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Goal-Oriented Design October 12, 2008

Posted by psychobserver in Customer Experience, Hong Kong.
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I guess goal-oriented design is one of the first and more important principle of user-centered design. If you design something, better make sure what it is you design will help somebody out there achieve a goal. Whether it is a product or a feature on a website, it will always help throughout the design process to remind yourself of that goal and make sure the end product is truly the best way for the user to achieve his or her goal.

It seems like a simple enough design principle, but it is actually one that is very easily forgotten. It could be the technology guy who is more interested in developing a technically challenging feature rather than a useful one. It could also be the marketing guy who decides what is in the best interest of the users forgetting simple privacy concepts. It can also be that the project team just loses its focus during the design process and comes up with a final solution that lost entirely its touch with the initial goal.

While I was visiting Ocean Park (one of Hong Kong’s main theme parks) two weeks back I saw a sign that reminded me of a simple design projects going wrong.

definition of queue jumping

definition of queue jumping

This sign was positioned in front of the queue of a specific attraction. The aim, it seems to me, is clear. Some visitors of the park must have complained about queue jumping, or the staff in the park witnessed visitors jumping the queue and did not know how to react. As a result, I’d say the goal adding of such a sign was to warn people that they should not jump the queue. A simple enough goal it would seem.

Nevertheless, the park seemed to believe that the best way to achieve that goal was to provide visitors with a definition of queue jumping. No warning. No directions saying what would happen if some people are caught jumping the queue. Not even a mention of whether queue jumping is good or bad.

It must be that at some point in this tiny project of designing a sign, somebody raised the question: “But what if people argue about what represents jumping the queue?” and somehow (like it can happen in any projects) this question took over the process, leaving behind the forgotten initial goal of the sign and leaving visitors to the park (at least me) puzzled at seeing a sign like that in front of the queue of an attraction… so at every stage of a project, remember to take a look at the initial goal and make sure your solution addresses that goal.

Note: Of course, all this only holds if the initial goal makes sense in the first place…


A break from user experience: Climate Change April 10, 2008

Posted by psychobserver in Global Warming, Green Culture, Hong Kong.

Al Gore at TED - March 2008A new talk from Al Gore about Climate Change has been posted on TED.com. As usual Al Gore does a great job at moving the audience and communicating a sense of urgency on the issue. The point he makes in his talk is: “Individual action is good, but it is not enough. The real answer is global regulations that will force governments, companies and people to change. There is no time for another approach.”

So, what can we do about it?… Well, my first step has been to take part in a petition locally in Hong Kong to pressure the government to put caps on carbon emissions from the two power companies on the territory. If you want to give a hand, just access the pre-formatted letter online and send it.

IxDA F2F: Inputs, process and outputs in interaction design April 8, 2008

Posted by psychobserver in Hong Kong, IxDA, Strategy, Tools, Usability.

I have been a bad blogger! I started this post more than a week ago, and I only post it now… mea culpa!

Last week (two weeks ago now) we had another meeting with fellow IxDA members. This time we tried to set up a discussion instead of just socializing randomly and it seems that it went pretty well. We split the 8 people we had in two groups and chatted for a bit. The idea of the discussion was to cover the inputs, the process and the outputs that we use in our current design-related jobs.

While the first group of 4 people focused on specifics about the processes and the deliverables used, in the group I moderated we spent most of our time exchanging stories and discussing the environment and culture in which we work here in Hong Kong.

I especially like to discuss the Hong Kong user experience environment, because we are all struggling to get people to recognize our work here. Most stories practitioners exchange are about how difficult it is to get their manager or client understand the point of interaction design or usability. So the question is: “Is there any secret weapon to be successful in such an environment?”. Well, we are all still trying to figure it out, but let me try to summarize a few points:

Cultural Differences

The first very important criteria is culture. If you are working in a very “local” (meaning Chinese I guess) company, you will have a hard time. “Local” companies have a very top-down approach to work where subordinates do not ask questions, they execute. In this environment, designing interactions, which require developing a good understanding of users and business goals, is very difficult. A tip that some of the people in the discussion raised is to play on the lack of understanding of the people around you. Lack of understanding usually creates greater freedom; so just do your job as much as possible the way you think it should be done, choose your own deliverables and focus on showing the value of your work. Do not go head on fighting against corporate culture.

Take the Time to Educate

If your company has already some understanding of the issues, then continue to educate people around you. Involve them in decision-making. Make them feel like they are making decisions themselves based on your deliverables and inputs. Work on clear deliverables that other teams can use. Education is a very slow process and can be frustrating, but it can lead to great results and get people to really see the value of interaction design or usability. Integrating your deliverables in decision making is key there… after a while other teams will request for your deliverable to make decisions.

Be ready to become the “problem solver”

Starting to ask questions is dangerous. In some cases, once other people identify you as the critical mind of the company, everything will get thrown at you. Whenever a tricky decision has to be made, you will be requested to help. You will become the person who “thinks about stuff”. Be ready to take on that role for a while at least and face the consequences. Don’t forget along the way to protect yourself and involve others in decision making… or you will not last long.


Networking in critical in all areas of business and it is even more so in Asia. A good network within or outside an organization will greatly help. Most business deals here are made with people who “trust” each others, meaning have a personal relationship. Focus on keeping good relationship will make your work easier (and harder at the same time, see paragraph above).

Anyway. The conclusion is that there is no silver bullet to solve the usability/interaction design/user experience situation in Hong Kong. From the discussion we had, corporate culture is the main factor affecting all this. As long as companies do not care much about their customers and bosses are only interested in having their ideas implemented (regardless of business sense), interaction design will not flourish fully. Let’s hope the corporate climate continues to evolve in the right direction…

Agile User Research February 20, 2008

Posted by psychobserver in Customer Experience, Ethnographic Research, Hong Kong, Research, Trends, User Experience.
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On February 5th, Hong Kong had the chance of having Martin Fowler speak about Agile Methodology. I have to admit that I was actually dragged to the talk by my developer colleagues… I did not really feel like going to a very technical presentation where I would be totally lost. I was really wrong not to want to go. After I actually understood that XP did not mean Windows XP, but eXtreme Programming (he he… embarrassed smile) I really enjoyed the talk.

There are two main points that made me think about how Agile methodology could have an impact on my work: user experience / user research.

1. How can we make research more agile?

The Agile concept is to break down every project in small fully functional modules that can be delivered in a very short period of time (could be 2 weeks for a development project). This helps focusing on the core features of the project, while leaving the rest for later. This also helps starting the design even without knowing all the business requirements and actually supports better defining business requirements along the way as the client sees the system build itself from scratch.

In this post, I will just focus on the research part of user experience. Indeed, the interaction design part can be incorporated quite easily in an Agile methodology, but the preliminary research appears more tricky to me. Indeed, when we start a project we first want to know what the customers or users want. We have an array of tools to address this from quantitative ones like surveys to qualitative ones like usability testing or ethnographic research. Studies like this can actually last for quite a long time and from the client’s point of view it is hard to visualize what they will get out of it. What if we could break down any research into small items that would last maybe under a week and deliver clear conclusions at the end of each week. Being new to Agile stuff, I still need to think about that some more… the first problem I see is how to perform a relevant study (in terms of sample size for example) in such a short time… But with this in mind, making research more iterative helps design a better research in the end by fine-tuning the study objectives bit-by-bit.

2. Should I work towards not having a job?

From Martin’s point of view and following Agile concepts, the developer and the client should be in direct contact. This makes the role of the Business Analyst on such projects redundant. Of course he mentioned that on most projects Business Analyst are actually key in creating a bond between the different parties, but that made me think… Are researchers like business analysts?… In an ideal case, if my client (I mean, the operational teams) could talk directly to his or her customers, everything should be better. What if instead of designing punctual studies, researchers should all strive to design systems that allow their clients to stay in touch with their customers on a continuous basis, making our role as researchers redundant.

That’s pretty much the concept of customer experience. Stay in touch with your customers on a continuous basis so that you can better design your products and services depending on their changing needs. Still maybe more could be done to integrate advanced qualitative methods into the operations of a company. We see more and more ethnographic research within companies… but my feeling is that more is possible.

Just some unfinished thoughts…

Web Wednesday Hong Kong February 14, 2008

Posted by psychobserver in Hong Kong, Web 2.0, Web Wednesday.

Yesterday night was another edition of Web Wednesday Hong Kong. The interview this time was of Argha Sen who is Head of Marketing for Toys R Us in Asia. It was quite amusing to witness the difference between the talk yesterday and the talk from the last event. Last event was about EditGrid, a Hong Kong online spreadsheet start-up, and it mostly revolved around getting excited about Web 2.0 and getting investment (even though you have no idea how to make money with your company).

In contrast yesterday Argha was on the total opposite side of the spectrum. His approach was show me the money, show me the numbers that supports me getting into that Web stuff and then I will think about it. Obviously the audience at Web Wednesday was not expecting this, and it did not make for a very entertaining discussion, but reality checks are always good. Doing something without thinking about the money and a sound business model first is like entirely relying on luck! It might work, you might get bought by some big guys… but the drains are full of the “hidden” majority of these company who tried to follow that path.

… just my take away from yesterday’s talk…

Update: Listen to the podcast of the Interview on Web Wednesday BlogĀ 

Forced opt-in by the French government January 29, 2008

Posted by psychobserver in Customer Experience, France, Hong Kong, newsletters.
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Yesterday, quietly minding my own things, I received a strange email in my personal inbox:

From: Nicolas_lassus@yahoo.com (That’s me! … usually a sign of a spam email or virus)

Subject: (French Consulate in Hong Kong and Macau) Confirmation (in French of course)

Email from French Consulate

Seeing the subject line I thought that the consulate was reminding me that my new passport I requested was sitting in their drawers waiting for me to pick it up… but wrong I was! Although I cannot recall ticking a box saying I want to receive anything from my dear Consulate when I applied for a passport a month ago (my last interaction with the consulate), here I get a “confirmation” for my subscription to the Consulate information newsletter.

Luckily there is a link for me to modify my subscription in the email. This leads to a page where I can choose between HTML and text format, and where I can unsubscribe. Note though how the link says “modify your subscription” and not “if you want to unsubscribe bla bla bla”. But then I stop… would unsubscribing from this newsletter make me a bad citizen? Will the government flag me and check my tax receipts for omissions (I actually never worked in my own country, and thus never had a tax declaration done there)? Anyway. I decided that it was safer for me to at least pick up my passport before removing my name from the distribution list… or at least see what the first newsletter will look like.

It is funny how governments in the UK and Canada seem to be at the forefront of user experience and accessibility… and how the French government still does not get the concept of letting users opt-in to a newsletter… scary!

Airgini launches private Alpha… January 23, 2008

Posted by psychobserver in Airgini, Hong Kong, Innovation, Mobile, Social Networking.
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AirginiAirgini has just launched its private alpha version. Airgini is a Hong Kong born mobile social networking application. It is great to see product innovation and development in Hong Kong. There are too few of those.

So, all the best to the Airgini team!

Social Networking: The growth dilemma… November 25, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in Customer Experience, Hong Kong, Social Networking, Strategy, Trends, Web 2.0.
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I recently did some work for a mobile social networking start-up here in Hong Kong helping them with their interface and their user experience in general. Although my focus was on the interface (and the project very short as usual) we happened to talk quite a bit about strategy. In fact, I always find it hard to focus on user experience and user interface without poking my nose into the overall strategy behind them (I’d like to spend more time on that, but it is not the point of this post… maybe for a later one).

Anyway, it seems to me that there is a tough dilemma when building a social network. The problem is that the number of users and the amount of interactions going on in the network is everything. Indeed for most social networks (excluding a few business-related or referral-based ones), the networks do not have a clear revenue model. As everything is advertising-based the indicators to get funding and be recognized in the industry are basically number of users and page views. Unfortunately, these indicators in some cases go against user goals and go against the long term survival of the network.

We are now all used to this. We grow a social network and at first all is going well. We have our close friends there and we are having fun exchanging news, pictures, videos, etc. However after a while, our network grows, previous friends, former colleagues, people we actually met via our social network gets added and all goes out of control. Indeed the whole concept is based on encouraging users to “make” more friends. Games are put in place to push them to add people to their network, and simply when somebody asks sombody to be his or her friend it is really hard to say no. It feels like a no return kind of decision. Even though we might never meet the person in real, we just cannot say no to people that easily. And once they are added to our network, we have little control over what they do with their access to our information, thus the beginning of the end and often users drop-out from the network.

Although it means taking more time to grow the network it seems to me that social networks should learn from real life more. Instead of just facing a “friend” or “not friend” situation, users should be able to grow relationships slower and keeping them under their control without feeling like they are making others feel bad (or having themselves the perception that they could make the other person feel bad). It works in this way in the real world. When we meet somebody for the first time, we do not usually invite them home to look at our family pictures or read our private diary. It is just normal that relationships take time to build. It should be the same online. It is of great convenience to be able to exchange information with friends online, but users should not pay the price of this by losing their right to privacy… and if social networks do not realize this, they will all sooner or later face the fact that when the hype is gone, people will choose privacy over convenience.

With all this said, the problem still remains. In a short term focus world like the one we live in, we demand quick results and a slow growing network just does not make sense… or does it?

Funny sign translation: My personal favorite November 3, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in Hong Kong, Signage.
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One of my favorite activity in Hong Kong (and even more so in Mainland China) is checking translations (on signs, restaurant menus,…). I know. That does not sound really exciting, but I have been having a lot of laughs from that activity.

Now. I think I have found the pearl. Not only is the translation wrong in a linguistic sense… It just comes out really weird, having no connection with the original message, and it seems to me promoting fake goods, saying that with a bit of imagination they are as good as real ones! A funny statement, especially in Hong Kong were fake goods are a everywhere.

Hong Kong sign translation

(The idea behind the sign in Chinese is something like “Take care of nature”)

Buy on Hong Kong Now Broadband TV: Short Review October 3, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in Customer Experience, Hong Kong, Innovation, Trends, Usability.

I discovered yesterday that I could buy stuff on my broadband TV access. I had no idea and I am not sure when it was launched. Here is what PCCW – Now Broadband TV says about the new channel (that channel 501 for those using the service):

A new shopping concept has hit town!

A PCCW service: now shop (channel 501) offers you local and Hollywood hottest DVDs, top-selling books, console games, electronics , lifestyle products and other services including movie ticketing and the No.1 Shopping Gallery. The new Stock Market Express, the new pay service providing Real-time stock quotes , FX spot rates and Gold prices for you to grasp every investment opportunity.

I have been taking a few pictures of the interface (accessible on Flickr)and I prepared a small presentation where I put my thoughts about the service. I also reviewed some elements of the interface from a usability perspective.

I prepared all this pretty quickly and did not do research about similar services in other countries. It is quite rough, but I hope it can be interesting to some and a basis for discussion on the topic of buying through interactive TV.

Let me know your thoughts…