A while ago I read an article in the Guardian about iPads as a potential route to more effective chugging – street canvassing for charities. The hypothesis was that the problem with chugging was that individual chuggers’ presentation skills are not consistent, and that conversation armed with a clip board was not compelling enough to convert passers-by into on-going charity supporters. I can see the argument that some form of video or slide presentation will be more consistent, and possibly more compelling, but I disagree that the primary problem chugging faces is technological, or even about content.
Take a moment and do a bit of ad hoc research, and I’m sure you will get a better picture of why chugging doesn’t result in a high conversion rate. Here are issues I heard from my interviewees:
People are pressed for time and do not want to be stopped to engage in a fundraising conversation at that moment
Everyone I spoke to is uncomfortable with giving their bank details to a stranger on the street, even if the stranger has an ID card and it is for a good cause
People want to have the time and space to consider their on-going charity giving, they do not want to be pressured into making a decision on the street
No one said they thought that seeing a nice video would make them any more inclined to sign up to a direct debit on the street.
I think it is a service design question: is chugging really about getting conversion on the street? If it is, how can it be designed so that potential supporters are not made to feel pressured or suspicious – maybe the street is not the place that conversion takes place, and an overall service can still be designed that recognises the chugger’s contribution to the supporter’s user journey.
Or is it a widespread marketing tool that causes greater awareness, ultimately translating into increased giving, but not on the street? In which case, let’s design it as a real conversation, about interaction and learning – or creating the beginning of that new awareness, and a desire to find out more. That is different to a sales moment.
The one thing I’m sure of is that the problem is not primarily technological.
The tablet PC, much to my disapproval, has rocketed to the heart of the consumer market in recent years. The launch of Apple’s iPad, back in 2010, was an enormous success; it sold more than 300,000 units on its first day of release and went on to sell more than 14.8 million worldwide over the course of 2010.
The success of the iPad has led to a somewhat predictable tablet arms race from mobile and computing companies alike. A few of the more notable examples are the Samsung Galaxy tablets, Motorola’s Xoom and the Blackberry Playbook. There are others, good and bad, but there is little doubt that thanks to Apple’s iPad the tablet has been one of the most prominent features in personal technology in the past two years.
However, the tablet PCs popularity has not been without its victims, the laptop market has suffered. For example, Acer dropped from the #2 spot in the personal computer vendor tables to #4… Catastrophe! Sarcasm aside, competition breeds innovation, and if COMPUTEX TAIPEI, the second largest computer exhibition in the world, is anything to go by the humble laptop might be about to make an exciting comeback.
Spearheading the hopes for team laptop are the ‘ultrabooks’ or ‘ultrathins’ if you want to believe AMD, which along with really innovative new designs from the likes of Acer and Asus are looking to check the popularity of the tablet PC.
Instead of rambling on about COMPUTEX I will just list some of its more exciting highlights in relation to laptops:
A hybrid laptop with two screens one which uses the Android operating system when detached
Detachable and rotatable screens
Laptops with a mobile phone inspired ‘poison pill’ which can kill you laptop remotely if it is stolen or lost
Gesture and voice commands
In my opinion things look pretty good for the laptop, but this is not the only problem for the tablet. The next generation of mobile phones may be their final undoing. These behemoths, like the Samsung Galaxy s3 and the LG Optimus 4X HD, are not only big but run Quad core processors. They have the processing power and functionality of a tablet and all the benefits of being mobile phones.
So, is this the end for the tablet?
In my opinion, yes. Where the tablet used to have a niche in the market, between smart phones and laptops, this niche is closing in around them; phones are getting bigger, laptops smaller. However, being an optimist I like to think the tablet PCs best features won’t be going anywhere and it’s likely we will see them reincarnated in the next generation of smart phones and ultrabooks.
Children aren’t afraid to experiment and they’ll interact with the technology in ways that the designers can’t predict. During user testing of a Three Blind Mice app, after chopping off the tails of the mice, children immediately tried to put the tails back on. Designers hadn’t foreseen this feature and amended the app straight away!
As designers we necessarily have a different perspective to the designs we come up with. We try to live in the shoes of potential customers but ultimately we’ll be too close to the designs to ever know exactly how users will perceive them.
No design, however well-informed by user research, will be perfect. One of the joys and given facts of usability testing is that it always throws up surprises. For example, I conducted some usability testing of a site that offered health information some of which was for sale. Users consistently failed to use a main navigation ‘Shop’ link to purchase information – they noticed it but didn’t want to use it. The designers were surprised that their customers didn’t want a separate shop area on the site. Instead, they wanted to find the information first, then buy it from wherever they ended up in the site.
Adults tend to be dazzled by the novelty of hi-tech solutions, but children just take it for granted. The latest technology is no newer to young children than anything else they’ve come across. The article makes the point that we are running to stand still – our expectations change as technology becomes ever more advanced. Tablets and smart phones are essentially just hi-tech toys. We’re wowed by the potential, by the sheer eye-candy newness of them but that quickly wears off.
Once the gloss has gone, the apps and features that persist are the ones that solve a tangible problem or that provide enduring fun. As designers we are seduced by what the technology is capable of and are all too quick to produce applications just because we can. An iPhone app that takes as input a number of people round a dinner table and outputs an overlay of a pie chart shape to show where a pizza should be cut into equal slices isn’t usable because you need two hands free to cut the pizza! As a throwaway gimmick it works because we are wowed by what a smart phone with a camera can be made to do but it’s not useful in the long run.
Children are interested in blinking lights and listening to funny noises for the same reasons adults are because as humans we can’t help responding to stimuli, but children don’t make a fundamental distinction between the 2d world of touchscreen devices and the 3d world of real-world objects.
Very young toddlers are likely to be attracted to an app that features a purple hippo that repeats everything you say and laughs when tickled. But they’ll also try to grab the hippo and are disappointed when their fingers bump against the screen. Footage of young children using swiping gestures they’ve just learned from playing with an iPad on non-interactive magazines are bound to make some of us feel like dinosaurs!
But in truth, they’re still working out the difference between the 2d and 3d worlds – they might be disappointed that magazines don’t respond to touch (yet!) but they’re just trying to master the environment at large and of course that’s mainly 3d. Pop-up books have more appeal because they happen in the real world, even if to adults they seem unsophisticated.
It can be argued that a lot of digital design happens independently of the offline processes it’s meant to support. As a result, websites and mobile apps often seem to operate in a silo, and have weak or unreliable relationships with the real world. Since user experiences are increasingly multi-channel with both online and offline customer touch points, successful design can’t really be conducted in a digital vacuum.
User experiences have to be considered in a holistic way with the customer placed centre stage – users care only that their aims are satisfied, not whether the interactions are digital or non-digital. The interactions are just the means that justify the end.
Perhaps designers can get into the right holistic mindset if they take their lead from children who make little distinction between online interactions (2d) and offline interactions (3d)! After all, with technology advances in augmented reality and the internet connection of real-world objects, the online and offline worlds are set to merge ever closer anyway.
Perhaps future generations of toddlers will reach out to grab the digital laughing hippo, and this time they’ll succeed!
With the iPad having stolen the limelight for most of last year, a clutch of new tablet devices are being released this quarter mostly based upon the Android platform. Whilst touch screen technology has been around for a long while, until now it has been excluded from the masses. However, that is all about to change. So where does this leave the usability of these devices? The reality is somewhat confused.
With tablet devices there is a shift away from the web browser interface and stand-alone menu-based applications. In design terms it is like having a blank canvas. These previously familiar paradigms are now redundant as app designers search for new interactions which better support touch screens. Unfortunately, these new interactions are often embryonic, and do not benefit from the evolution of best practice. Whilst this may prove fruitful for innovation, it also provides widespread opportunity for the proliferation of usability problems.
One of the strongest areas of iPad app growth is for the replacement of traditional media such as books, newspapers and magazines. In fact, News Corp has recently launched “The Daily”, a news publication created specifically for the iPad. The digital representation of this content seems experimental, with few apps sharing similar navigation. Even some basic interactions are non-intuitive and difficult to identify or understand.
The rush to deliver new products and gain a foothold in this market appears to have somewhat circumvented this fundamental issue of usability. I can’t help feeling a sense of déjà-vu here. Remember boo.com anyone? With tablet devices we have another new medium and no one really knows how to get the best out of it (yet). This is compounded by the issue of charging (or not) for this type of content, making success here even more challenging.
As for all new technology, it will take time for touch screen tablet devices become accepted into the mainstream. The usability of applications run on these devices is key to how they will evolve and for what they will be used for. 6 months ago the majority of apps available for iPad were the same ones you could use on the iPhone. This is changing rapidly as app designers harness the enhanced screen size, battery life and new charging structures. As tablet devices mature, I look forward to being able to recommend best practice for designing touch screen interactions.