Monday, July 8, 2013

How many user experience designers does it take to change a light bulb?

Today I was shopping for a new floor lamp for the living room, so I visited my neighborhood Target. The experience started off okay – the aisles were neatly arranged. Lamps were logically placed in the “Home Improvement” section where one might tend to look for it. It took me about 7-8 minutes to scan through and compare the various options. I identified a lamp that looked nice and modern, and one that clearly fit my “aah,that’s a great deal!” budget and added it to my shopping cart.

I then proceeded to look for a bulb for this lamp. I thought maybe I would find it in the same section where the lamps are sold. But I was mistaken. The bulbs were half a dozen aisles away in a random “Home Essentials” section. While shopping online, if you happen to search for “Lamps & Lighting” on, they also present a neat little reminder at the bottom called “Related Categories > Light Bulbs” but are unable to offer customers the same ease of search in the physical store?

When I reached the aisle where the light bulbs were displayed, I was completely baffled by the number of choices of bulbs and other light fixtures. (The next time: Try Lowe’s. Their lighting section will make you dizzy! But don't worry! I found that the store reps are so knowledgeable and helpful – they won’t make you feel stupid for not knowing what a CFL 3-way means). As a passionate advocate of great user experiences, I am often eagerly seeking these moments that will help me understand and study why so many customer experiences fail.

So I started off by giving the lighting section in Target a quick scan. The box containing my lamp has specific instructions about getting a “3-way CFL standard bulb”. All of the first 3 words were completely alien to me. 3-way? CFL? As they say, Findability, is the most critical success factor for information architecture. If users are not able to find required information without browsing, searching or asking, then the findability of the architecture fails. Navigation needs to be clearly conveyed to ease finding of the contents. So I started my search to find the ideal bulb for my floor lamp. What does CFL mean? What’s a 3-way anyway? What are Lumens? Add to that, bulbs displayed were of different types – compact fluorescent, fluorescent, halogen, incandescent, LED in different colors and brightness.

just wanted a simple, white (not yellow) powerful bulb. But GE had also developed this absurd “find your bulb” consumer guide with various color codings on each pack. Orange code on pack is for “cozy relaxing light”; blue code is for “comfy inviting light”, green code for “fresh energizing light”, yellow code for “strong vibrant light”.The terminologies are so subjective – I started to wonder what would my “bright, white light” be in GE parlance? 


Almost 20 minutes into the search, I was getting frustrated when I called for help. The Target sales associate was equally baffled and scurried for cover as I bombarded her with my questions. She picked something from the shelf and said indifferently “this is the one you are looking for. See, it says here on this pack “white light”.” It seemed as though she assumed I couldn’t read English and tried to translate the words on the pack. I asked her about the return policy and said “sure if you are not happy, bring it back and look for something else”. When I checked again at the checkout counter, the associate said point blank "I don't know. I only checkout stuff." I was so furious that buying something I consider to be as basic as a bulb will cost me so much wasted time and two or more trips to Target.

When I turned on my new lamp at home eagerly looking for a bright white light, I was thoroughly disappointed – it was a dull, golden yellow hue. When I inspected the pack, it said “Soft White Light” – how does “soft white” become “golden yellow” in use? Indeed, the number of options and choices was rather formidable. That’s why in the course of writing this blog, I stumbled upon elaborate “find the right bulb” guides in the form of videos, tutorials on both Lowe’s and Home Depot’s websites.

5 Recommendations For GE Lighting, Target and other bulb manufacturers and retailers:

  1. Keep the wording on the pack simple and avoid jargon.
  2. The color coding on GE’s packs were helpful until you start trying to decode the unclear category titles like “fresh energizing, strong vibrant”
  3. Standardize and simplify the nomenclature – Could we learn something from the food industry and the standardized nutritional information labels? Won’t a similar standard label aid shoppers as they buy seemingly-simple but mightily-complex products such as bulbs?
  4. Interactive touch screen aids/guides in the aisle that can help customers sort through the plethora of options and identify the most suitable choice for their need. 
  5. A tip from Indian modern-format retailing – hire local college kids as promoters who are employees of the brand owner, not the retailer. These so-called “human guides”, are not generalists like a typical retail sales associate, they are specialists in one product category like “lighting” and can talk users through the various options and choose the one that best fits their needs.

It probably takes only one user experience designer to change a light bulb but many many more to shop for one. In conclusion, when we have trouble buying or operating something a little more complex like a lamp or a projector, we have something to blame: the machine’s bewildering appearance or the lack of clues to suggest what can be done and how to do it. Even more frustrating, however, is that we often have trouble working things that we expect to be so simple, we have jokes like “how many engineers it takes to change a light bulb” about them.

Friday, June 21, 2013

To Kill Or Not To Kill The Bank?

Hello Folks! Sorry that I have been out of action for some time. I’ve moved across the world to Long Island, NY from Bangalore, India to begin a new life here. 

As I was moving lock, stock and barrel across countries, one of the things that I had to close and reopen were my bank accounts in both countries. I had the chance to experience the best and worst of banking experiences which led to me to start researching and thinking about the challenges facing banks and why customer experience design matters more than ever.

In India, traditional banks are still run as Goliaths – slow, tedious, system and process-friendly not people-friendly, “I give a damn” attitude towards customers as there is literally no competition from alternate forms of banking and financial services such as Square, Paypal and Simple, which we see in the US. We had to make endless trips to our bank, ICICI, one of the largest banks in India to get simple paperwork sorted out. Things such as changing my residential status from resident to non-resident India, ensuring that my trading accounts also run smoothly in my absence took a real toll of our patience. We were faced with agents who were not trained or knowledgeable enough to help us out requiring multiple frustrating visits and phone calls to the local branch. Their standard response to our exasperation “this is how the process is here” (“… so deal with it!”). Our ordeal did not stop even after arriving on the shores of Long Island – requiring multiple escalations with the ICICI management and unanswered queries.

After arriving in NY, one of the first things we did was to visit a local Wells Fargo bank and inquired about setting up new accounts. The whole process took less than an hour and was handled with ease by the bank’s agent. He was knowledgeable and curious about our background – after learning that we had just arrived from India, he thoughtfully offered us services that would appeal to international customers – such as setting up automated wire transfers to an overseas account. The next time I called to inquire about something, the agent remembered us by our names and went out of the way to be helpful and courteous. Every interaction with this bank so far has been fruitful, simple and productive. The agent had guided us to download the mobile app and access many of the bank’s features on the app.

They say that we all hate our banks. I would say “we all hate SOME of our banks, not all”. So when I recently read about Simple (previously BankSimple), a company that claims to “replace my bank”, I got a big wary. Banks are here to stay and while it is an industry in desperate need of innovation, the right solution may lie in finding the right mix of people and technology, and learning from other industries such as retail or entertainment, on how to deliver experiences that would have customers say “wow”.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Which Digital Marketing Agencies Are Surviving the Third Wave of Marketing?

The Great Wave off Kanagawa, by Hokusai
How digital agencies are responding to demands from today’s “Gen-Y centric” CMOs eager to adopt the impact of mobile, social, and data-driven opportunities?

Marketing’s first era – led by full-service advertising agencies that built and promoted postwar consumer brands through print and largely through television went unchallenged for decades until the arrival of a new communications technique –the Internet.

Powered by the World Wide Web, the second era would forever change the way marketers engage their stakeholders. Now, marketers were able to do business online, with corporate websites, email marketing campaigns and virtual marketplaces. The idea of selling to a “market of one” came into being with concepts such as “personalization," "customer experience" and "customization" becoming part of the marketer's everyday lexicon.

Social, Search and Mobile Launch the Modern Marketing Era

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

5 Thought-Provoking Debates at the Happiest Minds CMO Roundtable

Happiest Minds held its first CMO Roundtable in Delhi on January 23, 2013 themed “Social 2.0: Beyond Likes & Clicks - Delivering Tangible Business Value With Social Technologies”. In this era of more complex social interactions, increasing choice and technology-driven peer-to-peer exchange, brands need to do more than just communicate with consumers – they need to engage.

This all means upending the traditional ad-centric model to create engagement that people seek out rather than avoid, to create experiences they can participate in and to measure the business value of social engagement – rather than just “likes”, “fans” or “clicks”. Following are snapshots of 5 top thought-provoking debates that took place at the event:

Monday, March 4, 2013

6 Ways How Not To Exasperate Shoppers

Tick, tick, tick. The wait is endless. The checkout line hasn’t budged in 10 minutes. Why did I pick this line, dammit? But if I switch now into another queue, it may be slower. Do I really need this item now? Would it be quicker (and possibly even cheaper) to buy it online?

As online shopping continues to siphon off sales from several traditional retailers, we wonder why some don’t care to get shoppers through more gracefully and quickly. Especially in India, there seems to always be an abundance of non-operational checkout counters and staff. Notice how a typical Pantaloons, Shoppers Stop or Big Bazaar store will have unused counters with the placard “Closed” and store staff just lingering around, some pretending to act busy while others busy talking and joking amongst themselves as the queue of waiting customers grows longer and more frustrated.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

An Evolution, Not a Revolution: Yahoo’s New Look

Yahoo Home Page Redesign: Before and After
Could design save Yahoo? Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is betting on it. Yahoo unveiled a refreshed home page design with more tailored, social experiences woven into the design in an effort to increase frequency and time spent on the site. The “slightly renewed” look, the first in four years, is not revolutionary but is one of the many attempts to revive the Yahoo brand.

The home page revamp, Yahoo’s most valuable real estate in terms of revenue generation, is one element in the continuous improvement drive aimed at reviving the Yahoo brand and improving display ad revenue. However, Yahoo has not created a game changer. Only some design and engineering tweaks, more of a cleanup, getting Yahoo’s 700 million users, including 200 million mobile devices, more up-to-speed with current expectations for how a news portal should look and function. Yahoo is building on top of a decent ad business ($5 billion in revenue with $ 1 billion in profit). Yahoo also ranks second to Google as the most visited site in the US in 2012. No cause to worry? Absolutely not.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Perfect Fit With Wearable Tech

(Clockwise from top left): Nike Fuelband, Pebble Watch, Google Glass, Lark, Armour39
With the widespread adoption of smartphones, we now live in a world where millions of people cruise through life constantly staring into a mobile device. While people are not going to put these devices down anytime in the near future, we are seeing a broader movement to essentially dissolve technology into the background.

What we are now experiencing are intelligent, connected digital ecosystems that are so interwoven into the very fabric of our lives, we practically wear them. Wearable technologies such as the Nike Fuelband, JawboneUp, Armour39, Lark, Google Glass, the Pebble Watch and Apple’s rumored iWatch are eliminating the need to pull your phone out of your pocket, purse or jacket to check notifications — the digital information is right in front of you and it is all connected.