Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Queue is Dead - An User driven Analysis

It is really a great initiative done by Satyam Cinemas to come up with a cool website https://www.thecinema.in/ for online booking of cine tickets. I am sure many of us in Chennai (India) would have used the website atleast once. For newbies "It's better late than never". Do give it a try!!

The entire website has been built on Flash with AJAX technology behind it. The response time is really quick with literally zero page refresh.The Information is neatly structured and booking tickets is a simple 6 step process.

Step 1 - Select a movie & date along with the number of tickets required. (i.e. check availability)
Step 2 - Log in using account information
Step 3 - Select your seats or let the computer select it
Step 4 - Select the food items required (optional)
Ste p 5 - Give your credit card information
Step 6 - Take a print out of E-ticket or note down the reference number

However, there are some inherent drawbacks with the website. They are;
  1. Lack of User control & freedom - We cannot select more than 10 tickets at a time. In case of bulk booking I am sure many of the users would be wondering why this restriction?To book more we need to go through the same 6 step process over again which is highly irritable. Solution - They could rather have a text box where the user can input the number of tickets required.
  2. Lack of proper System Status - On selecting the movie & date along with the number of tickets required the system prompts the user to either "Book tickets" or "Go back".The whole selection gets highlighted with a translucent layer on top of it. However, I am sure many of us would not be able to recognise the selection done.Solution - Probably they can highlight the selection shown with some bold colors to make it upfront for the user.
  3. Lack of Error Prevention - Once the user enters Step 5 the user is asked to input Fuel card holder name, fuel card number & HPIN number. However, I am sure many of us would have entered our credit card numbers. Also once, I entered my Debit card number and I realised lately that only credit cards were allowed :(. Solution - Display the card type drop down & then only on selection of the card type display the other fields. Also, indicate that only credit cards are allowed.

By the time I complete this article , referring to the website in another tab I have been logged out almost 3 times :-). There is no indication on time remaining for session to expire.Probably a counter could have helped me better. Again the system status was not shown to me :-(

Inspite of all these drawbacks, https://www.thecinema.in/ has branded itself as the pioneer in enhancing user experience and would certainly be ranked better if they consider the solutions given. I wish them ALL THE BEST!!{including the users :-)}


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Usability Training I attended - Part 2

Well, the first day was all about learning the 5 layers of User Experience and then arriving at the UI design. The second day was filled with lots of group tasks which gave us an insight on the real time Usability analysis especially analyzing umpteen number of intranets used by Satyam employees.

Well, if it was the Heuristics analysis (a technique for finding usability problems with a user interface) that needs to be done then, we had to consider 10 major heuristics parameters namely;
  1. Is System status shown? (transfer status,loading status etc..)

  2. Is Error Prevention provided?

  3. Is Error Recovery provided?

  4. Is there Minimalist Design? (to minimize visual overload)

  5. Is User control & freedom provided? (especially in controlling a task or situation)

  6. Is Consistency maintained? (in terms of UI, IA, task flows etc)

  7. Is there Recognition rather than recall? (Is approriate & standard icons used)

  8. Match between real & virtual world? (Is metaphors used easy to understand)

  9. Is Help & documentation provided? (both situational & pro-active help features)
The key take being that UI plays a vital role in the adoption of a product. "Microsoft" being the leaders when it comes to adopting Heuristics techniques.

When it comes to methods of collecting User feedback there are several techniques namely;
  1. Direct Interviews

  2. Usability Lab testing - My team UXM is going to have one very soon :-)

  3. Questionnaire Method

  4. Contextual Enquiry

  5. Cognitive Modelling - In Market Research jargon it is "Simple Stratified Sampling - Stratified sampling techniques are generally used when the population is heterogeneous, or dissimilar, where certain homogeneous, or similar, sub-populations can be isolated (strata). "

We also discussed the various types of users basis their capability(efficiency & effectiveness) to use a product or website. They are;

  1. Novices - Level 1

  2. Advanced Beginners - Level 2

  3. Experienced Users - Level 3

  4. Expert Users - Level 4

The key take being that before developing any application we need to take into account the type of users who are going to access it. The startegy, scope, structure, skeleton & surface layers drastically change according to the end users.

What if we don't get to know the real users? How do we build a product for them? Simple, use common sense! Build "Brand personas" for the product or website.Each persona is a fictional character. The crucial thing being the brand personas must be as close as possible to the real users. 3 steps to be covered in this;

  1. Develop a list of personas - Profile of various individuals involved with and affected by the product

  2. Define the personas - Give Name & description

  3. Define the personas goals - This is very important. Design decisions will be based on a persona's goals

We also discussed navigation design. The key take being that navigation must be "Wide & Shallow" with 7+- 2 menus.

Well, at the end Atul concluded by showing us the diagram below;

A nice way to conclude :-)


Usability Training I attended - Part 1

After recovering from the stress of 15 hrs of Usability training that I attended in my organization I am writing this article to share with you some key learnings on Usability and how it ultimately affects the Brand.

The first thing I learnt in the 2 day training attended for usability was, how do we define Usability? The definiton is as below;

"Usability refers to the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of user"

I liked this definiton as much as the trainer Mr. Atul Manohar. In the first day of the training we covered the fundamental concepts of Usability & the second day was all about Usability methodologies & various tasks were given to us. (I will share with you the same subsequently).

Well, it was indeed very fascinating to learn how we humans interact with the computer. Atul quipped in by saying "Master & Slave" relationship is what we expect when interacting with the computer. True to a certain extent I must admit. The 5 layers of User Experience as explained by Jesse James Garrett the "Usability Guru" was discussed in detail (click image to enlarge)

The key take being that "UI design" is the last step towards building a particular product or web application. Why? Because we need to;
  1. Understand business & User goals - Strategy

  2. Define functional specifications & content requirements - Scope

  3. Define Information Architecture - Structure

  4. Define navigation & information design - Skeleton

  5. Finally Prepare UI design - Surface

Once the bottom 4 layers are well planned then UI design becomes more specific to the user. As UI design always is subjective any iterations on the UI design (every client does this) would be only on look & feel and less of content changes or re-arrangement. This reduces the work load on the UI designer and most importantly the product meets it's purpose of providing an enhanced "User Experience".

As mentioned earlier we are living in an "Era of User Experience". Every user wants his product or website "Simple","Easy" & "quick to learn". In other words it is effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction that every user wants to experience both in the virtual & real world. Now, let us look at some research data to analyze how good or bad online User Experience affects the perception of the brand the user interacts with. (click image to enlarge)

The bottom line being that the interaction of a customer with your company's website directly impacts the brand perception & loyalty.So, it's time that the websites are designed keeping this in mind and realize the importance of adhering Usability standards & methodologies.

Rest in the next.......... "Come on" people. Speak up!


Friday, January 19, 2007

AJAX - The buzz word

I am sure everybody knows what AJAX stands for. For beginners it stands for Asynchronous Java Script and XML. So what is AJAX all about? Why is the whole world talking loud about it?Before I give you a glimpse of AJAX is all about lets understand that there have been 3 eras of product development;
  1. Era of Invention - This is the period of Graham Bell, Wright Brothers, Charles Babbage, Dunlop and alike who came up with inventions which put the consumers in awe. They were totally bowled over by the fact that something called a telephone or an aircraft was indeed true and not a fantasy.
  2. Era of Technology - This is the period of Microsoft, IBM, Intel etc who dominated the world by showing how technology is a powerful tool to automate the redundant and complex tasks done by the human mind.
  3. Era of User Experience - This is the current era we live in. "Consumer is the king" is the lesson every business man has learnt. Virtual world is where we users spend most of our time. So, no wonder that Web 2.0 as a concept has evolved. "Simple & quick" is what every user wants. And so AJAX has evolved to address this.

In order to understand AJAX as an user I would recommend a hands-on approach. Please visit the following URLs and get a feel of it.

  • Google Suggest - As you type in the search box some keywords, Google will offer suggestions
  • Google Maps - Recommend you to to click on the satellite button on top. Really amazing.
  • Gmail sign up - However you need an invite from existing user to sign up.

To sum up, AJAX is all about minimum page refresh and quick access to information for users.It allows pages to request small bits of information from the server instead of whole pages. This incremental updating of pages eliminates the page refresh problem and slow response that have plagued Web applications since their inception. Most importantly it works on all modern web browsers :-) . "Wow" what a relief! ATLAST

Waiting for some more inputs from the blogging community...


Brand Power - Part 2


Click Image

The image says it all. America leads the world when it comes to Global presence of brands followed by Germany, France & Japan.


The new brand ranking methodology is unique because it is the first to combine consumer research with public financial data to measure the contributions brands make to the bottom line. Additionally, it is the only ranking to quantify consumer sentiment about a brand’s momentum and future prospects, and the first to focus on “market facing” brands as opposed to corporate brands.

Key Insights:

  1. Europe leads the world in luxury brands - Louis Vuitton ranked (24), Mercedes (28), Porsche (44), Chanel (75) and Cartier (82). The super-affluent consumers are increasing world wide.
  2. Chinese brands are gaining global power - China Telecom (4) & Lenovo
  3. New economy, new business models and new money - New business models have enabled new brands such as Starbucks, ranked (48), and Zara (87) to establish their positions not only in the market but in consumers' minds

The research was done by global marketing research firm Millward Brown.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Brand Power - Part 1

I wonder if any of the readers of my blog know that I work for the Online Branding team in Satyam Computers, Chennai. Probably I have not shared with you anything that is related to branding. So, let me kickstart my articles on Branding by giving you a glimpse of the World's most powerful brands for the year 2006. In my next article I will tell you why these brands are powerful and the evolution of a brand. Here you go;

BRANDZ Top 10 (value in $million):
1. Microsoft - 62,0392. GE - 55,8343. Coca-Cola - 41,4064. China Mobile - 39,1685. Marlboro - 38,5106. Wal-Mart - 37,5677. Google - 37,4458. IBM - 36,0849. Citibank - 31,02810. Toyota - 30,201.

For the comprehensive list click on the image below for better clarity......

In the next post we will discuss why these brands are so powerful.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Astrology - Art or Science?

It is really amazing to note how one's horoscope reveals one's past,present and future life.Nine planets control your destiny. Out of the nine "Rahu" & "Kethu" are not really planets.

However, I always had a doubt if Astrology is purely an art or science?Science yes, because the level of vedic mathematics involved. Art because the accuracy of drilling down to 1 possibility out of 100 possibilities for a particular planetary disposition. Astrology is always right. However some astrologers might go wrong in their predictions. The accuracy depends on the astrologer's horoscope and his/ her planetary disposition.

I have met very few astrologers who have 90% & above accuracy. To name a few K.C.Purohit, Kenni, Chockalingam.

K.C.Purohit gives free predictions and does not charge any money. He has been practising the art of prediction for the past 15 years and is one of those silent genious. Many a people have benefited from his advice and is very straight forward in his disclosure to clients. one can reach him through phone 9444042986.

Kenni has been a well renowned astrologer in Sify's panel of astrologers and is a tech savvy guy. He is one of those astrologers who believes that intution plays a vital role in predictions. He always has a point of view in any topic he discusses and has guts to speak up. You can get a glimpse of his work, consultation fees and personality by visiting his blog.

Chockalingam is synonym of 6th sense. Not that others don't have. But his level of intution is far higher. He is an expert plamist, steller and keeps a very low profile. Every politician in power today, has consulted him atleast once. The moment we think of politicians we think of money, power, corruption right?But here is a retired government servant who lives in a 2 bed room house about 650 square feet and drives a TVS Champ. He charges Rs.100/- per family and according to reports donates Rs.50/- for charity.Such is his simplicity that one starts believing in the adage "Looks are deceptive". He stays in Hosur and one can reach him through phone on Wednesday - Friday between 8:00 to 8:15 am. (04344-265797)

Hope you get benefited from this article. As mentioned, you need to run a favorable time to meet the genuine astrologers who can guide you.

Rest in the next. Bye....