Users are the Judges of Good Design

Target’s Design Lab has a great quote on the Wall: If the user can’t use it, it doesn’t work.

Thanks to John Dooey for this tagline: THE JUDGE OF GOOD DESIGN IS NOT DESIGNERS, IT IS USERS.

It’s part of a larger comment from an article on why iOS 7’s design isn’t good. The entire comment (it’s responding to another comment that says – ” It seems today everybody is an expert on interface design”) –

No, everybody is not an expert in interface design. We rely on Apple for that. We pay Apple for that. What we are, is experts in iPhone and iPad use. 500 million of us, 5–10 hours per day, for up to 6 years now has made us experts on iPhone and iPad use. So the users are not qualified to make iOS 7, but we are eminently qualified to judge whether or not it is more usable than iOS 1–6.

The user is the top of the hierarchy with Apple, not designers, not engineers. With iOS 7, Apple has at least temporarily forgotten that. They put Jony Ive in place of Steve Jobs, but Ive is a designer first and Jobs was a user first.

So your dismissal of users and lionization of the product manufacturer is inappropriate in this case. If you want to eat whatever is served to you, that is available from all of Apple’s competitors already. Try a heaping helping of Windows 8. Apple customers have always demanded functionality. We were given Windows systems at work but lobbied for Macs because of functionality, not because they are prettier on the outside. We paid $600 for iPhones because of what we can do with them, not how they looked. Apple has had to earn every sale 1 at a time by enabling the user to do more than they could with competing products.

THE JUDGE OF GOOD DESIGN IS NOT DESIGNERS, IT IS USERS.

Here’s the thing – John Dooey couldn’t be more right.

Good Design is what allows Users to easily, intuitively use a product and derive pleasure and benefit from the product quickly and conveniently

If users don’t like it. If it doesn’t ‘just work’. If it complicates things.

Then it isn’t good design.

It’s not about how pretty it looks to a designer. It’s not about how intuitive it seems to a developer. It’s not about how ‘sellable’ it looks to a saleswoman. It’s not about how ‘impressive’ it seems to the CEO.

It’s ALL ABOUT THE USER.

If the user likes it, it is Good Design.

If the user loves it, it is GREAT Design.

It’s that simple.

We’ve talked about this before – The Importance of Making Designs that Users Love. Designs that ‘Just Work’ for Users.

You need someone who fights for the user.

People who are True Experts understand that Users are the Judges of Good Design

Here’s the distinction –

  1. An ‘Expert’ is one who doesn’t fully grasp that the product is FOR THE USER. That it’s only ‘the use of the product’ by the user that gives the product any meaning. Without the user, the product is meaningless.
  2. A ‘True Expert’ is someone who has UNDERSTOOD and FULLY INTERNALIZED this tautology. That a product exists BECAUSE the user uses it.

An expert will think – I must demonstrate my expertise and make this design something that will impress my fellow experts.

A True Expert is immune to the validation that other experts could offer. Because it doesn’t matter. It’s damaging to the product when external validation from contemporaries is pursued. A True Expert only values what is valuable to the user.

Let’s consider an example –

  1. An Expert says – It’s so tacky that this smart phone calendar looks just like a real wall calendar. That’s just not cool and hip. All my fellow designers will laugh at me. I won’t be able to show my face at the Organic Cappuccino store any more.
  2. A True Expert says – There are 5.7 million people (or perhaps 57 million people) who have never used a computer before, who will buy this device. There are an existing 8.7 million users (or perhaps 87 million users) who are more comfortable with a wall calendar than an online calendar (which they have no context of – because it doesn’t exist in their worlds). These users comprise 89% of the total user base. Let’s make something that’s EASY and INTUITIVE for them.

You can go with the cool new cutting-edge techy calendar that drives 89% of your user base nuts. That’ll get you design awards that mean nothing.

OR

You can do the right thing and make the calendar as familiar and intuitive as possible for your users. The intelligentsia will make fun of you – However, you’ll be so busy selling your devices, and collecting bonuses and stock awards, you won’t have time to care.

Users Pay the Money, and they’ll Vote with their Wallets

Technology companies have an AMAZING ability to completely disregard the importance of what users think and what users value and what makes life easy for users.

  1. They make the buttons hard to use. Then they blame lack of marketing.
  2. They don’t polish the software and have lots of bugs which spoil the ‘flow’ for the user. Then they blame lack of a large app store.
  3. They make the Email App impossibly hard to use. Then they claim they needed 6 processor cores instead of 4.

It’s a strange sort of blindness.

If your device isn’t selling, then, surely, the first area to investigate is whether or not users are having a great experience with it. Why do companies investigate it last?

Even better, think about it BEFORE shipping the device.

This is basically what we’re losing. There’s no more craftsmanship when it comes to hardware, and even less when it comes to software.

We now have two mindsets –

  1. Make it very cheap or free. Gather lots of customers. Then advertise to them and/or try to turn those ‘free/cheap seeking’ users into profit-generating customers. It’s like going fishing for mackerel and expecting to eat bison burgers for dinner.
  2. Do lots of marketing and create a need/desire/want in users’ hearts. Then sell products to users that will supposedly fill that longing in their hearts. That strategy fails in the long-term. Users eventually realize that the desire/need/want wasn’t their own.

Neither is providing what customers value most – a GREAT experience with the device.

That’s what it’s all about – Users want a device that ‘just works’ and makes them feel great and doesn’t make them feel ‘stupid’ or ‘helpless’ and that makes their life easier.

Whichever company steps in and fills that REAL need, will become the next super profitable company.

Kindle Watch next? Google Watch for Android rumored, Foxconn Watch for iPhone revealed

It seems likelier and likelier that we’ll see a Kindle Watch by end 2013 or early 2014.

We’ve already discussed how everyone and their mother is making a smart watch, and why Kindle Watch makes sense. Today we get two interesting bits of news –

  1. Google is rumored to be making a Google Watch that syncs with Android phones and uses Android as its OS. Google is also rumored to be making a gaming console, also based on Android. Apparently, when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Wall Street Journal writes about Google’s Smart Watch

    Google’s planned watch is expected to connect to a person’s smart phone via Bluetooth technology, said people familiar with the matter. The Business Insider blog said in January that Google was “actively exploring the idea” of making such a watch.

  2. Foxconn, which makes iPhones and pretty much every computing device sold in the US (including Xboxes, Sony Playstations, and most cellphones), has beat Apple to the punch and announced a smart watch that syncs with iPhone. It can monitor your health and also shows you messages from your iPhone without you having to take your iPhone out of your pocket. All the skinny jean wearing kids (and grown-ups, unfortunately) of the world rejoice. Want China Times says –

    showcased a smartwatch on Wednesday that can be connected wirelessly to an iPhone, which the company hopes will be part of its next driver of revenue growth.

    The wearable computing device can be used to measure the user’s vital signs such as respiration and heartbeat, as well as to check phone calls and Facebook posts.

Have to say – that Foxconn smartwatch looks like it was either designed by the Foxconn CEO’s chauffeur, or by the same design-by-committee design committee that designed iOS 7.

WSJ thinks that Google is making a video game console and the Google WeWatch (short for WeWatchEverythingYouDo) to counter similar efforts from Apple.

Apple making an iWatch seems to have gotten half the world into making MeTooWatches. Wouldn’t it be funny if 37 different technology companies made a smart watch because they think Apple is going to create a whole new market segment, and iWatch turns out to be a TV.

Why is Google making a WeWatch if it also has Google Glass?

Given all the reports of people having privacy issues with Google Glass, and the challenge of fitting electronic components into a tiny glass frame, a watch seems like a better idea.

  1. A Smart Watch isn’t intrusive. Additionally, it isn’t even very noticeable.
  2. There’s no social ‘cost’ to wearing a smart watch. Google Glass makes both the wearer and the ‘observed’ slightly uncomfortable. It doesn’t help that Google Glass can take photos and record videos. How long before someone releases an ‘Open Stalker’ app that lets people take videos and photos secretly?
  3. A Smart Watch can be much cheaper than Google Glass. Google Glass developer edition is $1,500. The full release might be $300 to $500. It doesn’t really do much other than let you take photos and shoot video and read stuff. A Google WeWatch could be just $100 to $150.
  4. Apple is really good at creating demand for a product – sometimes even when the tangible benefits are not very clear. Without Steve Jobs, it will be difficult. However, the residual Apple fairy dust should be enough to make Apple’s iWatch (if it arrives) a hit. That would mean everyone who can’t afford iWatch, or doesn’t like Apple, would want a Smart Watch from another company. Google can step in. It’s unlikely that Google can create demand for Google Glass all by itself. If we do see an iWatch, it’ll be interesting to compare sales of iWatch vs Google Glass and sales of Google Watch vs Google Glass. My suspicion is that the smart watches will sell a LOT more.
  5. A Smart Watch can measure your health and heart beat and perhaps even blood pressure and other things. Google Glass can probably only tell you if you need an anti-dandruff shampoo.

Mostly, Google Watch would go into a market where a lot of companies like Pebble, Sony, etc. are testing what works and what doesn’t. Where companies like Apple and Samsung and Foxconn will create demand. Google just has to refine what is working. It can then enter the market using price or ‘openness’ or some other competitive angle.

With Google Glass it has to create the entire market itself. That might not work. It might even be a product that’s before it’s time.

If everyone is making a Smart Watch, surely Kindle Watch should be arriving soon

Smart Watches might be the next hot market. It’s Amazon’s chance to get out early, and avoid having to play the rather difficult game of catch-up it’s having to play with Kindle Fire HD. A game which it will probably have to play with Kindle Phone too.

Kindle Watch is Amazon’s opportunity to enter the market before hundreds of millions of devices from other companies have already been sold. It gets to attack a bunch of villages instead of having to attack Rome.

Why a Kindle Watch makes sense

There are 5 reasons a Kindle Watch makes sense –

  1. Brand New Market with no established market giants. No established #1 company.
  2. Might turn into an explosively growing market with hundreds of millions of devices sold per year. Pays to be in at the start.
  3. Amazon can add functionality to sync with Android and iPhone and thus take an OS-agnostic approach. Apple and Google, for obvious reasons, are unlikely to do that.
  4. Amazon might be willing to take losses at first. This gives it an advantage over Apple and Samsung. Perhaps even Microsoft will be reluctant to take losses.
  5. Lots of Kindle and Kindle Fire HD owners will get Kindle Watch. Kindle Watch paves the way for more Kindle sales and for future Kindle Phone and Kindle TV sales.

Overall, it is a bet worth making. Amazon is no stranger to going after crazy ideas (Kindle and Amazon Web Services are both pretty crazy ideas, though now they seem so obvious). Amazon also is no stranger to making big bets (pretty much everything Amazon does is a big bet so far, AmazonFresh).

Why a Kindle Watch doesn’t make sense

There are also 5 reasons a Kindle Watch doesn’t make sense –

  1. A Kindle Watch might get drowned out by iWatch and Samsung Watch and Google WeWatch and Microsoft’s Windows Standard Edition Wear On Your Wrist Wrist Watch. People in the Apple and Android ecosystems will prefer the ‘home’ smart watch. That means Apple and Google and Samsung will gather most of the SmartWatch-desiring customers.
  2. Will Amazon have something new to offer with Kindle Watch? It’s a safe bet that Apple and Samsung will have at least some innovations in their smart watches. Microsoft might surprise. Foxconn is talking about health tracking and also plans to add fingerprint detection. What will Amazon bring to the table? Perhaps Amazon will focus only on existing Amazon customers – that’s not a bad strategy.
  3. A Kindle Watch would result in Amazon having to fight battles on too many fronts. Amazon is already fighting the Tablet Wars and might release a Kindle Phone. It also has the eInk Kindle. It’s rumored to be working on a Kindle TV. If Amazon releases a Kindle Watch, it’ll have FIVE different product families and five big wars it’ll be fighting. That’s a lot for a company that didn’t even do hardware until 2007. Microsoft and Apple have been in hardware and software for decades. It’s hard to see Amazon fighting hardware wars on 5 fronts and winning most, or even some, of them. It’s been just 6 years since the launch of the solitary eInk Kindle. Just 2 years since Kindle Fire was launched.
  4. Device Fatigue. If Amazon keeps asking its customers to buy new devices, they might just give up on Amazon. If we get new Kindle Fire HDs, a Kindle TV, a Kindle Phone, and a Kindle Watch, all in the next 12 to 18 months, it might just overwhelm users.
  5. Limited Additional Benefits. Remember that Amazon is selling you the device to make money from things you buy in the future. Kindle, Kindle Fire HD, Kindle TV, and Kindle Phone all make sense. Does a Kindle Watch make sense? You can’t really read books or watch movies on it. So what future sales can Amazon generate. Does Amazon care about you reading messages on your Kindle Watch? I don’t think so.

A Kindle Watch doesn’t fit into the ‘Sell people a mini Kindle Store’ philosophy that has invaded Amazon like Burmese Pythons have invaded the Everglades. You can envision the conversations at Amazon ‘Sell ’em More’ Central –

  1. Kindle TV – We can sell them games, movies, music, apps, TVs. Wow!
  2. Kindle Phone – We can sell them data plans, music, games, movies. Double Wow!
  3. Kindle Watch – We can sell them new straps. Umm….

That’s the one problem with the hypothesis that Amazon is making a Kindle Watch.

What sales from Amazon.com would a Kindle Watch lead to?

If none, or very few, then what’s the motivation for Amazon to make a Kindle Watch.

Amazon might release Kindle Watch just to extend the Kindle brand

The most likely possibility is that Amazon releases a cheap Kindle Watch for two reasons –

  1. To support existing Kindle Devices.
  2. To sell Kindle Watch to people in other ecosystems, and gradually shift them over to the Amazon ecosystem.

A cheap Kindle Watch that works with both Android and iOS might prove a very effective Trojan Horse. Just the way that the Kindle proved to be a very effective Trojan Horse – allowing Amazon to enter hardware sales and refine its craft (albeit a little slowly) and release Kindle Fire HD and perhaps soon release Kindle Phone and Kindle TV and Kindle Watch.

Kindle Worlds – the Search for Cheap, Exclusive Content

A key philosophy of technology companies seems to be –

Let other people do free work for you. Let them generate content that you take ownership of. Then leverage that content to make money and beat your competitors.

Amazon is demonstrating a modification of exactly this philosophy with Kindle Worlds.

Kindle Worlds = An Amazon initiative where any author can write books and stories based on existing book worlds, TV shows, movies, and other properties/worlds.

Please Note: What Amazon is doing isn’t bad, like what social networks do. Social Networks let users create content (user-generated content), claim ownership of it, and make money from it. At the same time, they prostitute out users’ personal details to make more money. So they commit two sins – take ownership of content and photos that users have created, sell users’ personal data to companies and advertisers without telling users.

Amazon isn’t doing anything of the sort – to the best of my knowledge. Amazon is simply using the philosophy of ‘let others work for you, for free’. Which, actually, is quite smart. Kindle Worlds is an illustration of this.

Kindle Strategy is heavily based on Exclusive Content

One of the tenets of Amazon’s Kindle philosophy has been to get ‘exclusive’ content –

  1. It offers ‘5 days free’ every 3 months to indie authors – In return for exclusivity.
  2. It offers money to authors for new and back list books – In return for exclusivity.
  3. It is striking up deals with authors via its publishing imprints – then offering those titles exclusively through Amazon.

It’s a fundamental pillar on which Amazon’s Kindle strategy is built.

There are however, three problems –

  1. It’s very expensive to get exclusive content. Whether it’s striking up exclusive deals, or it’s publishing books, it costs a lot of money and time and effort. Amazon, even after all its efforts, has perhaps a few hundred exclusive titles from big authors, a few hundred Amazon published exclusive titles, and a few hundred thousand indie authors titles. Apart from the indie author exclusives, nothing is large enough to be significant.
  2. Current methods of getting exclusive content are very slow. Negotiate an exclusive deal. Sign an author. Publish a book and promote it. What’s the shared weakness? All these methods are incredibly slow.
  3. Current methods of getting exclusive content aren’t scalable. To go from a few hundred exclusive deals with top authors to a few hundred thousand would take tens of thousands of people and decades. The fast rise in indie author exclusives, on the other hand, shows the power of automating things. There is power in letting authors generate exclusives themselves. There is power in automating processes and letting people use a self-serve model.

How can Amazon get enough exclusives given these three constraints?

The answer, rather interestingly, involves initiatives like Kindle Worlds.

Kindle Worlds is just a way to gets lots of Cheap, Exclusive Content

What is a Kindle Worlds title?

  1. A work based on an existing successful book or TV series. That means the ‘product market fit’ is proven and there is a captive audience.
  2. A work that is exclusive to Amazon. That means it adds to Amazon’s list of exclusives.
  3. A work for which authors can find a market with a higher chance of success. A proven market means a higher chance of making money. It’s a win-win for authors and Amazon.

From Amazon’s perspective, the most important thing isn’t money. It’s exclusivity of content related to proven markets.

What Amazon is hoping for, is –

  1. Lots of authors/people write very good works based in Existing, Proven Markets/Worlds. Enough content to attract users and become a factor.
  2. All of this stays exclusive to Amazon.

The second part is the real thing Amazon is after. How much does Amazon care about exclusivity and using Kindle Worlds content as a weapon?

Amazon cares an inordinate amount about Exclusivity and Control of ‘Kindle Worlds’ Content

Just read the rules (underlined part and bolding is added by us) –

Exclusivity Provision: Stories will be available in digital format exclusively on Amazon.com, Kindle devices, iOS, Android, and PC/Mac via our Kindle Free Reading apps. We hope to offer additional formats in the future.

Controlled by Amazon Provisions:

1) Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.

2) Amazon Publishing will set the price for Kindle Worlds stories. Most will be priced from $0.99 through $3.99.

 

Those are some pretty strong restrictions. Makes you think twice about participating in Kindle Worlds.

However, it illustrates our point. Amazon cares an awful lot about getting –

  1. Lots of content based in Proven Markets/Proven Worlds.
  2. Exclusive rights to that content.

Basically, Amazon wants to build the YouTube+ of Books. It wants to leverage all this Kindle Worlds content to create a very strong competitive advantage (since it’s exclusive to Amazon).

Why YouTube+? Because it’s YouTube except users are uploading content based around PROVEN markets and PROVEN worlds.

Will Kindle Worlds result in lots of Exclusive High Quality Content for Amazon

Perhaps.

I suspect Amazon is making the same mistake it tends to make very often – Sacrifice the Highest Chance of Success in return for Furthering Its Own Personal Motives.

We see examples of this with Kindle Fire HD (where the Camera App is ignored/hidden) and Kindle (where the keyboard was removed and where the folders feature is rudimentary).

Rather than –

  • Create the absolute best product. Sell the absolute best devices. Make the best possible Kindle Worlds universe.

Amazon always tends to choose –

  • Create a good product that serves Amazon’s needs. Sell good devices that also lead to customer acquisition. Make a Kindle Worlds universe that is focused around creating exclusive content for Amazon’s Kindle Store.

It’s a strategy that is fundamentally flawed.

Why?

Because Apple made it work only AFTER making an absolutely excellent device with very easy to use, well-polished software.

It’s a strategy that might still work.

Why?

Because Amazon has a LOT of customers and a lot of advantages.

Kindle Worlds shows that Amazon is worried

At some deep level, Amazon understands that by destroying the current Publishing Hierarchy, and by removing the existing Publishing Guarded Gates, it’s creating an almost-free market. A market that anyone can take over.

It’s now begun to think seriously about creating exclusive content and other competitive advantages that will allow it to prosper in this new, almost-free, highly competitive market.

The problem is that it’s incredibly difficult to build real barriers. Now it’s just authors and readers and everyone else is unnecessary. Kindle Worlds is a smart attempt to strengthen Amazon’s Mini-Gate of Exclusivity. Will it work? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It does, however, reveal a part of Amazon’s long-term intentions with Kindle books and a part of Amazon’s long-term Kindle strategy.