On Wednesday, April 28, 2010, the Northeast Ohio Usability Professionals’ Association (www.NEOUPA.org) presented “Meet your users: Learning from the iPad, iPhone and Facebook & thinking about the future of user interfaces.” Chris Braunsdorf, former director of user experience at American Greetings Interactive, taught the audience of more than 55 attendees. The event convened at Progressive Insurance in Mayfield Village. As the Internet enthralls more people with varying computer knowledge, designing user-friendly online experiences is vital for both businesses and patrons. Braunsdorf focused on the user experience and the importance of addressing their needs.
Braunsdorf narrated a popular Internet story involving Facebook that occurred in February. Some people were using search engines to access Facebook, typing in the words “Facebook login.” Their inquiry led them to a site named ReadWriteWeb instead. The Facebook users left an array of comments chastising the social media monolith for changing its presence, when in fact they weren’t even on the Facebook site (a “Facebook login” search is now direct access to Facebook.com).
Braunsdorf featured Gillian Andrew’s perspective who is completing her dissertation on Web illiteracy at Columbia University. She wrote a passionate response to the Facebook confusion on ReadWriteWeb, entitled, “Web Illiteracy: How Much Is Your Fault?” The Facebook story emphasizes a two-year, 300 percent increase of less savvy, late adopters using the site.
The YouTube video entitled, “What Is a Browser?” also accentuates the digital divide between the tech-savvy and generic Internet user. Here, “Scott” from Google asked people in Times Square, New York that exact question. Less than 8% responded correctly.
“You are not your user,” says Braunsdorf. “You need to distance yourself from your mindset.” He stated that User Experience Designers must meet users where they are to design better experiences rooted in understanding and empathy; and advocated more organizations invest in ethno graphing to better discern their customer needs. He also queried the audience as to how many thought their companies were maximizing their online user experiences. No one raised their hand.
To be a game-changer, Apple’s recently released iPad needs to be a device for everyone Braunsdorf noted. He sees the iPad as a good case study for desktop applications; as it provides interactive design with a new toolbox of gestures and contextual controls that give User Experience designers powerful, yet simple, elegant applications focused on the user’s tasks and content. He demonstrated his convictions with the short YouTube video entitled, “Virginia’s new iPad.” Here, a 100-year-old woman realizes her affinity for the device.
“Does Simplicity Really Sell? ” Braunsdorf asked the question with varying audience responses. He discussed the fact that iPad users can only operate one application at a time. And yet, sales of the iPhone skyrocketed once the App Store, offering myriad choices opened. He mentioned author Don Norman, bestselling author of The Design of Everyday Things (Basic Books, 2002). He writes in a blog post entitled, “Simplicity Is Highly Overrated,” that complexity rules the marketplace.
Braunsdorf concluded that there are now many older, late adopters using the Internet. User Experience Designers need to better understand their needs; and ensure that their interface designs accommodate them as well as their more tech-savvy users. He reinforced his iPad advocacy, stating that it represents the future of user experience for software and creates a whole new model of what those experiences will be like. Lastly, he said that for some devices like appliances and automobiles, consumers still buy based on features, and the idea that complexity is better. “But when it comes to software applications,” says Braunsdorf, “the simpler it is, the better it sells.”
NEOUPA is the official Northeast Ohio chapter of the International Usability Professionals’ Association. NEOUPA educates, motivates and promotes usability throughout the region. Individuals with an affinity for Websites, applications, software or any other type of user interface can benefit from its membership. “The best thing about NEOUPA is learning new things that affect user experience, whether it applies to a Website, product, or any other overall user experience,” says Cathy Zapata, President of NEOUPA. “It’s a great networking opportunity to meet other professionals from a wide range of companies; and keep up with the latest trends.”