Category Archives: Design

The one critical flaw that turned my Nike+ SportWatch GPS into a non-functional piece of jewelry

I was so excited to get the Nike+ SportWatch GPS a couple of years ago for Christmas. It was stripped down to key functionality (distance and pace, time, backlight, upload results to cloud), offered some nice options (add a foot pod and a HR strap) and looks cool (one of the few watches I’ve ever owned to receive multiple compliments)

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All show, no go!

The watch has worked well, with one critical and debilitating flaw that has turned it into a piece of jewelry. In technical gear Nike has exhibited the “all show, no go” syndrome (for example, the Nike Running cloud software looks fantastic but has limited useful functionality when it comes to reporting) and this watch has ultimately suffered from this.

Critical Lesson: Design for partial failure conditions (aka, always provide a workaround)

The watch relies on what appeared to be a very clever USB connection hidden in the strap buckle (see photos).

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Now you see it

Now you don't

Now you don’t

This is the only way to recharge the device, and to upload runs, clear memory, update watch firmware and settings via the Nike Connect software on PC and Mac.

Unfortunately the wires between the USB plug and the watch itself are not robust and partially failed (of course about 3 months after the one year warranty) and despite numerous calls to the nice folks at Nike Support and multiple attempts the watch is no longer recognized as connected by the Nike Connect software. It can still be recharged however.

Doesn’t sound too bad right? Can still use it to record runs and manually record the distance and time, right? Well yes, until the memory fills up and one discovers there is no way to delete what is in memory, either through a simple erase capability on the watch (best) a device reset (ok), or running down the power (painful, but doable), and the watch will not record new runs once the memory is full.

Final injustice? Watch is not repairable or serviceable in any way.

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Where the band meets the watch is where the connection failure occurred

So I’m left with a chunky piece of jewelry that tells the time. Another failed piece of running technology (more reviews on more devices to come)

My plea to product designers: think about failure conditions and how your device will work (or not) once those occur and always provide a workaround! Even if that means just making it repairable.

Ever owned a piece of technology with the same flaw? I’d love to hear your stories.

Less is More: Cleaning Up Packaging For Kids

Been a busy couple of weeks, so I’m going to leave the deep and meaningful for a quick observation on packaging for kids. In brief, less is more: costs less, cause less mess, makes customers happier.

Yogurt tubes are a great idea – convenient packaging for on-the-go snacks for kids.  Why do they fill them up so much?

yogurt1

Another full tube

yogurt2

Another messy outcome

When you tear off the top, you invariably get large globs of yogurt in your lap and on your fingers.  Can reduce a kid to tears.  If you’re opening the tube (often requires too much dexterity and strength too open for kids under 4) you get covered.  Particularly annoying if driving and defeats the purpose of convenient packaging.  I ‘m going to write a letter to Horizon and Stonyfield today to suggest they increase the size of the package or put less in them.  Either would be fine with me.  Fill to bursting is not a good solution.  Could cost them less in the long run, and result in cleaner, happier customers.  Isn’t that a win-win?

clifshotenergygel

A smarter design retains torn off top

Be nice if they copied the idea from Clif Shot Energy Gels and made the tearing a little easier and had a strip to retain the torn off piece (see phot0).  But let’s just start with the level of fill.

 

 

 

 

Same goes for portable juice boxes.  Check out this video.  Again, too much fluid is the culprit.  They might as well call these thing juice pistols.  Insert straw, give to child. Child grabs with hands that are still learning how to grip at the appropriate level of force, juice goes all over their outfit, they cry, and you have to put on a new outfit and start again.  In the video they’re flogging a non-squeezable holder to put the juice box into.  That’s one way to solve the problem, but doesn’t address the cause.  Might be better to put a 1-way valve on the container that only opens when they suck on it.  Would make serving easier, as pulling off the straw and unwrapping it adds time and effort.  When you’re dealing with kids, every second counts.   Guess that’s going to take some more letters.

Finally, the ultimate evil – blister packs.  Is shop lifting so bad that we all have to endure these insanely strong and sharp packages?  I think there’s beenso much passion here for so long from so many (see the comments on this blog), that that things might actually be starting to move in the right direction.   Obviously, less would be more here as well.

Silicon Valley Finally Flaunts Its Failures

tedcommandments

TED commandments courtesy of dullhunk

On Tuesday last week, I joined 400 others in the basement of the Hotel Kabuki city for FailCon, the first conference I’ve known to examine past failures to look for secrets to success. While you might think the valley is all about learning from failure, people still struggle to openly celebrate or even discuss failure, presumably at odds with the cultural preference for “winners”.

I’m a big fan of the TED presentations (and would love to go to one of these events), and so I was pleased to be reminded of the TED commandments (pictured right) for talks which include “speak of thy failures as well as thy successes”.   Of course a few speakers couldn’t resist couching success in failure and Dave McClure was quick to shoot down panel members that followed the “my biggest failing is I work too hard” model. In Internet terms if you get more than a million users that’s usually a success story. I imagine Cassie Phillips had to dig a little to find speakers who would be a draw and talk honestly about past errors.

Lynne Johnson of the Advertising Research Foundation kicked things off with some advertising failure examples.  I particularly liked the example of Sir James Dyson of vacuum cleaner fame, most are familiar with the 5000+ prototypes before inventing the dyson vac that doesn’t lose suction as it fills up.  I didn’t know that he was a believer in consciously doing things the wrong way to learn a better way.  Very right brain and anther example of how specialization can trap the mind in familiar ways of thinking.

Seth Sternberg and Sandy Jen, co-founders of Meebo, the popular (42M!) unified instant messaging platform, brought some sage advice on team building.  Seth has learnt not to try and do everything himself and is a strong believer in putting together a team made up of people not like you.  This is an elegant simplification for hiring complementary skills and behavioral characteristics.  It doesn’t address the riddle of how to evaluate their skills (because, by definition, they’ll have skills you aren’t knowledgeable in) and whether the cultural fit will be there (as you’ll naturally be drawn to feel comfortable with people like you and like less those not like you).

I was lucky enough to attend Rotterdam School of Management in 1998.  We had 100 students from 50 countries with no dominant ethnic group as no more than 6 came from any one country.  This drove creativity but also incredible frustration because of varying cultural mores and communication capabilities.  For example, in general, the southern Europeans had a more relaxed perspective on rules and attribution than the Northern Europeans and Americans.   The coping method (and apparent route to greatest output) was typically that only 2-3 in any group of 4-6 would do 90% of the work.  Whether this just indicated that most of us failed as facilitators or moderators, or whether it’s an unreasonable expectation to effectively bridge all team differences on a fast-paced project is still unclear to me.  The answer, as if often the case, is probably in the gray middle, quickly assess the team makeup, recognize the likely team differences and identify any necessary coping mechanisms, start, and then isolate any disruptive influences not easily bridged.

Brandon Schauer, Experience Design Director at Adaptive Path made a beautifully clear and compelling presentation on how to improve use experiences.  I thought Brandon must have been reading Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind with all the talk of left brain, right brand and how to get empathy into your business.  There was a rather cool left-brain tool that tried to measure the customer value created by a new design which I’ll have to investigate further.

A fiery panel led by Larry Chiang followed, fuelled mainly by to and from between David Hornik; Partner, August Capital and Adeo Ressi; Founder, TheFunded.com (and previously of F&*ckedCompany.com from the .com days).  Adeo was trying to get David to admit that VC’s have companies in their portfolios that are effectively walking dead that they pay little attention to and have mentally written off.  Having been in two such companies, I had to side with Adeo on this one.  It was nice to hear that even management blunders don’t preclude future funding in new ventures, but major integrity failures probably would.  It wasn’t mentioned but burning bridges also tends to close off options in the VC communtity.

The final session before lunch (fortunately not after lunch) was led by Craig Jacoby,  Partner at Cooley Godward Kronish LLC, one of the best-known law firms for startups in the valley.  Unfortunately many entrepreneurs don’t know the basics when it comes to avoiding major legal SNAFUs.  Craig provided some of the necessary legal downers, such as: don’t create your new business on someone else’s gear (in other words get a personal laptop and phone, and do your side projects on your time, at your place, with your equipment.)  The other one, appropriate for the conflict-averse Bay Area crowd: have the difficult conversation about ownership sooner rather than later, so you don’t have different ideas about exactly how the percentages are defined, determined, and earned.

After lunch in the eerie, haunting and deserted world of Japan Town, Max Ventilla, co-founder of Aardvark suggested that entrepreneurs should actively seek to reduce risk.  Given the inherently risky nature of startups it makes tremendous sense to evaluate risks and develop mitigation strategies, just as one should for any project management. He also stressed the need to hire A-players.  Given all the current press on Ayn Rand driven by two new biographies, I’ve started thinking her philosophy might be the origin of the valley cliché about A’s move you forward, B’s hold you in place and C’s take you backwards.  It’s no doubt delightful to dream of creating a Galtian utopia, or that the valley has somehow created the same, but the harsh reality is most people are by definition B’s, so either you’re not going to have enough employees, or your fooling yourself that you’re surrounded by A’s.  I’m sure the answer is you have to hire the best you can find, but in the heat of the moment, when you’ve evaluated the candidates for an urgent position and none are ideal, does that really mean you should just not hire? Tough call.

Eric Marcoullier, co-founder of MyBlogLog told an authentic heart-wrenching story of realizing his business was wrong and having to fire 7 of 12 engineers.  The quotable quote: “Misery is nature’s way of telling you to do something else”.  You might be able to fool your investors and your colleagues but you can’t fool yourself.  If you keep waking up dreading going to work, you know its time to make a change.

An interview with Max Levchin, founder of PayPal and founder and CEO of Slide, revealed an amusing metric of success: the success of his employees: would the cash they generated by them a house (Google-style), a car, a bike or just lunch?

My personal favorite of the day was an authentic, off-the-cuff presentation by Mark Pincus, CEO of Zynga, a hugely successful social gaming company, full of quotes like “don’t try to build your resume: you screwed that up when you became an entrepreneur, so just go for it”.   An interesting tip from experience was always to negotiate for control, not valuation: he said he’d take 1/2 the valuation for more control. If it’s your ship you want to be able to steer it where you want to go, which may be different to what the investors want.  I saw this with Abilizer, when we were forced into the general portal market by the investors because they believed we should “follow the money”.  If we’d stayed in the less technically attractive HR market which we dominated, we may well have been much more successful than the also-ran we became competing with ~500 other dot coms in the general portal market.

Ali Moiz, of Peanut Labs presented start up screw up lessons including: #3: Funding. Too Frequent, Too Much. Makes you lazy. As I wrote in Year 2: Raise As Little As Possible, this is certainly my experience.

Miracles do happen. The standout stroke-of-luck story was related by Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, the awesome online unified memory application with over two million users.  Apparently last October, on the eve of shutting down the business due to lack of cash, Phil received an email at 3:23 am from a Swede, who loved the application and wondered if he was still looking for investors.  $500,000 later, Phil’s lesson was never ignore emails from Sweden J  Perhaps what he meant to say was don’t ever give up, you never know where help will come from.

My lesson of Change or Die was oft repeated.  If you’re driving into a brick wall (a changed or non-responsive market) you’ve got to course correct.  Interestingly Scott Rafer, CEO and Co-Founder of The Lookery spoke from the heart about having to shut down his business, and how he would not pivot in the future.  The subtle distinction here is that a pivot is easily accomplished when you’re in the early stages shaping the business, but once you’re up and running and funded, and trying to scale, a pivot is nearly impossible.  I certainly saw this at Abilizer and Edge Dynamics.

The after-party at 111 Minna was well attended.  The San Francisco start up networking crowd always appears so hip compared to their staid colleagues in button-down shirts or polos and khakis on the peninsula.  I can’t quite work out whether its just the effect of the suburbs or the type of events held in each location, as many of these startups are actually based in Palo Alto, Mountain View and other areas of the valley.

In summary, a most enjoyable day with a few extras to add to my 10 Lessons.  As I mentioned in the preface to those lessons, everyone’s experience will vary with every new business, so this is no surprise.  At the very least, great to bond through shared experiences with others inflicted with a passion for startups and entrepreneurship.

10 Years, 10 Lessons: Year 8: Enterprise Software is Dead

photo courtesy of Tony the Misfit

photo courtesy of Tony the Misfit

User experience is a necessary organizational capability

Obviously, companies will keep buying software.  But the opportunities for a new SAP or Seibel are few and far between.  I ran a session on this at P-camp 08 last year, and the group was pretty vocal – the traditional software model has to change.  The consumer software market has lifted the bar for expectations for enterprise software: it should be easy to use, offer fast screen response times, constantly improve, and be much, much cheaper.

Customers don’t want:

  • To be sold software by the equivalent of a car salesman that can’t even remember their name after the ink has dried on the contract.
  • Implementation services that focus on the plumbing rather than adoption
  • Training that doesn’t teach them how to fish
  • Non-intuitive user experience
  • To hear that they’ll have to wait a year for the next release to get that desired feature
  • To hear that their infrastructure that is causing poor performance.
  • To hear that they have to upgrade their windows platform, or upgrade to an enterprise version of Oracle to use the software
  • Support that requires them to run a server log to diagnose the problem.
  • Support staff that don’t understand their business.
  • Upgrades that are “free” as part of maintenance but end up costing cost nearly as much as purchase “because” of their customizations and deliver no tangible business value.

Mission critical applications can probably still get away with a poor user experience. Everywhere else the consumer revolution is chipping away at the enterprise software kingdom.  Edge Dynamics won when we had a mission critical application.  As soon as the market changed to a nice-to-have reporting tool, everything we had built became a liability – bad user experience, slow performance, costly upgrades, huge upfront investment, costly upgrades

Key Takeaways: Enterprise software vendors need to stand in their customers shoes and design a “whole product” experience, and total cost of ownership that is significantly better than the alternatives.

Sign Posts: What improvements would customers like to see to your sales process, implementation, training, and support services and to your product? What are the alternatives to your solution?

iPhone: Ultimate Kid’s Toy?

Is that a phone or a trumpet?

Is that a phone or a trumpet?

No, she’s not trying to eat the phone. And she’s not playing Ocarina.

It’s an awesome game from those whizzes at IDEO called “Balloonimals”. Outstanding child entertainment for the princely sum of $1.99 (funny how all the free apps on the App Store cause you to think twice about spending $2) The pics tell the story – choose a balloon color, blow up the balloon till it dings, shake (with all the squeaky rubber sound effects of an actual balloon being bent into shapes) and voilà an animal (t-rex, crab, unicorn, dog, snake, fish, kangaroo and baby joey) Tap the animal and it surprises with movement – feet stomping, claw clacking, you get the idea. The pièce de résistance is you can blow up the animals using a bike pump symbol until they pop. Holland plays with this for hours and the laughter and expressions on her face are priceless.

Ideo's beautifully executed ballonimals game

Ideo's beautifully executed balloonimals game

There are a wide range of great learning apps for kids – learning words, shapes and numbers. Couple this with a few movies, TV shows and games and you’ve got a brilliant child minding device in a very tiny package. It’d be nice if you could selectively disable some features like email and the phone when you give it to them, but you should be paying attention, right ;)

This has really cemented the learning for me that the apps are really the killer app for the iPhone. It’s a great phone on an ok network. It’s a phenomenal piece of intuitive design and convergence that has transformed the smart phone market. But the endless creativity of the apps is what blows your mind.

When Good Enough is Absolutely Not

Step off and on again for a different answer

Step off and on again for a different answer

Earlier this week I wrote with joy about when good enough is perfect.  The comments inspired further thinking, so tonight we contemplate the other side of the story.

The simple scale at left suited the decor (a minimalist design) and the price was right.  What could go wrong?  Apparently just because its a scale, doesn’t mean it weighs correctly.  Every time I step on again I get a different reading.  Some people would call this a benefit – keep trying till you get the answer you want.

We pulled out the instructions.  Apparently we are supposed to step on it once to set the scale and then a second time to get an accurate reading.  So now we just ignore the first answer and keep trying till we get two consecutive answers.  Frustrating as hell.  Clearly, the right answer is a refund and a new scale.

Turns out we haven’t had too much luck with scales.  The previous model was one of those fancy Body Mass Indicator scales with alleged accuracy of +/-0.1 lbs and +/- 0.1% body fat.  You could drop 2-4% body fat by just having a shower.  Would that it were true.  I’d have been much happier with a scale with a good enough resolution (say +/- 1lb, +/- 1% body fat) that gave consistent measurements.

My conclusion: apply good enough thinking to the feature set (accuracy to +/- 1lb and don’t bother with BMI), but please don’t apply good enough to the execution of the primary benefits (in this case accurate, consistent and quick weight measurement).  That won’t benefit anyone.

Bye bye pledge drive

Stitcher.com: Tivo for Radio

Stitcher.com: Tivo for Radio

I love NPR. When we first moved to the US it was a wonderful discovery – Car Talk one week, Fresh Air the next.  Countless driveway moments.

I don’t love pledge drive.  Twice a year, for what seems like forever, your local NPR station tries to raise money, which they desperately need.  We subscribe, but that doesn’t stop the pledge drive interruptions.

Enter stitcher.com.  This wonderful free app (available for iPhone and Blackberry) is like a DVR for radio, but even better.  Listen to a wide variety of sources, in any order you want to, anywhere: driving, working out, cooking dinner… Discover great new podcasts and news sources.

Highly recommended and ridiculously easy to use.  It comes pre-loaded with a set of favorites and six categories.  Like the awesome Pandora interface you can give thumbs up or down to a track, start/stop and skip to the next one.  Like google mail you can favorite a track by selecting the star and its automatically added to your favorites station.  You can re-order the favorites. It display how many refreshed favorites tracks you haven’t listened to. The ads are non-intrusive banners and most programs have no audio ads. Sorry if this post sounds like a commercial (I have no association with the company, just love both the idea and its execution).

What would I like to see: better search functionality so you can find a specific show (I was thrilled with both the amount of NPR and Australian programming available), perhaps some indication of duration of each track, maybe linking to the tracks website and tagging so you can follow up on something interesting you hear about or play something again. And of course, the iPhone needs to be able to let apps like this run in the background.

Just like Tivo changed TV forever and for better, stitcher has changed radio for me.  Let me know what you think. Bye, bye pledge drive.