Patrick Chamberlin recently forwarded a link to an excellent article on user experience, as it relates to product design, by Peter Merholtz on core77.com.
We in the UE world debate this kind of stuff all of time (and boy does time fly). Our standard mantra of ‘Put the user first’ is basically short-hand for ‘Understand the user’s context, his or her goals and ambitions and then distill this understanding into an experience strategy that can in turn be used as a yardstick for design’. Merholtz quotes Jesse James Garrett as saying that experience strategy is “a star to sail your ship by.”
Reading this article also got me thinking about a press advert I saw recently advertising Electrolux’s ‘Time manager’ washing machine.
I was drawn to it by the headline:
“We were thinking, you should set the time your machine wash takes, not the machine.”
Intrigued I read on:
“The new ‘Time Manager’ Washing Machine lets you decide how much time you have by setting the length of the wash cycle to the minute”
“Great!” I thought, “consumer electronics comes of age and puts the user back ‘in control'”. But then I started a thinkin’…what problem does this functionality actually address?
What does it matter how long my wash takes? The issue is not clearly stated. Does the functionality allow me to increase or decrease the time, or both? Just what is the advantage to me as someone with clothes that need washing?
And there is a second issue – just how does the technology deliver on the promise? If I can set a short time for the wash how short is too short? Presumably there is a minimum amount of time required for sufficient stain removal to take place? Likewise, I presume there must be a maximum length of time my clothes can endure being washed before they disintegrate? The URL at the bottom of the ad takes you to Electrolux’s UK homepage, but the details of the machine being advertised are buried deep within the site. If and when you do find the information on the site (It’s here if you want it) nothing more is explained. It’s not looking good.
The communication fails to clearly state the experience strategy. A clearly beneficial experience would sell itself (see the examples cited by Merholtz.) Its absence in the advertising leads me to believe that the strategy was not clearly defined in the first place i.e. when the product was being designed, which makes me dubious that it will be of any benefit to me at all.
Of course, I can’t be sure, for all I know Electrolux may have a discovered the answer to life the universe and everything with this washing machine. But I not convinced.
There is a whole other post about how consumer electronics companies are biased when developing user experience strategy by their reliance on the need to sell technological solutions. Let’s face it, the most obvious way to free up people’s time with regard to household chores is to completely shift the paradigm back to the days of yore when people employeed the services of others to make sure their washing got done (a subject Ruth Schwartz Cowan dealt with brilliantly in her book More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave)
But I’ll save that for another day. I’ve got to go and do the washing.