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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Renting an Idiomatic Experience

When my wife & I arrived in Seattle recently, we rented a car from Avis. After an exhausting re-route to a different counter than the one conveniently located beside the baggage claim area and a long, long wait to get a car (geez, what do most people do at the rental counter? I just say "rent me what I ordered, I don't want an upgrade and no I don't want insurance") we got to our 2009 Altima.

Now I am not into cars. Except for a brief stint as a teenager tricking out my Camaro with Keystone Classic chrome wheels and hosing down the glass-pack mufflers to make it sound really loud I have mostly settled for "cheap & paid for". So when I was confronted with "keyless ignition" I was frankly baffled.

Here is what would have been the key.


Now I get FOBs and I know that keyless ignition exists. So I thought, ok this is cool. I looked where the keyhole should have been and saw this:


So I pushed the Start/Stop button.


Hmmm. ACC. Ok, accessories are now on. Radio, etc. So I need to push it one more time.


It says "On". Right. But the engine is not on. Just the stupid "On" light is on. Ah. Maybe I need to hold it down at this point to get the engine to start.


Back to square one! Defeat. Deflated. Ok, so now I do what every user does when faced with something that didn't work. I do all of the steps again. And again. Now I know better. But still I keep cycling through Off-Acc-On-Off again and again. I look around the car. Checking out the dash.


I look to the left side of the dash.


Ah. Maybe I need to buckle my seat belt... Nope that did not do it. I see the Brake indicator. Take off the emergency brake? Nope that did not do it either. By this time I get out of the car and look for an Avis representative. I feel really, really stupid by this time. I am a geek. I am a designer & an engineer. I decide there is no way I am asking someone how this thing works. I will figure it out if it kills me. So back in the car.

Finally I notice (by peering over the steering wheel slightly) some items lit up in the center of the dash!


First icon. Foot on a brake. Second icon. What is that? Hmmm... the gas pedal is next to the brake. So that must mean madly press the gas as I press the brake while pushing the Start/Stop button.

Success! Although I almost flooded the engine.

It turns out the second icon means "push the button". Maybe if it had been a finger on the "button" I would have gotten the sequence: foot on brake, finger on button.

Ok, so now that I know the magic sequence, keyless ignition is cool. In my everyday experience it is much better than keyed ignition. Just hop in the car with "key" in my pocket, put my foot on the brake and push the button -- awesome! Normally a car salesman would have happily explained it to me. But in the Avis parking garage I had no car manual nor anyone explaining the process.

My experience figuring it out was very frustrating. Yet the everyday experience was not. Why was this?

Since I was left to figure out this sequence on my own I had to rely on what I already knew about about starting cars. And it had nothing to do with putting your foot on the brake. This you see is not an intuitive interface. It is what Alan Cooper calls an idiomatic interface.

In Cooper's book, About Face 3 he describes three types of interfaces: instinctive, intuitive and idiomatic (pp 273-275).

An example of an instinctive interface is when you can't keep your eyes off of the dancing cowboys in the ubiquitous mortgage ads. Your brain is hard-wired for attention processing.

An intuitive interface is one that utilizes the brains ability to do a mental comparison between familiar experiences and a new one. An example might be guessing what the trash can icon on a desktop does since you already understand a real world trash can. Putting items in it would throw them away.

But getting items into the trash can may not be something you could intuit without being shown drag and drop. This is the last type -- idiomatic. Idiomatic interfaces are what make up most user interfaces. Scroll bars, nested folders, radio buttons, drag and drop are not instinctive or immediately intuitive. Instead you have to learn how to use them (yes there is a gray line between intuitive & idiomatic). In the original Mac the shortcut for ejecting a disk was to drag it to the trashcan. Not intuitive and not instinctive, but idiomatic. Like learning the idiom "beat around the bush" once it is learned it is easy to use in common speech. Ejecting a disk by dragging to the trash can was a nice shortcut (before the mac had right click menus).

Once I was shown this idiom I did not forget it.

Another example of an idiomatic interface is the iPhone's ability to move items around. You hold your finger down for a second or so on the icons on the home screen. They get jiggly. Then you can drag them around. Totally not intuitive. But idiomatic. Once learned it is easy to do.


So back to the keyless ignition. This is an example of an idiomatic interface. Not intuitive. Why the brake + the button? Why not just the button? I am guessing this keeps the kiddos from starting the car up. Also guessing the seat requires someone sitting in it before the brake + button would even work -- all safety features. But even though it was not intuitive it was learn-able. And as with all good idiomatic interfaces once I learned it the interface was simple.

Alan Cooper states it this way:
All idioms must be learned; Good idioms need to be learned only once.

My eBay Talk - Doodle Version

Courtesy of Ahmed Riaz, designer at eBay. Amusing take on my talk :-D

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cooking, UX, Team Building and Job Opportunities

Over the last year I have fallen in love with cooking. I think what I enjoy most is taking some simple ingredients and from that creating a delightful experience. That is why I fell in love with user experience design & engineering so many years ago. Just a few instructions (well usually a lot more than a few -- but you get the idea) and you can create a delightful experience for others.
The Chef Sneaks a Bite (by billwscott)Grilling Action (by billwscott)All Prepped (by billwscott)IMG_4303.JPG (by billwscott)IMG_4304.JPG (by billwscott)
I was reminded of this today when I celebrated a new member joining my team (user interface engineering at Netflix). As I set up for some massive grilling action I got a lot of joy in talking about what went into each one of the items that I was going to grill. Then just laying out the food on the grill with all of the beautiful colors and watching it cook into mouth-watering delight was exciting. But the biggest thrill is when my team members got so much enjoyment from the food (or at least that is what they tell their boss ;-)

It also got me thinking about team building. Earlier in the year when I mentioned to a candidate that I was about to take my team to Angel Island he asked "for team building?" And I immediately said "NO". In fact my reaction was really strong. I have never really cared for official "team building" exercises or outings. I have never thought that engineering or design teams were built on the shallowness of forced activities. Instead I have always felt that team building is accomplished not as a goal but as a product of being in an environment generously peppered with hard problems, smart colleagues, respect & trust and yes a sense of humor. Outings like today are just icing on the cake.

And of course I am fortunate to have an amazing team and work for an awesome company.

By the way while I am not recruiting for my team at the moment Netflix has some great openings in Product Management, UX Design and engineering!

In particular, I want to call attention to a job that has been hard to fill but is a great opportunity -- Senior Software Engineer in the Software Infrastructure team. I have always been partial to these roles. And have worked in and led infrastructure teams. It takes a special breed of engineer who can grasp what the organization needs (understanding the real customer is our members) yet be able to craft flexible solutions that can multiply the efforts of the rest of the organization. If you are this person or know of someone let me know and I will pass along to the hiring manager.

You can reach me at "B" _dot_ "scott" _@_ yahoo DOT com.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Netflix is Hiring Test Engineers

We are looking for Test Engineers with solid software engineering skills. Interested?

Kevin McEntee, VP of Engineering, described to me what kind of talent we are looking for:

Netflix is hiring Software Developers for our Test Engineering team. The most difficult challenge in team building comes from staffing Test Engineering teams. I have seen many engineering organizations in Silicon Valley fail at this challenge because the development teams and engineering leaders don’t truly value what Test Engineering can bring to an innovative company. On my team at Netflix, the opposite is true. Test Engineering is a critical component of our technology innovation. Our model is to hire Software Developers to innovate and build our Test Engineering solutions.

Check out our job board where you can see some of our current openings.

Theresa's Presentation at DelveUI 2009

Fluency and Rosenfeld Media sponsored the first DelveUI, A 2 Day Masterclass on Designing User (Web) Interfaces last week at the NYU Poly Campus in Brooklyn.

Theresa Neil (co-author and cohort) just posted her talk on Designing Rich Interfaces from the conference. Here it is from slideshare. Also, be sure to check out her flip cards she is working in conjunction with her talk & our book.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Netflix Culture

Meant to post this yesterday when we added Reed Hasting's (CEO of Netflix) slide deck on Netflix Culture to our jobs site. It is 128 slides long, but well worth the read. I can honestly say that I haven't worked anywhere else in my career (25+ years) that thinks as deeply about their culture. Also credit Patty McCord. As Chief Talent Officer (yes we have a "C" level talent officer) she zealously guards the cultural environment.

Just one of my favorite thoughts is about talent density: "As rules increase, talent decreases." So we keep our rules to a minimum. And hire "fully formed adults" that don't need the extra bureaucracy.

Don't forget we are hiring :-)

Here it is from slideshare: