McDon’t

I don’t know how much value McDonald’s has really generated in listening to their critics over their fans.

McDonald’s doesn’t have to be the healthy restaurant. They should learn from the lessons of Vegas. The harder that town tried to be family friendly, the worse it got. Now they’re back to their roots as a hedonistic destination and families (with any sense) stay away. Now you don’t have the right to complain if you go there and you’re appalled. You’re supposed to be!

With McDonald’s, I don’t know why they care if people think their offerings are healthy. That wasn’t their purpose or value proposition. The idea behind McDonald’s was fast food. They nailed it. When I go to a McDonald’s I don’t want any of their so-called healthy options anyhow, because 1) they’re not appetizing compared to their other stuff, and 2) it’s not what I would consider better for you.

If you want to eat healthy, processed foods aren’t the answer, no matter what people try tell you. And even if they’re not off the mark in terms of nutrition, they’re really not worth it. For example, apple slices at McDonald’s can’t possibly touch a regular apple sliced by yourself, or at least a whole apple. Why? Because the sliced apples require extra processing so they don’t turn brown minutes after they’ve been sliced. That entails sealing them in air tight bags filled with nitrogen gas. It’s not unhealthy, but it’s really over-engineering something meant to be simple.

McDonald’s should embrace what they do, and do it well. Focus on the food that people enjoy like Big Macs, Quarter Pounders, and fries. They don’t have to go overboard like Burger King who seems to embrace their inner diabetic.

It seems like the only people who give McDonald’s a hard time about their menu are the people who are least likely to eat there. It’s people who I would argue, aren’t interested in their success. If that’s the case, they probably have an ulterior motive. When I’m [trying] to eat healthy, it’s usually because I’m on a health and fitness kick. It’s a mode I go in and out of, not a life choice. That’s probably the case for most people. I do know a few people who I’d actually say live a healthy lifestyle. Most of their food choices are predetermined for them and the thought of McDonald’s with our without a healthy menu probably wouldn’t cross their mind.

I only eat at McDonald’s 5 times a year, but that has more to do with my tastes, than health. When I go there, I’m in a completely different frame of mind. I may not be proud of myself for fall off the wagon when I eat there, but I still want the experience to deliver.

 

What’s stifling innovation in large corporations

There’s a common lament about the lack of innovation coming out of large corporations. I don’t know why anyone is surprised. I can think of at least three non-trivial issues staring us in the face and they have to do with incentive and motivation.

Executive Compensation
It’s common sense, not socialism to be angry at the lopsided way people are compensated in big companies. Why in the world would anyone in their right mind do something new when the only people benefiting are those who are already making 10-20 times as much as me? Money is a powerful motivator for innovating. But if you look at many publicly traded companies, innovation isn’t rewarded. When it comes to money in big companies, them that got is them that gets. People in the C-Suite are outrageously compensated even when the overall company underperforms. If you were to do something innovative in a big company, there’s a good chance only a select few will reap the rewards, not including yourself of course.

A way to fix this problem would be for companies to put their money where their mouth is. If you actually want innovation, you need to reward the innovators within your organization the way you reward your managers. The other option would be to reward innovation, not cost cutting, at the highest level. Innovative leaders can inspire and motivate those beneath them to do the same.

Process
In large companies, “the process” is the culture. And yet, process is the antithesis of innovation. It’s about standardizing and normalizing, i.e. ensuring consistent results. Process is meant to drive out uncertainty, ambiguity, and serendipity, all key innovation ingredients. Most large companies reward you for how well you follow a process paying little attention to the outcomes.

Entrepreneurial people within organizations find ways around the processes to get things done. This understandably makes some people nervous. Therefore, outsiders and deviators of the process are pariahs even if their intentions are good.

A way to fix this is to let those who want to be entrepreneurial have their say. Don’t immediately tell someone to drop their suggestion in the box. They know that’s meaningless. Instead of putting more process in place, allow for more conversations. Don’t just have meetings to check the status of projects. Meet to actually talk about ideas. Yes, those meetings may last more than an hour, but they could pay off later in less work.

Exclusivity
Innovation within large organizations is something only a few people get to do. At cutting edge companies like Apple, only a select few are in a position to do something innovative. In fact, for the majority of people that work there, it’s preferred they keep their opinions on products to themselves. Having worked there, I found it very frustrating. Meanwhile, I can’t say it was always a bad thing. There was no shortage of armchair quarterbacks who thought they had the one great idea everyone should listen to.

Unfortunately, confining creativity and innovation to certain roles, people, or groups breeds contempt. After all, who wouldn’t want to be labeled innovative when you see how much the press fawns over them. The only difference between an innovative person, and everyone else is they have lots of ideas – good and bad – not just one silver bullet.

A potential fix is to make sure there is some cross pollination of people from different groups within your organization. When people who think they have a great idea get to interact with people who actually have lots of ideas, they see how much work it is to being innovative. They also see it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. There’s a lot to be said for people who can be effective operationally. Not everyone needs to be the mad genius.

Great user interfaces aren’t just a matter of taste

I pulled the following from a Crain’s Chicago Business article about the many bold moves the Sun-Times is making here. While I think it’s great to challenge the Trib, there was one line that stuck out at me.

With regard to his digital strategy, Mr. Ferro said he’s trying to create a “great user interface” for a tablet application that is in the works. On that front, he praised the example set by the New York Post tablet application.

Maybe what he meant to say was their app is consistent with their brand. Like the New York Post newspaper, their app is sloppy, rude, and just slapped together, but it’s not a great user interface. The thing that bothers me, is that someone in a leadership position is saying the user interface (a very specific term) is an important part of their digital strategy, then cites one of the worst possible examples of a tablet experience.

Has anyone else seen the New York Post iPad app?! It’s a hot mess express. It doesn’t follow any of the conventions of most iPad apps. Not that it needs to, there are plenty of great iPad experiences that don’t. The NYPost app, on the other hand, looks like a mistake. It’s like someone tried to Xerox the entire newspaper onto an 8.5 x 11 sheet at the Kinkos color copy sale.

Look at this mess
You literally get an experience that leaves stories cut off on the edge.

I’m may be splitting hairs when I say he should have used a term other than “user interface”. However, it’s not uncommon for someone higher up the food chain to insert their opinion on the UI as if it were just a matter of taste.

By now, every exec has read the Steve Jobs bio, so they get the user interface matters. Unfortunately, they don’t necessarily understand how it actually happens. So the lesson here is don’t let all your hard work and critical thinking get pissed away because someone thinks it’s subjective. Spend the time comparing and contrasting the dos and the don’ts. Show your work. Don’t just build something and say, “here it is, what do you think?”

Take the time to explain why it’s important, don’t assume they’ll know.

via Sun-Times owner: ‘We’re not buying the Trib’ – Consumer News – Crain’s Chicago Business.

What you need to know about prototyping

Prototyping is a pretty hot topic within the design world. Most of the time, things veer off into discussions about tools, techniques, or methodologies. You only need to know two things about prototyping – when to start and when to stop. Start when you have questions like “what if” and “how about”. Stop when you have to choose between two desirable, but incompatible options.

Decision-making is inextricably linked to design, and prototyping is most effective when you and others can see what the choices are. Otherwise, you’ll just find yourself talking about your options instead of evaluating them.

Why Publishers Don’t Like Apps

via Why Publishers Don’t Like Apps – Technology Review.

They allowed themselves to be convinced that producing editorial content for the apps and developing the apps themselves would be simple.

We have several clients in the publishing industry and see first hand the pain they go through when it comes to developing apps.

According to a study by Miratech, people prefer apps over mobile web. Even if that’s not totally true, another study estimate some 30% of US adults own an E-Reader / Tablet now. Even if publishers don’t love apps, it would appear their customers do. So they need to do something about it.

The problem is adding another format, like an app, to your workflow is non-trivial. Unfortunately, if I’m a customer, that’s not my problem. We see great user experiences coming from other companies, in some cases small and obscure, and wonder why these big corporate publishers can’t follow suit.

Publishers have to figure this stuff out and make some hard choices in order to survive. Hopefully, they’ll err on the side of a creating a better user experience and not on a form that is easier for them to deliver.

It’s a different world, not just a different medium

Like print, the iPad (and other digital tablets) are great for displaying text and images. And that, is pretty much where the similarities end. So it’s time to stop trying to have our cake, and eat it too when designing and developing content for this and other digital mediums.

Back in the early days of web development the Holy Grail was a visual, WYSIWYG editor. People thought we just needed better layout tools, and so we got products like NetObjects Fusion, PageMill, GoLive and countless other products with camel-capped names. Before these products, web development was pretty much a text editor and Photoshop.

Fast forward to today and no serious developer is using those tools. Ironically, we are pretty much back to the old way. However, the text editors have gotten to be more sophisticated.

The visual, layout-oriented editors turned out to be nothing more than a band-aid. Eventually you realize things like;

  1. Digital isn’t static. Users can change its form whether it’s resizing fonts, scrolling, and moving windows around. Content becomes a fluid, moving target.
  2. Visual editors enabled us to make tweaks to fit the design into the form. Since the end form can change most of those tweaks won’t make a difference.
  3. Consistency is the wrong goal. Realistically, no one reads both the print and the digital edition of a story. They don’t need to be alike, they need to be the best version of their form.
  4. We mistake nostalgia for the old form as a user requirement. Every medium has it’s own value proposition and affordances. They’re great for some things and awful for others. Early adopters figure this out right away, while others lament the passing of the old guard. Eventually everyone moves on.
  5. We’re working between different worlds not just different mediums.

The lesson here is embrace the differences the new platforms afford us. Sure, we’ll need a transition strategy. But you are going to have to learn something new to survive, just like going to a foreign land. Let’s move on. The perfect tool isn’t coming. It’s already here. If you want proof, just look at how many great tablet user experiences exist today.

Help yourself to help your customers

The other night our power went out around 9:30. There wasn’t a storm or anything. It was just raining. Everything went out, came back on a second later, and went out again.

Instead of calling ComEd (our local power company), I got on my iPhone and went to their website. It was there I discovered they have a SMS-based system for reporting outages. You simply text the word “OUT” to them and they immediately respond. In my case, it told me they were aware of the problem and 800 customers were also out. I received another text later estimating the problem to be fixed by 11:30pm.

I rarely have anything good to say about ComEd, but I’ll be talking this up to friends and family.

This simple feature, while very useful for customers, probably benefits ComEd more. Not only do they get to reduce the costs associated with staffing phone lines 24/7. They now have a secondary dispatching system that notifies them when and where the power is out.

I especially hate it when the power goes out at night. It’s not like you can go outside and find something else to do. I’m reasonable, I know the power goes out from time to time. I just need to know 1) it’s not the apocalypse and 2) someone is on it. This system does that.

Not every user-friendly thing your product or service does has to come from an altruistic place. Sometimes you can create more value for your organization and still make your customers happy.

Prioritize their problems over your solution

As designers, we tend to get wrapped up in our own little worlds. Forgetting that design is problem-solving, we only seem interested in sophisticated tactics or cool solutions.

Last year I was invited to take part in an event called UX for Good. The concept was that we could save the world by applying user-centric methodologies to solve problems like homelessness and urban violence. I know a bit grandiose, but I think there is a kernel of truth there.

I was in a group with people from Ceasefire, an organization that uses a public health model to reduce violence in high-crime neighborhoods. Their model is very successful at the local level because their people know who’s who and what is going on. More importantly, they’ve seen first hand what works and what doesn’t.

The group split up into teams to come up with ways to help Ceasefire indirectly so they don’t need to change their own tactics and focus.

One thing that works well is when there is a safe haven, a neighborhood place where kids can get away. It works because Ceasefire staffers negotiate with gangs to ensure they’re off limits. So our task was to come up with ways to increase the number of safe havens.

First, we assumed these safe havens need to be compelling to attract kids. One idea was to create a place where they could express themselves with activities like creative writing, street art etc. It was like a little cultural center. Our contact (or stakeholder) just nodded. He seemed indifferent. So I asked him what kinds of things he’d have. He said, “hot water, video games, and a TV.”

It was so mundane, that it literally turned off a couple of my teammates. But it dawned on me then and there. The problem with safe havens isn’t that they’re boring. It’s that there aren’t enough of them. The discussion really wasn’t going anywhere with our stakeholder until we started exploring ways to make safe havens easy to replicate.

As designers, we need to spend less time trying to impress with technique and more with outcomes.

Prototyping is like sketching

When it comes to design, I maintain the philosophy that just about everything is a prototype, until it isn’t. That drives a lot of people nuts because most of us just want to see the finished goods. If you’re part of a broader team, you need to see some sausage making in order to make informed decisions.

Prototyping as a term can be as useful as it is problematic. It’s vague and open to too many interpretations – kind of like design. In cases like that, I find it’s better to use an analogy to tell people what you mean.

I recently started using the analogy that “prototyping is like sketching” to explain my philosophy[1]. Trouble is, people misunderstand sketching too. When people see a sketch, they think, “unfinished”, but completion isn’t even the point of a sketch. Sketching, like a prototyping, is for communicating something vague not concrete. Why would you want to do that? One good reason is to explore your options with others.

Beware, most people don’t appreciate the process of moving from ambiguous to precise. “Done” is often rewarded over useful and usable. Ultimately, it comes down to the context in which you present things to people. No one likes to see unfinished work, but they do like to explore options.

[1] I want to give credit where credit is due. This dawned on me while attending a workshop on sketching for product design by Kevin Henry, an associate professor at Columbia College.