Monday, October 05, 2009

Reciepts - A Missed Branding Opportunity

Like a lot of people I'm a collector. I have all sorts of collections: PEZ dispensers, hockey jerseys, toys — just to name a few. Out of necessity, my latest collection is receipts. Why? I'm required to fill out an expense report at work. This has created a wallet even George Costanza would appreciate. But it's also got me thinking a bit more about receipts lately, which has triggered my 'inner collector' instincts.

If you think about it, a receipt is potentially the last opportunity a company has to make a statement about their brand. Yet almost all the receipts I get are cheap, pathetic and uninspiring. They're usually printed in black & white ink on cheap thermal paper. What does that say about your brand or the product I just bought? Is that really what you want me to have as a last impression?

The other thing I don't get is why it seems like the receipts are getting longer and longer and longer. Take a look at the 10 inch Home Depot receipt shown above. That was for one item! That's ridiculous. Do they really need to print their return policy on the front, or a blatant attempt to solicit customer data via a feedback survey? I've even seen a receipt with a legal disclaimer on it — I'm looking at you Michaels. And don't even get me started on the environmental aspect.

Want another example of useless information... On a recent receipt I have from a local pizza establishment (not shown). For some reason I get a preview of their inventory tracking system. What value does it offer me to know whether the items are considered hot or cold inventory? Unless they're trying to provide me with ammunition to complain about the cold food I just received that was supposed to be delivered hot?

On a recent trip to Las Vegas I found a company that has considered their receipt as a branding opportunity — RAO's in Caesars Palace. It was not stellar by any stretch of the imagination, but it made me stop and appreciate the effort. The paper was silky smooth, it was cream-colored with the Caesars logo in metallic ink repeated in the background. The information was fairly minimal, but it employed the all-to-typical poorly kerned and bit-mapped font I've come to expect on receipts.

Now let me share with you a receipt that I truly appreciate. It's the one I get from my mechanic, Tony's Auto Service. It works on so many levels, it's practically a work of art. They're company name is hand stamped on the top, it's handwritten, has oily finger prints, it's personalized and highly descriptive. I don't even mind that it's on some generic receipt found in any business supply retailer. It fits with their brand. It's a thing of beauty. If they can get it right, why can't these other mega-brands that have so much more brain and money power behind them?

What are your experiences with receipts? Do you have any examples of good receipt? Do you know of a company that recognizes the opportunity and doesn't just place their overly bit-mapped logo at the top? What's the longest receipt you've ever had for a single item?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Book Review: Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge

On September 23rd the Calgary UX Book Club got together to review Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge. I was pleasantly surprised to have a total of 12 people out for our first get-together. While I didn't finish the entire book before the review, I have since completed the seven-hundred plus pages. Below are my thoughts about the book...

The first four chapters were interesting, as Bill took us back through history looking at the evolution of the personal computer with a variety of interviews and images from the 'grandparents' of Interaction Design. I was particularly keen on seeing the early prototypes of a mouse (made out of wood) and the laptops.

It was cool to see the trial and error in the development of the Apple Lisa GUI documented in the Polaroids by Bill Atkinson. It's amazing how we forget and/or take for granted all the time, effort and detail that went into defining how we interact with computers today. While a lot of that early framework is still apart of the basic operating system, one aspect that I find really interesting is how we are evolving past some GUI elements like the scroll bar. I still see them as an important visual indicator of the length of a document or where I am within that document, but very rarely do I actually use them as a method to navigate, as the scroll wheel on my mouse has taken their place.

Cordell Ratzlaff, the creator of the Macintosh operating systems (OS 8-X), hits the nail on the head when he says "As interaction designers, we need to remember that it is not about the interface, it's about what people want to do! To come up with great designs, you need to know who those people are and what they are really trying to accomplish." This should be the core philosophy of every interaction designer, if it isn't already.

As we continue to journey through the book it was neat to see that a lot the same tools & techniques are still relevant in today's UX practices. Not that this was that long ago. Even Agile or iterative development methodologies were being applied. Something the company I work for has recently adopted.

Like a lot of other people I have talked to about the book, there is a overwhelming dislike for all the seemingly self gratifying references to IDEO and "the author". At times it makes me feel uncomfortable, like I am eavesdropping in on a conversation at the old boys club.

For me the two best parts of the book, are within the last chapter "People and Prototypes" when Bill touches on the "Core Skills of Design" and the "Elements of the Design Process".

For those that are interested, the five core skills of a design, according to Bill Moggridge are...

1) to synthesize a solution from all of the relevant constraints,
understanding everything that will make a difference to the result

2) To frame, or reframe, the problem and objective

3) To create and envision alternatives

4) To select from those alternatives, knowing intuitively how to
choose the best approach

5) To visualize and prototype the intended solution

And the basic elements of the design process can be generalized into these ten elements: constraints, synthesis, framing, ideation, envisioning, uncertainty, selection, visualization, prototyping and evaluation.

Both the five skills and the basic elements can be applied in the listed order, but the process is iterative rather than linear and does not necessarily follow a sequence.'s more like playing a pinball machine, where one bounces rapidly in unexpected directions.

Overall, I think this book would benefit from a little stricter editing process, but well worth the investment in time and money to read. At the very least you'll get a mild work-out while you read it! :)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Why I miss my tube of Colgate toothpaste

Last week when my wife went grocery shopping she had toothpaste on her list. Doing her part to watch the monthly budget she noticed that Crest was on sale. It’s worth noting that we have been loyal Colgate users for as long as I can remember. I suspect that price was the initial catalyst for her even considering the switch. The only immediately identifiable difference was the "plus Scope", since our usual Colgate Total also has 'whitening powers'. So I suspect that ‘feature’ helped convince her that now was the time to try something new.

After only my second brushing I knew I wasn't going to be happy. Not because of the minty flavour or how clean my teeth felt, but because of a simple usability issue. You see with the tube of Crest you have to twist the cap off, squeeze out your toothpaste, then twist it back on. Where as the Colgate tube requires no time consuming twisting, the end of the cap easily flicks open and simply snaps back down. I realize this may only save a few seconds in the grand scheme of things, but it has other repercussions.

After less than a week of use my wife started to leave the cap off. She isn’t lazy, it’s just that the other cap was so much easier to use. I can’t really blame her. Unfortunately leaving the cap off is not a suitable solution, especially with two little ones running around. So I did what any red-bloode previously satisfied consumer would do, I rummaged through the garbage can to see if I could find the old empty and discarded Colgate tube. Sure enough, there it was all crumpled up with every last ounce of toothpaste squeezed out of it’s precious little cap. I took the cap off and tried to see if I could get it to fit on the Crest tube, but no such luck. The treading was different.

Sorry Procter & Gamble I want my Colgate Total back. I'm positive the Colgate-Palmolive engineers made a conscious decision to use the more user-friendly cap. So I will reward them with all my future toothpaste purchases, even if it costs a few cents more.

Now if only they could get rid of the excessive packaging. Then I’d be really happy.

Do you have any other examples of usability affecting your purchasing decisions?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Announcing the Calgary UX Book Club

I'm attempting to get a Calgary UX Book Club up an running. A UX Book Club is a get-together in which people interested in the area of user experience come to discuss a book relevant to the discipline.

The Calgary UX Book Club would operate as follows:

* Everyone who attends should try and read the nominated book (you won't be barred from entry, but it helps everyone get more out of the night);

* Everyone needs to jot down and bring along: 2 things in the book that really struck a chord; and 1 thing they either hated, disagreed with; or don't understand.

* The book would be within the practice of user experience, which might include books like Indi Young's Mental Models; Dan Saffer's Design Gestural Interfaces; or classics such as The Design of Everyday Things; Don't Make Me Think; The Inmates Are Running the Asylum; etc.

* The book should not be arduous to read!

*Next Month's book will be announced at the current meeting.

I proposing the first get-together at Shaw's Barlow office (2400 32nd Ave NE) on September 7th, 2009 at 7:00pm. The exact details will be confirmed as we get closer to the date. Having our first get-together in early September should provide enough time for us to decide on the first book we want to read, time to actually read it, keeping in mind that it is summer and a lot of people are on vacation.

Join the Calgary UX Book Club Google Group to become a member and stay informed on all the latest news. Visit to learn more, submit a book to the list of suggested reading or add a ‘tick’ next to the book you'd like to vote for.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Automobile Indicators (part two): Public Transit

Does anyone else hate getting stuck behind a bus when they 'pull over' at a bus stop, especially right before (or after) an intersection? I sure do.

Don't get me wrong, it's great that they are actually indicating, except public transit doesn't distinguish between a lateral change of position signal (turning/changing lanes) and a 'I'm-stopping-at-a-designated-bus-stop' signal. The frustration is further enhanced when the bus driver decides that this is the stop where they are going to grab a coffee or stretch their legs. Grrrr!

The same can be said when they are finally leaving their designated bus stop. While they usually indicate the upcoming movement with their indicators, it's not clear whether they are just entering the flow of traffic again, or if they actually desire to switch lanes. So, I'm proposing a simple and swift orderly change... distinguish between the two different actions.

But first, a few regulations to keep in mind, oh and we don't want to create an entire re-engineering nightmare, just a little tweak to go a long way. Federal laws dictate that turn signals are required to blink on/off, at a steady rate (between 60 and 120 blinks per minute). And automobiles are limited to red, amber and white lights - no other colours are permitted (except on emergency vehicles).

So I suggest...
- Use a circle light to indicate 'I'm-stopping-at-a-designated-bus-stop' (50 blinks per minute)
- Use a triangle/arrow to indicate the lateral change of position (100 blinks per minute)
- Use a square/rectangle to indicate braking

What do you think? How would you change it? Or, do you think there isn't anything wrong with the current set-up?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Automobile Indicators (part one): Emergency Vehicles

While driving, if an emergency vehicle approaches you with lights flashing and sirens blaring you're supposed to pull over to the right, slow down and/or stop, right?

But what if that emergency vehicle wants to turn right and exactly where you've pulled over to get out of the way? I've observed this exact situation numerous times. More recently this happened to myself and trust me, I felt awful. But I'm just doing what we've all been trained to do.

This got me thinking about automobile indicators, especially emergency vehicles like fire trucks and ambulances. Sure I've seen the odd emergency vehicle with small orange indicator lights that have black vinyl around the outside cut to create the shape of an arrow, but it's just not enough.

Why don't they have a specific area or highly-visible lights reserved exclusively for the indication of their intended direction? This could help save valuable seconds, ultimately saving someone's life.

Now, I know what you're thinking... there are already several lights flashing and the situation can be quite panicky when an emergency vehicle suddenly appears in your rear-view mirror with the sirens screaming. But isn't this the moment when clear communication is the most essential? This is a prime example of "if everyone is screaming, you can't hear a thing". Maybe we could even reduce the amount of flashing lights.

I've put together a quick solution for how this could be improved. What do you think? What would you change if you could tweak the design?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bell & Howell - Owner Experience Report

A friend of mine, Tucker, recently bought a 8mm Bell & Howell Super Load 363 projector on eBay. The nearly fifty year old projector came with a collection of its original documents. Among those was the 'Owner Experience Report' shown below.

The report's purpose: to see how the new owner felt about their (Bell & Howell) "efforts to satisfy your photographic needs" - pretty simple. What I love most about this form, even more then their sincere and genuine desire to make their product's experience better, is the conversational tone. Even going so far as to suggest "if you could talk with the design people, what changes in this item would you suggest to them?" Brilliant!

Of course, considering the Report was still included with the projector one has to wonder how many people actually filled it out and mailed it. I'd say even if only 5% actually sent it back, it would have been well worth it. I've encouraged Tucker to fill out the form and mail it, as the company still exists - possibly a testament to their commitment to ensure their customer's needs were being met, to see if they'd respond. If he does, I'll provide an update.

Lately I have found myself being more active at providing feedback (and not just when requested), as I want the companies and brands I interact with to know about my experience with their product/service — both the good and bad comments. After all, I know I appreciate any and all feedback I receive on the projects that I work on, so I encourage you to do the same. Just think of it as good karma.