Design Explosions: Office Mobile

I’m a big fan of the Design Explosions series, and the latest one doesn’t disappoint.

The focus is on designing the mobile apps for the Microsoft Office core suite: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
Office Mobile Apps

Part of me wants to curl up in the fetal position thinking about leading that job – these guys are brave souls!

I highly recommend taking the time to read this article if you work on a product team, no matter what role you play.

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The danger of using surveys to replace user research

Erika Hall has a great write-up about the danger of using surveys, especially as a replacement to user research.

She hits many of the main problems I’ve experienced with surveys: people are not good at reporting what they like or don’t like, people can’t accurately predict their future behaviour, and not everything can be measured on a rating scale. To truly understand what customers are doing and their preferences you have to (gasp!) sit down and observe them.

Customer satisfaction is useless

The article also discusses the issues with tracking customer satisfaction scores. Erika suggests that businesses should be looking at more specific metrics that are tied to habits:

I want everyone to see customer loyalty for what it is — habit. And to be more successful creating loyalty, you need to measure the things that build habit.

The business world needs more examples of the critical numbers that measure habit, but one that comes to mind is Slack’s use of 2,000 messages as their critical number:

“Based on experience of which companies stuck with us and which didn’t, we decided that any team that has exchanged 2,000 messages in its history has tried Slack — really tried it,” Butterfield says. “It hit us that, regardless of any other factor, after 2,000 messages, 93% of those customers are still using Slack today.”

As soon as you have those numbers enshrined at your company, you can start working on innovative ways to move people toward those milestones — whether it’s email reminders, or prompting them to take new actions in the product. Because Slack knows 2,000 is its golden number, it can iterate on ways to get customers across that line.

This is a great example of how a specific customer habit can drive better decisions. User research comes in many forms, but the best research is specific, meaningful, and tied directly to what people are doing.

Custom editing tool for Spotify’s new brand

Spotify’s new look is making its rounds on the internet, but one of the fascinating parts of the rollout is the problem they identified with authoring photos. Spotify has thousands of photos of bands from around the world, all with a different look-and-feel, and they needed a way to bring these photos easily into the site without taking away from their own brand. Fast Company’s article describes their solution – a custom editing tool that allows distributed authors to create duotone images:

The duotone look became so much a part of the brand identity, that Brett Renfer, Collins’s director of experience design, created a software program (subsequently nicknamed, “The Colorizer”) to automate the process—a critical issue for a company like Spotify which has designers across 58 markets, from Andorra to Uruguay, all scrambling to brand content with the Spotify look.

Companies tend to stay away from developing custom apps for authoring content, but investing in a tool can help a network of people save time and maintain content consistency. It’s a small detail, but this one will have huge benefits.

Check out the full article and 30 second video that highlights the Colorizer app.

New Yorker profile of Jonathan Ive and the Apple design team

This is a long, long article in the New Yorker about Apple design, but it’s worth reading. It describes many nuances about design, leadership, and the life of Jonathan Ive.

I could’ve pulled more quotes, but this one I love because it describes his leadership style, and being totally open to design failures:

Ive describes his role as lying between two extremes of design leadership: he is not the source of all creativity, nor does he merely assess the proposals of colleagues. The big ideas are often his, and he has an opinion about every detail. Team meetings are held in the kitchen two or three times a week, and Ive encourages candor. “We put the product ahead of anything else,” he said. “Let’s say we’re talking about something that I’ve done that’s ugly and ill-proportioned—because, believe you me, I can pull some beauties out of the old hat. . . . It’s fine, and we all do, and sometimes we do it repeatedly, and we have these seasons of doing it—”

“I had one last week,” Akana said.

“Which one?” he asked.

“The packaging thing,” she said.

“That’s true,” Ive said, laughing. “It was so bad.”

Take the time to read this one!

For bonus points, you can contrast this article with a recent Fast Company profile of Samsung design, and why it stinks.

Slack’s incredible growth

I love Slack, especially how they paid attention to UX details that make this workplace app so fun to use. I’m also impressed by their incredibly fast growth, which is explained well in this recent article: From 0 to $1B – Slack’s Founder Shares Their Epic Launch Strategy.

So how did the company not only launch with enviable momentum, but so quickly win users’ hearts? If there’s one theme that emerges when founder Stewart Butterfield talks about Slack’s success, it’s that the company made customer feedback the epicenter of its efforts.

It’s a good reminder to pay attention to user feedback, especially from the beginning:

As much information as Slack put out to customers, they learned even more themselves. Butterfield and his cofounders are voracious readers of user feedback, and they attribute much of the company’s rapid traction to this skill. From the get-go, Slack made sure that users could respond to every email they received, and approached every help ticket as an opportunity to solidify loyalty and improve the service. As they listened to their ever-growing flock of users, the Slack team iterated accordingly.