DonnaM » 2007 » October

Archive for October, 2007

An end-to-end good user experience

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

We hear so many bad stories about overall user experiences, but I wanted to tell you about one that was perfect from start to finish.

The story starts with a recent house move. For one reason or another my washing machine stayed at my old house, so I needed to buy a new one.

The things that I knew were important to me were, in order:

  • Front loader
  • Would fit in the space in my laundry
  • Washes well
  • As water-efficient as possible
  • As energy efficient as possible
  • Under $1000 (I had a small amount of money set aside from my grandfather)

I’ve been a subscriber to CHOICE magazine for about 18 years (and my mother subscribed since I was a kid, so I’ve practically always subscribed). I never make a big purchase without researching, and my main research is via CHOICE. Washing machines are one of their most demanded tests and they test regularly – the latest a few months ago. Their test had collected everything I needed – washing performance, size, energy- and water-efficiency, price. The washing machine information was easy to find on the website and it was dead easy to find a washing machine that matched all my criteria. So I picked the washing machine for me – without leaving home.

CHOICE also have a service called CHOICE shopper. This service helps you to get the best price for a product. I phoned them up, talked to a fantastic lady who ran me through the process, collected all the details and promised to phone back by the next morning. She didn’t even get cross with me when I told her I hadn’t actually been out looking, which is what I was meant to do.

Well, talk about good service. She phoned me back later that afternoon. She had found a price $209 cheaper than the RRP, and with delivery was $179 cheaper. I confirmed that I was happy to go ahead with the purchase. She said the retailer would phone me in the next day or so and arrange delivery.

It is the edges where things can fall apart, and I wondered when it would happen. But the retailer phoned me that same day (I won’t plug them, because I don’t know if that is OK for the CHOICE shopper folks, but they are real good guys). Another friendly lady confirmed the washing machine and price, took my credit card details, arranged for the best delivery day, told me how warranty worked and that they would send an invoice. She said the delivery person would phone me the night before when he had figured out his route.

So, still waiting for things to crack at the edges, I checked messages when I got home from IA cocktail hour. And there it was, a promise to deliver between 1&3pm Friday. Cool.

So Friday rolls around and I’m working at home, still wondering if something was going to go wrong. At 1.05pm the doorbell rang and there was my washing machine and two friendly fellows. So I thought they’d bring it in and leave it in the laundry and I’d have to figure out how to install it. Not likely – they pulled it out of the box, removed the holding bolts, brought it inside and installed it. All I needed to do was sign the paperwork. (they even took away the rubbish)

And nothing went wrong. Every person through the whole process was friendly and met their commitments. 4 companies were involved and all were amazing. How good is that!

[Follow up: not only did all that good stuff happen - the retailer phoned me to make sure it was all OK]

Writing for the print

Friday, October 12th, 2007

A funny thing happened to me a few months back that helped me learn something very important about how I write, and writing in general.

As you may know, I’m writing a book (on card sorting). Earlier this year I was up to the point where I had some chapters drafted and thought they were OK, but not great, and couldn’t figure out how to make them great.

So, as is the normal thing to do when writing a book, I sent the chapters to my editor. And as editors do, he read them and gave me feedback.

He pinpointed my problem easily. I had over-structured my writing. Well, I am an information architect, and structuring stuff is what I do. On advice on how to approach the writing process, I had written an outline with points on what to write, then filled in the gaps between the outline with content – explaining each of the points I had included in my outline. I used lots of headings to break up the writing so it wasn’t too dense, bullet points to make it readable etc etc.

What happened was interesting (to me). Because I had written outline points and then filled them in, I pretty much treated them as independent chunks of information. As a result there was a lot of overlap between the chunks, the writing was very choppy and there was not much flow between points.

My editor initially blamed it on powerpoint syndrome – the overuse of choppy structure and bullet points…but I knew better…

Do you know what I think it was? I think it was writing for the web. What do we teach in writing for the web – lots of headings and subheads, lots of bulleted lists, scannable writing, writing so people can read independent chunks and get what they need. That’s what I did – I applied how I had been writing for the web for years and made a miserable mess.

How did I fix it? I pulled out all the headings and bulleted lists and wrote it from top to bottom in prose. I made every paragraph link to the previous and following without using headings. Then, when it was working as an entire flow, I went back and added in headings, lists, pullquotes and other scannable items. But I added those that would enhance the flow, not make the structure.

It was a very, very interesting learning experience for me, and the book is so much the better for it.