The UX of Angry Birds

9 Mar

It seems like every time I take the subway to work and back, I always spot a patron or two completely engrossed with shooting little birds at green pigs with a slingshot. Of course I’m speaking of the mobile game hit Angry Birds which has sold millions and has rumors of an animated movie under negotiation.

Charles Mauro breaks down the psychology and experience of what made the game such a hit on his blog:

What makes a user interface engaging is adding more detail to the user’s mental model at just the right time. Angry Birds’ simple interaction model is easy to learn because it allows the user to quickly develop a mental model of the game’s interaction methodology, core strategy and scoring processes. It is engaging, in fact addictive, due to the carefully scripted expansion of the user’s mental model of the strategy component and incremental increases in problem/solution methodology. These little birds are packed with clever behaviors that expand the user’s mental model at just the point when game-level complexity is increased.

It’s a great read with an analysis on many different aspects of the game from its ability to manage short term memory and make good use of audio and visual cues.

Product and Emotions

16 Feb

Here’s a great video of advertising gurus Jeremy Bullmore and Stephen King waxing poetic about how people will respond emotionally to all sorts of mundane products.

Often times buying a product is not just about functionality but also about how the user wants to project an image about themselves. When technology shifts in such a way that a product starts to become commodified, leveraging an emotional response is what may be the key to differentiation and growth.

Chatting with Dropbox CTO Arash Ferdowsi

26 Jan

Here’s a nice interview with Dropbox co-founder and CTO Arash Ferdowsi. He talks about why Dropbox has seen so much popularity and growth:

The success of Dropbox is thanks to our alpha users. They liked us so much that they kept on sharing it and talking about it.

and the challenges users continue to have:

If you give Dropbox to a user that is not technical at all, they will have lots of problem figuring it out. The reason for this is that Dropbox does not have a lot of user interface exposed on the desktop. The user needs to have a basic understanding of how their operating system works. The fact that it is so invisible and behind the scenes is why they don’t know how to use it.

He also talks about future growth plans including features that increase ease-of-use and expansion into international versions.

Yves Béhar on Editing

24 Jan

The role of designers and product makers is to really become much better editors. What kind of functionality is actually needed — and truly delightful — to consumers? Remove all the extraneous stuff.

— From an interview with Yves Béhar in the New York Times

Feel Good Features

21 Jan

I was pleasantly surprised by a very thoughtful ‘feature’ when I recently took a trip to the hospital for an MRI scan (nothing dire, just running diagnostics on an old injury). If you haven’t been in an MR suite before, it’s typically a painless but slightly unnerving experience. The gowned patient is instructed to lay down in a bed that brings him into a small, clausterphobic bore of a giant magnet that is constantly playing the sounds of a jack hammer symphony. It’s so loud, in fact, that patients don large headphones to block out the noise. Add this on top of whatever medical issue they may be carrying around and it can be an all-around unpleasant experience. However, as I got settled into the bed and looked up towards the ceiling, I saw something like this:

It took me by surprise because I didn’t notice it when I walked in. And I thought to myself – what a clever and pleasant little touch to the entire user experience of this procedure.

Sometimes it’s useful to consider the benefits of these sorts of “feel good features.” They don’t have any immediate effect on the bottom line or utility of your product, but they can result in benefits like differentiating yourself amongst the competition and creating more user loyalty just because it feels nice. Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” button falls into this category – it gets little use and actually pulls ad revenue away from them because users go directly to a specific website. In fact, ever since they released Google Instant, there’s no easy way to even click on it! Some people call it a waste, but you have to admit that it does generate buzz.

Inside Facebook’s Development Process

20 Jan

Here’s a tantalizing look into the different processes and practices Facebook uses to build and release code. Granted, it’s a set of notes culled from second-hand information, it’s still an interesting read about one of the most widely used software products on the web today.

If these notes give us an accurate depiction of Facebook’s inner workings, there are some interesting points to take notice of – the extreme focus on performance (10% of new engineers are counseled out when they don’t pass an initial boot camp) and the sense that engineers own the product as much as (or moreso) than product managers. The notes suggest that engineers have the ability to introduce new features at any moment but are responsible for all the testing and maintenance related to it. This seems like a risky practice, but I have a feeling that this is made possible through a high investment in an operations team that can extensively test, monitor, and control any changes that are introduced into the system.

It would be great to get more insight into how this process works, especially with regards to how it effects overall product strategy. It seems at odds with how an organization might want to steer an ever-changing product, but I can see the benefits in how this cultivates a culture of ownership. This, I’ve found, is an invaluable trait in the process of product development – when all parts of the team feel like they have a real stake in the product, everyone is more motivated and available to improve it.

Innovation Through Limits

18 Jan

Until recently, Makers Mark has had exactly one product on the shelves since its introduction in 1959.  Their response when asked why only one product?  ”This is the best bourbon.”  But even consumers who agreed demanded variety…something different every once in a while.

The Master Distiller agreed, and persuaded the president, Bill Samuels, Jr,. to at least let him TRY to create a new premium product.

Samuels response:

“OK, but there are two rules:  1. You can’t change the recipe.   2.  You can’t do anything that anyone else has done before.”

With those two options off the table, the only alternative was to invent something completely new, or do nothing at all.  Long story short….the distiller got to thinking, invented an entirely new process at the end of the aging cycle, and now they have a new product, Makers Mark 46.

The buzz in the bourbon world was huge.  The product is a hit.

Read more at Andy Swan