For All Your _____ Needs!

I was on my way home from the airport the other night and heard an ad on the radio for a trampoline center here in the Capitol City. It was a typical, amateurish, poorly written and produced ad, but there was nothing noteworthy… until the end. The last line of the ad was “For all your jumping needs.” Funny, I didn’t realize I had ANY jumping needs, let alone enough to be described as “all”.  It made me smile.

I smiled because it reminded me of when I was a young man working as a rungodo for a rock radio station in Birmingham.  Rungodos were different than gofers in a very specific way. Gofers are told “Gofer some coffee,” or “Gofer some lunch,” where rungodos are told “Rungodo the set up for the remote tonight,” or “Rungodo the overnight on air shift,” or “Rungodo the copy writing for our new client’s commercial.”

Anyway, in my capacity at the station, I was often asked to help in the ad production process or go to an agency, production house, or client location to pick up ads. This involved getting the ad, reviewing the ad for time and content, and passing the ad on to internal traffic and production for placement on the air. My favorite tagline became “For all your ____ needs” and it was used almost exclusively by businesses who insisted on doing their own writing and production.

There were the mom and pop cellular stores with “For all your cellular phone needs,” and the quick lube and tune places with “For all your automotive needs,” and the local electronics stores with “For all your car audio needs” or “For all your home electronics needs” or “For all your personal computing needs.”

To make matters even more entertaining, the business owner often decided he or she should be the voiceover talent, as well. Now, this was not always entirely his or her fault; sometimes sales people would use flattery and the power of an ego to sell advertising schedules by saying things like “Wow, you have a great voice, you should totally do your own ads. And also, this will cost you less.”

It’s just bad. Every once in a while an ad will come along that is so over-the-top bad and amateurish that it gains sort of a cult following – like these guys. But those are rare, and unintentional. You shouldn’t plan for it.

Look, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If whatever you do for a living is NOT some type of creative communication, you should stick with what it is you DO for a living. Pay a professional to help you communicate with your customers. It will pay off in the long run.

Restaurant Websites and Menus

Usability is a term that must be absolutely foreign to most restaurateurs. I’m so often amazed, although I really should be inured to it by now, at the terrible websites and menus many restaurants offer their patrons and potential patrons. To illustrate, let’s talk about what most people want and need, first from a restaurant website, and second from a menu.

When the typical customer visits a restaurant’s website, she’s looking for four main things:

  1. Menu
  2. Hours of operation
  3. Location(s)
  4. Phone number

Now, there are probably a few extra pieces of information that might also come in handy, things like:

  • Do they require or even take reservations?
  • Do they accommodate kids?
  • Do they have private dining rooms?
  • Do they cater special events?
  • Do they serve alcohol? And if not, do they offer a corkage service?

But the first four are the ones everyone wants. So what do we actually get when we visit a restaurant’s website?

A beautiful “hero” image that takes up the entire width and the top third of the page. It could be an image of the building, a stock image of a chef cooking something, some kind of landscape, a stock image of some food, maybe even a custom shot of something the restaurant serves, or a stock image of a smiling couple clinking their wine glasses. This image will have a text overlay in some kind of fancy script either with the name of the restaurant, or with some prosaic nonsense about romantic dining.

The navigation for the website will have items like “Locally Sourced”, “4 Star Staff”, “Reviews”, “Historic Architecture”, “State of the Art Kitchen”, blah, blah, blah, but will be missing the very 4 things the patron is looking for. However, after some trial and error, the patron might find a PDF of the menu under “Locally Sourced.” Of course, the link for it will be at the very bottom of a lengthy page describing the relationship the restaurant has with a family farm in the Poconos where they get all their free-range pork, and wild-grown dandelions. After the patron downloads the menu, she will discover that it’s two years old, but very nice.

You know what else is missing from the menu? A phone number. There’s probably a link to an email address that gets checked once a week. You’ll have to look up the phone number in the directory. And really, all the patron wanted to do is look up a menu, share it with her friend(s) and call to reserve a table in the next week. Why should that be so difficult?

So our intrepid diner found all the information she needed and successfully made a reservation. Now she and her party have arrived at the restaurant on the appointed night, and are escorted to their table. The waiter distributes the menus, then takes his leave to bring water and bread for the table.

The menu is an interesting item. This being a fine-dining establishment, the lights are dim; it adds to the ambience. However, it makes it difficult to see, and especially to read. But fear not! The restaurant has taken that into account by having their menus printed in a light gray text on an ecru background with a nine-point, script font face. That should do the trick!

The patron has now leaned over the table, so she can get the menu close enough to the candle to see there is actually text on the page, and she’s pulled her reading glasses out of her purse to assist in the effort and what does she see? Descriptions like this:

“Locally sourced, grass-fed, wild-roaming, free-range fillet of cullotte pork, pan roasted on a bed of whole-grain, jasmine quinoa pilaf with andorran curry of carrots and haricots vert.”

Our patron chooses this item. When her friend asks “What are you having?”, she responds “The roast pork.” But her friend looks for that and can’t find it. Why? Because it doesn’t say “Roast Pork” anywhere on the menu. But that’s what it is. So why not call it “Roast Pork” and follow that with a nice description?

Here’s the thing – this is not rocket science. It’s EASY to develop a website your customers can navigate and understand. It’s EASY to create a menu that’s easy to read and imparts the information efficiently. And just because you’ve made it easy doesn’t mean it has to be unattractive. For instance, I’ve always been impressed with the website for “Restaurant Nora”. They have all the extra, unnecessary garbage, but it comes LAST, after they’ve provided all the crucial information. The navigation is super simple, and the menu is black on white, in a plain font face, with easy to understand descriptions of the food.

Like I said, this isn’t hard. But if you run a restaurant, you are a restaurateur. Or maybe a chef. But you’re probably not a plain language specialist or a usability expert. Hire one to help you with your website and menu. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Pay a professional to help you communicate with your customers; it will pay off in the long run.

When the Infrared Hits Your Eye Like a Big Pizza Pie…

Tobii and Pizza Hut have just teamed up to bring you the “Pizza Hut Subconscious Menu.” Now let me be clear and tell you I’m a huge fan of both Pizza Hut and Tobii eye tracking technology. But I think this project is really only good for one thing – generating a little buzz for Pizza Hut, and a little buzz for Tobii.

I just finished working on a huge eye tracking project, featuring the Tobii Mobile Eye-Tracking unit and the X2-60 Eye Tracker. The X2-60, when mounted on a PC monitor, worked almost flawlessly. As expected, it provided us with interesting, unanticipated, rich data to help us figure out what it is we’re trying to figure out. (Sorry, I’m not at liberty to disclose the details of the project.) And it worked with most of the users, regardless of age, race, physical characteristics, and the use of glasses.

Then we conducted tests on the Mobile Eye Tracker. Essentially, what the mobile unit does, is take the X2-60, and puts it into a contraption that makes it possible to mount a cell phone or tablet and get some eye tracking results. And sometimes it works. We had problems with glasses; obviously bifocals are right out, but even monofocal and reading glasses proved problematic. We had problems tracking some people with very light colored eyes; not sure why. Overweight people had problems if they carried enough of their weight in their faces to give them overly chubby cheeks. People with heavy bags under their eyes didn’t track well. Add to this that the software, unlike for the PC, doesn’t actually run through the phone – you’re just taking a video of the environment and triangulating based on a not-quite-exact configuration and calibration. There is a variety of settings you can use, including different mounts that will put the phone at different angles, or closer to or farther from the camera. But once you’ve decided which setting and configuration works best for your study, you have to stick with it so you can compare the results from different users. That means that if a different setting would work better for a different user, you are stuck. Once we got the unit calibrated, the participant had to remain very still as any slight shift in angle changed the dynamic and tainted the data. Similarly, if they subconsciously put their hands in their laps, they risked completely blocking the tracker. This added pressure to the moderator and the participants and led to less natural behavior.

This is not to say the project was a failure – it was not. We got great data – even using the mobile unit. I’m still a fan of Tobii. What I’m saying is that the mobile configuration is VERY temperamental and subject to fail at the slightest change in the environment. And that’s where we come to the Pizza Hut project. This will be done on mobile devices, with people of all different sizes, ages, and races, with all manner of physical characteristics (height, weight, eye color), and some will have glasses, some might have eye injuries, some just might not track well. They won’t be sitting still for a calibration session before they try to order. They’ll be looking at the device at different angles, they’ll sometimes be holding it in their hands. They might have their hands in front of the sensor. Some will look at it in the daytime, next to a window, with bright sunshine. Still others will use it at night, in a dimly lit restaurant.

It’s a great idea, but unless Tobii has new technology (entirely possible – and I’d LOVE TO SEE IT!) then I don’t expect this promotion to have any legs. It will generate buzz for both entities and give them a little free promotion (like from me), but don’t expect it to work very well, and don’t expect it to actually read your mind. Still, I’m looking forward to giving it a try. I’ll update you as soon as I do.

(For a humorous critique of the new Pizza Hut / Tobii collaboration, check outStephen Colbert’s review)

Great Checklist for UX Designers and Managers

In doing our research, we often encounter designs that look good and, at first glance, seem to address UX needs just fine. But as we get into the testing we uncover unforeseen or just unexpected difficulties that could have, or even should have been addressed before the design go the go ahead. This can be anything from colors not contrasting enough, to navigation items labeled wrong, to text being just too small to read.

Here’s a great checklist from the guys at MYPLANET to help you through all those questions.

IxD UX Checklist

Good Reading for Researchers of Any Stripe

You might have noticed we haven’t posted anything in a couple of weeks. In addition to being really busy (a good thing), our main blog writer has also taken a short vacation in that time (also a good thing). As he gets back to work writing the pithy musings you’ve come to expect, we’re going to give you a couple of reading assignments.

When we think about usability and plain language, a couple of names come to mind – Jakob Nielsen, Ginny Redish, Joseph Dumas, and Donald Norman among them. However, I think it’s important to know (remember?) that we can get tremendous insights from other types of research as well. Along those lines, I’ve recent read a few books that I think every researcher in every field should read, just for a different approach, a different perspective, and maybe some interesting anecdotes about other things that affect the way people behave.

Here are my recommendations for the week:

Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics by Levitt and Dubner
Sway by Ori and Rom Brafman
Why We Make Mistakes by Hallinan
The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers by Gladwell

And one more, just for good measure, our esteemed president has just released his first book –

Hang Up Your Phone!! A Tongue In Cheek Guide To Being Polite In The 21st Century – by John Goodwyn

Speak clearly and you won’t need a stick at all!

So they’re we were. Looking, over their, at the mountains too our left, when, out of the blew, there colors changed two a bright orange, leaving us breathless and to excited too leave. So, your wondering why you wasted you’re time, reading, this terrible, blog with awful punctuation and spelling.

Okay, enough of that falderal. Look, I’m okay with some of the abbreviations we use in this modern world of texting and tweeting. But let’s at least try to spell our whole words correctly. The meaning can change drastically when we put commas and apostrophes in the wrong place and when we misspell words, or use correctly spelled but incorrectly used homophones. Like your and you’re, there, their and they’re, and two, to and too. Consider these two, dramatically different sentences:

“Let’s eat, Grandma.”

“Let’s eat Grandma.”

See the difference? You don’t really want to eat Grandma do you?

I know we all remember our grammar classes in school when our teachers would drone on about participles and gerunds and infinitives and prepositions, etc., etc. But it doesn’t have to be that complex. If we all learn a few simple rules, we’ll understand each other better and will all be better off. For an easy-to-read book that provides clear examples of when to use commas and apostrophes and offers some easy tips on how to understand why it is the way it is, you should pick up Lynne Truss’s book “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”. It’s also quite amusing. Another good read is Bill Bryson’s “The Mother Tongue”, if you’re interested on just how arbitrary some of our grammar rules are.

And while we’re at it; can we all, please, stop trying to be fancy with our language and just say what we mean? If a big word is required and it makes the meaning clearer and more efficient, that is fine. There’s nothing wrong with a strong vocabulary. But sometimes we don’t need fancy words or verbal gymnastics. “Due to the fact that…” What’s wrong with “Because”? “Utilize…” How about “Use”? And I recommend visiting Brian Clark’s blog, posted on the copyblogger site at, titled “The Inigo Montoya guide to 27 Commonly Misused Words”. And try this one out for a list of oft misused and misspelled words:

Be clear, correct and concise, people. It doesn’t have to be that difficult.

A Piece From The Usability Geek

User Experience is often ignored as an unnecessary luxury that just costs money. Those developing new websites (or any product for that matter) are thinking in boxes. “I have a website to develop and I have X budget” is the thought, with no thought toward how much a good experience will increase revenue, or worse, how a bad experience might decrease revenue over time.

Today I’m sharing a post by Suraj Kumar over at The Usability Geek with his list of 10 Characteristics of a Bad User Experience.

Give Your Customer Some Easy Wins

Now that you’ve completed your customer’s usability test, and performed all the analysis and found all the problems, it’s time to let your customer know what to fix. This part is a lot harder than it seems like it ought to be. You feel like you have enough to give your customer a 50 page treatise on why to fix everything they need to fix. Go ahead and write that paper; and then file it for future reference.

What you want to accomplish from all the work you’ve done is to actually affect some positive changes in your customer’s website. If you provide a list of 50 items they need to fix, they’ll have no idea where to start and will be overwhelmed at both the scope, and the potential cost. Aside from that, you’ll leave your customer feeling demoralized and deflated over what they may have believed was a quality product.

Use the following tips for providing good, useful feedback to your customer:

  • Start with the positives – make sure to introduce your recommendations by describing the things that worked well.
  • Provide some easy wins – give your customer two or three items to fix that are easy and conspicuous.
  • Limit the big fixes to the really important ones – make sure the complex fixes are manageable in number; you can always go back later to retest and provide additional recommendations. Also remember, these big fixes may have a ripple effect that cause other things to work better. Every customer is different, but I try to limit this to 5 issues, in most cases.
  • Finish with the positives – reiterate what you started with. Make sure to remind your customer of all the things that worked well, as motivation to bring the rest of the items into the positive fold.

Remember, you’re not here to criticize your customer, you’re here to help them improve their website. The balance between positive and negative reinforcement is a delicate one, so make sure to keep you recommendations motivational.

Fun UX/UI Article

We’ve been really busy around the oil derrick lately and have neglected our own site. For that we apologize and we thank you for checking back in.

As a treat, we’d like to share FastCo’s post about what UX/UI designers can learn from Wes Anderson. Maybe next week they’ll tell us what we can learn from Wes Craven.

Five Things UX / UI Designers Can Learn from Wes Anderson