I made it a point to attend the keynote yesterday given by Eric Schmidt of Google. I expected it to be good and I’m really happy I went because it was excellent! He didn’t spend much time on Google products but rather he used most of his time to speak about the grand scheme of things and that made a huge difference for me.
Even before it made its iTunes store debut, Realmac Software’s Clear was already the talk of the town on heavy-hitter tech blog sites TechCrunch and Mashable. It also had another ‘sure sign of success’ – a copycat version launched just days before its release.
Just in case you’ve managed to miss all of the buzz, here’s a description of Clear. Basically a list-keeping app, Clear lets you organize items into lists, and prioritize items from top to bottom with colour coding. (For example a yellow item at the bottom of your list is a much lower priority than a red item near the top.) An item that’s completed turns green. Here’ a demo. You can create personal to do lists, shopping lists, etc., and you can include quick notes for things like phone numbers and addresses.
That’s pretty much it, and this simplicity is what surprised me the most about the rapid rise of this particular app to the number one spot. Not only are there already more to-do list apps than you can comfortably count, almost all of them are jammed with every feature you can possibly imagine. Clear sticks to the basics.
After spending some time in Clear, I think the most arguable reason for its quick popularity is the gesture controls. You can cross off an item (or even a whole list) by swiping to the right, very much like you would cross an item off a paper list with a pen. Swipe to the left and an item is removed all together. To give an item or list a higher priority, just drag it to the top, and pinching closes the list you are in and takes you to the top level. All of the actions in the app seem very natural. As UX (user experience) design as a whole evolves on gesture based apps this is one of the goals. Give users actions that “feel natural”. Dragging the list items up, for instance, is a great example. If you want to read a little bit more on this idea.
This is not to say there aren’t downsides. The first is that this app ignores Apple’s guidelines in many places. For instances typically sets navigation and orientation with its familiar titled back button (the arrow in the left hand corner at the top), title and some available tool/action (think “Edit”). From what I’ve seen in the demo they’ve just gotten rid of this. My suspicion is because Clear is so "shallow" in information design that this is probably not as much of a risk as it might normally be and they’ve done this on very much with their eyes wide open; not because they didn’t understand the risk. However, there is always a risk in doing something like this because users models of how they interact with an application is not only set up by that application, but every other application they are using. A lot of those other applications will have, for instance, designs where the interaction is more “standard”. This forces users to "reset" their mental model when going between applications and may make it a little harder than the application appears on its own.
Because they’ve chosen this “shallow” model, Clear doesn’t allow you to create deep sub lists. However, again, this is probably intentional and with any good design you need to make trade offs.
Finally, I would say the app is limited in its extensibility, but all in all it has a pretty interesting design, and worth reflecting on when looking for new ideas approaches to designing for a mobile device.
Last week, His Excellency, Armen Yeganian the Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia visited the Macadamian headquarters in Gatineau. He was given a tour of the office, was presented with a plaque, and met with our Executive Team and employees.
His Excellency, Armen Yeganian the Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia pictured here with Chief Operating Officer, James Stanish.
Macadamian opened a development lab in Armenia in the fall of 2007, which is led by General Manager, Sophie Mehrabyan.
"Macadamian continues to focus on sustainable growth and expand in the global marketplace, and we chose Armenia because we feel it’s an untapped hotbed for software engineering. We are constantly evaluating locations for new development labs, and we found the engineering talent in Armenia to be the one of best matches for the complex demands of product R&D,” said Frederic Boulanger, President and CEO of Macadamian. “Macadamian is a global company, with design and development labs around the world, so we’re able to pull together multi-location, multi-disciplinary teams to tackle a wide range of engineering projects.”
- Frederic Boulanger, Macadamian CEO
Just before the holidays, Hoekman’s article was a catalyst for an email string started amongst the researchers and designers of our UX group regarding the term ‘intuitive’. We often hear from clients that they would like us to create an ‘intuitive’ product but will simply stating ‘intuitive’ as a goal without guidelines get them there? Time and again the answer is ‘no’. “Intuitiveness is a quality, not an approach.” (Hoekman 2011)
A project that has a goal of producing an ‘intuitive’ product does nothing to help our designers. It is not tangible enough for them and “no matter how strong your jaw, you can’t sink your teeth into vapor and expect it to taste like Apple.” (Hoekman 2011). This goal surfaces in almost every initial client meeting as “I want a product that’s friendly, easy, simple, and intuitive” (Scott Plewes, VP of UX, Macadamian and author of How to Overhaul a UI Design Without Upsetting Users).
Does ‘intuitive’ mean walk-up-and-use? Or does it mean the system can be used easily with minimal training? Does ‘easy to use’ mean a task can be done within 30 seconds within minimal interaction? Does ‘simple’ mean the user is presented with minimal information at certain stages? Or, does ‘simple’ mean that complex tasks are broken down into smaller components, giving confidence to the user that they are not making any errors as they progress through their workflow?
In order to achieve the results that our clients want, we need to get specific with them. Designers have many, wonderful, amazing ideas but without reining them in (both the ideas and the designers!) we cannot get at the specific kind of design desired.
Design criteria needs to be set so the user experience is clear and decisions can be made to reach that type of experience. By spelling out attributes such as affordance, expectations, efficiency, responsiveness, forgiveness, and exportability, we get specific and support our clients of reaching their “intuitive UI” goal (McKay, 2010)
Finally, Hoekman suggests that guidelines for the product need to be actionable and measurable. These design guidelines should hint at a direction and support success metrics for the product. The researchers of our UX group strive to outline some of these guidelines by conducting a business and user requirements workshop with our clients. This workshop helps to define measurable results and really solidifies the project plan.
All these points need to be in the back of our mind; be specific, actionable and measurable. We also ensure that design principles like colour, contrast, placement, etc. play into the solution of an intuitive design. All of this combined together leads to creating a smart design that produces desirable outcomes for our clients.
If you've never read the Innovator's Dilemma, I'll sum it up for you because it's central to this post: In any industry, and particularly innovation-driven industries, an innovator launches a compelling new product - let's say a video camera - that disrupts the industry before it, offering something new and novel. For a while, the innovator enjoys a lead, and the healthy profits that come with it. Soon other competitors join the fray, and the feature war ensues - how many buttons and features can you cram into the product to differentiate it? More megapixels, more modes, more zoom. Prices stay in the $2,000 range, but soon, every product is indistinguishable, and you're forced to compete on price, driving the price down by half. Eventually, someone comes along and figures out that most consumers only use 20% of the features, and makes a simpler version for cheaper price, and now all someone's willing to pay for a video camera is, at most, $200.
There's a new breed of Enterprise Software companies, and they are doing exactly that in the software industry.
For about 20 years, Enterprise Software has enjoyed healthy profits. The products - ERP systems, CRM software, workflow automation - promised streamlined operations and productivity gains. As each space became more competitive, the feature war escalated. The systems were crammed with more and more features, until they could do virtually anything. The problem is they have become so complex that they’re the brunt of industry jokes. SAP has suffered a reputation of multi-million dollar deployments, failed roll-outs, and installations that take years longer than promised to provide an ROI. Enterprise software used high-powered sales people to sell feature-loaded software on promises of interoperability and open-architecture to CIOs that actually care about that sort of thing. As products become less and less differentiated, the vendor was forced to discount.