Monday, July 28, 2014

Test Driving the Tesla Model S

This review is a slight departure from my usual UX blog entries.  Since the Tesla Model S is in fact a rolling smartphone, I’ll give myself some leniency.  And it will make the petrolhead side of me happy.  Here it goes:

That was one tweet that started it all because my friend in Canada had just bought one and that led me to question why I was paying $4/gallon for gas.  I was tired of doing so.

@Teslamotors then asked me if I had ever test-driven one.

I haven't, but I did allude to buying my M3 without even driving it.  Does Gran Turismo count?  That's what you do when you're a devoted petrolhead - buy cars when you haven't test-driven them.  I did that with one other car I had for 10 years.

In a matter of minutes, I signed up for a test drive because Tesla was having a northeast tour in different places, letting strangers drive their perfectly engineered cars.  And as fate would have it, they were in Maine this past weekend.  But then a snag - the Kennebunkport event was booked solid.  A customer rep called minutes after I signed up and arranged another time for my test drive in Ogunquit, in the middle of summer.  In the middle of tourist season.  (Do you see what I'm getting at?)  But the people from Tesla were on the ball - so much so, it almost felt like they were stalking me like the NSA.  Actually, they were anticipating my every need because that's what the good experiences are supposed to provide.

With the appointment booked and some excitement and anticipation already building, I had to put my objective mindset on.  I did some background research on YouTube to see what people were saying, and what things to look out for.  All I found were testimonials of how great the car was.  Talk about an insurmountable pile of tree-hugging propaganda!  Okay, it wasn't exactly that, because you wouldn't want to wrap a performance sedan around some timber.  But I digress.

@byhamilton was in for a treat!

I tweeted out asking who wanted to join me in my test drive.  Of course, my good, designer friend @byhamilton raised her hand.  She insists she invited herself.  But I knew she'd wanted to experience it [again], especially with a madman driver behind the wheel.  She said she trusts me behind the wheel.  She was in for a treat.  She didn't know about the hours of Gran Turismo I had played through now, 6 versions of the game, nor the numerous in-real-life track days.  Looking at my resume of cars driven, though not entirely impressive, is more than what an average person might drive:

1985 Toyota Camry
My late uncle's 1989 Toyota Supra
1990 Oldsmobile Delta 88
2001 Ford Mustang V6
2012 Ford Mustang Convertible
1991 Chevrolet S10 Blazer
1995 SAAB 900 SE
Lotus Elise
2001 Subaru Impreza RS
2007 Porsche Cayman S
2002 Ford SVT Focus, 6sp
2013 Ford Focus ST, 6sp
Nissan Altima
Honda Civic SiR
SAAB Turbo X
Infiniti G37S, 6sp
2003 SAAB 9-5, 2.0t
2008 BMW M3, E92 (current)

Who could say no to her?
Driving down to Ogunquit was a breeze.  As I approached the Beachmere Inn, there she was in all her beauty.  She was sexy and sultry, had on the red lipstick and dress to match, posing like Jessica Rabbit.  The Aston Martin and Maserati curves spoke to me, seducing my eyes and dropping my jaw as if I were Wile E. Coyote.  I was hooked.

Brian was awesome!
I was greeted by a very pleasant man named, Brian.  We were early so he offered to show us around the car.  The Telsa was decked-out with all the options.  It was the P85+ version with a carbon fibre spoiler, 21-inch rims, summer performance tires, Brembo brakes, fog lights, panoramic glass roof, leather seats with alcantara headliner.  I didn't get a good look at the back seats but according to @byhamilton, she had plenty of legroom and she's tall.  The trunk was massive.  It had dual compartments - one to keep all your cycling gear, the other to keep your secrets.  It also had roof fittings for a rack.

After the walkaround, it was time to get in.  Brian showed me the touchscreen controls.  It had every setting for everything you could imagine.  It was involved.  It was somewhat complex.  Yes, the information architecture was logical, read well and I didn't need a decoder ring to navigate through it.  A place for everything and everything in its place.  But how would I handle it when I was driving?  I would have to familiarize myself with the interface beforehand, and this test drive wasn't enough.  I'd have to live with it for a few days or months to truly get acclimated.  The BMW I have now with its iDrive system was like that.  It took me more than a year to even begin exploring and operating the standard radio.  Granted, that was more of a motivational block as the engine soundtrack is so intoxicating.

My favorite function
My favorite function for the Model S was operating the motorized glass roof where you manipulated the actual rendering instead of just being relegated to a slider interface button (that immediately became redundant).  That’s the delight of discovery and I’m sure there are plenty of that in the controls.

The startup sequence was pretty simple albeit out of the ordinary.  There's no gear shift lever, but there was a lever on the steering column to set the drive mode.  You do this by pressing the brake pedal and selecting the drive mode.  The screens for the dashboard shows you the car itself in its proper color, so you remember what you were driving and stare at its beauty, ogling the pin-up every time.
The dashboard cluster.
Once started, rolling along was super quiet.  Oh. So. Quiet.  Even at speed.  I could actually hear myself think, it was so Zen.  I should try meditating while driving.

"I'm actually afraid of hitting someone because they won't know I'm there," I declared as I began my think-aloud protocol.

I meandered out of the parking lot and Brian assured me that beyond 5 mph, it does make some noise.

"What music do you like to listen to?" asked Brian.

How genius!  Music sets a connection to the driving experience.  Of course he would ask that question.  He was also trying to set my mind at ease.

"Just tell the radio what you want to listen to," he instructed.

"Brian Transeau," I stated after pressing the voice button.  And it immediately went to a track in his Movement in Still Life album.  Apparently, it has Internet radio and is linked to a service similar to Spotify, Pandora, etc.  And it's included.

Getting into the zone.
It only took a few minutes before my timid driving became spirited.  I was seduced.  I got into the zone.  The smooth, twisting, winding roads were beckoning for my rubber.  So I punched it.  Acceleration was so instant (as was braking), it was actually off the charts!
Look at the telemetry! Lots of orange!
  The entire time, I never really pressed the brake pedal and just let the regenerative braking slow down for me.  All I did was feather, sometimes, the accelerator pedal.  With the driving mode in sport, the Model S drove like a slot car.

Interaction effort is high especially when driving.
I didn’t bother navigating the car’s interface at this point because I was much too busy navigating through the trees, trying to avoid them.  The touchscreen interface was built for recall, not recognition.  I don't want to have to think about the interface and drive at the same time, navigating and selecting functions, even if the information architecture was spot-on.  This is why voice control is so important.  I’d rather have prompts for what to say on-screen to control settings so I don’t have to remember everything.  (Here’s some innovation for you, Tesla.  Correct me if I’m wrong.)  That might get me to being the perpetual intermediate user a lot faster.  And well, with a touchscreen, there’s no tactile feel where buttons have some advantage.  Haptic feedback marginally solves the problem.

Big map.
The one saving grace about it was the fact that it was big enough and accessible enough for the passenger beside me to operate.  Brian was a great co-pilot, gesturing and tapping the controls before my eyes.  My attention was purposeful to driving and not crashing.

I could really get into trouble with this car.  The acceleration was addictive.

It's a car with SAAB sensibilities and BMW M3 speed.

It had all the utility of a SAAB 900 (or 9-3) with its large hatchback, four doors, interior space and stability.  Compared to the M3, driving the Tesla felt more direct and sometimes stiffer, pulling lateral G's with more precision.  It performed in a way I wanted it to, almost.  It's not as forgiving in the corners as the M3, but it comes close.  You barely feel any body roll – it will definitely throw your passengers around without warning.  (Or maybe it was my driving.)  The suspension was firm but wasn't jarring.

But what was it missing?  Maybe it was too robotic.  It drove like a video game (but without the reset button).  Maybe it behaved like a Nissan GTR, lacking some soul like others have stated.  But is that a bad thing?  (I’ll have to drive a Nissan GTR to compare.)  Or maybe it was too perfect.  Who could argue with not paying $4 a gallon of premium gas?  You’d save Brinks truckloads of money by driving a Tesla Model S.  But it wasn't perfect.

What it was missing was range.  With a 4-litre, 414 horsepower V8 engine, my M3 actually gets better range than the Model S.  I can go for long distance drives with my M3, and I did.  Just last year, I drove to Monterey, CA for BMWCCA’s Oktoberfest from Maine and back, winning the longest distance award.  It took me four and a half days to get out there.  But I spent a small fortune on gas.

Tesla would argue that their supercharger infrastructure is being put into place and more and more states and cities are getting them.  While that’s progress, the battery technology still isn't up to par with refueling, or in this case, recharging.  And swapping out batteries is still a Band-Aid solution.

Despite its shortcomings, I want one.  It would be great to commute with and perform short range errands and trips with it.  Would I give up my BMW M3 for the Tesla Model S?  I’m on the fence.  Mainly because of the steep price of entry and limited range.  What Tesla has done is package a forward-thinking car in economics, environmental friendliness and utility to appeal to petrolheads like myself with speed and looks, telling me there are alternatives to driving an electric vehicle and you don’t have to be boring doing it.

But at the end of the day, I’ll have to keep Jessica Rabbit waiting.  And I hate making a lady wait.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

UX Strategy - Be the Catalyst

My focus, lately, has been on UX Strategy, mainly because we don't have one.  And no one has thought about it.  While I feel we're making some impact in the limited number of projects we're involved in, I also feel it was time we intentionally start institutionalizing UX.  That's not to say we haven't made some strides.  We've grown our team and the company is more aware of the benefits of having UX.  But there's still much work to do.  We've done the many World Usability Days and evangelized the heck out of it along with numerous workshops in the past, but now UX needed to grow up if we're to make any kind of progression.  The problem is, we have to do it from the middle even though we have an executive champion. So how does one start?

It takes guts.
If you feel sometimes you're the lone person having this vision and wanting to see it through, you're not alone.  That's how I'm feeling right now.  It's about establishing a foundation on which to build upon.  And you have to realize that this won't happen instantly - it may take years, or not, depending on how you approach it and the resistance you get along the way.  I tried to find some quick fixes, but it just wouldn't happen that way.  For instance, some say, the best relationships that happen over time are ones that happen the slowest - with progression.  There's a gestation period to everything and while having the vision and fortitude will push you and motivate you along, you still cannot force it.  But that doesn't mean staying where you are.  Be the mover and shaker.  Be the catalyst.

Starting a strategy also means sticking your head out to make a difference.  So beware if you are thin-skinned.  If you approach it all wrong, it will backfire, so you need to keep your actions tempered and controlled.  Make a case for everything you do.  Have specific intent.

Read. Then read more.
That doesn't mean just reading the numerous articles about UX Strategy.  It also means reading business books.  I've been at it for over 10 years and I'm still learning from the best.  Anything from Jim Collins is a great start as this will give you the kind of business mentality you need to make sustainable change.  All the MBA's are doing it, so why not?  And to accompany his series, anything from John C. Maxwell is a great read.  He talks and writes about leadership the way it was meant to be - and that means changing yourself.  If you're to create a UX Strategy, that means you have to create leaders - and that starts with you.  Of course, you cannot forget reading about UX.  Lean UX is a great book for times when you and your colleagues have to adapt to how a project is undertaken.  Also, refresh your reading starting with Alan Cooper's book.  It will change your perspective in subsequent readings when put in the perspective of developing a strategy.  Now there's purpose to reading!  (Not that there wasn't before.)

Consult with your peers and find a mentor (or two).
The best way to learn is to ask those who have done it before.  Granted, your situation may not be the same, but at least you gain insight from talking with your peers.  You can also ask one or two persons to be your mentor so that you keep your thinking based on reality, not just on cloud nine and the Ideal - the things you want to happen.  The people who you reach out to for support will give you the sanity you need when things don't work out the way you expect it.  But that doesn't mean it gives you a license to complain.
Build your team.
Growing up meant that we also had to take stock in our own abilities, our strengths and weaknesses, our values, and also develop our code of honor.  That also meant that we had to determine what projects were actually worthwhile to get involved in - but that didn't mean we wouldn't be involved if conditions weren't ideal.  That's naive.  The point is to be on the same page whenever a project comes through our door, and that meant managing ourselves.  Taking stock meant the team got together for several hours to talk about each other in every different light through anecdotes and getting to know each other's personalities.  We took this test.  This gave us a better understanding in each other, inevitably creating a form of trust, a bond that would be difficult to break.  A stronger team will get everyone far.

Get out there - get context.
You can't design in a vacuum.  And the same goes for developing a strategy and institutionalizing UX.  You can't do it from your stall (aka cube).  As a person in UX, our best attribute is listening.  So why not put it to good use?  Part of the plan to developing any strategy is to get context meaning putting ourselves in someone else's shoes.  The best way to get context was to interview those who we are trying to serve.  That meant talking with the various product managers, developers and department heads to get an understanding of what they're up against.  Empathy - remember that word?  A proper ethonographic study would have been ideal, but it wouldn't be the best use of our time (and it would be creepy).  The objective was to gain insight and then create a course of action that would address everyone's concerns.

By talking with your stakeholders, that signals to them that you're actually interested in who they are and what they do!  And you should be, because if you think you're just creating a UX Strategy for yourself, then you're not doing it for the correct reasons.

Conduct workshops.
Who needs workshops?  Some say, it's in the projects that we are involved in that make the difference.  But how would everyone know what we do if we didn't show them to be aware?  The thing is, to everyone who's not in UX, it's all foreign - we're speaking alien.  It's a different language and they don't understand it.  (I know my parents and siblings still don't know what I do!)  While yes, smaller projects would be the smartest way to gain entry through the barrier, it doesn't create instant buy-in.  My thought here is, if you're going to understand UX, you have to do it and go through the process.  A UX workshop in the form of a Bootcamp is the fastest way to get understanding and buy-in.  It teaches everyone what activities you partake in and the reasons why in a very fast, impactful way.  But of course, you still have to sell the idea for everyone to attend the workshop.

Keep the momentum.
You can't just do something one month and then just disappear.  Have some sort activity every month or two to get into everyone's minds.  That's the only way to build momentum.  Whether it's a workshop, meeting or some sort of fun activity, do something to stay in people's minds.

All in all, I thought a lot about whether we were really ready for this.  I was told I was forcing it but I knew I wasn't.  Sometimes, you just have to do it.  With the ever-changing technologies and its fast pace, and our ever-evolving products, if we didn't do something to continue on our course, to facilitate maturity, I just know we'd lose many other opportunities in the future.  And a big part of that is to get UX ahead of the curve, the instant ideas start to become projects.

Above all else, you have to be the catalyst.  You have to make your own assessment.  Mind you, there's no one easy or correct way to do this.  Even this blog entry isn't the end-all.  When you embark on this journey, it will test you in many ways you never thought it would.  And it all starts with you.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What's eating Windows 8

It's been over a year since the release of Windows 8, and with articles like this, one must ask, "What's eating Windows 8?"

It's actually eating itself.

If Windows 8 is reverting back to have the Start menu button, it sounds more like Microsoft is scrambling and doesn't really know how to handle the low adoption rate.  It's reactionary.  And because of the low response,  Microsoft is no longer confident in their design - since they haven't really committed to the Metro/Modern UI style despite producing hardware along with its new OS.

It's indicative of their Desktop tile, something I noticed right away when I was in awe of the tile beauty.  "Pretty squares," I call it.  When you have such a dichotomy in design, it tells your user that "we haven't really progressed, and this is an experiment [much like Vista] but please, we hope you like this [half-assed design attempt]", to put it bluntly.  It's like a dual-boot version of Windows in order to create embraceable change, but instead, you have two homes.  Or it's a new girlfriend giving you mixed messages.  But I digress.

To put it into context, I've owned the MS Surface tablet Pro (64GB) for almost a year now, and still, many of my friends who don't work in technology haven't seen the device before.  And there are some who work in tech who have never seen the tablet in real life.  People's first reaction is always, "Weird!"  But it stops there and they don't ask to use it for fear it might give them a disease.

The problem with the Surface is that there were so few apps, and the market is still very small.  I was looking to find use for this device for the past year and haven't really done so until I finally upgraded to MS Office 2013 and using Skydrive.  This means instead of using EverNote to take notes during meetings, I can finally use MS Word, save it to SkyDrive and then access is at my desktop or anywhere in the world (like I travel all that much).  And the keyboard serves it purpose, finally.

But in doing so, I'm running the Desktop version of Windows 8, not the Metro version.  And then they try to repeat this design paradigm in MS Word's File menu to create more confusion.  Let me just say, the experience is jarring and I don't like it.  So it's back to using EverNote for me!  At least I know the experience will be the consistent through and through.

The only advantage I see to carrying around the MS Surface tablet is when I am working at home because I don't want to carry my larger, heavier Dell laptop in a second bag.  And when my laptop fails, I use it to access my emails and reply to them using a semi-proper keyboard.  That's about it.  Beyond that and note-taking, or using it as a Skype device because all my other devices are being used for other purposes, the Surface tablet is left to being the backup.

Microsoft is still not clear on the purpose of Windows 8 and the Metro design.  They haven't thought this through.  When you hang on to the past (of the older Desktop), you don't let the present (Metro) shine.  They shouldn't exist together.

And that's as clear as that gets.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Design changes Behavior

I recently bought a BMW E92 M3 where every bit of user experience is 1000-times better than what I was driving before - a Ford.  It was a great departure from what I was used to.  Everything on the Ford was manual, including the transmission.  There were dials and knobs to tend to controlling the climate, navigation was a Tom-Tom, and switching the lights on were intentional as well as switching on the windshield wipers.

On the BMW, the climate control was automatic (but only when you press the "Auto" button, which I actually keep in manual to keep some semblance of control,) navigation was voice activated (or done through iDrive), telephone can be voice activated, mirrors dim automagically at night, wipers are rain-sensing, car audio volume increases with the speed to compensate for road and wind noise, and the list goes on.

Everything about the BMW was meant to anticipate the user's needs.  And I have two distinct features to talk about here that actually warrants discussion in that it changes the driver's behavior.

The first is the seatbelt "butler".  Since the M3 is a coupe, that meant the seatbelts were located way far back by the B-pillar.  The only way to reach it is to stretch like Inspector Gadget, saying the magic words, "Go-go gadget arms!"  But instead of doing that, the BMW has mechanical arms to hand you the seatbelt so you don't have to reach for them.  But of course, this service has a time expiration.  Because if you don't grab it for about 10 to 20 seconds, the arms retracts back into its hole thus releasing the seatbelt and you have to perform some gymnastics to retrieve it.  Because of this time expiration, instead of tending to the radio to put on tunes for my drive, I have to tend to safety first.  This time event expiration has modified my behavior in essence.  Not too drastic as missiles won't fire if I don't reach for it in time, but my muscles get nicely stretched.

The second feature relates to everyone on the road wondering why the heck do BMW drivers cut people off so often?  Well, non-BMW drivers will now have the answer here.  The lane-changing indicator lever is one where you just push either up or down to activate the blinker for right or left movement (respectively).  When the BMW driver pushes on the lever, the indicators blink three times before it gets canceled.  That means the driver has three seconds to change lanes.  That also means in three seconds, if you're the other driver observing the behavior of the BMW driver changing lanes abruptly, it actually isn't their fault.  It's the design of the blinkers that is dictating the behavior of the BMW driver!

Granted, there are arguments in that the BMW driver could just persistently push the lever and give themselves enough time to make the lane-change, but being in such a nice, plush cockpit where the car does almost everything for you, why bother?  Yes, there is a setting in the iDrive where you can deactivate the three-second blinking and keep it manual, but what fun is that?  Why make me think?

But is that enough motivation to endanger the safety of others?  One might also argue that some BMW drivers probably don't have an IT degree to operate the iDrive and hence cannot be responsible for their non-action to get rid of this three-second blinker.  And what does the BMW driver know?  The design is dictating the user behavior without them knowing about it.

So if you ever think your design decisions have no impact on the user, think again.  Those who are behind the scenes designing products need an utmost ethical stance and responsibility for their actions and decisions.  Without this stance and knowing the consequences of these decisions, whether intended or not, chaos will appear.  Apparently, for those non-BMW drivers, it may already have.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Just Flip it.

I recently bought the latest of Android smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy S 3, in all of its pristine marble white.  The device itself is larger than the Captivate I had before, and its touch as well as its larger screen size, make it feel like a mini tablet.

One of the new widget apps already installed was Flipboard.  Having never seen it before, I explored its workings with its simple "flip" interaction as it goes from story to story.  I've read more articles in a matter of an hour for breakfast than I have in a long time.  It was a direct replacement to my daily CBS Morning Show.

I then begin to wonder, why is it that I'm more apt to consumer news on my mobile device than I am on my laptop?  While the tabl...err smartphone was smaller, it had what laptop didn't - transitions.  It's the transitions from story to story, page to page that engaged me more than anything else.  Flipboard is proof that any application can be built by using simple transitions to enhance what its suppose to be doing - in this case, display an aggregate of current news.

I've also been a regular user of Pulse, a more customizable aggregator of online publications.  But I find Flipboard to be more engaging, even though the Pulse is more personal.

So, what am I trying to say here?  I'm not sure that I really have anything to say other than the fact that as of now, I'm considering more and more to get an actual tablet to facilitate my daily Interweb consumption.

Yes, I can be a late adopter.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Remove Yourself from the Equation.

It's happening again.  The conversations sometimes feel like background noise, but each and every sentence said is very important to deciding which way we go in terms of design direction.  Or is it?  Drawing is great.  Discussing is as good.  Making the discussions meaningful is best.  So how do you do that?

I'm going to let you in on a little secret on my unique ability.

We do this many times.  Whether it's discussing the results of a usability testing session, or trying to determine what style or pattern to use in our user interface, I find that there is something missing.  I sit there and stay quiet.  I let others talk and concentrate on the problem and get to the root.  I reflect back in what seems like a lifetime, but in fact is milliseconds, to all the years of knowledge of past usability testing sessions, the type of feedback we received and the design decisions that were made as a result.  This is what I do during heated discussions - when my colleagues try to figure out the ins and outs of the results, what was said or even how the user behaved, etc., etc., etc...

This is when I remove myself from the equation.

Why do I do this?  Sometimes I'm my own worst enemy.  I get too attached to the outcome so I feel the need to argue or justify or persuade.  What most people don't get is that great analysis comes from looking at all perspectives and not being attached to anything.  Only then, after the work in your mind has been done, should you come out with something that changes other people's minds.

What happens is that most people look at the surface - what color to use on the user interface.  Others look just under the surface - how does the user interface behave, or what is its immediate impact.  What I do is look at all those layers, including the Why's, and beyond - through my own collected experience of UX itself.  Those experiences are a part of me but they're also external to me.  What I learn from it is the treasure, not the outcome itself.

I think many of us as UX practitioners is forgetting the full breadth of knowledge and perspective we've accumulated over the years.  And I think we've forgotten it because we're just too busy defending our design decisions or discussing something we think is profound but turns out to be something superficial.  And many times, we take it too personally.

Some people think monkeys can do this.  "Just train him and all things will go well."


While indeed, having a starting a point is good, having someone with experience is even better.  And the objective is to gain that experience from the time you're committing yourself to the practice.  And it requires a lifetime to do so.  It requires design knowledge, not just the practicalities of usability testing.  That of course, is another topic.

Analyze well!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Reinvigorating this blogspace

Hi there.

In the next few months, I will be reinvigorating this blogspace since there have been several developments in the UX world and the lessons learned in my profession.  I'll be talking about ubiquitous computing and doing a book review I haven't posted in a long time.  I will also be talking about a game I dearly love, Gran Turismo 5, which had finally been released late last year.  Among the subjects, the ever blurry role of the analyst turned generalist and pseudo-designer and the challenges facing this time, design epiphanies, and finally, the refocusing of our very own Maine IxDA chapter.  I will probably do the last first, since it's extremely important, necessary and timely.

See you soon!