Consider the following…
You’re driving in an urban setting from Point A to Point B. Assume reaching your destination requires turning both left and right at intersections, but you’re only permitted to make right turns. You might think that restriction wastes fuel – you would be wrong. But we’ll get back to that in a moment.
To minimize the risk of collisions in urban intersections, as standard operating procedure some shipping companies employ routes favoring right turns. Despite the additional time required, these companies have determined that it is ultimately less expensive to route their delivery trucks in this manner.
Mythbusters tested this scenario in San Francisco and found that despite extending the travel time by 17%, the right-turn-only-route consumed less fuel compared to the route that incorporated both right and left turns.
Your typical driver is probably not going to consider somewhat better fuel economy as more valuable than the time lost driving (toward their destination) in circles. Although no one would argue that safer roads are needed, adoption of the right-turn-only constraint seems a very unlikely future. There is however, an alternative:
A superstreet is a type of road intersection that is a variation of the Michigan left. In this configuration, traffic on the minor road is not permitted to proceed straight across the major road or highway; traffic wishing to turn left or go straight must turn right onto the major road, make a U-turn through the median a short distance away from the intersection and then either go straight or make a right turn when it intersects the other half of the minor street… This description assumes driving on the right.
- WikiPedia: Superstreet
North Carolina State University reported their findings on a recent superstreet study:
- 20% overall reduction in travel time – unfortunately, the report did not mention fuel economy for comparison
- 46% fewer reported automobile collisions (63% fewer resulting in personal injury)
The usability of intersections could be redesigned to potentially improve efficiency and safety throughout the nation, but at what cost? Is the superstreet redesign the correct application for all urban intersections? Or perhaps we should consider employing a right-turn-only constraint as a viable low-cost alternative to re-architect our infrastructure. The learning curve would be lower, and the changes would be far less disruptive. Without additional data and user feedback I’d just be making right turns to wrong conclusions.
LinkedIn has released a nifty connection map visualization, with the intent of providing greater insight into your professional network. Unfortunately, how people input company name in their profile can create erroneous clustering and skew your results.
For example, in my map, several connections have been labeled Orange – which corresponds to people formerly employed by CompanyA - because (I assume) the company name field in their profile is “CompanyA” and not “CompanyA, Inc.”
The unforgiving algorithm has determined these connections aren’t members of the Blue group – which corresponds to people currently employed by CompanyA. Validation and pattern matching errors aside, the tool doesn’t permit adjustments to the automatically determined assignments – in my case producing little more than a pretty picture, but no insight to my network.
If they wish to expand this visualization experiment into a valuable add-on, the product team at LinkedIn will need to address these issues. I would be interested in how well this tool interprets connection search results into graphically represented faceting.
According to Jared Spool there are Five indispensable skills for a UX Mastery, among them are presenting and storytelling. The book by Chip and Dan Heath, How to Make Ideas Stick, squarely focuses on optimizing these skills. Below are the Six Principles of SUCCESs that anyone can employ to make their ideas understandable, memorable, and effective in changing thought or behavior – you know, sticky.
- Stay on message: beat decision paralysis through relentless prioritizing – keep asking why to remind yourself of the core principles and values that underlie your idea(s)
- Keep it compact: leverage existing schema to succinctly describe your message
- Get attention with surprise: highlight a knowledge gap – break assumptions – make the resolution satisfying and obvious in hindsight
- Hold attention with mystery: reveal “clues” one at a time to engage active participation and maintain interest
- Help people understand: language abstraction is the luxury of experts – in chess, experts want to talk strategy…but novices need to first understand that bishops move diagonally
- Help people remember: use the Velcro theory of memory (more hooks = better retention)
- Help people coordinate: provide context and a protagonist - find a shared level of understanding – set common goals in tangible terms – create a turf where people can collaborate
- External credibility: is gained through authority (Stan Lee, Comics) and/or anti-authority (Jared and the Subway Diet)
- Internal credibility: is made possible with vivid, convincing details (such as statistics) - keep statistics on a human scale – illustrate a relationship for context
- Pass the Sinatra test: “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere” – convey prior relate-able successes
- Offer testable credentials: invite your audience to see for themselves
- Beware of availability bias: people judge an event’s probability by its availability in their memory
- Make people care: find what motivates them
- The power of association: form an association between what people don’t yet care about and something they do care about
- Avoid semantic stretch: the diluted meaning of words and concepts (relates to credibility and concreteness)
- Appeal to self-interest: WIIFY (what’s in it for you) – visualize the benefits to your audience – focus on tangibility, rather than the magnitude, of benefits
- Appeal to identity: who they are, and who they would like to be – “how do people like me respond to this situation?” – don’t assume that people are baser than you and falsely appeal to less cerebral motivations (such as those in the “basement” of Maslow’s Hierarchy)
- The curse of knowledge is assuming your audience has knowledge of insights you gained from the struggles, the political battles, the missteps, the pain of your experiences - don’t assume others are as passionate about the same things as you
- Get personal: the business world tends to emphasize the pattern rather than the particular – intellectual aspects of pattern prevent people from caring – the analytical mind is less emotional
- Create a non-passive audience: simulate the story in their minds - simulation (tell people how to act) - inspiration (motivate people to act) - if you present an argument, you are implicitly asking your audience to evaluate, judge, debate, and criticize your position. With a story, you are asking them to participate with you.
- Three common plot types:
- challenge – to overcome obstacles (David and Goliath)
- connection – to get along or reconnect (develop a relationship that bridges a gap)
- creativity – to inspire a new way of thinking (mental breakthrough, solving a long-standing puzzle, or attacking a problem in an innovative way)
Final kernels of wisdom
- No matter how accurate or comprehensive, if a message can’t be used to make predictions or decisions it is without value.
- The test of our success as idea creators isn’t whether people mimic our exact words, it’s whether we achieve our goals.
Whether you’re a Product Manager, a User Experience Professional or just occasionally find yourself in front of an audience; I hope this outline helps you in your SUCCESs and motivates you to seek out this great book.
When a user interface “tries to offload as much ‘trivial’ mechanical thinking as possible to the machine,” it can produce negative results”.
This post sites a 2008 study by Christof van Nimwegen’s called The paradox of the guided user: assistance can be counter-effective, and while I don’t agree with the conclusions drawn from those results, I can align with the author’s caveat regarding the limited nature of the report.
Of course these conclusions are based on a limited experiment, with a limited sample size and test applications. The findings focused on only a certain type of interface. How well the experiments reflect the varied real world applications remains to be seen, but I think the real value of this paper is that of challenging common assumptions by presenting evidence on the contrary. We should not assume that a more user-friendly interface is necessarily better. Indeed—better for what, or for whom?
I assert that the “real value” of the post is not that it challenges common assumptions by presenting evidence to the contrary, but rather, that it reminds us not to confuse good interface with a well-intentioned interface – because we all know where that leads…