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.