Archive | October, 2010

4 lessons The Apprentice candidates should learn about focus groups

28 Oct

You’re fired!

If you’re a fan of The Apprentice you’d be forgiven for thinking that a focus group is an opportunity to convince your target audience that they want your product. You may believe that it is simply a mechanism to convince other people in your team that your original idea was the best after all, and the focus group agreed with you (even if they didn’t).

We have a lot to thank The Apprentice for, where else would you get to see a group of egotistical, arrogant, deluded fantasists all backstabbing and lying their way to a high paid salary. It’s great entertainment. But it also has a lot to answer for too. Not only does it promote the idea that to succeed in business you need to be a bit of an arse, but it also gives the concept of customer research a terrible image.

Candidates in The Apprentice run focus groups really badly

Every year I watch The Apprentice I grumble to my partner about the appalling way the candidates grill focus group participants. Their approach is to either present them with an idea and ask if they like it, or they tell them about the concept, ask for thoughts and then argue the participants into submission. When this doesn’t work and the focus group clearly dislikes the concept they just ignore it and carry on regardless.

It’s no surprise that The Apprentice candidates have produced some awful products with their poor approach to customer research. Think of the cardboard camping table (Cardboard + Mud = Ugly Mess), the beach book holder (which was unstable, hard to assemble and you couldn’t turn the page) or the classic environmentally friendly greeting cards (sending cards wasn’t the most environmentally friendly idea). None of these ideas should have passed through a well-designed and correctly facilitated focus group.

4 lessons The Apprentice candidates need to learn

So what should next year’s candidates of The Apprentice do differently to run an effective focus group? Here are 4 lessons we think would make a big difference to give them a much better foundation to create a great product using focus groups.

1) If you don’t ask, you don’t get

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen” Winston Churchill

If you don’t want to hear opinions which may challenge and contradict your ideas, there’s no point in a focus group. You have to be prepared to be guided by the research. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should blindly follow what participants tell you. But you should be able to use the information you gain in the focus group to stimulate new ideas and refine current ones. If you’re already sold on your idea and are only doing a focus group to prove you’re right, don’t bother. Save your time and effort.

2) Don’t speak, listen

If you want to run a focus group correctly, never argue with, or try to convince a participant that they are wrong. You are there to hear their opinions and understand their perspective. Not the other way around. If participants don’t like an idea, don’t understand the value in something, or are bewildered by the concept, that’s a good finding. It highlights a change in strategy is needed. It also reflects what customers may think when presented with the product in store, where you won’t be able to convince them it’s worth buying.

3) Ask a stupid question…

Asking leading questions is an easy mistake to make when conducting customer research for the first time.  Asking them with an enthusiastic smile “What do you think?” communicates the outcome you are hoping for. What you’re really saying is “Tell me you like my new design that I just worked really hard on”. People generally want to please not disappoint. We all have a tendency to tell someone what we think they want to hear.  Customer research needs to be designed to get to the truth, to strip away biases, influences and the chance for hurt feelings. At the very least, you should make sure that the person facilitating the group has no vested interest in the outcome of the research. In other words: If it’s your idea, stay well away!

4) Research helps generate ideas

Conduct a focus group before you commit to an idea. The best way to use a focus group is to understand the needs of the group, uncover gaps and exploit new ideas from there. Once those ideas are more concrete you can return to the group to test different variations and refine a concept further.

Feel free to pass these tips on to Lord Sugar for me if you like, oh and Donald Trump and Martha Stewart too.

What do you think? What else do The Apprentice candidates need to learn?

 

 

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Damian Rees

About Damian Rees

Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees

10 great user experience blogs

15 Oct

Finding sources of inspiration and new perspectives on user experience keeps us fresh and motivated. There are plenty of people who are passionate about designing good experiences for users. Here’s a round up of the most notable blogs we’ve stumbled across in the past few weeks.

 

Wireframes

Wireframes

A great source of tips, advice and resources for wireframing and information architecture.

http://wireframes.linowski.ca/

 

 

101 Things I Learned in Interaction Design School

101 things I learned from interaction design school

Useful posts covering the fundamentals of interaction design.

http://www.ixd101.com/

 

 

Quotes from the User

Quotes from the user

Funny and insightful quotes from people taking part in user research.

http://userquotes.tumblr.com/

 

 

UX Array

UX Array

Beautifully presented and well developed user experience concepts and ideas.

http://www.uxarray.com/

 

 

Researching Usabilty

Researching Usability

Very thorough and well founded posts covering all aspects of usability research and practices.

http://lorrainepaterson.wordpress.com/

 

 

UX Movement

UX Movement

A comprehensive resource packed full of interaction design and user experience articles.

http://uxmovement.com/

 

 

UX and all

UX and All

Opinion and ideas on improving websites and mobile user experiences.

http://www.uxandall.com/

 

These things matter

These things matter

Nice collection of experience design articles from an LA based UX Designer.

http://www.sgmitch.com/blog/

 

 

Information Architecture Television

IA TV

Fantastic source of videos covering IA, usability, design and much more.

http://iatelevision.blogspot.com/

 

 

Experience Rethink

Experience Rethink

Well established inspirational blog about the business of experience design.

http://experiencerethink.wordpress.com/

 

What do you think? Do you have any great blogs to share?

 

 

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Damian Rees

About Damian Rees

Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees

Are purchase decisions harder when shopping online?

8 Oct

Are purchase decisions harder when shopping online?

 
A long time ago, I could go into a sports shop, look along the line of trainers, pick one I liked that was the right size, colour and price, pay for it and go. Recently, inspired by a growing waistline and a bundle of thirty-mumble-mumble-mumble-th birthday vouchers, I tried the same thing on Amazon – only to run into a wall of purchasing doubt.

The same brands, colours and sizes were all present. Tick boxes and drop-down menus made it easy to choose exactly what I wanted thanks to Amazon’s intuitive design. Yet, every time my cursor neared the Add to Basket button, doubt and hesitation struck. What if that one negative review means I will have wasted my money? Was that really the best price? Is there another product like this one but just a little better for the same price that has all positive reviews? Before I know it I’m trawling through more product pages with doubt growing even stronger and the chance of a quick and easy purchase has vanished.

 

Some purchase decisions rely more on reviews than others

Not all purchases online are harder, it just depends on what you’re buying. I can buy books, DVDs and games online without a thought, knowing that the price is cheap, delivery will be fast and it takes a lot of the donkey work out of buying presents.

But, go beyond these modern staples of life, and things suddenly get a lot trickier. Reviews mean more when people actually use something, be it a bike, tent, shoe or cleaning product. Reviews also come into play more when you’re unsure about what to buy, do I need one of these to fix my specific problem or should I get one of those? At that point four stars suddenly look less than perfect, three stars positively average and don’t even think about something with a two-star rating. You might not even look behind the rating to find there are only two jokey or caustic reviews from users who, possibly, brought the wrong product for them anyway.

Conflicting customer reviews

Negative reviews can counteract positive ones causing doubt in a purchase decision

 

Does online shopping force us to focus on the detail?

Comparisons between products can also get in the way of a buying decision. Anything complex such as a laptop can see endless variations between "similar" models, that confuse and confound someone who just wants to "do Facebook and email." Does offering users all this extra information with reviews, product descriptions, videos and price comparisons really make shopping easier? Or is it making us focus more on the detail too much? What should be a happy moment when you buy that new gadget is now one which is anxiety filled and doubt ridden, even after it arrives at your door.

A lot of ecommerce sites have copied each other assuming that adding product reviews and more information is the way to get more sales. But, if anything, it is possible that the more data available at the time of purchase, the more likely people are to compare data, focus on the detail and start their quest for the perfect product elsewhere on the web.

Perhaps online stores should encourage users to reduce their focus on data (but continue to provide this information) and instead attempt to influence a more emotional purchase decision.

 

What do you think? Are users being over informed?

 

 

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Damian Rees

About Damian Rees

Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees

Does web-retargeting benefit or just scare users?

4 Oct

Retargeting Example  - click to see image in more detail

Retargeting example – See larger image

As part of a casual query, I once typed in my car registration into a certain site that offers to purchase absolutely any vehicle. Scoffing at their derisory offer for my motor, I went on to live a full and happy life, and part-exchanged my car for multiples more than the site offered.

However, for the next month, almost every advert I came across on any website was a reminder of how much this company, that will acquire any auto for money, would offer for my, now crushed, car. Friends have reported similar experiences on a range of shopping sites, where your previous interest in an item can haunt you like a marketing-oriented poltergeist.

This technique, known as retargeting is an online advertising model where ecommerce websites can re-connect with past website visitors to remind them of what they had looked at with the hope of stimulating a sale. If you forgot what site you were on or what exactly you were looking for, then it can prove a useful reminder. But, if you were looking for a present for a partner, or for, ahem, a sensitive medical or entertainment item, then it might come as a bit of a shock to anyone else who uses your PC.

Whilst its an obvious benefit to businesses, with some companies offering a no-conversion, no-fee model, there may be some user experience concerns which may not be fully considered when deciding to kick-off a retargeting campaign.

 

High-wire balancing act, without a net

If you want to attempt this kind of approach on your site, then you need the kind of balance that would do Man on Wire proud. Most sites that engage in the activity of retargeting use a third-party service, such as TellApart or Criteo. Over time, these services have responded to the fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) over retargeting and improved their user communications to make it easier for a user to understand why their shopping searches are suddenly following you around the web, and to disable them.

Why are you being shown this banner?

Explaining to users why they are being shown retargeting ads

 

Kicking off a retargeting campaign must consider user experience

If you do decide to use such a service to promote your site, you should be aware of the potential pitfalls involved in customers feeling stalked by you. Privacy is a big concern for customers and comes up again and again in our research. If customers feel like their privacy is under attack, however small "the attack" may be, they may associate negative feelings with your brand. Rather than initiate sales and inspire revisits, you may well result in negative reviews and less repeat visits.  

If you choose to use retargeting then you should enquire as to whether you can limit it to certain ranges, perhaps high value items, as no one wants to be chased across the web for a book purchase. Also, ensure a reasonable time limit is in place as well. On the whole, think about it from the user’s point of view.  

Ultimately, when it comes to adding new features that could cause even mild confusion among your user-base or site visitors, remember to treat them with kid gloves. Users do not like surprises and they hate any infringements on their perceived privacy. While the marketing spiel from a retargeting company may offer the world and massive ROI, its benefits will be countered by accepting that some users may be completely turned off by retargeting and may damage brand perception.

 

What do you think of retargeting?

 

 

 

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Damian Rees

About Damian Rees

Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees