Critical Section

user experience

Monday,  06/02/08  09:41 PM

Hi all; here's some musings on user experience...

<essay optional=completely comments=welcomed>

I’ve had a couple of “user” experiences recently that reinforced each other, and wanted to share some observations.

First, I bought a new phone, a Centro, to replace my old Treo, and second, I bought a new Tivo, a TivoHD, to replace my old Tivo Series/1.  In each case there was one single feature that drove the purchase decision (phone = smaller size, TivoHD = HD support).  And each case after having the new gadget, I am delighted by a whole raft of improvements and new features that I didn't know about.

So first, the conclusions, and second, some discussion.

  • People make purchase decisions for simple reasons, often one single factor.
  • People’s subsequent satisfaction or delight (or dissatisfaction or frustration) is driven by an overall experience that includes many complicated factors.

The implications for product design, packaging, and positioning are interesting.

If people make a purchase decision for one single factor, you want to provide that capability, and feature it alone in packaging and positioning.  But different people might value different things.  I bought a Centro because of its size, but someone else might buy one because it was cute, or sounds good, or has a nice keyboard.  So you have to figure out the set of individual factors that drive purchases, implement those, and feature those in advertising, packaging, sales demos, etc.  A small set is good, for simplicity and to avoid confusion. However there are many other factors that you know people will like, but that will not drive a sale.  For example it is cool that you can charge a Centro with just a USB cable, but that alone would never drive a sale.  These characteristics should not be “on the box”, or featured in advertising.  For an example of this, contrast Apple packaging with Microsoft packaging.  Apple tends toward simple messages, like one thing, while Microsoft seems to cover their entire package with bullets.

If people are delighted by the overall experience, you should include a bunch of other characteristics.  The essence of delight is positive surprise.  I bought a phone for its size, so I knew how big it was, and while I like the size, that was not going to delight me.  But I had no idea I could charge the phone from a USB cable, so finding that out was delightful.  How did I learn of this?  The product itself told me; “did you know” tips are a good way to share this sort of stuff.  (It is easier for users to digest one feature at a time, and that way they remain delighted for a while as they keep learning about new features.)

The “delight” can go the other way too; if people are consistently frustrated by a new gadget, they will like it less and less.  For example what if my new phone kept dropping calls, or inconsistently synced with my computer?  (Or was just plain hard to figure out?)  That would be irritating, and the fact that the phone was small would be outweighed by the ongoing irritation.  Even though people buy stuff for simple reasons, they evaluate them over time based on a whole bunch of more complicated ones.

For a personal analogy, think of a major purchase decision you recently made… a car, or a house (or a purse, or a piece of furniture).  You probably bought it for one or a small number of simple reasons (often including appearance!)  And then as you used it over time, your opinion has evolved based on a lot of more complicated reasons, to the point where you might recommend it to a friend, or not, based on entirely different reasons from the ones which determined your purchase.

I know, this isn’t any deep insight, but it just struck me as somewhat non-obvious and interesting...


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