to 10 people, so everyone has quality hands-on time.
Thanks to a few truly dedicated people (I’m looking at you Mike and Tash) Wellington just played host to a geek orgy of supreme quality. First rate speakers, venue, schwag, branding, web site, and perhaps most importantly coffee…mmm…people’s coffee.
A couple of Yahoos
I was particularly looking forward to sessions by Cal Henderson (slides galore), Tom Coates (notes and old slides) and Michael Lopp (notes and more notes). Each delivered a superb presentation. I was hoping for a few radical new ideas to completely rock my world, but it was predominantly a refresher course on “the web as platform”. Which was still excellent and inspiring.
Tom Coates’ sneak peek of Fire Eagle was pretty interesting (tho what’s up with the lame name?). Fire Eagle aggregates and broadcasts geo-data, so other apps can retrieve or publish your geolocation at any given moment. The implications of this concept were nicely amplified by Nigel Parker’s 8×5 session on privacy and pervasive online tracking – some kids (his…doh, mine too) have been online since they were in the womb, while other people are implanting RFID tags under their skin, and a few people currently broadcast their geolocation via GPS.
The fireside chat with Sam and Rowan was fun. Rowan roasted Sam with a hilarious video from the nascent days of TradeMe, when Sam was just a young pup. They waxed nostalgic, but also dissected the TradeMe deal starting with how Sam struggled to get investment funding and then buggered off on his OE just when it started to break even. Upon his return the business started taking off. He got serious buyout offers from Yahoo and Telecom, but upped the ante and ultimately landed the Fairfax deal.
Usability for evil (aka profit)
My world did get unexpectedly rocked by Amy Hoy. Her session was about coercing people through design and language (excellent notes from her session here). For somebody in advertising, this might have been a basic refresher. However, Amy made it especially relevant and compelling by presenting great offline and online comparisons. For instance, I’ve always wondered why Amazon presents people with an overwhelming and chaotic array of information and options on every page. Where’s the usability and good design in that, right? It’s intentionally that way. For the same reason that malls (and casinos, for that matter) are designed with burrowed interiors: to get you wandering around, somewhat lost. It’s there to keep you busy and distracted, because it’s well known that the more time you spend in a store, the more money you spend.
A few gripes
On the downside, many of the sessions were tediously academic. Too many bullets points. Too much bleating and pontificating on theory. There was a frustrating absence of demos and real world case studies from the trenches. It should be an absolute requirement to show demos, which must include a breakdown of the design/dev/business decisions that lead up to the finished work.
Simon Willison was the only person I saw who did a real world demo with live code, showing Django in action. It was interesting and impressive, but not where my head is at these days. His session on OpenID was excellent and it definitely caught my interest, but it still didn’t leave me with huge confidence in the OpenID standard, as it currently stands.
Another serious downer was the Wifi situation. It was utterly disgraceful and humiliating to watch so many prominent visitors from across the globe unable to get a working internet connection. At a web conference. It’s like having a world conference on electricity and we don’t have enough power to keep the lights on. How bad does it need to get in this city and in this country before internet connectivity becomes an angry-mob-inducing crisis? (as I’m writing this my TelstraClear connection has been down for hours – now’s good, huh?)
That’s how Apple rolls
As always, there were sessions I was frustrated I couldn’t attend. I heard from many people that Mike Lopp’s session on design management was fascinating. Sadly, it’s also one of the few that will not be made available online. Damnit! Apparently, he described how Apple creates 10 different pixel perfect prototypes for each new piece of functionality in their software! I can’t say I buy into that approach. I know how much time it takes to finesse every little gradient, drop shadow and icon. I appreciate how important those details are in the final product, but when you’re exploring new ideas you tend to lose the plot when you focus on fine tuned pixel pushing. Worst of all, you get way too precious with your design, since you’ve invested so much time and energy.
Nothing could have capped things off more perfectly than the happy coincidence of Phoenix Foundation playing in Frank Kitts park. It was a beautiful night, the buzz of the crowd was blissful and the band rocked hard. It was purely intoxicating.
To finish things off here’s a short, but brilliant clip from the show…
…things-with-stories sell faster than things-without-stories. How much faster depends on the story.
The value of an item – in the mind of a consumer – is simply the difference between the anticipated price and the price on the tag. When the anticipated price is higher than the price tag, it’s a “good value.” When the anticipated price is lower than the price tag, it’s a bad value. Good stories raise the anticipated price.
I would also add that good stories get repeated.
Speaking of good stories, below are some from my reading list, via Good Reads (I’ve tried most of the competitors and this was my fave). I need a new book, so I would love to get your recommendations.
It’s been my mission with Xero to make the user experience a bit like a game. Money essentially is a game. It represents your score, your points and your power in the game of life. Yet, for most people managing money is a painful chore that is dreaded and avoided.
The latest update to Xero includes new functionality and design ideas that really begin to exhibit what I see as a game play experience. For instance, we’ve designed the bank reconciliation so that it’s fun to use, it’s an experience you actually enjoy and look forward to.
With the bank rec in Xero your job is to match transactions coming in from the bank with transactions you have recorded in Xero. Often Xero can predict the match for you, so with one click you can easily clear a row. You get a big green tick and away it fades, bringing up the next line – the next little piece of the puzzle – to be matched. It’s a bit like clearing rows in Tetris (as seen in the short video above).
Our new ‘fast code’ design lets you do it even quicker, by letting you create an instant match, on-the-fly. After that, Xero learns how you code your transactions so that the next time it already has the details filled in for you. Pretty soon all you do is: click, click, click down the page and you’ve cleared away a whole bunch of rows, knocking them off in rapid fire.
It gives you a real rush of instant gratification.
When you come across a transaction that reconciles to multiple items you go into “find and match” mode, tracking down the transactions that add up to the one bank statement line. It’s another type of simple puzzle that gives you an immediate sense of satisfaction when you find the exact match.
With Xero, we’re now getting into a phase of the product design and development where we can really start to optimise the work flow across the system to make the experience smarter, faster and genuinely fun.
I’ve been loving Slideshare. It’s an extremely useful tool that makes it dead easy and actually fun to share presentations online. It’s bringing to the surface some outstanding expertise. I’ve collected quite few goodies in my Slideshare favorites. Below are some presentations that are particularly relevant to my most recent slides.
After seeing my talk somebody pointed me to this video: “The Science and Art of User Experience at Google”. It’s a presentation by Jen Fitzpatrick, manager of the user experience team at Google, talking about their interaction design process. She shares some really interesting examples of how they collect user feedback, particularly how they track usage patterns and monitor support queries.
A usability note on the actual video file: it contains a caption overlay, which is really useful, but it would be much more useful if that text was available to read/search/copy!
DATE CORRECTION FOR WELLINGTON:
The Xero UPA presentation in Wellington is happening on Tuesday 7 August.
I’ve been invited to speak next month at UPA events in Wellington and later in Auckland.
I’ll be talking about and showing the interaction design process used to create Xero, providing some insights into the different design techniques used to build a complex online application quickly, yet effectively. I will also discuss how those techniques are evolving as the company and the software grows.
Xero Interaction Design Case Study (there will also be a presentation on the recent UPA conference held in Austin)
Last month, I participated on a panel debate at Webstock, arguing the merits of Web 2.0. I thought about making my presentation silly, but I couldn’t help myself and ended up creating a genuine analysis of what Web 2.0 is really all about, what makes it so significant, and why it’s important to understand. I think my slides do explain it pretty well.
I have to admit that our opponents did a much better job of making their case, using their rye cynical wit and deft charisma. Their tactics were extremely effective, but ultimately they were fighting a hopeless cause.