A Podcast Explaining User Experience Design

I just listened to a wonderful podcast by Teresa Brazen, in which she interviews Jesse James Garrett about user experience design. I worked with Teresa and Jesse at Adaptive Path, and have to say this is one the best introductions to user experience that I’ve come across. In the podcast, Jesse articulates how he came to user experience design and explains some of it’s key principles.

There were a couple takeaways that I think bear noting, such as the fact that Jesse has a background in marketing. As Jesse is one of the pioneers of user experience design, I think this highlights the connection between marketing and user experience. Marketers and user experience designers are ultimately concerned with the same thing, customer satisfaction. Positive experiences over time lead to trust, loyalty and an emotional connection with your brand. In many ways user experience designers have done what markets have been failing to do, which is to put people at the center of the design process. One challenge for marketers today is to build on the success of user experience designers by putting people back at the center of organizations … rather that just at the center of the design process.

I think this podcast should be taken as an inspiration for marketers. And, I encourage you to subscribe to Teresa’s podcast, you won’t regret it!

For more information on user experience design, look no further:

Charlene Li talks about The Future of Social Networks

A couple weeks ago, I hosted a talk by Charlene Li at Adaptive Path on behalf of the San Francisco Chapter of the American Marketing Association, where I sit on the board. The talk was a huge success and well attended, but for those who were unable to make the presentation Charlene has posted her deck online through slideshare. Check it out.

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One of her key ideas is that social networks will be like air … by which she means, that your network will flow with you as you explore the future web. So as you browse Amazon, the recommendations and reviews you see will be based on your network rather than the entire user base. This has broad implications for user experience and ties in well with the Aurora Project that I worked on last year.

It also ties in well with OpenID, which is standardized format for containing  personal information, and a data-integration platform, so that you could have a single login for any authenticated site your use (Amazon, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc). Man, will that make life easier! But wait, it’s already happening.

I see this evolution as a direct result of the “web 2.0” work that is being done by zillions of companies that are starting mash-ups to connect all the “web 1.0” services out there. Essentially, these second generation companies are simply acting as bridges between the first generation service providers. As we build these bridges we’re realizing that it would be easier if we had interchangable parts. Thus, OpenID. Think of it like this, interchangable parts are to the industrial revolution what OpenID is to the internet revolution.

The Ultimate Driving Experience

A couple months ago I had the pleasure of traveling to South Carolina to attend a driving course at the BMW performance driving school. My father had recently purchased an M Series car and attending the school with a guest was part of that package. I love driving, so I was thrilled at the opportunity to take some tricked-out BMWs onto the track. What I didn’t expect was a well crafted experience from start to finish. The weekend really summed up how powerful a great experience can be. Here are some of the highlights:

The experience actually started in a BMW showroom when my father went in to learn about the car in the first place. These cars are marketed to driving aficionados who are often interested in the mechanics of how they work. BMW has lead automobile innovation for a long time, and the M Series of cars is the product line that expresses this innovation most. For those interested in these cars there is extensive information about what makes them so remarkable online. What will probably be more engaging to the readers of this post, however, is how BMW uses Microsoft Surface screens in their showrooms:


BMW presents technical information alongside information about their driving schools where owners have the opportunity to get training by some very talented, and competitive, drivers. You can watch some of those videos here. Together these presentations are compelling, emotionally inspiring, and contagious enough to make most people want to put the pedal to the metal. But, if you’re not interested in the track, BMW has other experiences on tap. For example, you can pick the car up in Germany and take a road trip through Europe before heading home with the car.

One interesting note about the factory in Germany is that it was one of the first places to use audio tours, which later made their way into blockbuster museum exhibitions. It seems that they are very capable of bringing their design thinking outside of the cars themselves. Before leaving for South Carolina, BMW sent me a nice letter of introduction, an itinerary, and a list of what to bring. When we arrived in South Carolina they were waiting for us in BMW SUVs that took us to our hotel. They’d a BMW branded menu at the restaurant (ok that may have gone too far, but it was a tasty meal), shirts and hats were left in our rooms, and cars were provided if we wanted to catch a movie in the evening. When we got up the next morning there was a bus to take us over to the driving center (sadly, not a BMW bus), which was an impressive bit of architecture.

I don’t want to go too deeply into the curriculum of the driving school itself, but I will say that it was well run and a lot of fun. There was a good mix of play and instruction. I would, however, like to highlight what happened when I got home from the school. A couple weeks after the course. I received a DVD in the mail with footage of my training so they could review my performance, and continue to try and build on the skills that I was introduced to. What I find interesting about the videos is that they embed the speedometer an tachometer into the image along with a representation of where you are on the track. Here is a video clip of my 65 year old father winning a race on a short loop course in the rain (he beat me by three stinking tenths of a second).


While we were at the school I heard a story of how the BMW design approach had been a barrier to user experience at least once. Apparently, BMW’s M Series cars did not have cup holders for a long time because the designers did not believe it was safe, or appropriate, to drink beverages while driving. When they did initially install them, they were apparently of poor quality. Fortunately for my father, it seems they’ve rectified this issue.

Which brings me to the BMW iDrive, which a computer system used to control most secondary vehicle systems in many current BMW cars. iDrive’s user interface consists of a LCD panel mounted in the dashboard and a controller knob mounted on the center console. iDrive allows the driver and front-seat passenger to control such amenities as the climate (air conditioner and heater), the audio system (radio and CD player), the navigation system and communication system. This is another area where the user experience seems to break down a little bit. You can read some of the critical reviews here:

  1. JAMES G. COBB (May 12, 2002). “Menus Behaving Badly“. New York Times. Retrieved on January 18, 2008.
  2. Jasper van Kuijk (December 24, 2007). “More iDrive Reviews; the Evolution of a Bad Idea“. the product usability weblog. Retrieved on January 18, 2008.

Based on my experience on the track I’d say that many of these issues are still present in iDrive. There is a fairly steep learning curve, and the system seems to contradict the safety concerns that made the BMW designers resist cup holders. In other words, it’s hard to use when driving, which could be dangerous. This begs a question about how siloed the design teams are at BMW, and makes me think there is probably an opportunity here for better management of user experience.

As your industry grows, and user experience teams become more embedded in product and service development practices, there will be a greater and greater need to focus on the managemnet side or our practice. Our conference MX: Managing Experience is all about this effort. If you’re having these kinds you issues please check the conference out.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your comments.

Marketing @ UX Week

Back in August at the Adaptive Path  UX Week conference, keynote speaker, Don Norman, talked a bit about how marketers make good allies for UX professionals because of their experience working with business units. This relationship has led marketers to get savvy about positioning their projects in the context of business metrics. Don also observed that marketers are interested in supporting investments in user experience because they share in the benefits.

As a marketer, my ears perked up when I heard Don express this idea, but it may not be immediately obvious how marketers really benefit. Last night, I discussed this in more detail over dinner with a user experience consultant who is attending our conference from Singapore. We touched on two complementary ideas that connect marketers to user experience projects.

The first is that marketers and user experience professionals are both interested in consistent experiences. From a design perspective, this helps customers acclimate to the product or service environment and allows designers to rely on established interactions. For marketers, consistent experience is really about building trust, and trust is the foundation for building an emotional connection with products and services, which extends into the customer’s overall relationship with a brand. A strong connection in this realm represents success for marketers.

The second idea is embedded in this first and is an interesting phenomenon that highlights how the law of averages can break down when applied to experience across touchpoints. User experience isn’t just about how we interact with a product or service, it’s about the experience a customer has with a brand across touchpoints. If a customer has a great experience at one touchpoint, but a poor experience at another, the net result may be less than the average of the two. This is an issue that Zipcar CEO Scott Griffith touched on in his keynote this morning when he talked about the importance of getting Zipcar’s call centers on par with the experience of being in a Zipcar.

Marketers are very conscious of this because of their work managing the marketing mix, where they have to think about breaking down silos between channels, coordinating messages, and creating a cohesive brand representation. This practice has be reinforced by increasingly integrated campaigns, and has given marketers some insight into the benefits user experience teams have to offer. I’m happy to see this theme emerging at UX Week, and I look forward to having more conversations about how marketers and experience designers can work more closely together.