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.
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.
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…
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.