A part of life ‘on-line’ is that it requires a certain amount of administration. Stuff needs to be set up, logged in and authorised. It’s also a big part of getting people into a start up. So we most often ensure that the barriers to entry are reduced…. we let our new users do the admin later. Maybe, on their next visit. The only problem with this is that administration should always be undertaken when motivation is the highest, and that’s usually at the start of a process or project.
Recent shifts in technology have fundamentally changed the way we live. Consumer technology is now so pervasive that much more than communication that has been effected by it. It has changed our perceptions and what we think is possible. It has had important cultural and physical implications on consumer culture. New ideas change our physical surrounds and reality. It enables the re-birth of activities that got lost in the industrialised, world. A couple of simple examples include lomography, growing vegetables and slow food.
But all this technology has clouded our vision too. It has created some perceptions which aren’t based in reality. It has made us cluster around specific technologies, to the point that they become the archetypal definition of innovation. The place that innovation must revolve around. The app, geolocating or other technology de jour.
The truth about innovation is that it is not about tech wizardry – it never has been. Innovation is about finding solutions. And solutions don’t necessarily involve, technology or even products. It might be a simple new way of doing something.
Innovation is really about good thinking being put into practice.
It doesn’t have to be leading edge, driven by industry or assisted by technology. It can be simple and human. And sometimes the best innovations come from ideas that got lost along the way. The re-invention or a reminder of a certain way to do things. Maybe it’s devolution? Or maybe it isn’t the ‘thing’ or ‘product’ itself that the innovation comes from, maybe it’s the things around it or the people using it. What we want to hear from people is “That’s a good idea”, rather than “Gee, I wonder how they did that?”
Innovation is all about what it provides to the end user. The truth about innovation is that it lies in the process that gets us to a better result, something that makes us happier for whatever reason.
Up until very recently – maybe 10 years ago – the people who made the stuff we use, didn’t really care if we could use it. Which is why anyone who have ever owned a VCR can remember the time flashing at 12am for most of its shelf life.
People who made stuff didn’t care, because they didn’t have to. Our options were limited. There were only so many brands to choose from, and only so many retailers to buy from. It was buy from them, or miss out. But they were nice enough to a write manuals for us. If you’ve ever had struggled to read or understand a user manual of some sort. I’ve got good news for you… I have the translation below.
“Hi there, we’ve written this manual in order to avoid have to give you any real or human feedback. You see, we are too busy selling this thing in so many countries, that caring would impact our short term profitability too much. So instead we just got some of our engineers to write this thing, and then we hired a translation company to put it into your language….. so if this is all reading a bit back to front, or just too technical to understand, then that is why. The reason our product needs a manual is that we are pretty much trying to be everything to everyone. We couldn’t really decide which features to include or exclude, so we just put all of them in. We believe we can charge a higher price if it has more features, we are not 100% sure, but why risk it? We know having this many features makes it harder to user, but it really makes it easier for our sales and marketing team to tell customers and retailers our ‘thing’ does everything. Our policy is to do the bare minimum when it comes to anything related to our product after we already have your money. And we know that all our competitors do much the same stuff so we reckon we can roll like this. Good luck!”
Lucky for us manuals are a thing of the past and smart brands know this. In this day and age the thing itself should be the manual. If it isn’t we can be pretty sure that someone will replace our stuff with a better user experience that’s intuitive and actually cares about the people using it.
Screens are beginning to permeate our entire existence. This latest effort from Samsung is seriously a step into the future. A fully connected web enabled window. It’s not hard to imagine this appearing in architectural designed houses and offices in the next 12 months a la minority report. Again it seems that UI is what really matters.
Startups need to be thinking about how they design around next generation screen UI beyond Apple.
Without even realising it, the average web surfer or smart phone addict has become an expert in usability. This doesn’t mean we could ask them what a sight should look like, how it should work or to advice us of any design imperatives. it’s a little different than that. But have no doubt, they are the experts. And their expertise is different. it is more like this – they know what sucks. They will not tolerate a site that sucks for more than a few seconds.
We have entered an age of mass usability expertise – and this has been driven by social media. As entrepreneurs and aspiring startup geeks we have to remember the training our users are getting. They are being trained on what is ‘best practice’ by the worlds best – brands like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Google, Foursquare. Brands with the greatest UI’s ever seen are training the everyday person on what good looks like. Even if it is occurring at a subconscious level. It is happening.
The impact of this is significant. For me it puts flow first, and features second. The flow of the site and intuitive nature must be put above all other technology and feature desires we have. If we fail with our usability, there wont be a second chance to win back the experts who’ve already decided we don’t cut it.
To: [email protected]
Subject: Order on line
I am trying to buy a wallet on line – but there is no way to add item to shopping basket.
To: “Sammartino, Steve”
Subject: RE: Order on line
Our online store currently offers watches and audio product only. For a larger range of our clothing and accessories please visit our preferred online retailer here:
To: [email protected]
Subject: Re: re: Order on line
Hmm – that’s pretty 1996 don’t you think?
Surfstitch.com.au don’t have the item I want… ?????
Can I order over the phone and pay via credit card and get sent to me that way?
Let me know,
I’m yet to hear back from these guys yet. Although they did give their initial response within 30 minutes. I’m still waiting for the second response. A person with credit card in hand, ready to buy.
Ignoring the fact that it is totally ridiculous to sell some things on line and not others, it is more ridiculous to not call me back (they have my number), take my order, take my money, go down to the warehouse and grab the item and put it in an express post or fed ex bag.
When it comes to selling on-line, being half committed is often worse than not being involved at all.
Today I sent this tweet which got quite a bit of comment:
There were over 400 video sharing websites when Youtube launched. Often it’s smarter to do it better, than build something new.
Immediately after the tweets started coming through about other businesses which entered the market late and taken a strong hold’.
The most recent example for me is Instagr.am
It’s ‘another’ photo sharing platform to add to the long list of mobile apps for doing just this, including but certainly not limited to Flickr, Twitpic, Yfrog, img.ly, Mobypicture…. I’m sure there are hundreds.
Next thing I knew all the photos being shared on my tweet stream had all converted to the Instagr.am format – so I had check it out. Turns out Instagr.am added a tiny twist which enabled it get busy with the ‘in’ crowd. By simply adding a filter feature, it made photo sharing a whole lot more fun. What filter does is transform the pic and stylise the look to give a retro feel, add few scratches and a white Polaroid frame and you’ve got the hottest new pic app on the entire web. It’s easy to use, and once again photo sharing has been reinvented.
So what’s the lesson here?
Design matters. In fact design is the thing that wins in the long run. Humans like things of beauty. It is coded in our DNA, we prefer the beautiful. Side note: beautiful is both usable and and nice to look at, it must have both.
Existing Market. Sometimes it’s easier to build a better version of something people are using, than to invent a new market. We don’t have to invest time convincing people it is worth participating. Rather, we just need to show them why we are superior. In an industry like we apps where the switching barriers are so low usability and design are often the catalysts for this to occur.
The question for startups is this: How do we sustain a leadership position against the next tiny twist?