Concluding thoughts on module

Some lessons I took home from the weekly Tuesday morning class…

You REALLY don’t have to please everybody.

This module opened my eyes to new concepts, some of which I still find hard to stomach. I guess the hardest of them all is that it is better to design for a few users than to attempt to capture everybody. Initially, I thought that doesn’t make good business sense at all. Wouldn’t it makes better (money) sense to try to capture as many consumers as possible? Why limit yourself to a minority?

Of course I now know better that capturing a few fiercely loyal consumers triumphs over a bunch of easily swayed consumers. In a way, satisfied customers begets more customers. Making a product according to a specific need, satisfies everyone with that particular need. On the other hand, products that tries to please everyone just get used, not loved.

Here! Try my shoes on!

I mentioned in our final report that as our client is a hypothetical F&B company, we had to play the role of designers servicing the client AND the client itself. While in a way it was double the work, it was great approaching the project with both perspective. The class critque sessions are an extension of this scenario and were important in helping every group streamline and hone their product.

Try this! You might just die from it.

One man’s meat is another’s poison. Oh how true! Funtionality creep, a term that I come across for the first time in my life, a mistake that we tend to commit countless times throughout the project. As designers, we tend to lump so many functions into our design that while they are useful on their own, their combination turns into one huge mess. Hybrids are halfbreeds and they are good at doing stuff. The problem is that they are usually half good at this and half good at that.

Keeping it simple wins. If only simple was easy…..

Doctor, I think you extracted the wrong tooth.

This module isn’t about memorizing or regurgitating. It doesn’t test how many theories you can spew or how fast/much you can write in two hours. (In fact, our group only made use of the PRINCIPLES behind the theories and models taught. We end up modifying most of them!)

End of the day, this module teaches me to focus on the core need of users whom we’re designing for. Satisfy their core need and they really don’t need anything else. Sounds simple but it’s not.

Listening helps.

I took 4 months plus to learn this lesson and I daren’t say I’ve mastered it.

There can be miracles when you believe.

Deadlines, assignments and oh-so-much testings. So much to do in so little time. Looking back, us believing in the product, that it could do some good was what kept us going. All nighters at the Central Forum on SUNDAYS were tolerable only because the team was passionate in making the product work.

Thanks Paul and Esther!

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Review on Smoke and Mirrors

Fahey’s article was quite a delicious read with a slightly antagonistic fire commonly lacking in many academic readings.

He raised many valid points (or questions) about the haziness, ungrasp-able nature of user research. Hence the title Smoke and Mirrors, a term often coined of magicians for throwing smoke and using mirrors to create illusions.

I agree with his point that sometimes good design is just common sense and that expensive user research are nothing more than means of “bullet proofing” opinions and convincing people in higher management who are more statistic driven and less design driven. I guess I experience some semblance of Fahey’s frustration in my own project where we had to convince people and motivate them to action to consume breakfast because breakfast is good. A fact that most people already know.

My primary axe to grind with the persona room mentioned in Fahey’s article is that the accurate representation of someone’s room need not be an accurate representation of the experiences underwent by that person. Imagine stepping into a mocked-up room of a celebrity, the splendor and opulence may wow someone into feeling like a celebrity, but the celebrity might have grown accustomed to all these and find them normal, not unlike how we feel in our own rooms. Thus the use of persona rooms might be another way of some companies to justify and substantiate their work, however in the long run, the real world user will never be tolerant towards bad design. time will tell and bad designs never escape unscathed.

Fahey’s view that it is often difficult for a design manager to convince their boss that a good design decision is in fact a good one especially if the boss has no design instincts. Synthesizing his point with our final project, we kind of got to experience this through the class critique session. As designers, our products are submitted to weekly “appraisal” sessions where we have to convince a panel of “bosses” that our design makes sense, will work, etc etc. And sometimes, the most common sensical (to us) choice have to be backed up by stats and figures before the “bosses” will buy into the idea.

Similarly, when the role gets swapped and we had to critique other people’s product, it was a tough job convincing the fiercely protective designers of apparent flaws in their own products. What started off as a “fun” sabotaging session was in fact extremely useful in whittling and polishing our product.

Conclusion

I guess the most valuable lesson i got out of reading Fahey’s article is that there really isn’t one fool proof method for user testing. At the end of the day, methods like eye ball tracking may tell us what the users are looking at but not what they are thinking about. In a way, human beings can never be looked at objectively, making user testing slightly tricky in that we often have to adapt and incorporate many methods just to get the job done.

Final Assignment- Website for Divine Breakfast

Divine Breakfast

Home Delivery of Healthy, Tasty Breakfast Prepared by Renowned Chef

Observation of Trend

Our team note that increasingly more people are skipping breakfast, choosing either to have a huge dinner the night before, forego it entirely, or to make up with a heavy lunch.

User Needs

A breakfast that is nutritious, tasty, easy to prepare and convenient to eat.

Initial Product Ideas

Sandwiches delivery, breakfast vans, freeze dried food.

Final Product Idea

Website entailing breakfast menu prepared by celebrity chef using organic and natural ingredients. Complemented by delivery service to either home or office.

Target User

Affluent, middle upper class young working adults with high level of disposable income.

Single or married but child-FREE

Prototypes

Paper prototype

High fidelity prototype

High fidelity prototype (Final Version)

Limitations
The major shortcoming of our product was that it was based on a hypothetical company. At the time of the project, there are currently no companies in Singapore offering door to door breakfast delivery except Macdonald’s. This implies that there were no background information and supporting data from the client side. Instead, our group has to multitask and assume the roles of both designer and client. To overcome this, we tried our best to model our business strategies according to existing business models of successful catering companies.
As every group members had other academic commitments, time is a constant constraint that the group faced. In addition to that, the nature of our target audience is that they are busy, career driven people who find it hard to assist us in our research and product testing. Ideally, our group would like to invest more time into the various testing phases of the prototypes with a larger sample population.
On the subject of testing, our group tasked the users to perform certain timed tasks both on our low fidelity and high fidelity prototype. After reviewing Fahey’s article, we realized that timed tasks greatly impair research results because time is not a good gauge of the intentions behind certain actions. The only indication we received was through the Think Aloud protocol that we used. However, on hindsight, we reckon that this is not as efficient and that we should have conducted qualitative probes after the timed tasks.
Our instructor, Mr. Reddy pointed out that there might be a dissipation of excitement when users come into prolonged contact and use of the website. He suggested that extended testing be carried out to find out if the excitement of users is sustained, “genuine” and not due to the novelty of the new product. In the case of our website, we can only test for the excitement level efficiently if the content is changed i.e. updating and uploading new images and menus. Due to the severe lag of time, we were unable to come up with new content for testing.

Lastly, all three members have no prior experience in designing web sites. This implies that a lot of time was spent on trial and error testing. This sparked off a vicious cycle where less time was available for debugging and testing of the final website.
Conclusions

For the various test conducted, there are limitations specific to every one of them. These limitations in turn contribute to an overall subjectivity to the data obtained. Bringing in Fahey’s point that user experience can never be thoroughly quantified, we would have to bring in a combination of gut instinct and educated guesswork in interpreting test findings before coming up with our final product.
Interpretations were made keeping in mind the specific limitations of the tests we used to gather feedback regarding user experience pertaining to our product. The core of our product is in the uniqueness of the service rendered. In a bid to capitalize on the unique selling point, packaging the product well is also crucial in encapsulating this new breakfast experience of having healthy and tasty food prepared by a renowned chef delivered fresh daily. To fully advance and propel the USP of our client’s food, the website has to complement and reflect similar values.
Research and design were all conducted with this ultimate goal in mind. At the end of the day, it is heartening to garner comments from testers (and two passer-bys) that they would subscribe to our product on a regular basis should it ever materialize.
For more details and information, kindly ask for a copy of our final report.

Some thoughts on the Final Project

What can I say? I’m so glad it’s over! During the entire duration of the project, it was rather tiring. There are so many instances where decisions seems common sensical, yet we had to “complicate” stuff just to justify our means to an end. Ultimately we all pulled through, even though none of our group members are versed in website design.

Recalling the beginning some 10 weeks ago, I would say our biggest problem was the tendency for our group to come up with marvelous new products and then going about justifying it. We had ideas for marvelous paper-thin LCDs screen for cereal boxes, LED seating plans for NUS lecture theaters and even fantastical products like canned emotions. It was only after a few weeks of ping ponging ideas off one another to no avail and realizing that we’re seriously lagging behind that we sat down and forced ourselves to think of a genuine need that can be addressed by or project.

It is hard to move on when our minds are set on an idea already. Now multiply the problem by three individuals (Mike, Paul, Esther) and you have an idea of what we went through.

The second problem encountered was the difficulty in getting test subjects, be it for research or prototype testing. As the target users for our products are young working adults commanding a certain pay, it was hard locating the specific individuals to aid us in the project. I have never pulled so many favours for a single module! Ever!

The various assignments while appearing relatively simple at times were actually rather time consuming. Take the card sorting exercise for example, we initially thought that it would take less than an hour to complete. No sir! It blew from a “casual evening project meeting” to a full scale “we just spent 4 hours in a empty school canteen” affair. Once again, thanks to all those working people who had to sacrifice their resting time to aid us in the project!

We stuck through it all with the conviction that if we could make our project viable and subsequently successful, we would be doing something good. Why? We’re promoting regular consumption of breakfast! The most important meal of the day. The Tuesday class must be tired of hearing this line by now… Anyway, thanks to fellow group members that believed in this product, it’s finally over!

Assignment 3 – Emotion Design Probe

The slides for this assignments are available here.

For this assignment, we were tasked to improve the learning experience in the Lecture Theaters. Due to time constraints, only LTs in FASS were considered in this assignment.

Primary research was carried out with a group of NUS students to find out which LT they liked or didn’t like. The most popular being the larger LTs i.e. LT11, LT9, LT10, LTs that weren’t so popular happened to be the smaller ones i.e. LT12.

There are certain assumptions made for this assignment. Firstly, students are assumed to be willing and able to learn and teachers are assumed to be willing and able to teach. This assumption is made in lieu of the fact that students and teachers both contribute to the entire learning experience and both experience each other. Think along the line of how late students disrupts the entire lesson or how the teacher have to make extra effort in keeping chattering students in check..

With the “human” aspect out of the picture, we look to the physical aspects of the LT environment…

Background

To our knowledge, LT12 is the venue where two film modules take place. They are GEK2020, Introduction to Film Art and SSA2218, Singapore film, a Study of Identity. A typical film study class usually lasts approximately 4 hours, 2 hours for the lecture and another 2 hours allocated for the screening of a film which will be discussed in the following week.

Ethnography

Paul and I decided to sit in for a lecture after seeking kind permission from GEK2020’s Dr Gilbert Yeoh. We set up a video camera at the front of the LT to record down interesting behaviors amongst our peers. Most of the observations made were from 15 mins into the start of the recording. This is to ensure that the students and lecturer were more “at ease” with the presence of the camera.

Analysis

The video recording of ethnographic data was analyzed before a list of suggestion was made.

Check out the video here.

Suggestions

  1. More power points needed. As the campus move increasingly towards electronic teaching, the number of power points to students is alarmingly paltry. Most power points are located at the upper top left and right corners of the LT, with a complete absence in the middle of the LT.
  2. Cramped seatings. Due to the long nature of film studies modules, LT12 seemed not to be an ideal venue. We understand that the locations of lecture venues are allocated according to the size of the cohort. However, for film studies modules where students have to crane their neck at the screen for an extended period of time, we propose that a larger LT be assigned so that the first few rows may be empty and that the students may take a more comfortable seat further away from the screen.
  3. Lastly, we noticed how late comers disrupts the class by inching their way to isolated pockets of seats. Perhaps seating plan with lighted LEDs can be installed outside the LTs, indicating the position of empty seats. This will greatly help the students in looking for seats and minimize the amount of disturbance to their peers.

Limitations

While we made considerations to make observations 15 mins into the class, the presence of two “strangers” Paul and myself, squatting at the front of the LT with a video camera would undoubtedly skew the observations in that the students and Dr Yeoh would have behaved less naturally.

It would be ideal if we can sit in more than once. This will help the students get used to our presence and be more “natural”.

Assignment 2 – 4 Pleasures Analysis

For this assignment, we are required to expand on the RMA (reverse marketing analysis) profile developed in class into a target user profile.

For the class assignment, the following product was assigned.


MCM Varsity Jacket
Photo from Highsnobiety

Product Analysis

The varsity jacket was to 80’s Hip-hop what the ice hockey jersey is to present day Hip-hop. Celebrities from Salt n’ Pepa, Eric B. & Rakim and Run-D.M.C all favored the varsity jacket.

The Munich based luxury goods company, MCM, under ex Adidas creative director Michael Michalsky has brought back the varsity jacket albeit with more class. The luxurious MCM gold leather varsity jacket identifies its wearer as amongst the hip and the trendy, yet subtlely connotes it’s owner as amongst the rich and informed few…

Target User Profile

Target user: Johan, 28, Senior Accounts Executive (Ad)

Johan is currently with one of the largest advertising company in Singapore. He has been in the advertising industry for 6 years. Needless to mention, his portfolio is rather astounding with many local jewelers and fine watches retailers under his care.

Johan is no push-over. His resourcefulness and assertiveness is what kept him alive in the cut-throat, shark-infested environment at work. He knows what needs to be done and will stop at nothing to do it. The frightening thing is, Johan plays the GAME well. Every colleague of his think of him fondly. He is, to many, Mr Nice Guy.

Johan is the eldest of two. He grew up in a comfortably wealthy family. While his parents are not filthy rich, they are able to let young Johan pursue whatever interests he might have. Johan has tried his hands on archery, pottery, playing in a rock band, turn-tabling and even Brazilian Jujitsu. All these interests funded gladly by his parents, not to mention the two yearly vacations the family enjoy without fail.

While Johan has since moved out of his parents place two years ago, he goes back for dinner almost daily. Reason being it’s more cost efficient rather than to keep his parents company. After dinner, Johan returns to a condominium along Napier Road, a quick 20 minutes drive away in his Jeep Compass. Not for long though, he has just placed an order for the new Hummer that was recently allowed onto Singapore roads. Johan can never understand why drivers complain about fuel price hike all the time. He feels that they will save a whole lot more if they just take the bus. If you have to drive and gripe about it incessantly, then maybe you shouldn’t be driving at all.

Johan performs his nightly routine of working out before hitting the showers. Before he retires for the night, Johan usually checks his email for the last time. He doesn’t like to be “surprised” when he goes in for work in the morning. Tonight’s a little different though. It’s a holiday tomorrow so he thumbs through the various E-vites from the various clubs and bars of which he is a member of.

Nothing interesting, guess he’ll have no excuse to skip the dinner party the boss organized. The excitement of such parties has long lost its appeal on him. What’s so exciting when the boss invites you over monthly without fail? Closing his laptop, Johan drafts out a quick list of chores for the part time maid coming in tomorrow. He likes the house spotless when he returns from his weekly squash game.

Though not a fan of whisky himself, Johan makes a mental note to bring along one of the many bottles of Macallan 12 he has for the dinner tomorrow night. They are handy for such occasions, not too shabby nor does it screams “suck-up”. No one ever complains about a bottle of Mac.

Physio Pleasure

  • Johan has a sedentary job. That said, the amount of pressure Johan undergoes daily- both from his clients and from the office politics, is enormous.
  • That’s why he loves playing squash, it helps him to keep fit while giving him an excuse to hit something REALLY HARD. After a good game of squash, Johan always feel physically drained but mentally refreshed. (need & appreciation pleasure)

Socio Pleasure

  • Johan knows the importance of being seen. He hangs out regularly at new and hip watering holes. He portrays himself as the generous guy who appreciates living life to the fullest. He orders booze by the bottles and only goes for the premium labels. (need pleasure)
  • More importantly, Johan recognises that it is not only about being seen, but also with whom is he seen with. As such, He rations his partying such that he only visits places where he has priority entry or exclusive events where only members are allowed in. (appreciation pleasure)
  • Johan indulges himself with the latest watches, cars and booze. He’s currently wearing a Breitling, with the intention of getting a Panerai within the next two years. His poison of choice/soft spot is Champagne, though he is hesitant to admit it. His wine chiller currently stocks, amidst other booze, twelve bottles of 99 Dom Perignon. (appreciation pleasure)
  • Johan gets immense fulfilment from the pursuit of material products. The watch on his wrist, the car that he drives and the booze that he drinks, so what if others cannot tell the difference? Johan feels self assured when he uses them, to him, they are signs that he has made it. Again.
    Heck, if there’s a tooth brush made from Swarovsk crystal, he’ll get that too!

Psycho Pleasure

  • Due to his stressful work nature and environment. Johan rarely has the indulgence of letting go and relax. In the rare few occasions where he allows himself to wind down/let his guard down. Johan likes to watch mentally undemanding programs like Comedy Central. (need pleasure)
  • Even rarer now, Johan will sometimes drop by the pottery studio or spin for a few hours on his turn tables. To Johan, these are frivolous pursuits of his youth that he now tries to limit access to. But deep down, the familiarity and his competency at such activities gives him a lot of satisfaction and a sense of achievement. (appreciation pleasure)

Ideo Pleasure

  • Johan is very critical and conscious about how people think of him. He is eager to portray himself as sophisticated, generous and “in-the-know”. (need pleasure)
  • That said, Johan does not go for the ostentatious, he shuns away from such products. He is extremely mindful of the intended image portrayed. Johan is careful about mindlessly following fashion trends. Using handbags as an analogy, where most people would go for Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada, Johan would rather go for Hermes or Todd’s. They are branded nonetheless, but a more subdued/subtle sign that he has “arrived”. (appreciation pleasure)
  • Johan likes stuff that only the informed few would appreciate.

Product Benefits Specifications

Criterias to meet Need Pleasures

  • Sms, voicecall, 3G technology and push-mail functions to meet the work demands of Johan.
  • Sturdy built and good workmanship.
  • Must emit sophisticated vibes. The make of the phone need not be instantly recognizable but the design should be unanimously regarded as good.

Criterias to meet Appreciation Pleasures

  • Exclusivity. Best if there are limited editions/quantity.
  • Camera for photos opportunities with the rich and famous.
  • Low mass appeal (aka ridiculously priced), phone preferably not be instantly recognizable.
  • Unique material or design. To be a conversation starter.
  • Only the informed consumers should be able to pick it out.

Recommended Phone (that’s out in the market)

THE Vertu

While the brand Vertu is synonymous with class, exquisiteness and exclusivity. The handset itself is relatively difficult to pick out amongst the many hand phones available. As such, they are arguably still exclusive, privy only to the informed few. Hence making it the ideal phone for the go-getter, Johan.

Assignment 1 – Pleasure with Products

The aim of this assignment is to identify three products that are representative of visceral, behavioral and reflective design. They are defined as follows,

Visceral design: refers primarily to that initial impact, to the product’s appearance.

Behavioral design: is about look and feel, the total experience of using a product. The physical feel/pleasure and effectiveness of use.

Reflective design: is about the afterthoughts from use. Hw it makes one feel, the image it portrays and the message it tells others about the owner’s taste.

For this assignment, I will be using cameras for my anaylsis. Yes, the after-effects of NM3223 is felt still… (:

Visceral

Sony Cyber-Shot DSC- T2 Camera             Gallery

Introduction:
The Casio ex-slim series and Sony point-and-shoot cameras best exemplify visceral design. Such cameras are extremely slim, often marketed as being able to fit into your jeans pocket. The recent assortment of eye catching colors only serve to make them even more attractive to the consumers.

Behavioral: Reasonable performance. Suitable for normal, basic photography needs.

Reflective: While the slimmest models get their fair share of Oooos & aaahhhss from envious friends. These cameras are still largely comfortably affordable. Fair amount of “show off value”

Visceral: Colourful and slim with much thoughts put into the design. No protruding parts. Extremely sleek.

Behavioral

Canon EOS 5D DSLR camera          Gallery

Introduction:
The DSLR camera. Such cameras are often associated with semi-pro or professional photography. Users of DSLR cameras would fall under the “more informed” category as such cameras offer more control over the image capture process.

Behavioral: Workhorse. Full manual controls enables excellent images to be taken. Gets the job done.
Reflective: Professional. Seen as a serious tool. More expensive than point and shoot. Full of various functions.

Visceral: Bulky. Definitely NOT suitable for jeans pockets. Similar designs, aesthetically boring.

Reflective

Leica M8… Trust me, it’s very expensive.          Gallery

Introduction:
Leica. The company often associated with excellent optics (read: exorbitantly priced). So what? Even if there’s problems with the image quality. So what? Even if it produces bad vignetting in photgrahs?
It’s still a Leica!

Behavioral: Questionable performance. But definite good quality optics.

Reflective: Status symbol. Simply because it is expensive.

Visceral: Photography icon. Brand itself has attractiveness.

While it might seem that in the case of cameras, an increase in the price seemingly makes its design more reflective, the following example suggests otherwise.

Reflective 2

The LOMO Action Sampler 35mm film camera.          Gallery

Introduction:
Toy cameras, under the ingenious marketing of the Lomographic Society has seen bad photographs passing off as art. The low fidelity, colour and saturation skewed images commands a fanatic following all around the world.

There are numerous online forums and communities devoted to toy cameras and Lomographic photography. People buy these cameras to be part of the cult following of Lomographic photography.

Behavioral: Bad performance. Light leaks, flimsy plastic construction. Images produced are have bad fidelity and color reproduction.

Reflective: Cult symbol. Commands a strong following globally. The uncertainty of how the images will turn out fuels the artistic notion attached to Lomography.

Visceral: Cheap plastic construction. Apparent image of a toy.

Assignment 0 – Bad Design!

I was initially stumped when I had to think of something that’s badly designed. Mr Reddy mentioned that good designs are rare and bad designs are everywhere (thereby implying that this assignment will be a cinch), well I have to “disagree” to a certain extent.

While it is true that bad designs are pervasive (unfortunately), I finally realised why I was stumped initially. We tend to assimilate bad design into our life, choosing to work WITH bad design (or work around bad design, depending on how you look at it) instead of getting well designed stuff to work for us.

Without further delays, here are some examples of bad design I picked out. They are specific to my day-to-day life, stuff that I come into contact almost daily.

Badly designed stuff that I have habitually ignored.

Sample 1
Central Forum Elevator Control
Lift buttons at the central forum.

User reaction

I believe most people have come into contact with them at one point or another. The buttons for closing and opening the elevators doors meet with two extreme kind of treatment daily. They either get jabbed rapidly in quick sucessions or get ignored entirely.

The flaws in these buttons lie in the absence of backlight, long action-reaction time and low level of affordance. Most lift buttons when pushed, lights up to show user that they are…. depressed. The back light works hand in hand with a bouncy spring mechanism that has a reaction force to the pushing action of the finger.

Both of which are missing in the case of the central forum elevators. To top it off, the lift doors takes extremely long to respond to the lift buttons. So much so that I question if the buttons work at all, is the door slow to react? Or is it closing automatically after a predetermined time lapse?

I notice that some of us simply ignore the buttons. Choosing instead to hit the buttons for whichever floor they are heading to and then WAIT for the doors to close.

Lessons learnt through interaction

Erm… For every force exerted there is an equal opposing force working in the opposite direction?

Just kidding. The solution to this design problem is quite simple. Just change the buttons panel!

Oh! Oh! While you’re at it, maybe you can change the lift too! A brand new, larger, airier and faster elevator would go really well with the brand new buttons panel. (:

My reflections

Mr Reddy mentioned that the surroundings under which the user uses a product has a pivotal role in determining if that experience is a pleasant or unpleasant one. Here we have badly designed lift buttons, a small stuffy lift that experiences high traffic volume…

Change it already!

Sample 2

These door knobs/handles are found along the corridor at AS1.

As seen from inside the classroom.

Recess in wall

User reaction

The door knob/handle has a simple and extremely efficient mechanism behind it. Turning the handle clockwise (aka pushing the handle down) from the outside translates into the metal knob jamming itself into a recess in the door frame, locking the door in the process.

Lessons learnt through interaction

Here lies the problem, the clockwise/downward motion on the handle for most people is associated with opening doors. In the above designed handle, a clockwise/downward motion will lock the door instead of opening them.

My reflections

While many first time users struggle to work the handle. Credit must be given duly. It is made from a hardy material. It has minimal small, moving parts and therefore is able to withstand daily abuse. Attributes that most possibly got it installed in the first place.

It would be perfect if the designers had kept in mind the common behaviour/usage patterns of consumers. Perhaps in this case, flipping the metal knob so that it rests on top would resolve this issue.

And now, presenting the final example of bad design….

Haha. Just playing. See y’all in class!