Smoothing the Path: Customer Satisfaction Drives Revenues

In the November WebTechniques, Challis Hodge discusses how to keep customers at the core of your business strategy. Customer service and customer relationship management (CRM) are touted as critical success factors for companies that want to seriously compete and thrive into the next decade. As technology and manufacturing fast become commodities, the customer relationship is the only area where real competitive advantage is still possible.

Taxonomy of information visualization techniques

Nooface is pointing to a comrehensive collection of data visualization techniques -- bar chart, scatter plot, histogram, etc. -- compiled by Rika Furuhata.

Always have a backup plan

Article in Cooper Interactive Newsletter by designer, Gretchen Anderson about preventing failures in applications by planning for them. Make sure users can't inadvertently cause their software to fail. By the same token, we also encourage designers to "make errors impossible" by designing software that anticipates the actions of its users. Nevertheless, things will go wrong. By anticipating failures, and designing backup plans like those described below, you can minimize the impact of unexpected problems on the user.

Navigating isn't fun

Alan Cooper wants navigation schemes to go away. Or at least he thinks users want it to go away. If you want to design simpler, better Websites for business or commerce, try putting more interaction into fewer screens so your users don't have to navigate so much. ... Once a beginner's enthusiasm wears off after a few uses of the Web, she would just like to get her work done in the simplest and most straightforward way possible. Instead of building a complex structure of pages, a better design technique is to concentrate all of the interaction in a single screen, relieving the user of the need to explore, of the need to navigate at all. To the user, each successive screen is the equivalent of a new window or dialog in conventional software. My axiom is: "A window is another room. Have a good reason to go there." If the user is working on information on one screen, don't send her to another screen to work on that same information. The better place is right there on screen number one. See also the related article Navbars must go.

The Science Behind the Song Stuck in Your Head

XBlog caught this LA Times article about a marketing professor looking for the truth about sticky songs -- songs that refuse to leave your head. Successful recipes for stickiness include simplicity, repetitive patterns, and incongruity. Kellaris, a marketing teacher who moonlights as a bouzouki player in a Greek band, theorizes that certain types of music operate like mental mosquito bites. They create a "cognitive itch" that can only be scratched by replaying the tune in the mind. The more the brain scratches, the worse the itch gets. The syndrome is triggered when "the brain detects an incongruity or something 'exceptional' in the musical stimulus," he explained in a report made earlier this year to the Society for Consumer Psychology. To help determine which factors cause songs to stick, Kellaris surveyed 1,000 students at four universities. ... Sacks says the songs tend to be "music that was popular or important in the first 15 years of the person's life." In other words, future generations can expect to hallucinate Eminem, Britney Spears and the theme from Barney the dinosaur. Good luck youngsters. I'm stuck with the like of Gilligan's Island and various awful 70's songs. Damn you pop culture!

Information Architecture and the Support of Brand Promise

EH pointed to the draft of Tim Salam's IA/Brand Promise article (PDF). Some believe information architects should only concerned with the structure of hard information. I disagree. ... During the design of a website, as with all promotional materials, brand promise must be considered a priority. Though technical in its foundations, websites need not be burdened solely by technological considerations. The customer is not only a website user in need of logical structures but an individual evaluating price, quality, safety, speed, and support – a cohesive package. With the voluminous surge in websites and message dilution being the increasing dilemma faced by advertisers everywhere, information architecture asserts an important foothold in the message delivery process. Differentiation among brands has become an art lost to the noise of modern media, yet the opportunity is still there. Despite the “new economy” game in which brands rise and fall with accelerated zeal, the original question begs: “When a brand speaks, who is listening and what do they hear?” With a well-designed information architecture, the answer is far easier to control and deliver with accuracy.

Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Organizations

New in HBS Working Knowledge. In this first look at a new book, HBS professors Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria explore how human nature shapes business organizations. Does your organization reflect the four basic human drives? In "Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices", the authors combine the latest thinking from the biological and social sciences to lay out a new theory on human nature. The idea: We are all influenced and guided by four drives: acquiring, bonding, learning, and defending. In this excerpt, Lawrence and Nohria examine how an organization built around the four-drive theory might look.

WebWord interview with Christina Wodtke

WebWord's John S. Rhodes interviews one of the most vocal IA evangelists in the field, Carbon iQ and Elegant Hack's Chritina Wodtke.

Can I have your zipcode?

Kuro5hin user Lord13 has a wonderful post about the zipcode snarfing policies at retail stores these days. Just this past weekend I had this happen as usual at Radio Shack and Googled for any sites about this trend. What follows is a humourus look at one person's attitude about zipcode grabbing policies -- one that I share. I picked up some new kakis and shirts for work and my girlfriend got a bedspread. After a warm greeting the cashier asks "Can I have your zip code?" "Sure" I reply, "12345". I'm rewarded with a annoyed look and, after a couple seconds hesitation, she punches a key that bypasses the prompt for a zip code. My girlfriend simply shakes her head and the cashier rings up the items without further incident. ... I've shopped at Radio Shack plenty of times before and I know they ask for your phone number and address. After being bugged all day, I decided to have a little fun. After finding the cable we walk up to the cashier. After a plensant greeting the cashier asks "Ok, can I have your phone number?". "Sure it's <insert made up phone number that sounds reasonable>" The cashier watches his terminal while it searches for my phone number. Since I made it up, it brings up nothing. "Ok, can I have your address?" he asks. "What do you need that for?" "We'll send you a flyer in the mail" "Gee that'll be great. It's one-four-seven-two Main Street. Apartment number one-eight-one-six..." I waited until he finished entering that much before continuing "...Privacyville, MI 12345" "Is there a problem?" I inquire. "If you didn't want to give me your address, why didn't you just say so?" he spits. "I was annoyed that you asked, I just thought I would share." After getting the priceless `your-a-real-jackass' look for a couple seconds the cashier rung up my RCA cable post-haste. It was almost like he wanted me gone and out of the store as soon as possible. My girlfriend started laughing as soon as we got out the door. "Do you always have to be such a jackass?" ... At some point it seems to have become a commonplace question as more stores recognize the value of tracking where their customers are coming from. It's not exactly a huge amount of information to be giving away but it this little question has already evolved into a sales pitch for MSN at Best Buy. To beg the question: What will it evolve to in the future? It's a subtle cultural shift and an annoying one at that. Why do I have create a moment of unpleasantness in a transaction for chocolate?

Homepage Usability: An interview with Nielsen and Tahir

In Making the World a Happier Place, One Web Site at a Time, Webreference interviews Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir following the publication of their new book, Homepage Usability. NR: What would you both characterize as the most common misconceptions about what constitutes a usable website? MARIE: First, it really bothers me when people equate usability with a lack of aesthetics or being boring and that it's not creative. I think people forget how freeing good functionality and usability can be. It frees them to be creative. Still... useit is one butt-ugly site.

Search Engine Optimisation

New Frontend article on Search Engine Optimisation High ranking on search engines used to be a matter of meta-tags, titles and keywords. Nowadays there is no substitute for high-quality targeted content within the context of a usable site.

Usability News, published by the British HCI Group, captures the usability news and events of the day. The site also posts conference request/call for papers and usability jobs.

Why people buy stuff

An article titled "Consuming Interests" in the University of Chicago Magazine looks at the field of commercial social science research. The article focusses on the history of Social Research, Incorporated, a social science research group which used social science methodologies to study consumers in the early 1950's. The company went on to revolutionize the market research field. Focus groups, brand image, and other staples of modern advertising all sprang from the work of a group of Chicago social scientists. These pioneering market researchers used tools from psychology, anthropology, and sociology to study a once-neglected topic: why people buy stuff.

Discount usability vs. usability gurus: A middle ground

Usabiilty aticle in TaskZ by Deborah J. Mayhew, Ph.D. on the prospect of doing "Discount Usability" and her opinion on how to find a workable middle ground. Very fast, very cheap UE methods will not sufficiently reduce project risk and insure ROI. On the other hand, paying tens of thousands of dollars for "spot consulting" by "Gurus" will not either. Be prepared to invest time and money in UE on your development project, but do it smartly - with a highly structured, time-intensive program of proven methods and techniques by qualified experts. thanks WebWord

Movable type

Movable Type weblogging application due to release around noon (PST) today.

User-Centricity site

New site found on HCI index. User-centricity constitutes a philosophy to support the design of digital media applications. It draws on and applies theory from product design, human-computer interaction, branding and marketing. In the pages of this site you will find resources aimed at promoting the understanding and adoption of a user-centric design approach. This site offers the opportunity for designers, journalists, marketers, students and anyone interested in design for digital media to obtain information and exchange ideas. It is hoped that in time this site and the regular user-centricity Forums will together represent a valuable resource for the digital media design community.

Gesture based navigation in Mozilla

Slashdot has an entry about doing mouse-based gestures in Mozilla for navigation and browser window manipulation using the OptiMoz project XPI. You might recall that earlier this spring Opera added gesture-based navigation to their browser. Both Netscape and Opera also support keyboard shortcuts, which may be a little quicker to execute than mouse gestures.


LucDesk caught this fascinating story in The Register about the browser requirements for accessing NatWest online banking. The company has essentially blocked out all but PC Internet Explorer users because of security concerns with other browsers. That's probably not going to go over too well. NatWest has cut off users of Netscape Navigator 4.76, 4.77 and 6 and Mozilla from its online banking service today after it was advised the browsers could be a security risk. IT consultants have told the bank they could not guarantee the security of customers' data through the browsers and so they have all been switched off.

Understanding your Project Manager

Xblog pointed to this Project Management glossary compiled by user Martinb. Project Managers have a large part to play in what work you'll have to do, when you'll have to do it by, and whether you get paid. So it's pretty useful to gain credibility with them - and other stakeholders you meet - by understanding their language, and even using it on occasion. What follows is a guide to the common terms used by Project Managers and other people within a project. Like most jargon, it seems pointless until you start working with it, at which point it becomes a very useful way of describing the many people, situations and processes which almost every development project will involve. And if you're still interested in PM stuff, you may be interested in the Project Management Institute's PMBOK, Project Management Body of Knowledge. This is the PM bible.

An Open Letter to Adobe

Michael Swaine is having trouble using the Adobe Studio site. In fact, he's having so much trouble that he can't send them feedback via the site and had to respond to Adobe in this open letter published on WebReview. Oh, really clever, guys, to implement your feedback link as one of those nonfunctioning JavaScript calls. Meaning that if I want to tell you what I think of your site, I have to write an Open Letter to Adobe and publish it here. There are three approaches to browser compatibility:

  • Try your darnedest to play nicely with all browsers, avoid nonstandard tags and dongles, and reach the largest possible audience with your message.
  • Distinguish your site with a few nonstandard geegaws, knowing that you will shut out a few potential visitors, and apologize to them.
  • Post your "Browser Requirements," limiting users to one of three browser versions, in U.S. English only. Don't apologize.
You, I see, chose the third option. Hrumph. Sadly, the Adobe sites seem, in my opinion, to be less usable than they were in the Sapient iterations. We all remember that wonderful site map they once had. And why is the navigation on the main site now a big static image map that gives no context about where you are? thanks xblog

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