Short-term Memory and UI Design

Not too long ago, I attended a talk by Jeff Johnson hosted by BayCHI. He introduced his new book Designing with the Mind in Mind, which reveals the psychology behind user interface design. His lessons covered everything from Gestalt theory to blind spots, but what I found most interesting was the influence of memory.

Short-term memory is best described as the conscious mind. It is what is happening right now. Is it how many numbers you can remember, which is 3-5 unrelated items (e.g. a zip code) or more if the items are related (e.g. 3-5 random words vs. a sentence of words). The latter uses the brain’s feature detection, which draws on connections from previous experiences—more neurons fire and trigger recognition.

A scenario of this is if I am typing a collection of words into a search engine and those words are out of sight once the search results are presented, I may become frustrated as a user because the task has distracted me from recalling what words I entered into the search field. To help the user recall what words were used, some search results have the words highlighted. Providing cues like this will help the user focus on the task and aid in the recall of information.

What I walked away with was that asking a user to keep track of features in his/her short-term memory is work. Good design is invisible and UI/UX is no exception. Intuition is based on experience, so the more unified and consistent and experience is, the more likely a task will seem effortless.

Short-term memory does have its faults as seen here in this video. While entertaining in a prank sort of way, it also shows how task and distraction can blind us from what is literally right in front of us. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYeJ1BHHDIg

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Change is good

Change is good—or so the saying goes. Our namesake Oya is the goddess of change, a force of nature that creates the turbulence needed to wipe away the old stuff to make way for new growth. Thus, in that spirit we embarked on a journey which breathed new life into our own story.

On a lazy Sunday morning while walking the dog, I decided to get curious about a small “For Lease” sign that I had been passing for the last 6 months. Each time I passed it I was curious, but not THAT curious.  Finally, we had been in our office on Los Gatos Blvd. for over 8 years and I was itching for a change of scenery.

I am a seasoned mover. I have lived in more places than I can count and I can pack boxes like the pros. Aside from the hard labor, I must confess I really like to move. It’s a great way to clean out the clutter and freshen up the environment.

So, on that lazy Sunday, we took a look at the space for lease and knew we had found our new home. It is located in the bustling downtown of Los Gatos, above a clothing boutique called Nuance and directly across the street from the Los Gatos Coffee Roasting Co. We have the best address EVER!  One University Avenue! How great is that?

The space is funky, artsy, and cozy. It is the “it” and “happenin’” place!  Everyone who is anyone is meeting across the street for coffee or being served cocktails at Val’s. We even have front row seats for Jazz on the Plazz. It all happens right outside my office window.  And, now we have BRICK!  Everybody knows that to be considered an “it” agency you simply must have brick—and now we do. We have arrived at our new home and it’s all good.

Drop by and see us. I’ll buy the coffee.

Letterpress Printing

I recently completed a series of workshops at the Center for the Book in San Francisco in order to be certified to rent their letterpress printing equipment. After spending so much time on the computer designing complex interfaces and using programs to layout pages of content, it was refreshing to get back to good old ink, paper, and type.

Each of the three workshops lasted for 8 hours, totaling 24 hours worth of press time. The instructors were experts on the Vandercook press and taught us the mechanics of the machines as well as printmaking techniques. We started each class with a task (usually laying out a page of a small chapbook), which involved choosing a typeface and handset it on a composing stick seen here.

Composing Stick, Letterpress printing

Composing Stick, Letterpress printing

California job case

California job case

This often took the most time to do since you had to find each character in the giant California job case (a drawer segmenting the individual letters from one typeface), place the letters on the composing stick spelling the words backwards, and use leading plus spaces (solid metal parts for filling space) to lock up any loose areas. Once the type was all set, it was transferred to a galley (a metal tray), then onto the bed of the press. Blocks of wood called furniture were placed around the composition then locked into place with a quoin.

From there, ink was mixed by hand and applied to the rollers of the Vandercook press. Letting the rollers run for a bit helped distribute the ink so the color and density of the ink was even across the composition. Next, the rollers were set on ‘trip’ to ink the composition and the paper was aligned to the printing area.

Test runs were then done to determine the impression or bite the type had into the paper, the density of the ink, to check if any of the characters were damaged, and to check the registration of the page. Once all adjustments and corrections were made, it was a repetitive process of inserting paper, rolling the rollers over the bed, and removing the printed piece to dry. After the print run was completed, type was removed, cleaned, and sorted back into their cases, and the rollers were cleaned in a very process driven way so none of the ink we used was left over for the next print run to pick up.

Other details like adjusting the impression in the paper, printing multiple colors, using photo polymer plates, and printing on damp paper were taught in the second and third workshops. Now, it is remembering it all and doing it on my own.

Letterpress I, a book of overheard sayings

Letterpress II, posters

Letterpress II, posters

Letterpress III, Chapbook of false truths

Letterpress III, Chapbook of false truths

Letterpress III, Chapbook close up

Letterpress III, Chapbook close up

Here’s a great short documentary on how letterpress printing is done and why it is so appealing:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iv69kB_e9KY

Here is an interesting description of what a chapbook is, its origins, and where my inspiration for my composition came from:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chapbook
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wise_Men_of_Gotham

Here are photos of the prints currently on exhibit at the Center for the Book. After going through all three workshops, I truly appreciate how much of a craft this is and how exceptional these prints are—a must see!
http://www.aardvarkletterpressfinearteditions.com/editions.html

Take the classes and learn the craft of letterpress printing! Students ranged from computer programmers, to graphic designers, to Telsa engineers!
http://sfcb.org/workshops

The Real Value of Marketing (?)

As a small agency we work with many companies in a wide variety of industries. As a Silicon Valley agency we work with a lot of tech companies. And I have noticed something that seems especially rife here in the valley; many companies simply don’t realize the real value of marketing–and it makes me wonder whether this is true across other industries, companies, and geographies. If any of you have any thoughts or comments, we’d love to hear about them.

This is course leads to the question about what is the real value of marketing and, like many many questions in and about marketing, a lot of the answer depends on context. Here I am thinking about companies who are launching something. It might be a new product, new sales initiative, a new channel program, or a complete relaunch of the company.

What is the value that marketing brings to this process. I would argue that while the creative work of materials and online development are incredibly valuable, the highest value comes much earlier in the cycle. This is the ability to see and understand the market, then translate that into actionable strategies that form the foundation of messaging, storytelling, media selection–in other words all of the rest of the activities that will be taken on later in the marketing production cycle.

The problem that many companies have with this kind of thinking is that it is hard, time consuming, and can be somewhat pricey (although usually not in relation to the value of the market they hope to penetrate). So this gets pushed off, minimized, or simply ignored (especially in tech companies), and they take the process right into the production phase of “these are the values, these are the benefits, go make us marketing that sells the product.”

Some months later, when things aren’t going to plan, the executives tend to blame the marketing department for the failure–or come to us to “fix” the problem with the brochure or the website or the social media, or whatever.

We have seen this process of often (not that we mind the work it brings in!), it does cause me to question: Have we, as marketer/strategists, so thoroughly failed to communicate our value, or are companies just in such a rush to get to market that they are willing to ignore the obvious value to investing the time and resources into developing a real understanding of who they’re selling to, what’s important to them, what’s the best way to tell the story, and how best to tell it?

It is a very important quandary. Since the days of David Ogilvy and Claude Hopkins (BTW, see Greg Satell’s great piece on Hopkin’s Scientific Marketing) we have understood the incredible value and ROI of developing this kind of understanding.

Where do we keep losing the recipe? Where do we continue to fail to communicate the incredible to the executives in charge of the companies we serve?

Emotional Contagions

Think of the last time you felt moved by a television commercial. Was it the story it told that triggered your emotional response? Was it a song? Perhaps it was just an image of another person showing emotion. Each of these examples has an explanation and a reason for being used in communications — especially advertising.

When a baby is born, it is immediately wired to copy mechanical behaviors. If you smile at a baby, it is likely he/she will smile back. It is mirror neurons that are responsible for this. A baby, after all, hasn’t really learned yet that a smile represents happiness. Another wiring of behavior is the emotional contagion. This is seen when a baby simply cries because another one is crying. If you put ten babies in a room and provoke one to cry, it is likely that you’ll have a room full of crying babies in no time. It is this emotional contagion that follows us into adulthood.

There is currently one television commercial that seems to trigger an emotional response from me (besides laughter) and I’ve been curious to find out why. It isn’t the sight of another person with tears rolling down his/her face, but a rapid flood of smaller cues that trigger stories I can relate to. The commercial is from Chevron’s Human Energy campaign, which launched in 2007.

In this 30 second ad, a total of 15 clips of candid and seemingly unrelated scenes appear during a voice over:

“The world is changing and how we use energy today cannot be how we use it tomorrow. There is no one solution. It’s not simply more oil or more renewables or being more efficient. It’s all of it. Our way of life depends on developing all forms of energy and to use less of it. It’s time to put our differences aside. Will you be part of the solution?”

The cast of talent recruited to create this 30 second “rallying cry” included director Lance Acord (cinematographer), British composer Paul Leonard-Morgan, and voice-over narrator Campbell Scott (Damages). The tone of voice, complimented by the gentle piano melody, reinforced the analogy-triggering clips of video that evoke feelings of chaos and problem-solving and contrast it with family and responsibility. All of this to present a plea of awareness, participation, and cooperation.

Now, if you really want to sob, throw in a curve ball and create a story that has heightened exposure at the same time — an immediate, very visible analogy. A perfect example is another Chevron commercial (aired in 2007) about The Impossible. If you’ve been watching the news over the last month, I guarantee it will leave you with goosebumps. It has convinced me that I need to be part of the ‘solution’.

Hesitation

Measuring hesitation can be valuable. Already, devices like Google’s Android uses information from the phone’s GPS to detect traffic speed. The data is then sent to Google maps and appears as a visual overlay of information — red means there’s a traffic jam. Hesitation can also come in forms that indicate if problem solving is taking place or if doubt exists. I often watch people as they use an app on their mobile device to see if they are in fact saving or killing time.

I was among the first consumers to use the Starbucks app, which is basically a digital version of their gift cards. When I used it for the first time, I fumbled through the steps that produced a QR code for the cashier to then scan and I thought “wouldn’t it be faster if I just handed them my plastic card?”. Hesitation can kill an app like this.

So, how do we manage hesitation? We hire user experience designers, cognitive scientists, information architects, talented developers, and visual designers to make a product as intuitive and responsive as possible. The negative effect of hesitation is it can turn a user away (download times), frustrate (this is taking too long to learn – it isn’t sticking), confuse (I’m lost and have to search for navigation paths), or lose trust (why isn’t this saving?). Hesitation can also be positive, meaning the user is persuade by the product/service because the content is engaging.

With mobile devices becoming more popular it will become increasingly important to factor in hesitation times. When sitting at a desktop computer, the user is static and less likely to be confronted with environmental distractions such as moving in a line at a coffee shop or paying attention when crossing the street. This means user testing, like the device, should be mobile.

A Three-Second Elevator Pitch?

In a recent post on startupcfo.com Mark MacLeod notes that some of the principals at Sequoia Capital saw that start ups that were able to explain themselves in a sentence or less were the most likely to succeed.

I thoroughly believe that this is a good point, and that distilling what you do down its essence is extremely hard, probably the hardest job in marketing, especially for technology companies. And, perhaps, especially for technology start-ups.

Part of the problem is the tendency of technology companies to want to explain all of their coolness right up front, so that their entire message is delivered in the first sentence, on the top of the homepage, as early in whatever communication they are using as possible.

Many people in many companies seem to be scared that if they don’t immediately communicate every feature and benefit, that they’ll miss the next enormous opportunity because someone didn’t hear something critical.

But the truth is that if you don’t hook your audience in the first 10 seconds, then any list of features is going to be noise that goes by as the audience starts scanning their phones for the latest urgent email.

I had a very unfortunate reminder of this recently when the CEO of a pretty good startup gave me a webex demo. Unfortunately, he started in the middle–going into long lists of features without any context–and he lost me about 38 seconds into the presentation.

It’s hard work paring your story down to 3-10 seconds, which is why some companies pay millions for a name or a tagline. You have to be willing to pare and pare and pare some more. Get it down to the essence of why what you do is important. It’s not a list of features, it’s something that will tickle the emotional and intellectual parts of the brain.

But the payoff is tremendous; audiences that are actually interested in what you have to say.