What you’ll like for dinner

Or: How persuasive design saved my lunch

While I was on route to Amsterdam for IXDA14, something struck me about the way the dinner options were presented to passengers. Here’s what was happening. The flight attendant delivered the menu in the same way to each row:

“Would you like barbeque chicken, beef strip, or vegetarian?”

I’ve been a vegetarian for twenty years now, and I’m a little sensitive to these moments. At first, my identity hackles were raised. “Hey!” I thought, “Why wouldn’t it be ‘Chicken, beef, and spicy red-beans-and-rice?’ We eat food, not a category of food! Those options should be presented as equals because we’re equals…Blah blah blah…ramble ramble…”

Fortunately, as is my habit, I caught myself mid rant, and tried to consider what was good about it. And sure enough, on reflection it’s the exact right way to present these options. Cooper’s been paying more attention to persuasive design of late, so let me explain, because that’s exactly what’s going on. The flight attendants are using choice architecture to keep vegetarians fed.

You see, one of the problems that vegetarians encounter when eating buffet-style with omnivores is that when there is a veggie option present, if it’s too good, there’s a risk that the omnivores will eat all the veggie stuff before we get to the front of the line, leaving us poor suckers with empty plates and sad-trombone bellies.

If the attendant presented “chicken, beef, and spicy red-beans-and-rice,” that’s exactly what’s at risk. An omnivore hearing that might think, “Hey, I’m a huge fan of spicy red beans and rice! Cajun spice is awesome. Bam! Let’s kick it up a notch!”

But when hearing a menu consisting of two easy-to-visualize options and the category of “vegetarian,” omnivores are more likely to be turned off by that third option. “Vegetarian? Screw that. I’m not a vegetarian. I like my meat heaping and with a side of meat. Meat me up, attendant, with the finest, meatiest meatings you have!” They’re less likely to ask after the actual contents of the vegetarian option, as they’re busy thinking about whether they’d like chicken or beef.

Meanwhile the vegetarians (even if their delicate identities are a bit bruised) are relieved when they hear that their needs have been considered. The unlucky ones in the very back of the plane (who failed to arrange a special meal in advance) might even get to eat.

descriptive option categorical option
omnivores Might choose :) Less likely to choose, still :)
vegetarians Less to eat :( More to eat :)

It’s not foolproof, of course, but I’ll bet if we could do a plane-by-plane comparison of “vegetarian” vs. “red beans and rice”, the categorical option would result in much more of everyone being happy. And that’s one of the powers of well-done choice architecture.

Cooper U On The Road

Are your products failing to resonate with users? Too many features creating bloat? Many of today’s products are driven by spreadsheets, technology constraints, and feature lists. They leave frustrated customers wanting more.

We believe a better approach to design focuses on the human needs first and technology second.

In Cooper’s Interaction Design training, we can help you envision, plan, and build products and services that are financially viable, technically feasible, and that your customers will love.

Beginning this December, Cooper is bringing our experience-based, hands-on training to sites around the world.

Where will we be going?

December 3-6 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

May 2014 in Berlin, Germany (If you want to be the first to know when we announce the dates, add you name here)

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Road Trip: Cooper U’s Interaction Design Training Heads East!

In service of spreading design awareness and education, Cooper U is bringing its foundational training in Interaction Design to Philadelphia on December 3-6 to cap off a great 2013. Throughout the year we’ve received many requests from our design peers to bring our training east, so when we had the opportunity to add another class to the schedule, we thought Philadelphia would be the perfect location.

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Cooper U Rio Style

Kendra Shimmell, Tamara Wayland and I recently enjoyed some Spring weather in beautiful Rio de Janeiro while sharing methods for interaction design, collaboration, and communication in an agile environment with forty employees of Globo.com, the Internet branch for Latin America’s largest media conglomerate.

The team knew that Rio would be warm this time of year, but what really amazed us was the warmth and hospitality of the people we met. Andrë Braz, Globo.com’s User Experience Design Manager and Art Director, and his team were engaged and inquisitive, and really hungry for ways to take their already successful site to the next level of efficiency and innovation.

During the course we talked about how to effectively integrate user experience design into an agile environment, and shared techniques for collaboration and communication that are lightweight to create but provide big impact. The Cooper team showed Globo.com a blueprint for defining and designing digital products and services that centers on users, but within the context of business needs and implementation realities.

Here are a few snapshots from class:
Participants quickly grasped the value of focusing on goals and behavior patterns when developing personas.

A cross-functional team works together to storyboard the key contexts and moments in time that their primary persona will interact with the product they are designing.

A student sketches design concepts for the mobile experience.

The enthusiasm carried over into the final day of the week, during which we were joined by close to 80 Globo designers, developers, product managers, and executives. We can’t wait to go back (and I am still dreaming of the feijoada we had on Friday afternoon).

Thank you Globo, and thank you Rio!

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When and where: Back to basics for public transport

The best public transit experiences provide riders with wayfinding and signaling which makes everyone, from tourist to commuter, able to navigate the system like a pro. People who are new can easily understand which train to catch, where to get on, when to transfer and when to get off. Those who ride it every day are able to relax, focus on entertainment or reading, and when their stop is reached, gracefully exit without confusion.

Every morning I ride the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train from Berkeley to San Francisco. When I was new to BART, I spent my commute worrying that I was getting on the wrong train or missing my transfer. Now that I’m a regular, I stress about running to catch my train, and wonder whether I should try to cram myself into the packed car or wait for the next one which will have space.

There are many clever solutions that would rely on location-aware smart phones, but with over 30 miles of tunnels, cell signal is unreliable, if available at all. There are apps such as iBart Live which give riders access to live BART schedules on mobile devices. When these work, some of the trouble catching the right train and transferring is alleviated. When they don’t, because there is no signal or because the data is inaccurate, riders feel stranded and annoyed. At some point, the telecom infrastructure will be reliable enough to provide consistent, good information; but even then, there’s will be more to be done to make things straightforward and easy for riders.

Outside the station

Riders have no visibility into the live train schedule until they reach the platform. Often this means running down the escalator as soon as you realize the train with the open doors is YOUR train, only to have the doors close before you can reach them.

On the outside there is no way to know which train is approaching the station

Give a heads-up to people before they enter the station. Knowing that my train is due in one minute I’d rush sooner and be able to make my train. Knowing that that the train I hear isn’t mine would allow me to step aside to let those who are tying to catch it move ahead.
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Hold that elevator!

On a recent research trip I stayed at the Holiday Inn in downtown Fresno, CA. The hotel was unremarkably average — clean and functional, if a little worn around the edges (a little like Fresno itself). There was one thing that struck me as unique — the elevators; specifically, their buttons. I’ve been in quite a few elevators over the years, but this was a first for me. The elevators had 4 buttons to control the doors: Two to close and two to open the doors.

One guess is that this arrangement was the result of a mistake, extra holes were filled with extra buttons for an expedient solution.

But, I prefer to think that this arrangement was the result of a heated argument about the iconography of the buttons — one person preferred the versions with a central line, the other held their ground that the non-lined versions were clearer. After weeks of argument, they broke the stalemate with this solution, “Let the user decide!” As a user in this circumstance, I can only say “Ouch!” Trying to keep the door open for someone approaching was a painful experience, and don’t get me started on the PB, PG & 2R buttons.

What do you all think? How did this happen? And have you seen examples of elevator madness? (If you have pictures, send them to me, and I’ll collect the best in a follow-up post.) Read More

NYC as an interface

New York City
Photo by Delcio G.P.Filho.

The big apple.

Many say it’s the greatest city in the world. Whether or not you agree, there’s no denying it’s an incredibly dense place with an overwhelming amount of people and things to do. Not only are there over 40 million tourists annually, jostling to see the sights and get a taste of the cultural capital but there are also over 8 million people living here ? struggling to manage the tasks of daily living amongst all the tourists. That’s a lot of people with very different goals. How do they all figure it out?

(For those of you not in New York, you might want to consider pressing play for some mood music.)

The usability of cities

I’ve been on the road for the past few weeks and am struck by how some cities are easier to use than others. Since I’m in the business of interfaces I’ve been thinking about it in those terms. Just like software, smaller cities with few features are generally (but not always) fairly easy to use. Once you have a large, complex city with many features ? like NYC ? it gets much more challenging to maintain that ease of use.

New York City is an incredibly powerful interface with multiple entry points and endless features. One might say it has feature bloat. It overloads the senses and it’s not always easy to navigate and understand, yet people learn to use it effectively and often grow to love it.

I love New York

In that way it’s like Adobe Photoshop – optimized for expert users, perfect for their needs once they have taken the time to learn how it works, but very intimidating to novice users. Over 40 million of tourists enter the city each year and have to navigate the New York City ‘interface.’ How do they figure it out? Read More

The Drawing Board: Fill ‘er up

We find that looking at the world from the perspective of users and their goals makes us notice a lot of bad interactions in our daily lives. Being solution-minded designers, we can’t help but pick up a whiteboard marker to scribble out a better idea. We put together “The Drawing Board”, a series of narrated sideshows, to showcase some of this thinking.

In this episode, we look at car information systems. Sure there’s a ton of useful data in there, but most of it is trapped behind a series of menus, idly waiting for us to enter the correct sequence of commands to unlock it. We imagine a car information system that’s more forthcoming with the data it already has, making us feel like we’ve got a great road-trip buddy in the passenger seat instead of a computer.

Credits: Emma van Niekerk and Suzy Thompson. Read More

Stratus Air: A Cooper concept project

When we saw the topic of this year’s I.D. Magazine Annual Design Review concept category, we thought it would be fun to put together an entry. As frequent travelers, we were particularly inspired by the brief: design a graphic, object, or environment that would improve the experience of air travel.

We thought our approach was a good mix of practicality and inspiration; a premium loyalty service enabled by helpful bits of technology that would ease the pain and smooth the turbulence of business travel. Did we expect to win? Absolutely. Even though the judges didn’t share our enthusiasm, we’re happy with what we came up with, and we wanted to share it with you.

We present Stratus Air.

(To view at full screen HD, click the little icon with 4 diagonal arrows next to the Vimeo logo.) Read More

Travel and the experience of being a beginner

Museum typographyMuseum typographyMetro map designMetro mapBikes in Paris
Hotel light switchToiletsDoorLondon EyeCustom lettering
Les JacassesVersailles map designMichael JacksonThe butchersFrench 2.0

On a recent vacation to Europe I promised myself that I’d put my new camera to good use by documenting as many examples of typefaces as possible. With only a week of travel time I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to accumulate the desired collection of new and modern trends that I’d hoped for given that I was dedicating my travel to the olde parts of York, London and Paris.

I captured some old and new typefaces but came to a more profound realization that traveling is like being a beginning user. As designers, we try to put ourselves into the minds of beginners through observation in research but this can be only partly successful. Research doesn’t beat the real thing and there’s no better way to do that than throwing yourself into another country. I should disclaim that I spent 18 years of my childhood in England so it’s not a completely new experience, and I’ve been to France many times also. Being away for so long is a good way to completely forget old experiences and see new design innovations for the first time.

The photos

I’ve included a collection of photos from the week, and I’ve also summarized some of the highlights below.

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