Back from a blog vacation

December 7, 2009

It’s been long, real long – a blog vacation for close to an year is not good, but there wasn’t much I could do. I was however pretty active over on Twitter – my handle is @vinodhn and reasonably active on Facebook.

So what was I upto this year ? Well I was on a learning overdrive, I helped a great team bootstrap a product, complete web based product built from scratch, and took it all the way from the PRD to SEO , Marketing and PR.

So yes, the past year has been interesting, did some awesome work and met many a smart people. Learnt insights into the Indian product startup space and learnt and tackled challenges that startups face to get a product market ready.

I hope to share more detailed insights on this journey over the past year with all of you on this blog.

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Security vs. Usability

September 23, 2008

I have been using my ICICI bank credit card for over thryears now. I encountered this weird error this morning while paying my bills on visabillpay. (Click image for a larger view)

ICICI credit card error

Alright let me set context.

This is a page which ICICI bank brought up while doing a credit card transaction on Visabillpay. This page asks me to register my credit card online with ICICI bank using a Internet banking pin number.

So I have seen this page multiple times on this site but always opted out as I don’t have my interent banking pin number. So today I did the same thing and opted out of registration by clicking on the “No, thanks Don’t activate my card now” link, but this is the message I got.

“You have exceeded the number of opt-outs for this card. If you decide to opt-out even now then bank will decline your transaction.”

I was astounded. I had no clue of what was happening. The bank never told me that I had a fixed number of opt-outs from registration. Now I can’t pay my electricity and water bills.

Here’s how this scenario could have been handled using better product design

  • ICICI bank should have told users the number of opt-outs they have. This could have been in the form of a counter which is very prominent on every registration request screen.
  • Educating the user about the advantages of registering their credit card. In fact ICICI bank is mandating this for higher security and to prevent online credit card fraud. Educate your users by telling them the benefits of doing a particular action and then lead them to this action.
  • Forgive your users which they don’t do something that’s needed, after all they are users!
  • Send users warning alerts as their opt-outs are nearing to zero. ICICI bank has my email address and my mobile number.
  • Get customer care to call users.

Forgive, educate and lead to action – simple but powerful.

What do you think ? What you faced this issue ?

Found this very interesting picture which I think explains user experience and the various elements involved in it in a powerful way.

Image courtesy

What do yout think ? Do all these apply to shaping web user experiences too ? Are there other factors ?

What’s your design ?

March 25, 2008

Do you think simplicity is the be all and end all of design ? Is it the panacea that we are all looking for ?

Quite a profound pic that has been floating around on the web.

Steve Job’s take on “What is design ? ”

In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product.

PS: Emphasis mine 🙂

As envisioned by Donald Norman and inspired by his book “The invisible computer“.
The following skills are required for building the best user experience into a product (could be any product from hi-tech to manufacturing)

  1. Field studies – Observing potiential users doing their tasks in their normal settings. Skills require careful and systematic observation and usually come from the fields of anthropology and sociology.
  2. Behavioral designers – People who create a cohesive model for the product based on a detailed task analysis of the users. They mesh the task requirements with the skills and capabilities of the intended users and this model becomes the basis for engineering design.
    Skills required for this come from the cognitive science and experimental psychology.
  3. Model builders – People who rapidly build prototypes and product mock-ups that can be tested even before the real technology is ready. Skills for this usually come from people with a designing and programming background (information architects) and architecture and industrial design.
  4. User testers – These people are usually involved in performing usability and feasibility studies. Through rapid user-testing studies , they enable to iterate through designs in order to meet the real needs of the users. Skills for this come from experimental psychology.
  5. Graphical and industrial designers – At this stage, the aesthetics of the product are brought in through people who have experience in graphical and industrial design, and the “joy” and “pleasure” of using the product come into picture. Not only must the product designed merge the conceptual model and behavioral aspects but it must also meet varoius requirements of technology. These skills are usually brought in by people from schools of art, design and architecture.
  6. Technical writers – The goal of these people should be to show the technologists how to build things that do not require manuals. However in the real world scenario, they are usually brought in after the product is built and are asked to write usage manuals. The technical writers should be able to understand the audience, what the intended users require of the product and how they can go about getting their tasks done through the product. The technical writers should be an integral part of the development team, so that the product is built so well that no instruction manual will be required.

So here’s the deal, in a typical technology product, there is no luxury of time to go about doing all the above mentioned steps and in many cases some of the steps can’t be executed because the target audience characteristic is too far and wide.

What do you think is the best model that can work for a typical web based application scenario in order to make sure that the real needs of the user are met ?

Yahoo released their new version of the popular Y! messenger with an exclusive version built for Vista on WPF. This is currently only for preview. The UX is brilliant, and this app brings more of a human touch to conversations with smooth transitions and the likes.

The app however does not run on XP even if you have .NET 3.0 and the other jazz. But this looks and feels so much like a native Vista app, including the richness and the transparencies. This new version also provides a good deal of customization, with the usual laundry list of features. These two features were extremely useful

  • The Vista gadget which comes along with this IM is very useful and enables you to drag and drop your favorite contacts on to your sidebar so that you can ping them from there itself.

  • Being able to switch between different people that I’m chatting with in a single window.

Multi Window Y! IM

But the bigger question is, ‘What do you think provides more value’ – a quick and dirty IM chat client like Gtalk (also built into your gmail) or an app like this which provides a great UX.

Interesting, isn’t it ?

Laptops designed by 7 yr olds

More available here.

Picture courtesy : The morning news