Surprise, novelty and details for a “tasty” experience

I keep questioning myself on why sometimes I am able to connect to an experience that’s been presented to me and some other times I get stuck in my mind, thinking non-stop about anything other than what surrounds me. It’s pretty common for me to be in a place, aware of what’s going on, talk to people and not necessarily be there in spirit. My mind just wont stop. My thoughts can be related to what’s playing in front of me, but I just can’t help it: if the experience is not strong enough, my mind wanders around.

One thing that occurred to me a few years ago is that children seldom have this behaviour. If you look closely to a child, you’ll notice that they engage, connect and get into flow in much more experiences than grown-ups. They stare, pay attention to everything and smile to lots of things that really seem banal to adults. All that laugher and joy is so real and true that affects people around in a positive way.

I have not done research on what I’m going to write here, but it seems pretty logical that the younger you are, more are the things you have to discover and learn. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says that discovering and learning can be rewarding for their own sake and have the qualities to get someone in flow.

If you think of your last trip to a place you have never been before, or something you did for the first time even as an adult, high are the chances that you were in flow by the time you were doing it. When you play a video-game (for us that still play after all these years), each level is something new and you have to discover and learn your way to reach your goal.

That said, an experience that is unique, new and offers the chance of discovering and being surprised offer more chances to get someone in flow.

It is important to be aware that uniqueness and surprise can come in many ways. A website can be very usable, with traditional navigation, and bring surprise in it’s contents or in a new feature for example. A product can have the same features - or even less - and bring novelty. The iPhone was just like that. People awed when learning how to zoom in with your fingers on its screen. Why many adults behave like a child when using iPhone for the first time?!  :)

Finally, details. There’s a great feeling of discovery and surprise that can happen more than once when you are using a product, a website, watching a presentation, staring at a logo or at someone impeccably dressed: when you find the details. I do believe in the quote “Life is about details”. A well-designed detail can capture you out of your routine, bring delight and change the way you experience something. They are like salt and pepper for food. They give taste to the ordinary.

In my opinion we should always look for innovation and to bring novelty in our designs. We might not find exactly what we were looking for, but we still can use salt to give a little taste and improve the experience.

16 12.2008 • •

The new Macbook Pro is a step closer to a NUI (Natural User Interface)

I have just bought a new MacBook Pro - yes, self indulgence - and I feel obligated to post something about the new trackpad and it’s gestures. It’s indeed awesome. Not only because the finger runs more smoothly on the silky glass surface but mainly because every gesture is intuitive and natural.

I was in true awe when I first used the 4 fingers gestures. When you swipe up your 4 fingers is like you were pushing away the windows, and that’s exactly what it does. When you swipe down, is like bringing the windows closer to you, and that’s what it does in a sense that you’ll have them all in your hand.

This is elegant interface design.

PS: I’m still getting used to the looks of a black keyboard in the midst of the silver body. I know that it goes along with the new screen, but the fact is that black and silver is a bit “PC-ish”. Still, it’s the best looking black and silver notebook…

02 12.2008 • •

Adobe Max Review - Convergence and Immersion

Just after my recent vacations in october I went to Adobe Max in San Francisco. It was my first time in a conference focused on tools and I wasn’t expecting anything other than that. It even had some talks about UX and the “future of the web”, but naturally none of them was as inspiring as UXWeek 08 or Web 2.0 Expo 2007 (2008 wasn’t as good as the previous one). The keynote with Shantanu Narayen, President and CEO at Adobe, and Kevin Lynch, CTO, was really nice though.

Several things got my attention, but the whole experience of the Keynote made me perceive something bigger:

Flash is getting more powerful in many ways. It’s getting even better for animations and hotsites with visual impact but those boundaries are obsolete. It’s never been that good for making web 2.0 sites and apps that run in the cloud or content driven portals, but Adobe is changing that. Adobe Flash Catalyst and Adobe Flex Builder are going to play a big role in this paradigm shift.

What’s the catch? The line separating those two worlds is getting really dimmer. Experiences will mix everything up, just like they are supposed to be. Social Networks, Apps, huge masses of content and information will be increasingly able to be presented along with 3D, video and any other looks, ressembling video-game menus. Interfaces will be more natural and immersive. The multi-disciplinary teams will keep growing. The intersections between all sort of skills, knowledges and fields will grow bigger and bigger. To design a really immersive experience will be far more complex and exciting!

Adobe Max gave some evidence of how fast things are going to change. Be prepared.  ;)

02 12.2008 • •

How to design an experience that shapes emotions by directing the story of people’s lives

When you design an experience on the web or mobile, do you think your job is to organize visual elements in space and across different pages to convey cool features in a way people understand, use and find what they are looking for?

In my opinion, this is not enough. It sure works, and you can deliver a good experience, but to turn what’s good in something extraordinary you will rely on serendipity if you go this way.

Some would think I’m leaving usability aside. I would say usability is a must have, but it does not deliver “WOW”.

We all, in a minor or major level, got used and learned to live in a world of errors and mistakes. Inevitably we got tolerant, and sometimes we can even be surprised by the fact that something works well. Unfortunately, if the key benefit of what you are offering is “It works well”, it won’t last long. In fact, it will probably be perceived as a key benefit if you have nothing else to offer and neither does competition.

“WOW” comes from the heart. If you want to evoke it, you have to talk to people’s feelings.
Here is my “How-to” to design experiences that talk to the heart:

1. Internalize that each interaction round - a refresh of a new page or interface element for example - in your experience is a big chance people have to leave. People leave to another site, to another device, to the book on the table or to eat something. You have to be paranoid about not letting people get out of flow.

2. Understand Immersion and Flow. It is not a property of the system, nor a property of the subject being discussed. It is a state of mind. Flow is when time stops and you are one with the experience you are having. It is your goal to maintain the user in permanent flow. More on that here.

3. In order to produce flow you have to bring excitement, exceed expectations and deliver clear benefits in every single interaction round of the experience. Excitement is a peak and loses power in time. In order to maintain it high, it must be constantly pushed.

4. Be a movie director. Shape the way people feel in each round, in each minute. The interaction of a user with your system is like conveying a story through the big screen of the cinema. The good movies make the audience feel as if they were in the main character shoes instead of just showing that someone in the story feels like that.

5. Surprise with accurate timing. Just like a stand-up comedian tells stories in a way each word has a specific tone and an accurate timing in order to produce humor. Just like Seinfeld has the ability of surprising in almost every phrase he says, you must as well surprise the user in every interaction round.

You can think like that when designing a website, a keynote presentation, packaging or a corporate identity. You can also think like that in architecture, interior design or when putting up an event. It’s a design approach, not a solution to a specific problem.

If you take a close look at the experience of opening up an Apple package, every action you take to find what’s in the box surprises you. Either because the most insignificant pieces - like a cable - are made awesome or because it has something nice and somehow epic written showing up exactly after you take each piece out of the box.

Following these steps you will be directing the life experience of someone that connects to your service, product or brand. In that moment, you will be making people’s life better as well, for a life of engagement brings happiness to anyone.

03 10.2008 • •

Philippe Stark’s Faena, Adventure Games and Reality Experience Design

Jane McGonigal explains that games do a great job giving people the chance to live great experiences and alternate realities, and that real life does not keep up. “Reality is broken” according to her. She proposed that we, experience designers, should think about UX of reality and how to bring happiness to peoples lives. Let me tell you a story…

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit the Faena Hotel, designed by Philippe Stark, in Buenos Aires. It was great arriving there after the sunset, for the lighting design played a huge role in setting the mood of the experience I was about to have.

Right after passing the first outside door and some nicely dressed folks you walk through some plants filled with tiny red lights, like those used in xmas trees. It was like a red lit tunnel, 3 meters long, that took you to the main door, a big one that granted access to the inside.

When inside the ceiling goes way up, giving a sense of grandiosity. It’s a huge, dark, greyish corridor with portières and curtains on the walls. Spots with amber lights came from the floor iluminating them. In the middle, dividing the corridor in two, there was a huge line of benches that went all the way down to the end of the corridor. They had red lights coming from below that iluminated the floor all the way. It had this kind of misterious atmosphere.

When walking through the corridor you could notice doors on the sides. Each door led to a completely different room, with it’s own deco, lights, mood and personality. It was like a magical place, with warp zones that would take you to many sorts of experiences.

The door I was looking for was the entrance to El Bistro Restaurant. It was the one with the biggest contrast. The restaurant is white. Big time, shining white. Some few red and gold elements were combined. There were white unicorn heads coming out of the walls. The white leather sofas had golden feline paws as legs. It was not like anything I’ve seen before. It was not breaking rules. Instead, it had it’s own rules.

The food was also unique and had exquisite mixtures. The chef had some inspiration in Ferran Adrià. A truly unique experience.

What got me impressed is that the experience was so unique for me that I had myself paying attention in everything. I was not thinking about the past or about something I could do in the future. My mind was there, in the present. I was really engaged.

Looking back, I began to think how related to an adventure game or alternate virtual reality it was. It was a new place, created by someone that had put attention in EVERY detail. Everything was designed to make you feel a certain way. Everything had a purpose. A red lit tunnel made a transition from the real world to this new world. A misterious corridor led you to different “magical” places, each with different sensorial experiences. Better than a game, it played not only with visual and sounds but with other senses. The food taste was great and unique and smelled good. It got my mind in flow, engaged, just like a good game.

Of course there are many other things that could sum up to make the experience more game like, but this is, for me, UX of reality. This is how we bring more joy to reality, and make it more unique and worthwhile.

To be continued…

06 09.2008 • •

“Lorem Ipsum” allergy, the human brain and some misconceivements

There’s something I have as a motto:
People are allergic to text.

If it’s a paragraph, big are the chances that it won’t be even noticed. It’s the equivalent of “Undistinct chatter” appearing in a closed captioned movie. It’s noise. It’s semi-useless. Some exceptions apply (and that’s why you are reading this post…)

Let’s do a little experiment:

Pretend you are interested in buying a new digital camera. You’ve heard about the new Panasonic Lumix FZ28 and you’d like to read a review.
I want you, reader, to visit now, considering this scenario and motivation, to find the review.
Please do it! Seriously! Come back afterwards…

If you have tried to do so, think about what have you done, the elements you have interacted with in the interface.
Probably you have gone through one of these two ways:
- typed in the search box the name of the product and clicked on the result
- Clicked on “reviews” and then on a link to “Digital Cameras” to find your way to the product.

Now let’s see what you have NOT done. Go back to CNET’s home page.

- You have NOT seen all the other information that fills up 3 other scrolls and that cost a great deal of time and money to be published there.

Count the amount of text and images you have just ignored.

The point is: It is not the user’s mission in this world to read and consider everything you offer in a page. He will consider what is instantly perceived as being worthwhile, meaning VERY concise information that matches his interests or rings a bell.

Now comes the fun part. Why does it happen? Let me quote Harvard Psychologist Daniel Gilbert:

If we were designing a brain from scratch, we would probably design it so that it first identified objects in it’s environment and then figured out what to do. But human brains were not designed from scratch. Rather, their most critical functions were designed first, and their less critical functions were added on like bells and whistles as the millennia passed…” Running away from a threat, for example, is crucial to survival. That’s why the brain answers the question “What should I do?” before the “What is it?” question. That’s true, right? You just don’t wait to check exactly what is that scary thing coming in your way to decide if you need to run. “The moment we encounter an object, our brains instantly analyze just a few of it’s key features and then use the absence or presence of it’s key features to make one very fast and very simple decision: Is this object an important thing to which I ought to respond right now?

And that’s why we don’t read. A paragraph becomes instantly recognized as “lorem ipsum block”. It will only be read if it’s first considered worth of attention. This judgement is based on few key caracteristics: concise and straight-forward information.

That’s why the study of Gestalt and Cognitive Psychology is a key factor in a visual designer’s background.

27 08.2008 • •

Experience Design Manifesto

Being at UX Week 2008 was a great experience. It had more diversity and conceptual talks than other conferences related to the field of User Experience, that usually focus on methodologies, processes, etc.

What was great for me is that many of the things I dig were being discussed in a deep level of understanding by several fantastic professionals.

Well, It got me motivated. In my 14 hours flight back to Rio de Janeiro I started thinking about writing something that could sum up my perceptions and my points of view that just got inspired by the recent experience. So I wrote a tiny manifesto.

It’s right there on the side, or if you will, point your browser to:

It’s just a way of sharing some toughts.


22 08.2008 • •

Microsoft Office’s “Ribbon”, Word 1.0 Unleashed and Some Apple-ish Findings

Jensen Harris’ talk at UX Week was a great one. He cycled through all the releases of MS Word, since 1.0 to the latest version, in which MS introduced a new UI paradigm: the Ribbon.

Word 1.0 rocks!

I must say that was really amazed when MS Word 1.0 user interface showed up in the screen: it was impressively simple and straightforward! My first reaction was to wonder if I could buy a copy of that version! Maybe we could open a Vintage Software Online Store…

In the talk, Jensen made clear, in a humorous way, how MS failed to realize that the UI paradigm used for the initial releases couldn’t stand the huge amount of new features that were being offered in each new version of the software. Then he showed how they managed to break it and think out of the box.

In my humble opinion, they have also failed along the years to realize that many of those features were not that important and could be left aside.
It happens every day, in lots of companies (including mine): “The user might like this and that as well, so why don’t we give him options?…”

This is the start point for a featuritis plague.

Barry Schwartz, who wrote “The Paradox of Choice”, says that, as freedom of choice is supposed to be good, we assume that more choices empower the user, offer a better service and give freedom, but in fact that’s not true. When the amount of options increases up to a certain level, it can generate paralysis on the user’s mind. One gets afraid of selecting an option that is not the better one, and much more effort is needed to make a decision. Sometimes the user will just leave.

There’s a good quote I’ve heard at Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini’s Interaction Design Course (Nielsen/Norman’s Usability Week 05) that was something like “If it’s not completely necessary to the user, it’s noise”. This is true. I have made myself a big favor and sticked a post-it in my mind with that.

Well, Jensen told that it took over a year for MS to get it right… and they did. Based on new design tenents, the team made lots of prototypes to rest assured the final version would be “Beyond Good Enough”. Now that’s really good: prototyping, testing, prototyping, testing again… The results?

Top feedback:

1) Makes it easier to create professional looking docs
2) More fun to use
3) More enjoyable\fewer steps to get things accomplished
4) More intuitive
5) More easy to find and discover new functionalities

What I really enjoy seeing is that each and every bullet has a link to people’s feelings. Come with me:

1) I feel more powerful
2) I have fun
3) I enjoy getting the work done
4) I understand it. I don’t feel dumb
5) It surprises me

…and all of this can be found in the DNA of an Apple product. :)
Ok, I’m a big Apple fan, but come on, they’ve been around for a while thinking about people, human factors and conditions.

Well, definetely not only Microsoft but lots of other companies are moving beyond feature-driven products to experience-driven products and services. It’s easier when you live to see that iPod got a huge market share offering no new technology, but simplicity and aesthetics that talk to the heart and a seamless experience that goes way beyond the device itself.

18 08.2008 • •

Don Norman’s Keynote and Storytelling with Kevin Brooks at UX Week 2008

Awesome talk. Don Norman starts pointing that we should refer to “People” instead of “User”, even though he’s the one who coined the term User Experience long time ago.

“We design for people, not for users!”

The great thing in being here watching Don talk is that I am a firm believer of everything he says (and a huge fan). I mean, we usually care about how people will think about our product, but in fact, we should care about how will people feel about using it. We are talking about emotions here, and how do people take those emotions into their lives.

One key statement on the presentation that goes with it is that a positive experience is based on memory, not on reality. So he took the iPhone example, it really lacks some important features (even more on the first version), but what you take of it is a good memory, hence a good experience.

So shouldn’t we start thinking about how can we print good feelings in our audiences mind? Uniqueness should be a key factor in my opinion. If you develop something unique or even dress up something in a unique manner, it feels to me it’s more likely to be remembered.

In the Storytelling workshop with Kevin Brooks, he told us that we need to craft our audience. One of the key points Kevin made was about Imagery, how we should use images when telling stories to bring the experience to be more sensorial. That words don’t count, images do. When you tell a story, people are not building plots, they’re building images. Images make stories more vivid in the head of the audience. So we all should be “Imagetellers” instead.

If that is true, shouldn’t we try to think about more visual interfaces, with very simple animations just to tell a story (being very careful on this one) or how to get the interface to be more sensorial? It seems to me that if we do that, the product will stick to memory with ease and people can build up images from that.

One other key point in Kevin’s speech is that the storyteller has to connect with passion if he wants to have the audience.

If we bring back from april’s MX Conference the talk from Chip Heath, author of “Made to Stick”, we’ll remember that ideas that stick have the following:

- Simplicity
- Uniqueness
- Credible
- Concreteness
- Emotional
- Story

Look how it converges:
- The imagery Kevin told us about brings Concreteness and addresses the sensorial side, thus the Emotional;
- When you connect to passion, your story gets credible. People see it;
- We are conveying ideas as stories here, so check the Story bullet;
- Uniqueness comes from Don Norman’s speech in my opinion, as I have already stated;
- Simplicity. Well, I’ve heard from all of them, read lots of times and have my own personal flag waving to my team and colleagues;

Now let’s put this whole post in a blender. Check how we always relate to emotional states or in the end, that’s what counts.

So I think all of us, UX designers, should give priority in understanding psychology and how to connect with people, instead of going freestyle or just following the products and technology that found their place in the sun.

13 08.2008 • •

UX Week 2008 SF - Cobertura completa da semana de User Experience

Começa nesta próxima semana a UX Week 2008, em São Francisco. O Keynote de abertura é com Don Norman do Nielsen Norman Group, um dos gurus de user experience nos dias de hoje.

“UX Week is the premier user experience conference, and in 2008 we consider what it takes to create great products and services in an uncertain world. With a mix of inspiring talks from recognized thought leaders and hands-on workshops delivering takeaway skills, this event delivers for user experience professionals at all levels — directors, managers, and practitioners.”

Estaremos lá eu, Marcio Tristão e Nigri. A cobertura do evento você encontra aqui e no blog do Tristão.

07 08.2008 • •

Hello world!

Thank you for stopping by! Take a nice cup of coffee and enjoy the reading (or at least I hope so). I have planned to share most of my thoughts on visual and interaction design in english. This way folks living abroad will be able to read my posts and brazilian folks won’t have any problem either. A dash of brazilian portuguese might come to life every so often, for I can’t help it.

I apologize in advance for any future errors in written english. Feel free to comment it and help me improve.

Obrigado pela visita! Pegue uma boa xicara de café e aproveite a leitura (ao menos é o que eu espero). A maior parte de meus pensamentos em design visual e de interação serão compartilhados em inglês. Assim, a galera morando fora poderá ler meus posts e brasileiros também não terão problemas. Vez ou outra um punhado de português do Brasil vai, inevitavelmente, ganhar vida entre meus posts.

07 08.2008 • •
my.friends visit