Information Overload, Life and the Remote Control

I was struck by a picture I recently saw floating around on Linkedin. Check it out – no explanation needed:



This was both funny and sad at the same time.

Usability and User Experience is intricately tied to the amount of information presented and how the brain responds when overwhelmed.

When products are built with a balance between function and real world usage frequency, they are cheaper to build, faster to go to market and allows the company to focus on other areas like quality and customer service.

Don’t believe me?


Check out how successful In N’ Out is, a hamburger chain that offers a short basic menu.

For more choices you have to ask them to customize your burger and they will be happy to.

Their focus is more on the experience, freshness of food and customer service rather than a menu a mile long.

Products that are built by incorporating the latest bells and whistles often find that the users real life usage is not what they think it is. In reality, users are only interested in using a few, key features. Take it a step further and the picture above of the remote controls is what happens.

So, how do we build products that are useful and usable while not overwhelming ?

Here are my quick suggestions:

  • Design for the key demographic and the majority of the percentile – if you don’t know what that is, personas might be a good way to find out!
  • Keep basic functions within reach and sized appropriately – (Fitts’s law)
  • Afford advanced functions in a way that does not immediately overwhelm the majority of your users – in other words – keep advanced functions separated either physically or digitally from the basic, high use basic functions
  • Design in context – contextual inquiry is a powerful tool to design, build and test products. Simple visits and observations in the users own environment (in this case the living room) over a period of time and subject users would have played an important role in the design of the remote control

Comments and reactions? Let me know!



68% of All Software Projects Fail…

Failure(credit to unsoundtransient on Flickr for this pic)

Yes, you read that right. Only 32% of projects made it on time, on budget. 68%  of all projects failed in some way or the other. What was the number 1 reason for failure?


Requirements that are incomplete in some way…

Poor requirements gathering

Poor requirements analysis

Failure to understand what the customer or user (or both) really want from the onset (and now it’s too late)

No KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). On second thought, if you don’t know what will make it successful, you won’t know it failed either! 😉

Shocking eh? I think so too.

Now let’s look at how do we avoid this.

1. Know Thy User

This should be simple right? Know who you are working hard for. Who is the ultimate audience? A client? A user? Both a client and a customer? Surprisingly, an immense amount of hard work and $ are spent without knowing who is it that is really going to be using your product.

Knowing this is immensely important. If you do not know your audience, you will have none.

Once you do know, conduct some requirement gathering sessions with them. It could be as simple as 1 – 1 interviews or a phone conversation or as complex as a contextual inquiry. The key is this:

a. Identify with their pain (or unmet needs) once you discover and document
b. Ask “What can we do to solve this?” or “How would you figure this out if you were me?”
c. Document and discuss with your project team

2. Know Thy Plan

Once you document and discuss, engage with your business stakeholders and Project Manager to chart out a plan. What’s in? What’s out? When? Agree. Disagree. Play the game again. Freeze your plan once there is an agreement.

Don’t discuss the “How” yet. Users don’t care about how well you code anyway 🙂

3. Know when to say “No”

I know it’s hard. It makes you unpopular. Life happens. Scope creep happens.

You get accused of not being flexible.  The only way to get out of this is to consult others, chart out an estimate for this new bell/whistle that has made its way in and really weigh how valuable this new feature will be. Go back to Step 1. Hopefully, your documentation will guide you. Talk to your friends – the programmers. Ask them how long will it take to build it. Bring your PM in.

Let’s also be real. You will get trumped. Someone who has been there longer or who plays golf with someone who is more influential  is demanding it. You? You don’t even like golf.

So be open to the possibility that the sky is not always blue… and you always have proof that you said “No”.

I hope this helped some. See for more info on requirements and use cases.

Here’s hoping your project will NOT be a statistic.  And remember, don’t let anyone define you.

Neither success nor failure.

iPhone4- Lessons Learned (?)

It is with much interest that I read the article on how Apple needs an attitude adjustment. The writer brings to light some very interesting thoughts on how culture and persona can change over time.

A few insights gained here:

1. Persona can change. Attitudes change. For better or for worse.  
Apple used to be the underdog. They were all about ‘sticking it to the Man’. What happened? Well besides the fact that they created a huge market from scratch for music, smart phones and mobile computing, not much ;-). However it is interesting to note that profiles and personas change. Deal with it.  A company is made of people. And people change. In fact, if your attitude or likes/dislikes have not changed over the past decade or so, you might want to introspect. They say change is mandatory but growth is optional :-).

When we work on projects, we must make sure our target audience persona is the same as we *think* it is. A successful product must constantly change because it’s audience and the market is changing. Those who refuse to change must pay the cost over time (irrelevance, financial loss, lost market share and brand perception dips to name a few).

2. How, on God’s green earth, did Apple make such a blunder with their “integrated” antenna and poor reception issues. The web is swamped with  complaints and hate mail. Apple is considered to be one of the best when it comes to user experience and design. Did they not test their product outside of their comfort zone? Was any field research done? What about testing with different demographics of users and even those who are left handed vs. right (the antenna issues are more pronounced when held with a left hand).

The moment a company starts taking their user base for granted or flippantly dismisses complaints, that moment, my friends, is of grave concern.

Thoughts? Am I off the mark or do you concur? Let’s talk!

Ask the Right Question at the Right Time – An E-Commerce Example

So I recently purchased a DSLR camera lens from a leading E-Commerce and Brick & Motar Store called J & R based in New York. Looking back, since I never shopped there in the past, I was glad that I did not have to “register”.

At an inconvenient time (which is almost always), filling out forms have the potential of users leaving your website and an abandoned shopping cart sweetly singing “Lonely… I am so lonely…”.
Here is the problem:

  • Registration forms can be lengthy
  • They do not represent the primary task of the customer who visited your site
  • They can cause errors – either programmatically or human error
  • They distract the user from accomplishing the task at hand
  • They have no set standards across websites

Back to J&R. The whole transaction and purchase process went as smoothly as it can. What struck me was that I could very easily buy without having the need to register or login.

Once my order went through, JR asks me if I would like to register. Nice!. Here is what the screen looks like.

Did you catch that? A confirmation screen that also serves as a registration screen. A nice catchy title that says: Your J&R Account is Just 1 Step Away!

This is what a good experience is about. Think about it… when you go shopping at your regular brick & motar store, are you required to “register”? Who made this rule for the digital space? Obviously someone who was not interested in getting customers to open their wallets as soon as they could. Instead, they are made to fill lengthy forms of data that only some business stakeholder in some dark cubicle cares about.

Asking for information at the right time can increase your chances of converting a guest into a registered customer.

So the next time you design a transaction website, keep in mind that having a “Register now” screen will only intimidate or frustrate site visitors.

Allow them to continue and open their wallets. The user name and registration can wait. 🙂

Welcome to Clearly Usable

Welcome and make yourself at home. This is a place for non verbose commentary for Usability, User Experience and Online (Internet) Marketing. We promise a no BS, no “selling” kind of blog posts that will enrich, guide and even sometimes make you chuckle.

You have limited time (and so do we) so let’s keep this to the point, short and insightful, shall we? 🙂