Why Is Bad User Experience Design Still A Thing?

The other day I decided to set up two relatively common household products: (1) a wireless router and (2) a portable steamer. The instruction manuals and the resulting experiences of each setup couldn’t have been more different. Can you guess which required more energy, brain power and patience?

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Ding ding ding ding ding! It was the steamer!

Why did setting up an appliance with mechanical engineering akin to a kitchen kettle feel like preparing a space shuttle launch…while a device manufactured by a cable company took five minutes with zero aggravation or ambiguity? The answer: User Experience design.

Good UX: The Router Setup

Setting up routers used to involve sitting on the phone with the cable company and wishing it was somebody else’s job. Now it’s as simple as flipping open a glossy, single-page pamphlet and following clear, colorful diagrams placed alongside highly legible text.

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There was even some witty Easter Egg copy as if a real human being wrote it and not just a systems engineer:

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Relax? No problem! In fact, when the blinking lights stopped flashing after just two minutes, I felt like a technical genius.

Bad UX: The Steamer

The steamer was another story. A list of 14 steps with essentially no visual hierarchy made it nearly impossible to skim for the most important information: how to avoid burning yourself. In fact, this nugget is all the way at the bottom of list item 13, below a mountainous, monotonous section of text. “The water in the reservoir can severely burn skin.”

Seriously?!

The visual aid stresses the importance of moving the steamer up and down. This doesn’t seem like the most important and/or complicated piece of information for a user to grasp.

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Here’s how I would have written this information: 


 

Before You Begin:

  1. DO NOT fill with water past the max line.
  2. DO NOT tilt the steamer back and forth or water will drip out.
    • Use an up-down motion, not too long in the same spot. 
  3. When you’re done OR need a refill, unplug.
    • Wait 5 minutes after unplugging for unit to cool before handling.

STEP 1: Fill steamer with water.

  • Twist reservoir cap clockwise to open.
  • Add tap water up to the maximum line. Do not overfill.
  • Replace reservoir cap and twist counter-clockwise to close.

STEP 2: Turn on device.

  • Plug device into power outlet and press ON.
  • When on, the switch will light up.
  • Wait 2-3 minutes for unit to heat up.

Step 3: Steam clothing.

  • Always keep unit in an upright position.
  • Point steam holes at wrinkled fabric. Move steamer in an up-down direction.
  • For best results, pull fabric firmly in place while steaming.

Step 4: Unplug and allow to cool before handling.

  • Even after turned off, any water inside the unit will remain boiling hot.
  • Wait 5 minutes before handling.
  • Once cool, empty excess water and replace cap.
  • Store in a cool, dry place.

 

People who buy portable steamers value convenience. It should be easier to assemble. My revision lists key safety concerns at the top followed by a logical order of steps, told in fewer words.

If Apple can bring computers to the masses, and Fios makes it painless to set up routers, manufacturers of household appliances have no excuses for dated, poor user experiences.

Get it together! (pun intended)

Writing For Online Audiences? Say More. Write Less.

It’s a humbling experience to realize that while you enjoy writing, did well in school and aren’t afraid of expository essays – it’s a whole other world when writing for the web. Social media, email newsletters, company blog posts…these should be considered channels to produce “copy” – not tomes.

Compelling copy is written economically.

Less is more, no matter how long the supporting body copy should be. Twitter imposes a 140 character limit….but Facebook doesn’t. Neither does email. Long-winded social media posts and emails bore readers; too much copy that takes too long to get to the point sacrifices attention – and ultimately sales.

Consider theSkimm, an email newsletter that raised $6.3M in Series A funding this past December. It recaps top news stories, pared-down into informal, easy-to-digest snippets. Created by two former NBC News producers, theSkimm excels at explaining why those top stories are considered important. This layer of meta-value is created thanks to an appreciation by the editors for their audience’s time and intelligence: busy professionals who want to know not just what’s happening in the world, but why it matters.

Another example of the value of sharp content is Blinkist, an app that summarizes nonfiction books into 250 words or less chapters, including a Final Summary chapter. Their tagline is “A smarter you in 15 minutes”. Brilliant. For free, you get access to one pre-selected book a day. I recently upgraded to receive unlimited “Blinks” for less than $40 per year. Classics like 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Emotional Intelligence and Getting Things Done are broken down and digested in a way that feels intravenous.

This trend is also part of what makes Medium so compelling as a blog publishing platform; each post has a “read time” next to the title, allowing the reader to mentally prepare before making any investment of attention or time.

Read time on Medium

Image of a “5-min read” article by Medium author @amarchenkova

theSkimm, Blinkist and Medium are examples of how to make online content compelling. They’re both modeled on providing “hooks” – a reader gets a taste of something he or she can then decide to further investigate. theSkimm links to original sources; I’m waiting for Blinkist to offer integration with Amazon’s “Wish List” if not a direct link to the book’s product page.

Brands interested in grabbing and retaining attention need to say less.

Which requires smarter writing. Which involves more thought. To understand the target audience. What’s the value of the content. How to communicate smartly and effectively.

For more on writing crisp, concise copy for the web, Copyblogger is a great resource on the topic. Pair with “Hey Whipple Squeeze This” by Luke Sullivan, a guidebook on creating effective ad copy. You could even read it in 13min on Blinkist. 😉

The Artist’s Way, Nostalgia & Inspiration

Nostalgia

Nostalgia as a Source of Inspiration

I’ve been thinking lately a lot about nostalgia. Probably because of the holidays, and I’ve been back to my parents’ house a few times since Thanksgiving, Christmas and a couple of weekends spent visiting my grandmas. I go home and my old room is totally full of photographs and memorabilia. Old clothes I can’t bear to part with. Trinkets and objects collected as gifts on birthdays, books I read in college, funny notes passed to friends during class. I even have a box full of gifts and letters from my first boyfriend, although that recently made its way to the basement (unless one of my parents smartly tossed it instead.) But what do I do with the rest of all that painfully meaningful…stuff?

The Artist’s Way

Last week I started reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s sort of a self-help book (keep reading) that guides you through a 12-week course of exercises designed to tap into and re-awaken the creative self. Reciting daily affirmations is one of the exercises. I’ve never done affirmations before, but one of them resonated with me strongly: I will let myself learn how to create. It’s not that I don’t know how to technically or physically create; it’s that I have this problem where I look at creative expression as an unproductive waste of time, unless I’m already creating something totally inspiring, magical, beautiful, complicated, deep and representative of something totally important and transcendent. Which is a great way to guarantee you won’t sit down to create.

Blogging as Creative Expression

I often ask myself What’s the point of blogging? which probably had something to do with me quitting National Blog Posting Month in the middle of the month. I hate the idea of blogging as publishing my personal diary. I don’t like how much I use the word “I” in what I write here. Yet, I feel compelled to continue writing, as a form of expression. It’s an easy, instant form of expression. I could write on my computer or in a journal (or 5), which I do. But there’s something cathartic in publishing a blog post you don’t quite get from keeping it within the confines of your apartment. Putting in on the internet means it’s officially not just yours anymore; and perhaps someone else can read it and relate. Probably the best part of participating in National Blog Posting Month was receiving comments by new readers, in the form of encouragement or support. A sign of life. Someone’s at the other end of the keyboard.

The Art of Letting Go

One of the hardest things to do is to let go, and nostalgia is basically the antithesis of moving on and putting something behind you. I want to figure out a way to turn it into an art form; some way to preserve the ticket stubs, letters from classmates, photographs of people with whom I don’t speak anymore, in a way that honors their existence yet simultaneously frees me from their clutches.

I blame my mother for a lot of this intense urge to preserve the past; she is infamous for incessantly taking photographs of family, putting the images into albums and sending copies to all those who are photographed. It’s great for everyone else who receives a printed photograph in the mail following an important event like their child’s wedding. But I’ve grown up with piles and piles of doubles of the photos I’ve already put in photo albums, stuffed into my desk and cabinets like symbols of guilt. Guilt because I can’t just throw them out, since my mom spent money getting them printed. And the longer those piles sit there, the more often I encounter them when making room for more recent “stuff” I’ve accumulated.

Nostalgia is draining. There’s a time and a place for it, and it’s not every day. I’m determined to exterminate some of the nostalgia from my life, and to use this blog as the backpack exterminators wear. Or the hose they use to spray their chemicals. Or something else that makes the metaphor work.

How to Write For the Web: A Haiku

Web writing is weird:
Social, blogs, website copy.
I get to write for work.

Since we all do it,
We all think we do it well.
Yet this is not true.

Long Facebook posts…and
Overly wordy blog posts…
Boring and dull tweets.

Avoid filler words.
Learn how to use a comma.
Maybe try spell check.

Sorry I’m a bitch;
Actually I’m not sorry.
Please learn how to write.

Read more, to improve.
Not for vocabulary,
But for style and voice.

Read Copyblogger.
Use as few words as you can.
Know that less is more.

“Yeah, but SEO!
You need more content to rank!”
NO. You need readers.

Return visitors.
To show actual value,
Have something to say.

Say it well – and quick.
Ain’t no one’s got time for FLUFF.
Spit it out. EDIT.

Have someone else look.
Cut out half of what you wrote.
Keep it short and sweet.

Writing for the web
Is more than Facebook posting.
OK, everyone?

Possible Alternative Titles for My Blog

Help me pick a title for my blog. OK? We don’t even know each other and I’m seriously going to consider your suggestion as though it were my own. That’s how much I hate making decisions. 

This evening I ate a large Italian dinner with my family and I feel fat and sassy and not in the mood to write. Yet I promised myself I’d write every day for NaBloPoMo and since I already missed about 1/3 of the days, I’m going to go ahead and get this list of potential blog titles out of my head and onto this magic screen:

  • Someone Who Watches a Lot of Law & Order SVU
  • The Tale of the Social Media Specialist with Social Anxiety and Other Horror Stories
  • Thoughts From My Couch and Other Unoriginal Titles
  • How to Write a Shitty Blog Title, by Mostly Everyone
  • My Daily Reason for Hating the Entire World Including Myself
  • Contradictions, Opposites and Vertigo
  • Why I Wish Olivia Benson Would Comfort Me After a Hard Day of Work
  • Steppenchik (like Steppenwolf but a GIRL)
  • Will Change Soon (same idea as Title Under Construction; symbolizes both a lack of commitment and a dangerously open mind)
  • The Fated Urchin (both a pun and a tattoo)
  • Blah Blah Blah
  • Burp
  • This Is The Worst Blog Post Ever
  • Don’t Hate Me (Or Unfollow Me)
  • These Aren’t Even Titles, They’re Literally Just Thoughts Written in Bullet Form with Capitalization

What do you think? Some of these are jokes but some are dead serious. OK thanks bye!

The Art of Promoting Others’ Art

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Israeli multi-media artist Oum Kultuv

I’ve had an idea for about 6 months but haven’t done much about it. Now I’ll write about it on my BLOG on the INTERNET so that it comes TRUE or at least CLOSER TO TRUE. Stop yelling at you? No. Read on.

There are parts of Marketing I like: creating compelling content – both visuals and copy. Static copy (websites, ads, emails) is more rewarding and interesting than the transient channels of social media and blogging. But all of these buzzwords really blend together and you can theoretically call all of this and none of this “marketing”, “branding”, “advertising” and “business development”.

I encounter an artist with an incredible vision, body of work and voice. This person has a Facebook page, isn’t on Etsy and doesn’t know how to effectively “market” themselves. Then I appear, in a ray of sunlight wearing a black pantsuit but some edgy accessories. I’m here to make you internet famous – at least, as famous as your art allows you to be.

I want your art to speak for itself. But I want to give it a microphone.

The Day I Decided to Stop Feeling Like a Social Media Hooker

Editorial Calendar - VIsual

I discovered last night that it’s NaBloPoMo. So I’m joining the rest of the nutjobs out there, blogging their hearts out one day at a time. I got a late start (It’s November 3rd), but better late than never. Also I could have retroactively published this post on Nov. 1st but that felt like cheating. I even created this colorful editorial calendar I taped to my closet door using pieces of paper I bought at an overpriced Swiss stationery shop in London. I had been “saving” them for some sort of perfect occasion that I think is now.

On Feeling Like a Social Media Hooker

The amount of energy I spend deciding whether or not to turn this into my full blog (I have one at Tumblr as well, and a Cowbird account…and I Tweet and use Instagram regularly) is absurd. I’m a social media specialist at a Manhattan digital marketing agency and I should have better control over my digital footprint. I feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she justifies her job as a hooker by stating “I say who…I say when…I say who…” with no actual confidence or conviction behind the proclamation. That’s me. I’m a social media hooker. 

Facebook isn’t my network of choice. I love defriending people and clearing my social cache, and I don’t post pictures on Facebook often and never check Events. I falsely assumed this would make me  immune to social media overload, but I’m actually a slave to digital media. I’ve lost control. I’m too connected to my cell phone, my iPad, my laptop, my double monitors at the office. I know this is something many others can relate to, but it frustrates me on a personal level for some reason. I love writing, and communicating, but I get overwhelmed with the amount of content out there already and don’t know what the point is of adding more to the pile. Then I stop myself and think “But you’re a decent writer, and you have shit to say, and people like listening to the shit you say in real life…so you should blog.” Then the earlier voice pops back in saying “But what are you going to focus on?” Then I take a nap and decide to figure it out later.

Until now.

Last night I watched an incredibly inspiring talk by Darren Rowse, a professional blogger, on “Getting Dreams Out Of Your Head”. The following tidbits jumped out at me as solutions to the block I’m experiencing:

“The reality is that your next big thing might be the current small thing right in front of you.”

I love this. Darren spoke at length about “sparks” – little ideas that can grow into something magnificent if given enough oxygen and time to breathe.

Choose 1 small thing every day that will get you closer to your dream. Do it to the best of your ability. Not perfectly.

As a chronic perfectionist and over-achiever, this one slapped me in the face as well. It’s about picking one thing to focus on a day, actually doing it, and moving on to the next. I also read an article in the Times about Mindfulness and Meditation, the 30-year-old chief executive of Inward, a startup focusing on “positive lifestyle change”, stated that when he added fewer things to his to-do list, he was actually getting them done – and done well.

“Become obsessed with being useful.”

This one’s important and has the potential to make you, the blogger, successful. It’s about providing solutions to problems others have. I need to spend more time thinking about this one and deciding which approach I want to take here, because I have a hard time thinking of myself as a provider of solutions in a traditional sense. Sometimes I blame my literature background for my love of endlessly analyzing situations – whether it’s the theme in a movie, a topic of conversation, a campaign idea for a social media client…I like stirring the pot and encouraging ideas to brew to the surface. Most people who know me wouldn’t classify me as a “problem solver”, but I definitely do cause others to think of things in a new light and to become excited by the process. Hm. Will have to come back to this.

“Create space to observe”

Last but not least. I’m going to track my daily flow of energy; what did I do that gave me the most energy, and what took my energy away? I want to focus on doing more of the things that energize me and less of the things that drain me. Energy gain v. energy drain. Seems straightforward enough for me to jot this down daily without overanalyzing it too much (see previous paragraph).

This blog post is approaching the point of getting classified as an energy drain, so I’ll stop here. But am excited to give NaBloPoMo a shot…and to start getting some of my dreams out of my head.