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Happy new year! At the end of every year it’s become a tradition at Webcredible to ask our consultants for their UX resolutions. So without further delay, here they are!

@gmaninis:

  • UX people need to be involved in more strategic decisions!
  • UX to drive organisational change in thinking, structure and decision making etc
  • Clients to buy more into customer research and understand why we are doing what we are doing!

@donerix:

  • Embedding UCD thinking within the whole organisation and not just the responsibility of specific individuals or teams – think the ‘digital by default’ strategy of the Government Digital Services (guys who’re responsible for GOV.UK)
  • And following that, if organisations don’t yet have a digital strategy, it’s time to come up with one!

@Nordic:

@boomrich:

What are your 2014 UX resolutions, and what do you think of ours? We would love to know so please leave a comment below. If you are looking to give your customer experience new lease of life in 2013 but aren’t sure where to start, get in touch and we can help you have a great year!

While working on a recent project for a client in the banking sector, we researched various trends and ideas about the future of banking and payments. That’s what I will try to share with you below.

The driving forces of change

The factors and user needs that are driving change in the banking sector are as follows:

  • The increasing use of, and dependence on, mobile devices (or simply small screens)
  • The need for a ‘democratisation of payments’. This in particular has influenced start-ups to create solutions that make it possible for everyone to accept payments by card despite cost and technology barriers
  • Sharing bank account details with other people can be tiresome. Who remembers their account number and sort code by heart?
  • Social media is a place for organisations to engage with their customers but some banks and start ups are starting to use it in more innovative ways
  • The need for financial and budgeting advice
  • Fees are still high for some transactions, whereas speed of transaction execution isn’t satisfactory for international payments
  • Despite all the above, we should never forget the need for better security

So how have these factors impacted on the world of digital payments and online banking?

Mobile payments

How many times have you felt disappointment at your local store for not accepting card payments or applying a charge to transactions on payments under a certain amount? Targeting mostly small merchants who can’t offer card payments because of hardware and IT costs, start-ups have turned tablets and smartphones into card processors. All you need is an app and a small card reader which is attached to the phone.

However, is this approach really worth the pain – can business with small merchants be profitable? Rumour has it that Visa have invested in Square, an innovative start-up in this domain. Some big banks, like Santander and Lloyds, are also supporting similar projects.

Who’s already doing it?

Utilising NFC and other technologies, digital wallets are another form of mobile payments.

Payment without bank details

Searching for bank details every time you want to set up or accept an online payment is tiresome. Some debit cards don’t even have sort codes on them! Soon, however, you might only need to know the recipient’s email address or mobile number.

Who’s already doing it?

  • NatWest allow their mobile app users to pay their contacts if they too have a visa card. They also have prize draws to motivate users to try it out. This service is powered by Visa Personal Payments
  • PayPal offer payments to email addresses or phone numbers. Again the only limitation is that the both parties (payer and recipient) must have a PayPal account
  • Google offer their Gmail users the ability to send money as an email attachment if they are using Google Wallet

Social banking (Face-banking)

Would you follow a bank on Facebook or Twitter? You might if their posts were relevant to your interests. A few banks have succeeded in creating a content strategy for their social networks to engage and grow their following. For example, BBVA and Barclays gained thousands of followers by posting about football. In between football updates, they also tweeted about their product and services.

Following financial institutions on social networks is one thing but how about accessing your account balance through Facebook and even sending money to your friends? Facebook banking apps allow you to utilise the capabilities of web banking without having to leave your beloved(!) profile. Facebook even guaranteed they won’t have access to your financial data…

Who’s already doing it?

Financial planning: ‘spend, save and live smarter’

If you want to be fancy in the financial sector nowadays you have to offer tools that help your customers manage their finances in a smarter way. Again, start-ups are leaders in this domain and offer alternatives which are commonly superior to those of traditional financial institutions. Here’s what personal financial management (PFM) tools offer:

  • Track and compare with past spending/saving behaviour
  • Show where money is spent
  • Option to setup saving goals
  • Advice on what is safe to spend and whether spending some money will affect your financial health, e.g. future planned payments or saving goals
  • Making the experience more pleasant with gamified messages and instructions

Who’s already doing it?

Some of these services might sound a bit extraordinary or risky (like logging in and banking through Facebook…). The truth is that there isn’t accurate data out there to validate the success or failure of these services. Time will tell.

Resources

If you want to keep up-to-date with financial tech news, here are some informative resources I have subscribed to:

Over the last year or so there has been a huge amount of debate surrounding responsive sites, dedicated mobile sites, and native apps. Specifically, debate is focused on which is best and what you should develop.

Recently I came across an example of a native app that’s fit for purpose whereas the other two mobile formats wouldn’t be. The app in question is the official 2013 Sónar Festival app.

Sonar is the International Festival of Advanced Music and New Media Art which takes place in Barcelona for three days every June. Apart from 3 days of multi-venue, non-stop music, there is also Sonar+D which offers workshops, hackathons, interactive installations, product demos and a lot more.

Presented by such breadth of… stuff, I initially felt overwhelmed, and the official lineup did not help at all.  How was I going to manage my itinerary for such a three-day feast? Their solution was a native mobile application, which I downloaded (for free) not expecting to use it much at all.

The best bits

After a frustrating and lengthy attempt at organising my time I turned to the app for help. Much to my surprise, it did just that, helped.

How it helped:

  • There was a great feature which allowed me to be able to bookmark my desired performances and events and create my own calendar which then alerted me a few minutes (5, 15 or 30) before every selected show. With my personalised itinerary mapped out in advance I didn’t need to worry about missing any shows
  • Using the app I could listen to the festivals official play list which were directly streamed from the app using Deezer (a music streaming service). There was also Deezer stream for each artist which was easily accessible along with a synopsis of each artist or activity. This was useful as I could browse and listen to all the artists from one location before and during the event. The collaboration between Sonar and Deezer was great, I’ve never tried Deezer before but now I might give it a try and potentially rethink my Spotify subscription.
  • For a festival with such a plethora of acts and activities they had  present this information in an user friendly format, which they did. Details on the venues was divided into ‘Sonar by day’ and ‘Sonar by night’ as well as integrating Google maps and information on transportation. Similarly, in the ‘Artists and Activities’ tab, the three types of events, the music, Sonar+D and SonarCinema were separated to avoid confusion and results for each were displayed clearly in alphabetical order with photos. In general the usability of the app was brilliant

Any UX glitches?

As a UX consultant, I am always aware there is room for improvement:

  • It’s not easy to find out how to mark an event as a favourite for it to then be added to a schedule
  • The app has some very detailed, interactive indoor maps of their venues. However, It’s not obvious which parts of the venue maps you can interact with

Despite a few small problems its assortment of user centred functions won my heart. It was great to use a festival app not primarily used as a sales tool, it was to help better the user experience. Have you had an experience with a great festival app? If so, please do share it with us, we would love to give it a go!

I had heard a lot about the unique dining experience at a restaurant called Inamo, the Pan Asian restaurant famous for its interactive tables and thought I should try it out for myself. A good friend of mine, Rose was visiting from Australia and she’s a bit of a geek so I thought she’d enjoy the experience. So brimming with anticipation, the three of us went along to their Soho restaurant for dinner.

How it worked

We were greeted by a waiter who immediately explained how it all worked. A projected interactive screen on your table enables you to do lots of things by touching various icons. For example, you can call the waiter, view the menu, find out information about what’s happening in the area and even view a live feed of the chefs at work in the kitchen which I must say is quite reassuring! You can even play games with each other but I chose to decline my friend Carmen’s request to try it out, preferring a good old fashioned chinwag instead seeing as Rose only had a couple of hours and we hadn’t seen her for a whole year. Next time, perhaps!

Where it worked

The most interesting part for me was the menu itself. The food and drinks menu is fully illustrated and when you touch a certain item that interests you, e.g. chicken satay, lo and behold, a picture of the food appears on your plate which gives you a really good idea of what to expect. Pretty cool and very engaging.
The food arrived really quickly and was pretty good. When we were ready to go, we ordered the bill via the interactive table. The waiter magically appeared within a couple of minutes with the bill and the card machine.

Where it did not

The only downside, as with most touch-screen interfaces being overly sensitive, is that you can erroneously send your order to the kitchen before you’ve actually made a full order, at this point you would have to hit the “call waiter” button to undo it!

All in all it was a novel experience. For a one off it’s great. You can even order a cab once you’re done. We had great fun playing around with the table. I must admit though that I prefer to be fussed over by the waiter when I dine out. Just sayin’

From GUIs to NUIs

Last week there was much discussion in the office concerning ‘Natural User Interfaces (NUIs) so I thought I would grab this opportunity to share our thoughts on the topic.

Natural User Interfaces have been given this name because they rely on natural ways of interaction, such as gestures, body movements, speech and vision. Users manipulate digital objects as they do with physical objects.

My Definition

NUIs are the next step for Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs). GUIs were ground-breaking back in the 80′s because they allowed users to directly manipulate objects through a control device (think mouse and keyboard). They were driven by the principle of “what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG)”.

In contrast Natural User Interfaces are ground-breaking because they take the control device away and replace it with the users’ natural communication language.

My definition is short, if you want a slightly longer exploration of the subject this article on NUIs is pretty good!

Some NUI examples

Smartphones are one of the most simple examples of a device which uses a few natural ways to interact with. Even though their design philosophy is based on GUIs, multi-touch interfaces of some sort are now commonplace in the vast majority of smartphones, tablets and increasingly laptops/desktops.

Another popular but slightly less developed NUI used in smartphones is speech recognition. Most of you will have played with Siri or Google’s ‘search by voice‘, albeit to varying degrees of success.

Indeed, I find touch-free interfaces to be more interesting, if you have ever jumped around like a child while playing with an Xbox chances are you have used another popular NUI, Kinect. Kinect is the technology that enables this interaction. It is a multi-sensor that scans a space and recognises body movements, gestures and voice – brilliant fun. The good news is that it will soon be available to use with Windows!

However, this technology is not all about gaming, Kinect is being used in more serious endeavours like health care, for physical rehab and surgeries.

Why do we like NUIs?

  • They provide a multi-sensory experience. There’s no mediator in the interaction. It’s our gestures, body movements and voice
  • They enhance user’s control over the interface. Again there isn’t any artificial control device with wheels, buttons or keys
  • Users don’t have to be computer literate in order to handle the interface. It is supposed to be designed for ‘natural’ interaction!
  • They support simultaneous interaction by more than one user
  • They can be fun and entertaining and they are encourage exploration

Where can they go wrong?

  • There aren’t any established conventions. Apart from some design patterns in multi-touch devices, other interfaces don’t have a set of guidelines yet. This can cause some confusion among users
  • There’s lack of feedback. For example, there isn’t always any indicator of where the finger is pointing towards. GUIs have the mouse cursor.
  • It’s very difficult for complex systems to be used solely with gesture-based interfaces. Think of an everyday task that you do at work. How would it be if you didn’t have a mouse or a keyboard?
  • Same gestures mean different things in different cultures. Therefore, there’s a need for cross-cultural conventions
  • For all the above reasons, users might be easily annoyed, bored or tired if they can’t figure out how to efficiently control the interface

As you might have concluded, NUIs don’t come without drawbacks, which is to be expected from an emerging technology. One thing is certain, when designing an NUI, focusing on user needs and the context of use becomes even more essential than when designing GUIs. User testing is a must!

What do you think of NUIs? What are your favourite examples?

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