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Archive for December, 2009

The Circle of Google and User Experience

December 14th, 2009 127 comments

Google has evolved beyond a single web application. Google has capitalized on establishing a consistent user experience across the web. One of the key factors to Google’s success, besides their dedication to innovative solutions, is found in their application workflows.  Recently I clicked through the links in the top left corner of every major Google web app and was surprised to find “The Circle of Google”.

I don’t know if Google planned their application workflow this way, but the apps are cyclical. This circle is broken into two primary groups: Search and GTD. These two groups are the focus of the “Google Experience”.

The Circle of Google
[Search]

The Circle of Google
[Getting Things Done]

This is a key element of design that is often missed; design a user experience.

Apple learned this early on with the first iPod. They created a user experience which they then applied to iLife, and finally to their entire OS X workflow. Apple realized that they could not focus on an individual application or a piece of hardware. It became increasingly important to address the user experience and how the applications work together.

Too much emphasis is placed on individual aspects of a program, not enough time is spent on the transitions between them. To often we forget that:

User experience design is just as important as user interface design.

These services are cleverly designed to work with each other, giving the user [you] a unified experience. Lets look at the “Circle of Google”:

The Circle of Google

Taking this diagram one step further, I think there is something we can learn from how the “Google Experience” is structured. Consider this second diagram illustrating how the circle is cross connected.

The Circle of Google Connections

Google Web Search and Gmail are the primary entry points for “The Circle of Google”. They are the bridge applications between Search and GTD.

Search

First, the things Google did well. You’ll notice that Google Web Search is strongly connected to the other search applications. Google Web Search is smart enough to return results from web sites, images, maps, news, or shopping–depending on your search criteria. This is a great lesson in usability, and one of the primary reasons why these applications are used. Google does the work for you. Google doesn’t make you retype your query or prompt you to “Click Here to check for shopping results”. If you search for “sony tv” in Google Web Search it will return both web sites and shopping results. To the users, these apps feel as one; they contribute to the “Google Experience”.

GTD

Now the things Google did not do well, or rather the areas in which Google can improve. Gmail is a great web app, I use it every day, but its integration with the other GTD apps is not as strong as Google Web Search. For example, if someone emails me an event, Gmail is smart enough to give me links to put that event in my Calendar. The same thing is true for Google Docs. If someone emails me an attachment I can choose to download it or open it in Google Docs. However, there is not a connection to PicasaWeb (Google Photos) or Google Reader.

To improve this workflow Google should do two things. First, if someone emails me a photo Gmail should give me the option to open it in PicasaWeb. Second, If someone sends me an email with a link, and that web page contains an RSS feed, Gmail should show me a preview of that feed and “Add to Google Reader” buttons.

They are simple workflow changes, but these changes would solidify Gmail as an entry point to the GTD side of Google.

So you should ask yourself,

  • Are you giving your users an experience?
  • Is it the experience you intended?
  • Are your users going to talk about the experience?

I often hear the question asked, “How can I make my product go viral?”

The answer is frustrating but simple.  Social media works because people talk; it’s social.  If you want your product to work in a social marketing environment your product must be remarkable.  By remarkable I don’t mean the buzzword; I mean your product must be “worthy of being remarked or noticed”.

If your product is good, people will talk about it. Make it good by providing a user experience worthy of talking about.

Piece-of-Junk Innovation

December 3rd, 2009 124 comments

The trick with innovation is coming up with something “new”. We have a tendency to iterate what we know; iteration is not innovation.

There are a few companies who do this very well; Apple and Google typically come to mind. But I think there is an overlooked simplicity to the success of new products from these companies. Some people call it the “wow factor”, but it is a little more than that. These companies have a reputation of creating NEW categories of business.

When asked why, in these economic times, Apple has continued to focus on the “premium” computer market instead of creating the infamous netbook, they responded:

For us it’s about doing great products. When I’m looking at what’s sold in the Netbook market, I see cramped keyboards, junky hardware, very small screen, bad software. Not a consumer experience that we would put the Mac brand on. As it exists today, we’re not interested in nor would it be something customers would be interested in the long term. We are looking at the space. For those who want a small computer that does browsing/email, they might want an iPhone or iPod Touch. If we find a way to deliver an innovative product that really makes a contribution, we’ll do that. We have some interesting ideas.

So what does that mean?

Apple could easily iterate their product models to fit the market of netbooks. They could simply strip down their low-end laptops to make them cheaper and competitive in this market while still maintaining their profit margins. But they refuse to, as Steve Jobs said in a special appearance on an earnings report call back in October:

“We don’t know how to build a sub-$500 computer that is not a piece of junk.”

When Apple does enter the netbook market, you can bet they will redefine it. Instead of rushing into the market, Apple is spending a great deal of time and money researching a way to do the market right; figuring out how to avoid a piece of junk.

If history is any indication (iPod, iTunes, iPhone, App Store, etc) this investment of time and money in the beginning will greatly pay off the in the long run.

The Take-Away

There is a simple litmus-test you can use on new products and processes. I don’t mean to oversimplify the matter, but if you, your engineers, your competitors, or your customers utter these phrases during your product release chances are you are not “iterating” an old process:

  1. How did they do that?
  2. Why didn’t I think of that?

As innovators, we are in the business of “shock-and-awe”. We must never take for granted the consumer experience or return customers. Every product should be as amazing and inspiring as its predecessor.

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