Barcelona According to Miles

September 16, 2010

La Boqueria Mercat, Barcelona

La Boqueria Mercat off of La Rambla

For a blog that provocatively calls itself “The World According to Miles,” you guys haven’t seen too much of…the world. Well, I suppose I’ve posted pictures of Tel-Aviv and New York, but not much beyond. That’s about to change.

Last week @clothesure and I got back from a 5-day jaunt in Barcelona, Spain. It was a much anticipated trip for me culminating an intense summer of product development at GameGround. I’m pleased to say that during the trip I didn’t once think about game systems, liquid layouts, roadmaps, or onboarding processes. Ok that’s a complete lie. But for those of you who really know me it was an unprecedented minimum.

The primary motivation of this trip for me was to explore city culture – in doing so constantly comparing it to NYC culture because yes I’m just that kind of New Yorker – and satisfy my restaurant and cuisine curiosities (I came strapped with two food-oriented guide books and lists of friends’ recs).

Jamon Serrano

Jamon Serrano at La Galera tapas bar in the Barri Gotic district

The food and beverage scene was not a disappointment. Salted cod, slow roasted lambs, cured hams, paella (sans allergic reaction – woot), gelato, strong coffee, Cava, local reds, manchego cheese…I could go on. But nothing quite compared to my molecular gastronomy experience at Moo Restaurant. I did a 6-course tasting menu with wine pairings assembled by one of the best sommelier’s in Spain. I was too embarrassed to take pictures so here’s a picture of dish that had one of the most unique presentations I’ve ever seen:

Smoked Pigeon Carpaccio at Moo Restaurant

Smoked pigeon carpaccio with a dollop of juniper-flavored ice cream garnished w/ dried fruits and spices served in a glass container full of flavored smoke!

It was a treat. My girlfriend was overwhelmed as well, which was fun because we both drank heavily to feel less like outsiders.

On a different, less boozy note, an aspect of Barcelona I was pleasantly surprised by is the street art scene. Some of the art I managed to capture with my iPhone was really involved work.

Street Art Barcelona

Space Invader Street Art Barcelona

Space Invader tags Barcelona!

This mark is all over Barcelona

And of course the famous, almost city-defining architecture…

The trip was relaxing and ultimately deemed a success, but I think we both agreed that it’s not our favorite city. The city is not foreigner friendly and the service culture is unpredictable. Not to mention the locals were pretty quiet seeing as that August is really a month of rest. Anyone considering going to Barcelona should definitely consider June or July, but you’ll pay the price for it 🙂



August 27, 2010

When I experience great products I’m going to write about them here so that I remember why I liked them. This week a colleague referred me to OneUpMe, a daily competition of wittiness. The structure of the competition is as follows:

  • Each day at 7AM OneUpMe posts a simile to the community (e.g. “She was like an Abacus – calculating”). Each simile has the exact same format.
  • Each member of the community has the opportunity to submit a more clever finish to the simile (e.g. in lieu of “calculating”). Only one submission per day is allowed (submissions and voting ends at 10PM), but each member can submit and remove as much as necessary to hone in on the perfect submission.
  • The community then votes on the submissions and the member with the most likes is the winner that day

All of the posts you make, likes you receive, and competitions you win are archived in your profile for bragging rights later on.

So why do I like OneUpMe so much?

The product is extremely buggy and I don’t care at all.

As an experience designer I get paid to ensure that a user’s experience of the products I work on is smooth and intuitive. OneUpMe has a long way to go. I’m logged in an out of Facebook randomly, elements display in unpredictable places, and much is to be desired in various interactions with the product. But guess what? I don’t care. I don’t care because products that are great, don’t have to be good, especially on Day 1. And that’s the sad truth of my profession. Users are incredibly forgiving of experience issues when value is undeniable. For example, Bloomberg only recently hired a UX team after decades of an extremely user unfriendly product that financial professionals simply couldn’t live without.

The onboarding process could not be more simple.

OneUpMe’s onboarding process is dead simple. All registration, authentication, and profile building is handled automatically by Facebook’s Open Graph APIs. More importantly, the first objective – the first set of actions a user needs to take – is completely clear: enter a submission in today’s competition. That’s it. And it’s clear that the attitude of the creators is “if you don’t like it, then don’t use it.” I love it.

Non-continuous engagement.

In a world in which content creators and service providers compete for our attention in an attention economy, everyone is vying for continuous engagement. Uttering the words “moderate” and “engagement” in the same breadth is likely to get you some very puzzled looks. These truths make me that much more appreciative of products that require non-continuous engagement. OneUpMe requires about ten minutes of real creative thought each day and that’s it. No friends requests, activity feeds, email notifications, Facebook notifications, tweets, or other touch points. Just one action, once per day. And that action is incredibly fulfilling and rewarding, even if I don’t win.

Here’s a list of things that were previously excruciating but no longer are because I own an iPhone:

1. Waiting in the doctor’s office

2. Waiting for my girlfriend to get ready before leaving to go out anywhere

3. Meetings that are inefficiently managed or a complete waste of time

4. Waiting for long periods of time on subway platforms

5. Finding venues in the city

6. Awkward conversations with strangers

7. Online banking

8. Quickly securing dinner reservations on the fly

9. Managing shopping lists

10. Following threads of text messages

There might be more, but these 10 were on my mind today.

The half year I’ve spent building a product in the entertainment industry has taught me a lot about the wonders delightful copywriting can do for a user’s experience of a product. We the creators of the interwebs can delight with warmth, comedy, wit or even provocation.

Prior to my current project, I was a practitioner of matter of fact copywriting. If you’re not being factually correct, then you’re not being clear, right? But the fact of the matter is that often matter of fact writing can be really boring, uninviting, and condescending. And I believe that’s a fact.

What has been even more surprising to me as I’ve been adopting this new mantra towards onsite copy is the number of different opportunities to delight users that I’ve overlooked over the years. Here are some that I want to share with you:

  1. Invalid entries in text fields. You can assume that nobody likes being wrong.
  2. Interstitial pages between steps of a process. You created the step that the user had to take so it’s your job to thank them for obliging.
  3. Flash preloaders. Don’t hate on me for mentioning flash, but if you’re using it on your site preloaders are an excellent time to make users smile.
  4. Error pages. This is hard to soften, but if you get it right then you get Fail Whale.
  5. Empty containers. Take advantage of first or low-effort use cases of features to get creative with copy.
  6. Email notifications. Nothing is worse than opening up a purely informative email. Why? I get hundreds of them.
  7. Activity feeds. There’s a reason why good comics have tons of Twitter followers. Make activity feeds fun to consume. And that doesn’t mean just slap an exclamation point on the end of them!
  8. Tabs, Categories and Areas. Don’t be too nuanced here, but if you can shoehorn pleasant objects and ideas in your site’s taxonomy while still creating a strong mental model it will likely be appreciated.

This list is just a start. I also want to note that I’m very aware of the fact that witty copy can be tiresome if overused or over-experienced. So while you’re word-smithing make sure you’re always aware of how many times the user will likely encounter the copy:

The Wittiness of copy

That’s all for now.

I’m extremely concerned that one day in the near future – possibly a day this year – I will be rewarded for everything I do. Yes, I know that sounds funny, but I don’t look forward to being rewarded for the things I eat, the places I visit, the TV shows I watch, items I like, the people I meet, the things I learn, the things I teach others, and even the things I’m already being rewarded for.

Maybe I should rephrase: I don’t want to be rewarded in the exact same way. I feel very steep diminishing marginal returns to leaderboards, badge albums, and points. These rudimentary game mechanics are polluting my apps, blogs and life. Everything is all too familiar, all too commoditized, all too unbranded and all too useless. Gameplay is an incredible human experience. But its crudest form is being shoehorned into everything that I do in ways that aren’t related or unique to the very things that I’m doing.

I’m confident positing, but can’t guarantee, that the intoxication we’re witnessing in the internet business since the explosion of game mechanics in web applications is also clouding our understanding of the true value propositions and product-market fit for the things we’re building. If it’s a game it must be fun. Right?

I’m not sure I can offer any earth-shattering advice to those reading this. But I suppose I can say that if you’re contemplating introducing game mechanics into your non-game application, ask yourself if you’re using it as a crutch for the deficiencies in the real thing you’re asking users to do or enjoy with your product. Make sure that the act of playing the game closely aligns with common human behaviors. I still need to be convinced that everything needs to be a competition and that I need a barometer for my progression in everything that I do.

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This weekend was packed with a lot of different types of fun. It all started nicely with a BBQ on a rooftop with a beautiful view of Brooklyn and the Lower Manhattan skyline.

Mathematical proof of the month:

75 degree weather

+ pristine sunset

+ grill

+ beers

+ wine

+ very good peeps


Brooklyn Sunset Bushwick

Yes, Brooklyn does exist...and it looks like this in summer.

Sun sets in Bushwick Brooklyn

Can a view get any uglier than this?

Silhouettes in Brooklyn

Anyone can be artsy from this rooftop.

Brooklyn Skyline at sunset

Last one I promise. But damn it was pretty. Not bad for a 5 megapixel iPhone camera, eh?

Jealous? That’s ok. All you have to do is hop on the L on a summer night, which admittedly is a hard thing to do as a devout Manhanttanite. Here’s the rundown of the remainder of the weekend:

1. Friday Night – Rooftop Party in Union Square followed by late night boozing at Cheery Town and Whiskey Town.

2. Saturday (day) – Secured birthday gift for GF after longest shopping experience of the year and then saw Cyrus, which was about a 6.5 out of 10.

3. Saturday (night) – Chilled with the GF and caught up on tons of recorded television.

4. Sunday (day) – Breakfast at French Roast (nostalgia) followed by day drinking at the Frying Pan.

Song I can hear in my head right now: Summer Breeze by Seals & Crofts

Pogo sticking in websites

If your user is doing this, you're doing something wrong

Good user experience designers will avoid pogo sticking like the plague. Pogo sticking is when the user is presented with an array of choices, does not have enough information to make a decision or understand a concept so they have to systematically explore options and return to the array of choices until the desired option is found. Click the first option, back to the array. Click the second option, back to the array. It’s a terrible experience, but users experience it all the time. Sites that have been particularly vulnerable to this are banks and e-commerce sites. Joshua Porter wrote an article on UIE celebrating The GAP redesigning their e-commerce experience to combat pogo sticking behavior.

Spinning plates user experience

If your reader is doing this, you're doing something wrong

But I have a feeling that pogo sticking is taking on a new, equally displeasing form in content creation and consumption. I call this monster plate spinning. I find often that when I’m reading a blog post I have to balance several different blog posts simultaneously because the content constantly references links to other pages and sites that contain prerequisite knowledge. My reading experience is completely interrupted and my comprehension is far inferior, yet I can’t help but open up the links in several tabs. I’m too curious about the information I’m missing. One of the following things needs to happen for my reading experience to improve:

  1. Websites should adopt footnotes, much like what I’m used to in a research paper. This has been written about on several occasions by usability experts.
  2. Content creators should appropriately summarize the content of a crucial outbound link so that I can choose whether or not I need to open it.
  3. Content creators should rapidly adopt a currently nonexistent tool that would allow them to easily show a preview of outbound link content that specifically focused on the information necessary to understand the remainder of the content in focus. Existing outbound link preview plug-ins are horrendous and peppered with distracting advertisements.

Am I alone here? Please post any comments, ideas, reference links or tools.