All posts by Nathanael

Nathanael is a UX Professional, working in the field since 2005. He has worked on major projects, involving clients such as London Underground, Chevron, and Nintendo.

User Experience; not just for websites!

You would be forgiven for thinking that user experience is a web only field. Certainly a lot of companies do not step away from the traditional thinking of “UX = web” but it is that thinking that can hold them back from their full potential.

The most successful entrepreneurs tend to recognise that their products are about crafting experiences; anyone can copy a template of success and find ways of making their competing product cheaper, but an experience is much more difficult to copy cheaply. Take a look at the experience of opening an Apple Product; you feel like you are holding a quality product in your hand even before you have turned it on. Everything oozes sleek sophistication and highly engineered simplicity, and that is just the packaging! It’s not just Apple who benefits from this though. Even companies like Starbucks invest millions in research into this area, and research has found that the packaging affects the perception of quality. The feel of the cup can make the same beverage taste better.

It is difficult for another company to give as good an experience with the packaging, but by no means impossible. However, all too often the temptation to try to copy an experience rather than craft one of their own leads them down the path to failure. If they get it right, then they are simply a copy, albeit a high quality knock-off. If they do not, then they are even less favourably compared.

The experience of the user should convey the message and image of the company, whether that is in a website, a piece of software, or a physical product. In fact, if somebody uses the product, whatever that product is, you want the experience to be well crafted. After all, would you feel well disposed towards a company that told you it did not care about you every time you tried to use it’s products?

I did not think so.


My partner and I have decided that this is the year that we get fit. Naturally, being people of our age and disposition towards connected interactions, we have turned to the web for help. So I brushed the dust off my Fitocracy profile, and started logging my activities, earning those sweet points that Fitocracy believes will keep people motivated. Gammification is a major trend in serious business, and it makes sense for them to employ it. Gamification, and Incentive -centered design are however not the subject of this blog post, but rather one for a later date.

Fitocracy is one of the biggest of the fitness sites, helping countless users to achieve their goals (whatever they deem them to be) but this is despite some rather serious flaws in the design, rather than by virtue of the good design. The good idea has carried it thus far, but if they want to see faster growth and increased revenue, they need to focus on the most important part of their platform; the user.

Currently, they send mixed messages about the interface functionality such as using the name “Feed” for two different functions: Both options can be navigated to from the same page creating confusion in the user’s mind the first time that they click on “feed” and it takes them to a different place to the one they were expecting. From there on in, there will be a slight doubt in the mind of the user when they see the two options, and want to click on one or the other. This can be over momentarily, perhaps even without surfacing consciously, but it has a process cost for the user.

Then there is the semi-comprehensive exercise database. There is no function to add exercises that Fitocracy do not already list. True, there is the option to send them an email requesting additions, but the user needs to search around for that information. Ideally, the option to request it should be right there on the screen.

Actually; the truly ideal solution is to allow users to add their own exercises, and to leverage the human-computing potential of their rabid user-base to group, categorise, and assign a point value to that exercise. Make it a truly social feature that combines social networking and distributed computing concepts. They could take advantage of crowdsourcing, which is ideally suited to the ever expanding task of listing exercises, their variants, and the different names by which they are known.

This year, the site sees its second birthday. Hopefully it will see its third year in with an improvement to its UI, its workload distribution, and to its social functionality: the social functionality remains the genius of the site, and the feature which makes it as successful as it has been. Leveraging social gaming has brought it this far. It needs to do more to go further.

Neuroscientists can predict your behavior better than you can

It’s a well known fact that people are unreliable when it comes to knowing what they want, and what they will do.

A human can decide to do something, and then fail to follow up on that decision, often without realising it until much later. Furthermore, they can decide that they won’t do something, only to go ahead and do so. As a species we are pretty bad at predicting our own behaviour, because we often do not realise that our predictions have been so off-base.

If UX researchers could routinely only have access to fMRI scans of users, I wonder what we would learn.