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Hands up if you ever bought an iPod.
I bought my first iPod in 2005. It was the "iPod with color display", 20GB, right before the iPod Video came out. A few weeks before they announced it, in fact. It sold for $299 / £209. It was easy to scratch, being an iPod, so I always placed it on some sort of material when I put it down on a table, never on the table itself.
Why did we buy these expensive little things? When we could get the same thing for half the price from another manufacturer?
2005 was also about the same time rival MP3 player 'Creative Zen' launched. That was selling for $160. Almost half the price of the iPod, for the same 20GB capacity.
But what was 20GB, exactly? Few people knew. Was it a lot of space? How many albums could I listen to on this 20GB thing? I know I wasn't sure.
I knew what 15,000 songs looked like though. Which is exactly how Apple translated the iPod's "20GB capacity". I knew 15,000 was about 30x the amount of music I owned.
These two devices, the iPod and the Zen, had the exact same storage capacity. But 20GB meant nothing to me. 15,000 meant everything to me. I couldn't be sure if a 20GB Zen was worth $160, but I was certain a 15,000 song iPod was worth $299.
What Apple did was actually pretty clever. At this point in the article they didn't even do anything different with their product. They simply spoke my language.
It's important that your business understands its audience, and speaks on that audience's terms. From User Testing to Persona Development, this is a key part of creating engaging, memorable user experiences for your audience. Be sure to check out those articles, too.
Would it have mattered if that Creative Zen had 30GB? 40GB? Would we have been any more confident in our purchases? If we can learn from our audience, and speak their language, we can offer them a sense of ease and comfort in the sales pipeline that others can't match.
And then there's the product.
I'm willing to bet that your first experience using an iPod was a lot like mine. After a few flicks of the click-wheel and a couple of track plays, I got hooked. The "magical" rotational interaction combined with the paginated user interface was so intuitive that, for the first time in MP3 player history, something profound happened:
People actually enjoyed using their gadgets.
It's a testimony to the iPod's ease of use. The USB-stick-with-headphone-port MP3 player I was using before my iPod came with instructions on how to use it. You had to remember to click once for one function, twice for another, and so on.
I could say the same for the devices my friends carried at the time. I couldn't figure out how to use theirs, and they couldn't figure out how to use mine.
The iPod's user interface didn't become universally understood by copying successful interfaces that came before it. It became a universally understood interface because it was infectious. From the first time you tried it, you got sucked in.
By utilizing user experience tactics such as Workflow Diagrams, Experience Maps and Task Analysis, we can create interfaces for our audiences that delight them and set our products apart from our competition. More on these concepts in upcoming articles, and how they can be applied to grow your business.
I don't quite remember at what point I noticed. But there was definitely a moment when I stopped in the street and asked myself:
"What's with all the white earbuds?"
It's a fair question.
I was never going to walk down the street and ask, "What's with all the iPods?" when everyone tucks their MP3 players away in their jean pockets, messenger bags and sports jackets.
Apple knew that. They needed a different strategy from the one that worked so well for their laptops. Getting their their laptops seen was a different game. Including a bright glowing logo on the lid is a great strategy when you place the product on a desk, for everyone in the room to see.
People needed to see the iPod even when it's hidden. White earbuds in a sea of black earbuds was never going to tell a first-time witness that Apple created an MP3 player. But it would make them ask, "What's with all the white earbuds?"
It wasn't long, of course, before those white earbuds became synonymous with the iPod brand. By owning that curiosity, Apple owned a color of earbuds, and made it a marketing tool for their product. People who wore white earbuds got to wear them with pride.
This tale is dripping with User Experience design. I attribute it to (alongside marketing smarts) a combination of Contextual Enquiries, Competitor Analysis, and Scenarios. More concepts for future articles, which I'll cover right here on this blog.
My iPod was the first Apple product I owned. I had used Macs before (remember the colorful iMac G3s?) but this was my first daily Apple 'experience'. The iPod became the most pleasant technical experience I got to have each day.
The halo-effect, which I'm sure some of you are familiar with, was no accident. In effect, the iPod was an evangelic tool for other experiences that Apple offered. It was inexpensive (compared to the iBooks and iMacs of the time) and it gave a great taste of an easier, more pleasant way of doing tech.
I didn't stop with an iPod. I purchased a Mac, then upgraded that Mac to a MacBook / Mac Pro combo, complete with Apple keyboards, mice, cinema displays and iPhones. Even an iPod Nano watch.
The iPod wasn't just another product. It was a gateway drug into the rest of Apple's product offerings. Diary Studies and Mental Models are both invaluable User Experience concepts in causing the halo-effect. More concepts, more future posts.
Apple learned that people were wrestling with mediocre experiences on their purchases large and small. By mastering the experience on less expensive items (the path of least resistance into their ecosystem), buyers start thinking, "I wonder if Apple's other stuff is also this easy to use?
From free trials to entry-pricing product offerings, we have the opportunity to put our best foot forward and introduce other products that we offer. We'll cover how to discover those opportunities and how to take advantage of them in future posts.
Most of you who raised your hands at the start of this article will remember the packaging.
You'll remember sliding that five-sided cover off of the box. Then opening the box like a book, revealing your new iPod and a glossy "Welcome" package.
The packaging and unboxing process had been given as much thought and consideration as the product itself.
But why? It was only going to happen once, and then be forgotten about, right? Well, it happened to me nine years ago, and I'm still writing about it.
Apple knew that it wasn't the iPod itself that was going to be my first experience with their product. It was always going to be the packaging.
Again, not an accident. Apple will have identified this as part of their User Experience design process. I would have thought this realization will have come from using Experience Maps and Contextual Enquiries. You guessed it, we'll cover these in more detail in future posts.
If your online business can identify weak spots in its armor, and turn them into strengths when your competition hasn't, you may well be able to outshine them before your audience even gives them a second look. That, is a powerful position to be in.
User Experience isn't just about designing how something looks, or even how it works. It's about designing a strategy for how your audience interacts with your business.
I still have that iPod. It sits happily in my iPod Hi-fi in my home office, with a fresh new battery I installed recently, still able to rock a medley of U2 and Michael Bolton just like the day I bought it.
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You’ll probably be able to tell at this point, that there are a whole lot of techniques and methodologies involved in effective user experience design. I’ll bet you’re wondering just how many they are, and what on Earth they all mean.
Some techniques go by multiple names. Others can be done in different ways, since “rules” don’t count. But there are about 30 different techniques that I use, and I’ve written them all out in a PDF, with descriptions, for you to read through, and use on your website. I’m calling it the User Experience Terminology Cheat Sheet. These are techniques we use all the time. If you need any help with them, feel free to contact us. Enjoy!
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