Start Up Blog

The end of manuals

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on July 4, 2012

Up until very recently – maybe 10 years ago – the people who made the stuff we use, didn’t really care if we could use it. Which is why anyone who have ever owned a VCR can remember the time flashing at 12am for most of its shelf life.

People who made stuff didn’t care, because they didn’t have to. Our options were limited. There were only so many brands to choose from, and only so many retailers to buy from. It was buy from them, or miss out. But they were nice enough to a write manuals for us. If you’ve ever had struggled to read or understand a user manual of some sort. I’ve got good news for you… I have the translation below.

“Hi there, we’ve written this manual in order to avoid have to give you any real or human feedback. You see, we are too busy selling this thing in so many countries, that caring would impact our short term profitability too much. So instead we just got some of our engineers to write this thing, and then we hired a translation company to put it into your language….. so if this is all reading a bit back to front, or just too technical to understand, then that is why. The reason our product needs a manual is that we are pretty much trying to be everything to everyone. We couldn’t really decide which features to include or exclude, so we just put all of them in. We believe we can charge a higher price if it has more features, we are not 100% sure, but why risk it? We know having this many features makes it harder to user, but it really makes it easier for our sales and marketing team to tell customers and retailers our ‘thing’ does everything. Our policy is to do the bare minimum when it comes to anything related to our product after we already have your money. And we know that all our competitors do much the same stuff so we reckon we can roll like this. Good luck!”

Lucky for us manuals are a thing of the past and smart brands know this. In this day and age the thing itself should be the manual. If it isn’t we can be pretty sure that someone will replace our stuff with a better user experience that’s intuitive and actually cares about the people using it.

twitter-follow-me13

More evidence of screen culture

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on January 16, 2012

Screens are beginning to permeate our entire existence. This latest effort from Samsung is seriously a step into the future. A fully connected web enabled window. It’s not hard to imagine this appearing in architectural designed houses and offices in the next 12 months a la minority report. Again it seems that UI is what really matters.

Startups need to be thinking about how they design around next generation screen UI beyond Apple.

 

twitter-follow-me13

The new usability experts

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on December 19, 2011

Are not who we expect them to be. It’s not Jakob Nielsen or even Steve Krug. In fact it is Joe Citizen.

Without even realising it, the average web surfer or smart phone addict has become an expert in usability. This doesn’t mean we could ask them what a sight should look like, how it should work or to advice us of any design imperatives. it’s a little different than that. But have no doubt, they are the experts. And their expertise is different. it is more like this – they know what sucks. They will not tolerate a site that sucks for more than a few seconds.

twitter-follow-me13

We have entered an age of mass usability expertise – and this has been driven by social media. As entrepreneurs and aspiring startup geeks we have to remember the training our users are getting. They are being trained on what is ‘best practice’ by the worlds best – brands like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Google, Foursquare. Brands with the greatest UI’s ever seen are training the everyday person on what good looks like. Even if it is occurring at a subconscious level. It is happening.

The impact of this is significant. For me it puts flow first, and features second. The flow of the site and intuitive nature must be put above all other technology and feature desires we have. If we fail with our usability, there wont be a second chance to win back the experts who’ve already decided we don’t cut it.

Give us a taste

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on September 8, 2011

I was recently flying with Emirates and got talking to the cabin crew. When I later asked for a cappuccino they gave me a nice little extra effort. See below:

For the uninitiated, that is the Emirates tail logo as the chocolate on my coffee. I was impressed so much I didn’t want to put sugar in and mess it all up. She did mention that it was normally reserved for 1st Class passengers, but they thought I might appreciate it in business class. They gave me a taste of for next level.

My question to entrepreneurs is this: How are you giving your customers a taste of the top tier?

twitter-follow-me13

 

 

Screen Culture

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on March 29, 2011

TV was the first entertainment screen in our lives and belonged in the living room. And it stayed there for the best part of 30 years before it multiplied. Slowly, it made it’s way into the other rooms of the house. It was linear and unidirectional, but it was also the start of a new culture. A culture that would shape more than entertainment.

In less than 20 years since the birth of the graphical web, screens in all shapes and sizes have started to pop up all around us. They’ve made things simpler, easy to understand, and just made life better. So much so, that screens now permeate virtually every aspect of our lives.

I call it screen culture.

And it’s much more than TV, web browsers and smart phones. It’s every screen we see. All web enabled, all around us and consumers expect the screens to serve them without a hitch.

They’re in our pockets, they’re on our desk, the car dashboard is now a screen, on the back of airline seats, the airline check in counters, supermarket checkouts, shopping centre directories, in all retail spaces, in the back seat of taxi’s, bus shelters, community spaces. They exist where ever communication and commerce does. Every machine now has a screen. Every time we interact with technology, the interface is increasingly screen enabled. And we often attend to multiple screens concurrently.

The more we learn about the screen, the more it learns about us. The best screens can be manipulated, touched, caressed, controlled and even spoken to. It’s our job to humanize the screens so that they are culturally sensitive. They need to intuitively know what we want… and lead us to that solution. The interface has to be the instruction manual. Screen culture demands that we teach people “how”, while they interface. That the learning, and the solving, happen simultaneously. The screens need to serve us. We must be able to navigate the tight spaces of the small screen, if we can do this, then conversion to the big is easy.

This can only happen when we design as humans, not technologists.

twitter-follow-me13

A Tiny Twist

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on November 16, 2010

Today I sent this tweet which got quite a bit of comment:

There were over 400 video sharing websites when Youtube launched. Often it’s smarter to do it better, than build something new.

Immediately after the tweets started coming through about other businesses which entered the market late and taken a strong hold’.

The most recent example for me is Instagr.am

It’s ‘another’ photo sharing platform to add to the long list of mobile apps for doing just this, including but certainly not limited to Flickr, Twitpic, Yfrog, img.ly, Mobypicture…. I’m sure there are hundreds.

Next thing I knew all the photos being shared on my tweet stream had all converted to the Instagr.am format – so I had check it out. Turns out Instagr.am added a tiny twist which enabled it get busy with the ‘in’ crowd. By simply adding a filter feature, it made  photo sharing a whole lot more fun.  What filter does is transform the pic and stylise the look to give a retro feel, add few scratches and a white Polaroid frame and you’ve got the hottest new pic app on the entire web. It’s easy to use, and once again photo sharing has been reinvented.

So what’s the lesson here?

Design matters. In fact design is the thing that wins in the long run. Humans like things of beauty. It is coded in our DNA, we prefer the beautiful. Side note: beautiful is both usable and and nice to look at, it must have both.

Existing Market. Sometimes it’s easier to build a better version of something people are using, than to invent a new market. We don’t have to invest time convincing people it is worth participating. Rather, we just need to show them why we are superior. In an industry like we apps where the switching barriers are so low usability and design are often the catalysts for this to occur.

The question for startups is this: How do we sustain a leadership position against the next tiny twist?

twitter-follow-me13

Feature Creep

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on November 11, 2009

The art of adding features to any product or service is this:

Those who need or want the new features can find them easy.

Meanwhile those who don’t need or want the features don’t even notice them. They are invisible.

Sounds impossible to do, but I think the team at twitter are doing a pretty good job of it. The way I’d try and achieve this would be by making sure the visual structure doesn’t change, and the sequence of events to use it is not interrupted.

shhh – here comes the controversy.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,231 other followers